From a multi-billion money laundering case involving a Turkish state-run bank to a securities lawsuit involving a popular office collaboration act, the Supreme Court will decide a number of controversies of global significance in 2023.
Not all of them have yet captured public attention.
In this preview of the year ahead, Law&Crime pulls those cases out of relative obscurity and highlights why they matter.
Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States (Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2023)
Though watched closely in Turkey, Halkbank’s multi-billion dollar sanctions busting scandal only has received only sporadic attention in the United States — yet it has ties to former President Donald Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Turkish ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The case traces its roots to the Justice Department’s prosecution of convicted money launderer Reza Zarrab, who turned state’s witness before delivering testimony that sparked international shockwaves. Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish playboy once represented by Giuliani, testified that Erdogan ordered banks to place trades that violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. His case was heavily censored in Turkey in 2017, which then ranked as the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
In the United States, what happened behind the scenes in the case nearly eclipsed what unfolded in the courtroom. Giuliani shuttled between the U.S. and Turkish capitals to arrange a prisoner swap for Zarrab that would have torpedoed the prosecution. When that effort failed, Zarrab’s testimony implicated Halkbank, spurring the bank’s prosecution in a separate case with major implications for the Turkish economy. The Trump White House reportedly tried to pressure the Justice Department to dismiss the case, with former Ambassador John Bolton calling Erdogan one of the “dictators he likes.”
The upcoming Supreme Court battle will decide whether the case against Halkbank survives, and it comes down to a jurisdictional matter. Halkbank’s majority ownership is held by Turkey, which moved to dismiss on the grounds of sovereign immunity. After two lower courts rejected those immunity claims, Halkbank argues that a decision in a different case by the Sixth Circuit created a split that only the high court can resolve. That arcane procedural issue can have profound geopolitical repercussions that could prove embarrassing for Trump and Erdogan.
In Re Grand Jury (Monday, Jan. 9, 2023)
The justices will hear a case about a law firm’s right to keep its communications with clients secret — an issue that has increasingly been the subject of many politically-charged disputes in recent years, particularly involving Trump and his lawyers. Central to the case’s outcome is an analytical framework used in an opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was a judge on the D.C. Circuit.
The firm in question received a subpoena for documents related to a criminal investigation of its client and turned over nearly two thousand documents, but said that others were protected by attorney-client privilege. The records the firm held back included both documents relating to legal advice and documents relating to non-legal tax advice.
Both the district court and the Ninth Circuit sorted the documents by their “primary purpose”: those that had been made “for the primary purpose” of legal advice would be privileged, but those made primarily for tax preparation would need to be disclosed.
Kavanaugh, though, had been willing to shield far more documents when the question came before him. The would-be justice once ruled that so long as a dual-purpose communication had legal advice as a “significant” purpose, it was privileged. When the case reaches the high bench, we will see whether Kavanaugh’s fellow justices agree with that methodology.
New York v. New Jersey (TBD)
In this rare original jurisdiction case (in which SCOTUS will act as fact-finder), New Jersey seeks permission to withdraw from the 1953 congressionally-authorized Waterfront Commission Compact. The agreement with New York was made to combat the dockworker corruption and mob violence at the New York shoreline immortalized onscreen in Elia Kazan’s classic movie On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando.
New Jersey wants out of the compact because it says strict regulations are harmful to port commerce, and the Garden State argues that the agreement was only ever meant to be a temporary solution. New York says that without the agreement, the busiest port in the world will fall into instability and criminality.
The Court has not yet set a date for oral arguments.
Financial Oversight Board v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023)
The justices will decide whether the board put into place to manage restructuring of Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt has to turn over documents to the press.
Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) was created by Congress in 2016 to oversee critical restructuring of Puerto Rican debt. PROMESA’s board argues that under federal law, it has “sovereign immunity” from a lawsuit filed by investigative journalism organization Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI). Critics have argued that PROMESA relies on top-dollar consultants that have failed to effectuate the stability Puerto Rico needs.
