[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments in two matters Tuesday: Abbott v. Perez and Animal Science Products v. Hebei Welcome Pharmaceutical Co. [transcripts, PDF]. Abbott is two consolidated cases that concern allegations that Texas lawmakers drew the state's federal congressional and state legislative districts in such a way as to harm the rights of the state's black and Hispanic voters. Animal Science Products concerns how much deference US courts should give to a foreign government's interpretation of its own law.
Abbott originated in 2011 [SCOTUSblog materials] after the Republican-controlled legislature began redistricting following the results of the 2010 census. The census indicated that Texas had gained an additional 4 million residents, a majority of whom were minorities. The plan promulgated by the legislature never went in to effect as a district court blocked the implementation of these plans and put forth its own. After a long legal battle, the state's legislature put forth another plan in 2013, which was again struck down as many of the same issues present in the 2011 plan went unchanged in the 2013 plan.
Much of the matter's time before the judges concerned jurisdictional matters. Currently, the Supreme Court may only hear appeals from a three-judge district court that, in its order, grants or denies an injunction against a redistricting plan. In Abbott, the challengers argued that the district court found that the plans violated the rights of the minorities in question but never granted an injunction against the plan. The state responded by arguing that just because the district court did not use the "magic word injunction," the district court's ruling had the same effect as an injunction and, accordingly, the court should be permitted to hear the matter.
Animal Science Products [SCOTUSblog materials] originated in 2005 when Animal Science filed a lawsuit against a number of Chinese companies, including Hebei Welcome, for allegedly fixing the price of their Vitamin C experts to the US in violation of American anti-trust laws. The Chinese companies responded by arguing that Chinese law required that they reach a consensus as to the price and quantity of their exports. The Chinese government filed an amicus brief when the matter was in a district court in which it supported these assertions. Nonetheless, the district court ruled against the Chinese governments' interpretations and found for Animal Science Products. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] reversed and instructed the lower court that where a government directly participates in a matter being litigated in the US to clarify the interpretations of its own laws, US courts are bound to defer to that interpretation.
While arguing that the Chinese government's interpretation should not be given deference, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated:
"[W]e actually do outsource saying what the law is sometimes in domestic law; Chevron, for example. We give the conclusive weight to a determination by an agency as to what the law is. So why, as a matter of comity, wouldn't we do the same to an administrative agency of a foreign sovereign?"
Gorsuch went on to suggest that a Chevron-style model may be called for when interpreting the foreign law.
In response to the Animal Science Products position, the Chinese government representative argued that:
"[I]f a foreign government comes to a US court and says with clarifying and unambiguously this is the law, this is our foreign law, this is what it means, that the Court ought to abide by that, unless it's unclear or unless it's incredible on its face."
The justices responded to this argument by asking whether any other country used this proposed rule. However, the representative of the Chinese government admitted that he had not researched that facet of the issue.