AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The US Supreme Court began what is expected to be a historic term Oct. 4, with in-person arguments scheduled after over 18 months of strictly virtual meetings. The agenda is set to impact every person in the nation, with new justices taking up issues such as abortion, guns, and religion.

The court is expected to remain closed to the public, with only lawyers involved in the cases and regular reporters on-hand, and masking guidelines in place. However, the public will be able to listen to live streams of the arguments.

What is happening, and when? More importantly, how could these cases impact life on the High Plains?

Here is a week-by-week look for October in the Supreme Court:

Oct. 4 – Oct. 8:

  • Monday, Oct. 4
    • Mississippi v. Tennessee – The states of Mississippi and Tennessee have gone to court in a disagreement over water in an underground aquifer that sits beneath parts of both states. Stretching back to 2005, the conflict started with Mississippi claiming that Tennessee was pumping water from the Mississippi portion of the aquifer. Tennessee said the aquifer is an interstate resource that should be shared fairly. The court is expected to decide whether or not Mississippi has sole authority over the groundwater and sandstone naturally stored in its borders, and whether Tennessee owes the fellow state money for damages.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The Texas Panhandle has an interstate water source of its own, with the Ogallala aquifer standing as a supplying resource to eight states. However, with the water drying out and farmers working hard to protect what’s left, disputes about which state gets what amount from the aquifer are a possibility in the future. How the court views Mississippi v. Tennessee’s argument could influence how any future conflicts over similar aquifers are settled.
      • UPDATE: “The first oral argument of the Supreme Court’s new term, Mississippi v. Tennessee, dealt with Mississippi’s claim that Memphis, Tennessee, is stealing Mississippi’s groundwater. The justices seemed skeptical of Mississippi’s claims — but they also displayed considerable concern about the potential breadth of the “equitable apportionment” doctrine and the court’s potential increasing involvement in future interstate disputes over natural resources.” commented an analysis on by Robin Craig.
    • Wooden v. United States – While Tennessee investigators were searching for a fugitive in 2015, one of which was not in uniform, came to William Wooden’s home. Incidentally an officer found Wooden, a convicted felon, to own multiple firearms – illegal under the Armed Career Criminal Act because Wooden had more than three prior convictions. Wooden argued that his burglary convictions from 1997 should not count as more than one crime, because the burglaries were from ‘a single occasion’, which would put Wooden’s total felony convictions down to three. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether offenses committed as part of a single spree, one after another, count as separate crimes or different aspects of a single crime.
      • Why does this matter to Amarillo? Recently, Amarillo saw a string of drive-by shootings on Labor Day for which a suspect was arrested on Oct. 1. The Amarillo Police Department responded to six shootings within 24 hours, and officers are currently working to find out whether or not the suspect in custody was responsible for any, or all, of them. If the suspect is tried in court for these Labor Day shootings, Wooden v. United States may impact how many crimes for which he is tried.
      • UPDATE: According to Analyst Daniel Harawa, “While the justices pressed both sides, there was one sticking point for the government that many justices kept returning to: United States v. Petty, a 1986 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In Petty, the solicitor general “confessed error” after a defendant received an enhanced sentenced based on six robbery charges stemming from the stickup of a diner. Congress enacted the different-occasions clause following the government’s concession. Many justices struggled to distinguish the facts of Petty with those here, with Justice Samuel Alito remarking, “You have a real problem, I think, with Petty.”
  • Tuesday, Oct. 5
    • Brown v. Davenport – In 2008, Ervine Davenport was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury after being shackled at his feet, waist, and hands throughout the trial. Because of the shackling, Davenport argued that the prosecution did not show that the shackles didn’t cause an undue influence the jury’s decision. The court is expected to decide the standard needed in order to grant federal habeas corpus relief to a person held in state custody.