PROMESA’s board lost in both district and appeals court. SCOTUS will now consider whether Congress intended to abrogate sovereign immunity, thereby requiring transparency from PROMESA, when it created the board. If the board loses, investigative journalists — and by extension, the public and taxpayers — can scrutinize how those billions are being spent.
Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools (Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023)
The justices will weigh in on a kind of Catch-22 related to special education claims. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not allow a claimant to recover money damages, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does.
When Miguel Luna Perez’s Michigan public school district denied him a qualified sign language interpreter for 12 years, he raised claims under both laws, then settled his IDEA claim. The Sixth Circuit then refused to hear Perez’s ADA damages claim on the grounds that Perez “failed to exhaust his administrative remedies” — even though any ADA damages claim Perez might have filed with his IDEA case would have been doomed from the very start.
The case will proceed before a Court that has been both highly-critical of federal administrative agencies and also apt to rule with minimizing clutter on the federal docket in mind. SCOTUS’ ruling could have major implications for limiting the procedural hurdles that disabled students and their families must clear before seeking compensation from their school districts.
Slack Technologies v. Pirani (TBD)
Slack, a popular messaging and collaboration software used by businesses, went public in 2019. It used a “direct listing” instead of an IPO, which meant that both its 118 million registered and its 165 million unregistered shares became immediately tradable on an exchange.
Fiyyaz Pirini bought 250,000 of shares in Slack on the New York Stock Exchange. Later, Piriani sued Slack for issuing a misleading registration statement that failed to alert buyers to Slack’s generous policies for compensating customers for service disruptions. Problematically, Pirani did not allege in his court documents that his shares had been registered shares, to which the registration statement would have obviously pertained.
Now, the justices are being asked whether, under the Securities Act of 1933, Pirani (and plaintiffs in similar positions) needs to prove that his shares are registered in order to bring a claim regarding the company’s registration statement. Both the district court and the 9th Circuit sided with Pirani.
Department of the Interior v. Navajo Nation and Arizona v. Navajo Nation (TBD)
The justices will consider the U.S. government’s obligation to plan for the Navajo Nation’s water needs. Through regulations, rulings, and treaties, the federal government has a “trust obligation” (meaning a legal obligation that derives from a moral one) to assert water rights for Native tribes. The Navajo Nation sued the federal government and alleged that by asserting rights along the Colorado River for other tribes, it has violated its obligations to the Navajo.
The Ninth Circuit sided with the Navajo Nation, and now, the state of Arizona has intervened.
In a number of recent cases, the justices have ruled on matters important to Native tribes. In several, the typically-conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch has sided with the Court’s liberal wing to rule in favor of the tribes.
Jack Daniel’s Properties v. VIP Products LLC (TBD)
The justices will consider the unusual case of a dog chew toy.
VIP Products made and sold a rubber dog toy shaped like a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey that read, “Bad Spaniels, the Old No. 2, on your Tennessee Carpet.” The bottom of the toy continues the fecal-theme and says: “43% POO BY VOL.” as well as “100% SMELLY.”
Although the packaging specifically says the product is not affiliated with Jack Daniels, the spirits-maker sued for trademark dilution.
The manufacturer says that the case is not really about trademark law at all, but about free speech, and argues that it has the right to parody a brand even when the owner of the brand dislikes it.
The case has implications far beyond chew toys and liquor: a ruling for Jack Daniels would once again bring the limits of parody before the justices as a brief-gone-viral filed by satirists The Onion did last October. Furthermore, legal challenges to parodies have often been raised by high-profile politicians such as Donald Trump and Devin Nunes.
The justices have not yet set a date for oral arguments in this case.
The high court will also be hearing several high-profile cases this term, which have received widespread media attention. Those include challenges to the Biden student loan relief plan, a pair of cases about the scope of tech companies’ liability under Section 230 (Feb. 21 and 22), and several cases involving labor relations and criminal law.
Adam Klasfeld contributed to this report.
[Photo by Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images]
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