Unanimous Decisions, Choppy Arguments at SCOTUS


Sailboat nowatermark

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down three decisions this week, and it was smooth sailing. 

All three rulings were unanimous, including a victory for Samsung over Apple in an iPhone patent dispute, and a decision clarifying what counts as insider trading.  

But tougher waters seem to lie ahead after oral arguments raised tough questions about redistricting, patent infringement and bankruptcy. 

Monday saw a double-header of racial gerrymandering challenges in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia, U.S., No. 15-680, and McCrory v. Harris, U.S., No. 15-1262

These controversies center on whether Virginia and North Carolina unconstitutionally let race “predominate” in their redistricting. 

It’s a question of flexibility, Bloomberg BNA’s Kimberly Robinson reported.  

The justices “struggled with the need to provide plaintiffs with flexibility to prove that states unconstitutionally considered race when drawing new voter maps, and the need to provide states with the flexibility to actually draw those maps,” Kimberly said. 

Seems like a tough yoga pose! 

The same attorneys argued both cases, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. jokingly saying, “Oh, you again” to Bancroft PLLC’s Paul Clement, Kimberly tweeted Monday.  

Read more about the arguments here

Next up was a dispute over how to determine whether U.S. companies have induced patent infringement, in Life Tech. Corp. v. Promega Corp., No. 14-1538

The issue here is what counts as a “substantial portion of the components of a patented invention” under patent infringement law. 

But the justices “also appeared concerned about economic impacts beyond the life sciences industry,” Bloomberg BNA’s Peter Leung wrote. 

Don’t expect the court to hand down a “definitive, easily applicable test” for what counts as “substantial,” Baker Botts’s Stephen Hash told Peter.  

Read Peter’s coverage here (subscription required). 

Finally, the court sailed into stormy bankruptcy waters in Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., No. 15-649

Czyzewski involves whether creditors and debtors in Chapter 11 can agree to settle their disputes and pay certain creditors outside of statutory priority schemes.  

At oral argument, it “was a hotter bench than expected,” Temple University law school’s Jonathan Lipson told Bloomberg BNA’s Daniel Gill. 

Further, this “could be a top 10 of the century bankruptcy case if the Supremes want to rule broadly” here, Robins Kaplan LLP’s Howard J. Weg told Daniel. 

Sounds like Czyzewski could really rock the bankruptcy boat! 

Check out Daniel’s coverage here. Bon voyage! 

Stay on top of the latest Supreme Court news with a free trial to United States Law Week.