    • UPDATE: The latest update from Analyst Eve Brensike Primus noted, “Very little argument time was focused on how to conduct an AEDPA inquiry in Davenport’s case if one is ultimately required. Sotomayor suggested a remand would be appropriate if the court concluded that a separate AEDPA analysis was required, but both sides have argued that they should win outright at the Supreme Court. We will have to wait until later in the term to see if the court is able to address Breyer’s concerns and fit all of these standards together in a way that provides clarity and guidance to lower courts.”
    • Hemphill v. New York – Darrell Hemphill was tried in New York state court and convicted of second-degree murder. During the trial, the court ruled that the defense attorney’s introduction of evidence toward a different shooter opened the door to the prosecution being able to respond with testimony given at prior legal proceedings – something usually barred by the Sixth Amendment. The court is expected to decide whether and under what circumstances a defendent forfeits their rights under the Sixth Amendment’s clause in question.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? For example, both of these cases could impact future court handlings of the cases connected to Billy Ivy, Jr. While Ivy died in jail in September 2020, Jessica Black was charged in August 2021 with capital murder of multiple people in connection to Ivy’s cases. These cases could influence not only what evidence is allowed in any trial in which Black is a defendent, but how defense attorneys may use habeas corpus depending on a jury’s decisions.
      • UPDATE: “Tuesday’s oral argument in Hemphill v. New York made apparent that a New York evidentiary rule, known as the “door opening” rule, implicates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause. But by the end of the hour-long argument, it wasn’t clear how the justices are inclined to deal with the interaction of the two,” said Analyst Shaakirrah Sanders.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 6
    • United States v. Zubaydah – Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, is a former associate of Osama bin Laden. He was detained as an “enemy combatant” by the CIA in its detention and interrogation program in Poland from 2002 to 2003, and his treatment was later ruled to be torture by the European Court on Human Rights in Poland. However, the Polish investigation into Zubaydah’s treatment by the CIA hit a snag when the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that not all information requested was allowed to be given out on the grounds of national security interests. The court is set to discuss how state secrets and privilege should be treated in international investigations.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The High Plains is home to not only the Pantex facility, a company that is the primary nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility for the United States, but also Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M. Information not only able to be reported by the press, but released by the US armed forces and its related companies could be impacted by this case. Connected to that, business and employment in the area.
      • UPDATE: Analyst Amy Howe of said that the argument took an unexpected turn in the final few minutes. “The tone of the argument changed significantly when Fletcher returned to the lectern for his rebuttal. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had been relatively quiet up to this point, asked Fletcher why the government couldn’t simply allow Abu Zubaydah to testify “as to his treatment during these dates.” When Fletcher responded that Abu Zubaydah and his lawyers had not asked for him to testify, so that the Department of Justice had not discussed the possibility with officials at the Department of Defense, Gorsuch voiced his frustration. “This case has been litigated for years and all the way up to the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said, “and you haven’t considered whether that’s an off-ramp that the government could provide that would obviate the need for any of this?”
        “Sotomayor, who sits next to Gorsuch on the bench but is generally at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, joined the fray. She told Fletcher that “we want a clear answer” from the federal government: “Are you going to permit him to testify as to what happened to him those dates without invoking a state secret or other privilege? Yes or no. That’s all we’re looking for.”
        Fletcher indicated that the federal government would be happy to respond, leaving open the possibility of further developments in the case in the not-too-distant future.”

