Wacky Week for Supreme Court Oral Arguments

Abortion Arguments at SCOTUS

Thomas broke his ten-year silence, the lights went out in the courtroom, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor wouldn’t yield to Chief Justice John G. Roberts… it was a wacky week of oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. Let me take you on the ride…

First, Thomas.

Voisine v. United States, No. 14-10154, asks when the federal government can restrict gun ownership for domestic violence offenders.

For the most part argument in Voisine was pretty sleepy—both attorneys were prepared to sit down before their allotted time had expired.

But as the federal government’s attorney was about to finish, the courtroom got a jolt.

“If there are no further questions,” the government’s attorney said.

That’s when Thomas jumped in.

“One question,” he said. But he actually had several.

Read about those questions, and Bloomberg BNA’s criminal law reporter Jessica DaSilva’s take on the rest of the oral argument here.

Thomas remained quiet, however, during the day’s next argument in Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15-5040.

This capital case asks when judges should bow out, according to U.S. Law Week’s Nicholas Datlowe.

“Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille's decision not to recuse himself from a case where habeas corpus was denied to a man Castille once prosecuted was the focus of oral argument,” Nick said.

“The justices wrestled with the attorneys’ positions on both sides, seeking a bright-line rule to determine when recusal would be required,” he said. “But the justices did not appear to get what they were looking for.”

Read why here.

On to Tuesday… when the wackiness resumed.

Arguments in Nichols v. United States, No. 15-5238 “featured nearly every justice doggedly asking the government how sex offenders should have been expected to comply with a registration law that didn't explicitly mandate that they update their addresses when moving to a foreign country,” Jessica said.

“Both parties and the justices agreed that the issue before the court had already been resolved going forward, following a Congressional update to the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act,” but “that didn't stop the justices from peppering the government with questions regarding the plain reading of the law prior to that amendment,” she said.

In the middle of arguments the overhead lights went out. "I knew we should have paid that bill," Roberts quipped. And then the court just kept on going, in the dark, for several minutes.

This one seems to be a loser for the federal government. Read why here.

And on to bankruptcy.

In Husky International Electronics v. Ritz, No. 15-145, the court considered “whether ‘actual fraud’ requires a debtor in bankruptcy to have made a false representation,” Bloomberg BNA’s bankruptcy law reporter Diane Davis said.

“The court’s first bankruptcy case of the term will resolve a circuit split that pits the Fifth Circuit against the First and Seventh circuits interpreting Bankruptcy Code Section 523(a)(2)(A),” Diane said.

She added that the “justices didn't appear to favor either side based on the questions asked.”

Read her take here.

Finally, the topic itself provided the fireworks for Wednesday’s sole argument: abortion.

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274, the court considered two Texas abortion regulations that significantly cut back on the number of abortion clinics in the state.

The court’s “liberal” justices were ruthless in their questioning of Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, with Sotomayor twice preventing Roberts from ending questioning on time.

In the end, this case likely comes down to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Read why I think he’s leaning toward the abortion providers here.

That’s all for oral arguments until March 21.

Until then, follow along with all the latest Supreme Court developments with a free trial to United States Law Week.