How have the recent Supreme Court rulings effected your job as a lawyer?
As we all know, the past few months have brought lots of interesting rulings from overturning Roe v Wade to striking down New York's requirements for carrying a concealed weapon to decisions around separation of church and state.
As a lawyer, how have these rulings effected you? Have they led to more clients? Have you had to make any changes to the way you practice law?
You've asked a really interesting and insightful question. I am an employment lawyer in California, and while I spent the first 10 years of my career working at big law firms, I recently transitioned to working in-house at a financial tech company. Several of the recent US Supreme Court decisions did impact individuals' employment rights as well as their individual rights. These decisions (including those in the Viking River Cruises case and the Dobbs case) caused my company to think about our employees' rights and how to make sure to help preserve those right and abide by the interpretation of the laws set forth by the Supreme Court. Good luck with all of your future endeavors! Best, Katrina
Matthew L. Tuck, J.D., M.B.A.
As it happens, I am an attorney and I own an appellate law firm. That means we handle cases from clients who have lost in the trial court and would like to "appeal" to a higher court (an "appellate court") to review the decision of the lower court and determine whether mistakes were made that would change the outcome. It's basically a second bite at the apple. And trial court judges do make mistakes. At my firm we have hundreds of clients with cases pending in state and federal appellate courts because they didn't like the decision by the trial court. In every state in and in the federal courts, as a plaintiff or defendant who has lost in the trial court, you generally have one "appeal of right" to a higher court. An appeal of right means the appellate court must hear your case.
We even have a few clients who have asked us to handle their appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court does not have to take cases. Usually this means they lost in the trial court and appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court (and most state supreme courts) only accept the cases they want to hear because a case presents a new issue of law or one that has not been addressed in a long time.
Generally speaking, when the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision, all the lower courts, government agencies, companies and people are expected to follow that rule.
In answer to your question, we have not seen a big increase in cases yet. The reason is that it takes time for new rules (like the one in Dobbs v. Jackson that overturned Roe v. Wade or the decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen which struck down New York's law requiring a license to carry a concealed firearm in public places, for example) to work their way through the trial courts.
In Dobbs, the court held that states were now permitted to pass laws restricting abortion because there is no right to abortion stated in the Constitution. The Roe decision found that such a right was "implied" in the constitution. Dobbs held that because that right was not specifically stated, states are free to pass laws restricting abortion or not restricting abortion, as the legislature of the state chooses.
Ideally, the entities affected by these rules or laws (states, people, cities, companies, etc.) comply immediately with the new ruling (or stop having to comply with an unconstitutional law). But as we've seen, many people don't agree with these new rulings so they try not to comply or find a workaround.
An example of how states and people try to get around new Supreme Court decisions would be what is happening in New York State right now. The Bruen decision does not exactly say that the states are compelled to do something. Instead, Bruen held that the state must stop requiring licenses for gun owners because to do so violates the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
However, the politicians in the New York legislature still want to restrict these rights. So (and this happens every time a new appellate court rule is issued), they pass new laws that try to accomplish the same firearm restrictions while (perhaps) not violating the rule set forth in the Bruen case. In New York they are now trying to create "gun free zones" that are everywhere, to the point (they hope) it will be impossible to carry a firearm pretty much anywhere in New York State without violating the new law. Firearm owners and gun groups will no doubt challenge these laws.
Once this new law passes (i.e., is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor), what happens is this: someone will try to carry a firearm (intentionally or accidentally) into an area that is now restricted under the new law (say, a museum or a ball park). That person will be arrested and charged with a crime under the new statute. Eventually someone charged under the new law will fight the charge in court saying that the new New York law restricting that right to carry is unconstitutional under the Bruen decision. A trial court will rule on that issue, either agreeing or disagreeing with the defendant's argument. Then, either the prosecution or the defendant will appeal to the appellate court. Then the appellate court will look at the facts and decide whether the new New York law violates the constitution or not. Most people don't appeal adverse decisions in the trial court. But eventually someone will, which how cases get to the appellate courts.
That's when my firm gets involved. We handle the appeal from the trial court decision by writing briefs with lots of law supporting our client's position. We generally represent people or companies (not governments) so we likely would be representing the defendant firearm owner in this case. My firm handles cases in New York so we could very well get a case just like this in a year or two. It will take a few years because we'll have to wait for the new New York law to be passed and for a policeman to arrest someone for violating it, and then for that case to go to trial, and person to want to appeal before the case gets to us. It takes a long time but, to answer your question, it may lead to more cases for us.
Other states also have restrictive firearm laws that will have to be changed to comply with the Bruen decision. Since most of those states (like California, Hawaii, Illinois, and Washington, to name just a few) have a strong commitment to restrict firearm ownership, those legislatures will likely try to pass laws that restrict firearms but are written in such a way that the appellate courts find they don't violate the rule in Bruen.
It works the same with pro choice states that will try to write new laws that don't violate the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson. Then someone will challenge those laws and they will be appealed, probably arguing based on other cases that there is a constitutional right to abortion or healthcare or privacy or some other right. Eventually, in maybe 20 or 30 years, there will be so many exceptions to Dobbs case or public opinion or science will change enough that the U.S. Supreme Court will need to issue a new decision to deal with all the exceptions or the new views.
We, like most law firms, don't have to make any changes to our practice. We just need to adjust our briefs and court arguments to reflect the new legal precedents. But prosecutors' offices and law enforcement agencies in New York (and other states with now unconstitutional firearm laws on the books) will have to change the way they handle things. They will need to stop arresting and prosecuting people in New York for carrying weapons and will also have to start issuing firearm purchase permits to people who want them, at least until the new law is passed by the legislature. People and groups will, no doubt, challenge that law in court.
As to the Dobbs decision, states favoring restrictive choice policies will begin passing new laws or enforcing old laws that were invalidated by Roe 50 years ago (Indiana just passed a new law, but other states have old laws that were never repealed). These new laws will, in turn, be challenged in court by doctors, patients, interest groups, and hospitals which will lead to more appeals in state and federal courts. Texas is pretty politically conservative and will likely be the source of a lot of this type of court action as different groups do battle in court to advance their positions. You will have a great opportunity to watch some interesting appellate legal action right in your own backyard.
One final note: many states have live streams of appellate oral arguments. I believe Texas has such a system and you can watch live or recroded oral arguments on the courts' Youtube channel. If you have interest in law, this is a great way to see how appellate courts work. You can watch lawyers argue and watch the judges interrupt with questions about the case. Then a few months later the court will issue a written decision on that case that you can read and compare to the dialogue between judges and lawyers at the hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court does not stream video live but you can often hear the audio of cases, which is fascinating. You can also find lots of appellate briefs online (especially famous cases) which you can download and read to get a feel for how the cases were argued by the lawyers. States also release the written decisions by appellate courts for you to download and read as well. And lastly, you can go sit in any trial court and watch trials, hearings, motions and sentencings live (with your parent's permission of course).
Again, great questions! The law is super interesting and luckily much of it is open the public.
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Most would say these rulings have not affected them at all. You have to remember that there are MANY different areas of law, and these rulings are rather specific. If one is a patent lawyer, or estate planner, or work for a major corporation, these rulings are completely irrelevant to your day-to-day practice.
If you work for the ACLU, or planned parenthood, or the NRA, these ruling would have a much larger impact...but if that's where you work, you are well aware of the fact that these rulings are (or were) coming, and should probably have prepared for any result well before the decision is announced.
Again, this is just my take one what I hear and see. I may be 100% wrong.