Oct. 11 – Oct. 15

  • Tuesday, Oct. 12
    • Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C. – In 2018, Kentucky enacted a state law that criminalized a certain method of abortion “prior to performing a procedure inducing fetal demise.” EMW Women’s Surgical Center (EMW), the only licensed outpatient abortion facility in the state, claimed it effectively banned that method of abortion and violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of abortion rights according to Roe v. Wade. While the district court ruled in EMW’s favor and overruled the law, Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to join the case to defend the law. The court rejected his request and agreed with the district court’s ruling, and said that the law put an undue burden on all the people it restricted. The US Supreme Court will meet its first direct argument about abortion this session with this case, and decide whether a state official can intervene in a case to defend a state law that has been invalidated, and discuss the Fourteenth Amendment protections on abortion.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The state of Texas passed SB 8 in 2021, banning abortion once heart activity can be detected – the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Embroiled in controversy and subject to ongoing court challenges and a flood of protests, every decision the Supreme Court makes regarding abortion will impact Texas and its restrictions holding up – or not – in court.
      • UPDATE I – The Case Itself:
        The SCOTUSBlog described the oral argument as mostly a debate on procedure, with “relatively few references to the underlying abortion law.” In the end, it seemed likely that Attorney General Daniel Cameron would be allowed to intervene to defend the restrictive state abortion law that prompted the case.
        However, figures such as lawyer Alexa Kolbi-Molinas and Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that the previous attorney general signed a stipulation while the case was still in district court that dismissed him from the lawsuit and had him agree to be bound by any final judgement. In that case, either the attorney general would not be allowed to intervene and appeal the current decision on the law or “intervention is not a revolving door that allows a party to agree to be bound, procure their dismissal, fail to appeal, and then gain reentry to the suit after the court of appeals has ruled.” The arguments against allowing Cameron to intervene appeared to be bolstered by the idea that attempted appeals regarding the abortion law were politically motivated.
      • UPDATE II – Texas, Abortion, and the Supreme Court:
        While a decision on the Cameron case is expected sometime in 2022, the Supreme Court has put Texas’ S.B. 8 abortion law on “the rocket docket” after previously taking up two challenges against it. One asked the justices to weight in on “whether a state can insulate from federal-court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right” by delegating enforcement to private citizens.” or in other words, whether it is fair for a state to use a bounty-system that puts enforcement in the hands of citizens to shield itself from scrutiny.
        The other challenge was the court granting a petition from the Justice Department. For the first time bringing a challenge to a state abortion restriction, the DOJ argued that S.B. 8 interferes with its interest in ensuring states recognize federal constitutional rights. The DOJ also argued that the law raised concerns by threatening the work of federal agencies, employees, and contractors.
        The oral argument surrounding S.B. 8 is now scheduled for November.
    • Thompson v. Clark – A civil suit was brought against police who arrested Larry Thompson on a charge of obstructing the law, related to a search conducted without warrant on Thompson’s home. After being held for two days in police custody and a prosecutor dropping the criminal charges, Thompson began the suit with the argument the police deprived him of his civil rights. However, the district court said that Thompson did not show enough evidence to prove his accusation. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a person needs to wait for favorable termination before suing for a possible civil rights violation, and how much proof a person needs to win that kind of lawsuit.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The Supreme Court recently ruled on when officers can enter a home without a warrant while pursuing a suspect. The powers and privileges of the police impact every community across the nation, especially in Amarillo this year with homicides reaching record-breaking levels. How should people interact with the police in their community? How should the police interact with the communities they serve? The ongoing questions are decided bit by bit through cases like Thompson v. Clark.
      • UPDATE: Centaurs with lung cancer and Les Miserables’ protagonist Jean Valjean came into play during the oral arguments for this case. Valjean, who in the story was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his family, was brought up by Justice Stephen Breyer; wondering whether Valjean could bring a claim similar to Thompson’s if his theft charges had been dismissed as an act of mercy. Meanwhile, Justice Alito brought up a centaur; comparing ignoring whether the Fourth Amendment claim exists to asking a medical expert whether a centaur would contract lung cancer from smoking five packs of cigarettes per day.
        Thompson’s lawyer argued that the court could resolve the case in “three sentences; two, if you like semi-colons.” He urged the court to write that the 2nd Circuit decided that the favorable-termination requirements includes indications of innocence, but it does not; a criminal proceeding terminates in favor of the accused person when it ends without a conviction.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 13
    • United States v. Tsarnaev – In 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev detonated two homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon. In 2015, Dzhokhar was indicted on and convicted of 30 criminal charges related to the bombings, and was sentenced to death. However, he appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that the jury and venue selections had violated his constitutional rights, and that applying the death penalty for some of his convictions was wrong. The US Supreme Court is expected to consider whether Dzhokhar’s appeals are valid.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The city saw the evacuation of over a dozen households after an explosion on Lenwood Drive in late July, and Erfan Salmanzadeh was arrested on charges relating to making explosives and possessing illegal firearms. How the Supreme Court decides to treat cases such as United States v. Tsarnaev could impact how and where any impending trial for Salmanzadeh is held, as well as what penalties are at stake and how the jury is made.
      • UPDATE: After over 90 minutes of oral argument, a majority of justices seemed inclined to reinstate the death penalty sentence in Tsarnaev’s case.
        The arguments mostly surrounded the second part of the 1st Circuit’s reasoning for taking off the death sentence from the convictions – that being during the trial, the trial judge should have allowed Tsarnaev’s lawyers to introduce evidence that Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, was involved in a separate, unsolved triple murder two years before the bombings; the argument there being that the evidence may have led the jury to believe Tsarnaev’s brother was the mastermind behind the attack.
        However, Deputy Solicitor General Eric Feigin argued that at a minimum the, “easiest way to resolve” the case is to conclude that the jury would have reached the same verdict even if the judge had asked jurors about pretrial publicity and had allowed Tsarnaev to introduce his additional evidence.” A decision regarding the case is expected sometime next year.
    • Babcock v. Kijakazi – David Babcock served in the Michigan National Guard for over three years, then returned towork as a National Guard dual-status technician after flight school for over 33 years. After his retirement in 2009 he started to get Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) payments and military retirement pay. After his full retirement in 2014, he applied for Social Security benefits. While his application was granted, his benefits were reduced because of his CSRS pension. However, Babcock argued that members of a uniformed service are not typically subject to their benefits being reduced because of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which he said he qualified for because of his dual status. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a civil service pension for dual-status military technitions qualifies under the WEP.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? Because of Amarillo’s connections to the armed forces, between nearby Cannon AFB and facilities such as Pantex that employ members of the community, and the sizeable population of veterans – Social Security benefits and the WEP could impact neighbors across the area.

How any of these cases will resolve, and their impacts on the future of the country and the Amarillo community has yet to be seen. However, will keep a close eye on the situation as it continues.