[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in the cases of Bank Markazi v. Peterson [transcript, PDF] and Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle. In Bank Markazi v. Peterson [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], plaintiff Deborah Peterson, representing hundreds of victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks, brought suit against Bank Markazi, otherwise known as the Central Bank of Iran, seeking compensation through the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002. Before the case was decided, Congress passed the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, which included a section stating, "the financial assets that are identified in and the subject of proceedings in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran ... shall be subject to execution ... in order to satisfy any judgment to the extent of any compensatory damages awarded against Iran for damages for personal injury or death caused by an act of [terrorism]." This edict from Congress became the rationale behind the District Court's ruling, and Second Circuit's [official websites] affirmation [opinion, PDF], against Bank Markazi. In intervening in the affairs of the courts, Congress put the onus on the Supreme Court to rectify the apparent disjunction between Congress's power to legislate and the judicial branch's power to decide cases.
In Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], the Supreme Court is asked to determine the extent of Puerto Rico's sovereignty as it relates to legal 'double jeopardy.' Two men, Luis Sanchez Valle and Jaime Gomez Vasquez, were charged with violating a local Puerto Rican law criminalizing the sale of firearms without a license. Prior to trial, both men were independently charged under federal laws substantially similar to those already charged. Both men were found guilty on the federal charges, and both sought and were granted dismissal of the local charges, arguing double jeopardy. The Supreme Court previously proscribed double jeopardy, ruling two sovereign nations may independently try one defendant for the same crime, but two entities that are part of the same sovereign may not. The Supreme Court is now asked by the Puerto Rican government to determine the nation's sovereignty. If the Court rules that the defendants may be charged under both sets of laws, it naturally follows that Puerto Rico is an independent sovereignty. If the Court rules otherwise, Puerto Rico remains a commonwealth under the power of the United States.