Bank Markazi v Peterson

Bank sought review of the decision allowing seizure of certain monies as partial satisfaction of judgments holding Iran liable for terrorist acts. The court, 6-2, affirmed. The majority held that Court precedent allowed Congress to pass laws which change the controlling legal rule in civil cases even cases already filed and even if there is only one outcomes possible under the new rule. It held the statute here, 22 USC 8772, did not mandate an outcome but instead set up a new rule for the district court to interpret and apply and thus it did not violate the separation of powers. It also held that the fact 8872 identified one case by docket number did not change the outcome as the one case was consolidation of 16 already litigated cases and in any event Congress can make special laws for one case or involving one person. Five members of the majority also reasoned that 8772 is a foreign affairs statute and thus the deference normally shown to the political branches’ determinations supports affirmance here. Roberts, joined by Sotomayor, dissented arguing 8772 violates separation of powers as it resolves the dispute in a single case by eliminating all defenses to seizing the property at issue leaving nothing for eth judiciary to decide and limiting the statute to just this case thus intermingling legislative and judicial power in manner reminiscent of colonial practice which the founders rejected in setting up an independent judiciary.

Harris v Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission

Harris challenged Arizona’s state legislature redistricting plan based on deviations form mathematical equality. A three judge panel upheld the plan. The Court unanimously affirmed. It held that under precedent, plans with less than 10% deviations from mathematical equality are not subject to attack on the basis of the deviation and the plan here had deviations less than 10%. Instead, plaintiffs must show illegitimate considerations drove the districting decisions. Here, there was no proof of illegitimate considerations as the record supported the panel’s conclusion changes were made in the plan to meet the requirements of Voter Rights Act preclearance which is a legitimate consideration.

Molina-Martinez v United States

Molina-Martinez challenged his sentence before the 5th Circuit arguing plain error as his guidelines range was incorrectly calculated. The 5th Circuit rejected his challenge as his sentence was in the correct range and there was no additional evidence the wrong range affected the sentence. The Court, resolving circuit split on the issue of how to analyze sentences based on the wrong higher guideline range under plain error review, reversed with two justices concurring in part and in judgment. The majority held that the guidelines play central role in federal sentencing with an 80% likelihood of an in guidelines range sentence. Thus, proof of an incorrectly calculated range will almost always demonstrate a reasonable likelihood of a different outcome. Here, there is no evidence that the distract court though the 77 month sentence imposed was the correct one intendant of it being the lowest amount in the range and there is likelihood it would have used the lower amount of 70 months if the range was correctly calculated. It also held that this decision does not require resenting in all cases of improperly calculated range and the burdens should be manageable as most circuits already apply the approach adopted here. Alito, joined by Thomas, concurred in part and in judgment agreeing that the 5th Circuit’s rigid rule based approach was inconsistent with the case specific approach called for under plain error review and that Molina-Martinez met his burden by demonstrating the incorrect range played a key role in his sentence. He argued the majority predictions about how future challenges will play out is dicta and may be in error as future district court judges may place less emphasis on the guidelines.