Supreme Court Notebook

Decision on effect of posthumous conception on SS

BOSTON (The Daily Record Newswire) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether children who are conceived after the death of a biological parent are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits when state law denies them the right to an inheritance.

The Court will review a 3rd Circuit decision that the posthumously conceived children of a deceased wage earner and his widow are "children" within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

The plaintiff conceived twins through in vitro fertilization after her husband's death using sperm that he had deposited at a sperm bank. After the children were born, the plaintiff applied for surviving child's Social Security benefits based on her husband's earnings record.

The Social Security Administration denied her claim, concluding that the twins were not "children" under the Act when taking into account the law of intestacy of Florida, where the husband was domiciled.

But the 3rd Circuit concluded that there was no need to resort to state law when it was undisputed that the twins were the biological children of the plaintiff and her husband.

"Under §402(d) [of the Social Security Act], the child is a 'child' as defined in §416(e). To accept the argument of the Commissioner [of Social Security], one would have to ignore the plain language of §416(e) and find that the biological child of a married couple is not a 'child' within the meaning of §402(d) unless that child can inherit under the intestacy laws of the domicile of the decedent. There is no reason apparent to us why that should be so," the court said.

A decision from the Supreme Court is expected later this term.

The case is Astrue v. Capato.

U.S. Supreme Court to consider health care law's Medicaid mandate

BOSTON (The Daily Record Newswire) -- As part of a broad examination of the federal health care law, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether Congress impermissibly conditioned states' federal Medicaid funding on the adoption of expanded eligibility and coverage thresholds.

Twenty-six states, including Florida, as well as a number of organizations filed suit in federal courts across the country challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, arguing that its individual heath care coverage mandate exceeded Congress's authority under Article I.

The states also argued that a provision conditioning federal Medicaid funding on the adoption of new Medicaid coverage thresholds amounted to coercion, and was therefore beyond Congress' spending power.

The 11th Circuit ultimately found that the health care law's individual coverage mandate was unconstitutional, but severable from the rest of the law. But it rejected the states' Medicaid challenge based on the coercion doctrine.

The states sought certiorari, and the Supreme Court agreed to consider the Medicaid issue.

In separate grants of certiorari, the Court also agreed to decide whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars courts from considering constitutional challenges to the health care law before it goes into effect in 2014, and whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the law.

The cases will collectively be considered during 5 1-/2 hours of oral arguments in the spring.

The case is Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services.

Who will be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice?

BOSTON (The Daily Record Newswire) -- If President Barack Obama is able to do again what few other presidents have - appoint a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court - chances are he will turn to a candidate who will have an even easier time winning confirmation than the president's first two picks: D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland.

Garland's reputation as a smart jurist whose judicial philosophy is neither particularly controversial nor too liberal for Senate lawmakers makes him an easy pick at a time when partisan divisiveness remains high.

"Garland has earned the respect of folks across the political spectrum for his judicial craftsmanship in his 13 years on the D.C. Circuit," said Ed Whelan, a former Justice Department official during the Bush Administration who is now President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. "[H]e may well be the best that conservatives could reasonably hope for from a Democratic president."

Garland also has a lot of experience being on Obama's Supreme Court short list. White House officials confirmed that Garland was considered for the job after Justice David Souter announced his retirement in May 2009, along with then 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who would ultimately replace Souter, and then Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who would later replace Justice John Paul Stevens when he retired in 2010.

Like Sotomayor, Garland has prosecutorial experience, having served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before joining Arnold & Porter as a partner. Like Kagan, he also has administration experience, having worked in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department during the Clinton administration. Among his duties was overseeing the prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombing case.

But in picking another Supreme Court justice nominee, the top quality Obama will likely focus on is confirmability. The fact that Garland has already earned the vocal support and respect of Republicans as well as Democrats weighs heavily in his favor.

In May of 2010, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which vets judicial nominees, said he would have supported Garland had he been nominated for the seat vacated by Stevens.

"I have no doubts that Garland would get a lot of votes," Hatch said at the time, after Stevens' retirement announcement. "And I will do my best to help him get them."

Published: Wed, Nov 16, 2011