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Supreme Court to Hear Cases About Police Entering Suspects’ Homes, Water Rights, and Immigration

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in four cases this week. Here’s what you need to know.

Monday February 21, 2021.

Florida v. Georgia

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in Florida v. Georgia, a rare case in which the high court has original jurisdiction. This means the litigation is not an appeal from a federal circuit court; rather, SCOTUS will act as trial court, because the dispute is between two states themselves.

Florida and Georgia are battling it out over the rights to water flow from the Apalachicola River-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin. Florida argues that Georgia is using too much water, thereby hurting Florida’s oyster industry; Florida wants Georgia to cap its use to allow more water to flow into Florida. Alternatively, Georgia contends the suggested cap would be detrimental to both the Atlanta metropolitan area and farming in its rural areas.

Although the case is not on technically on appeal to SCOTUS, litigation over water flow from the ACF has been going on for years. Florida first filed its complaint back in 2013. At the time, the Court appointed Ralph Lancaster as a “special master” to review the case and to recommend a ruling to the justices.

Lancaster (a renowned legal expert who died in 2019) concluded after his review that Florida had not made a strong enough showing that Georgia’s water consumption should be limited. Lancaster also concluded that because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates dams and reservoirs in the ACF, Florida was not entitled to impose a cap on Georgia when it had not named USACE as a defendant in the case.

Lancaster had issued a lengthy report in conjunction with his findings. In 2018, SCOTUS decided 5-4 that Lancaster had applied too high a standard of review in the case, and specifically found that the USACE would work with the states to accommodate a solution. SCOTUS then appointed a new special master — Judge Paul Kelly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. Kelly heard oral arguments in the case in 2019.

Kelly decided in Georgia’s favor, finding that any benefit to Florida would be outweighed by the harm suffered by Georgia. SCOTUS then considered Kelly’s report, and scheduled the case for oral arguments on Monday, February 22, 2021.

Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been part of the Court’s majority in 2018 and have now been replaced by Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett respectively.

Former Solicitor General (2008-2009) Gregory G. Garre will argue for Florida. Kirkland & Ellis partner Craig S. Primis will argue for Georgia.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Rosen v. Dai and Rosen v. Alcaraz-Enriquez

Rosen v. Dai and Rosen v. Alcaraz-Enriquez, both immigration cases involving credibility, have been consolidated for oral argument. The issue is whether, when reviewing the denial of an asylum application, a court of appeals can presume an immigrant’s testimony to be credible when neither the immigration judge nor the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) specifically found the immigrant not to be credible.

Petitions for asylum rest on the immigrant’s claim that they will be persecuted if forced to reenter their country of origin.  Under U.S. law, the Attorney General must withhold removal of a noncitizen if  “the alien’s life or freedom would be threatened” on account of “the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in particular social group, or political opinion.”

In many cases, immigrants seeking asylum have arrived on American soil without personal belongings or documents. In those cases, the testimony of the person themself forms the legal basis for the contention that they are entitled to asylum in the U.S.

Immigration judges are expected to base their findings as to the credibility of that testimony on specific factors in the legal record. Generally, if an immigration judge found an immigrant’s testimony to be credible, the BIA will defer to that finding on appeal.

Mexican-born Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez (“Alcaraz”) came to the U.S. at age eight. His parents and siblings are all either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Alcaraz has a history of serious mental illness, drug abuse, domestic violence, and time in prison. He has returned (both voluntarily and involuntarily) to Mexico several times over the years; each time, Alcaraz’s health deteriorates dramatically while in Mexico. His family wishes to care for him in the U.S.

In the companion case, petitioner Ming Dai testified that in 2009, Chinese officers came to his home where he lived with his wife and daughter. His wife, Li Qin, was four months pregnant with their second child. The officers forced Qin to have an abortion and to insert an IUD to prevent her from conceiving another child. They beat Dai and detained him for ten days with minimal food and water. He contends that if he returns to China, he will be forcibly sterilized.

In both cases, the immigration judge made no specific finding as to the claimant’s credibility. While the question SCOTUS considers is a procedural one, it could have significant impact on asylum cases generally.

Arguing for the Department of Justice will be Assistant Solicitor General Colleen R. Sinzdak.  Former Solicitor General Neal K. Katyal (2010-2011) will argue on behalf of Cesar Alcaraz-Enriquez, and David J. Zimmer will argue on behalf of Ming Dai.

The Court has also decided to answer a question about how far “exigent circumstances” go to allow warrantless searches. Specifically, the Court will take up the case involving a person suspected to have committed a misdemeanor.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lange v. California

The Court will consider limits on the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches when an officer suspects an individual of committing a misdemeanor.

Arthur Lange‘s run-in with law enforcement one California night may now prompt the Court to answer broad questions about criminal procedure. Lange was driving with music blaring. An officer driving behind Lange followed him home. As Lange approached his own driveway, the officer activated his lights for the first time.

After pulling into his own garage, Lange tried to close the electric garage door.  The officer, though, got out of his squad car, stuck his foot under the door to stop it from closing, and entered Lange’s garage. Once inside, the officer said he could smell alcohol on Lange’s breath and ordered him out of the garage for a DUI investigation.

The officer had proceeded without a warrant but argued that he believed Lange’s loud music was a misdemeanor violation of the California Vehicle Code. SCOTUS will now hear arguments as to whether the officer’s suspicion of a misdemeanor was sufficient basis to enter Lange’s garage.

Under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, police must obtain a warrant before entering a home except in “exigent circumstances.” Hot pursuit of someone suspected of committing a felony always satisfies the legal requirements – but courts are split on whether the same is true when the underlying suspected crime is only a misdemeanor.

Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher will argue on Lange’s behalf. Deputy Solicitor General of San Francisco Samuel T. Harbourt will argue for California.  Amanda K. Rice of Jones Day will argue on behalf of amicus curiae supporting Lange’s position.  Department of Justice Assistant to the Solicitor General, Erica L. Ross will argue for amicus curiae supporting California’s position.

[Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos