Supreme Court panel: Professors discuss citizenship-based discrimination and more

By Rabiya Tirmizi & Oday Yousif

California Western School of Law has a tradition of hosting a panel with the constitutional law professors, where they comment on current and upcoming cases that have made their way to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). On March 5, the American Constitution Society (ACS) and the Federalist Society continued this tradition by holding the “SCOTUS at Halftime: Review of the Current Court Session” panel event.

More than 60 students were in attendance as Professors William Aceves, Jessica Fink, and Glenn Smith all presented a case that has either been decided or is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Each professor explained the significance that the case will have not only on society, but on constitutional law.

Professor Aceves spoke of the recently decided case Timbs v. Indiana, which found that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines applies to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. As a result, the state of Indiana acted improperly in seizing the defendant’s truck, because the truck’s worth exceeded the maximum statutory fine for the crime he committed. Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion concluded that the Eighth Amendment applies, not through the Fourteenth’s Due Process Clause but instead through the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Professor Aceves noted how Justice Thomas equated the Timbs decision with Roe v. Wade and Dred Scot v. Sandford, two cases Thomas believes were “notoriously incorrect.”

Professor Fink discussed Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, which has been argued before SCOTUS, but not yet decided.  Blair focuses on the Dormant Commerce Clause of Article I in the United States Constitution.  The state declined to give a liquor license because the applicants had not lived in the state for the requisite ten years.  The applicants argued the Tennessee law violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, which provides states cannot pass laws that restrict or pose a burden on interstate commerce. At the end of her discussion, Professor Fink also noted the significance of Blair being argued on the 100th-year anniversary of the passage of the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment’s prohibition on alcohol.

Professor Smith directed his time on the not yet argued, but soon to be argued, case Department of Commerce v. New York, regarding the Trump Administration’s intention to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census survey. The case was fast-tracked to oral arguments before the Court at the insistence of the Administration. With the 2020 census quickly approaching, advocates against the citizenship question fear the ramifications a citizenship question could have on redistricting and other census-dependent tabulations.

Professor Smith, and later Professor Aceves, also spent time discussing how Justice Kavanaugh is not yet the firebrand he was in the confirmation hearings. Professor Smith noted how Justice Kavanaugh’s first written opinion was a unanimous one; it is a tradition on the Supreme Court to have the newest Justice’s first written opinion be unanimous.

Following their comments, students asked the professors questions about the Court, the cases, and the Justices. ACS and the Federalist Society received excellent feedback from students and the professors alike. They look forward to continuing the tradition of hosting the SCOTUS panel at California Western School of Law.

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