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Supreme Court Decision Update - Office of Senator Mark Dayton v. Hanson

punting.jpgThere are five new Supreme decisions today, which is just a joy for those of us who take time out of our busy days to read and summarize them. Luckily, Office of Senator Mark Dayton v. Hanson (PDF of the opinion) is just the kind of decision we like - short, simple and unanimous. In an 8-0 ruling (Chief Justice Johnny didn’t have anything to do with this decision), the Supremes decided that they didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case in question, meaning they didn’t have to get to the merits of it at all.

The underlying case involved claims by Brad Hanson, a former employee of Senator Mark Dayton. Dayton was fired back around 2002, and he sued the Senator’s office, claiming violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the American with Disabilities Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Dayton argued that the District Court had jurisdiction over the case under the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995. The Senator’s Office moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause granted it immunity from Dayton’s claims (Article I, section 6, clause 1 of the Constitution states that “for any Speech or Debate in either House, [the Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other place”). The District Court didn’t buy this immunity argument, and denied the motion (and the D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial).

Justice Stevens, who authored the Supremes’ opinion, looks at section 412 of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which says the Supremes have jurisdiction for direct review “from any interlocutory or final judgment, decree, or order of a court upon the constitutionality of any provision” of the Act. However, says Stevens, neither the District Court nor the appellate court ruled “upon the constitutionality” of anything in the Act - they simply denied a motion to dismiss, and the District Court’s denial of the motion didn’t even include any grounds for the decision. The lower “court’s determination that jurisdiction attaches despite a claim of Speech or Debate Clause immunity is best read as a ruling on the scope of the Act, not its constitutionality.” And there are no “special circumstances” that would give the Supremes a reason to exercise its discretionary certiorari jurisdiction.

In other words, the Supremes are punting on this case.