SUPREME COURT TAKES BENCH WITHOUT SCALIA

Supreme CourtJustice Antonin Scalia changed the tenor of oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, transforming it—for better or worse—into the hot bench that we know today.

The justices gathered this week for their first oral arguments without the outspoken justice.

With Scalia’s seat empty—and draped with a black wool crepe—the high court kicked off the new session with argument in Kingdomware Technologies v. United States, No. 14-916.

This case was originally slated for argument in November, but it was pulled at the last minute to satisfy the justices the case hadn’t become moot. With the justices seemingly assuaged, the court finally heard the case Feb. 22.

“The case centers around a provision of the 2006 Veteran Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act, 38 U.S.C. §8127, and whether it requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to give priority to veteran-owned small businesses in certain instances when awarding contracts,” U.S. Law Week’s Melissa Stanzione said.

“The case could make billions of dollars available for contracts with veteran-owned small businesses, but the government says such a result would be devastating for the VA,” Melissa reported. Read her coverage here.

Later that day, the court considered the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule in Utah v. Strieff, No. 14-1373.

The case asks whether “execution of a valid arrest warrant discovered during an unconstitutional seizure acts to purge the taint of the constitutional violation from evidence discovered during a search incident to the arrest on the warrant,” Bloomberg BNA’s Alisa Johnson said.

Alisa hinted that this case may be deadlocked without Scalia, who often sided with the more liberal justices on Fourth Amendment issues. Read Alisa’s account here.

During day two of oral argument, the justices wrestled with the federal government’s jurisdiction over local pot, in Taylor v. United States, No. 14-6166, U.S. Law Week’s Patrick Gregory said.

“The outcome here could limit the federal government’s jurisdiction to prosecute defendants accused of a drug-related crime under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. §1951(a), which allows federal prosecution for robberies or extortions that affect commerce,” Patrick said.

“But such an impact didn't seem likely,” he added. Read why here.

The argument in Halo Electronics v. Pulse Electronics, No. 14-1513, , about the proper standard for awarding enhanced patent damages, came down to what was worse: patent trolls or pirates, Bloomberg BNA’s Tony Dutra said.

See how that debate panned out here.

Finally, with only one oral argument on Feb. 24, the court finished off the week with Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing, No. 14-614.

The case centers on whether Maryland has intruded on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority to regulate wholesale energy markets. Bloomberg BNA’s Rebecca Kern said the justices “seemed persuaded that a Maryland subsidy program for new electricity generation intruded into FERC’s authority.”

If you’ve made it this far, just read Rebecca’s rundown here.

More oral arguments are scheduled for next week, including in the case over Texas’s abortion regulations.

As always, you can stay on top of these and other Supreme Court developments with a free trial to United States Law Week.