First Monday

October 3, 2005 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court Fans!
The Court, with new Chief Justice Roberts at the helm, officially opened the October 2005 Term today, hearing oral arguments in two matters: the consolidated cases of IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez and Tum v. Barber Foods, Inc., which ask whether the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay workers for time spent walking between equipment stations to get safety equipment; and Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, which asks whether, under the Indian Commerce Clause, Kansas can tax fuel that a non-tribal distributor sells at an on-reservation station. The biggest argument of the week is coming on Wednesday in Gonzalez v. Oregon, the Oregon assisted-suicide case.
Overshadowing the opening of the new Term, however, was the President's announcement this morning that he is nominating White House Counsel Harriet Miers to succeed Justice O'Connor. If confirmed, Miers would be the first non-judge to take a seat on the Court in some thirty years – the last being the late Chief Justice Rehnquist.
As expected, the Court released a massive order list today, in which it denied cert in almost 2000 cases. The Court also summarily granted cert, vacated judgment, and remanded ("GVR'd") 36 cases today in light of decisions from last Term, with most remands requiring reconsideration under the Court's criminal sentencing decision in United States v. Booker. The Court also invited the SG to weigh in on the cert petition in KSR International Co. v. Teleflex, Inc. (04-1350), which poses a question of interest to those of you in the IP world: Did the Federal Circuit err in holding that a claimed invention cannot be held "obvious," and thus unpatentable under 35 U.S.C. 103(a), in the absence of some proven "‘teaching, suggestion, or motivation' that would have led a person of ordinary skill in the art to combine the relevant prior art teachings in the matter claimed"?
Finally, we should correct an error in the last Update concerning Holmes v. South Carolina (04-1327). Although the Court did grant cert in that case, it did so only as to the first question presented: Does South Carolina's rule governing the admissibility of third-party guilt evidence violate a criminal defendant's constitutional right to present a complete defense grounded in the due process, confrontation, and compulsory process clauses of the Constitution? The Court will not review that case's second question, which concerned whether, having successfully moved to exclude third-party guilt evidence, the prosecutor can later point to the absence of this evidence as grounds to convict. Thanks to our astute readership for catching the mistake.
That's all for today. Until next time, thanks for reading!
Ken & Kim
From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana. For more information, contact Kim Rinehart, Ken Heath, Aaron Bayer, or Jeff Babbin at 203-498-4400