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First Monday Countdown: Prep for 2012 with Top 5 Cases of 2011

By Robyn Hagan Cain on September 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With less than 100 hours until the Supreme Court hears the first case of the 2012 term, we've become a bit nostalgic.

Before we fully dive into the judicial new year, we're naming our top 5 cases of the 2011 term.

  1. Affordable Care Act. We're not just handing the top prize to the healthcare because it was the most talked-about case of the year; the Court's it's-not-a-mandate-it's-a-tax explanation will likely be scrutinized for years as both the legal community and government officials consider indirect taxes as a Commerce Clause-alternative for legislation.
  2. You Can Fight the Man. Sackett v. EPA is not a case that most people care about; but maybe it should be. The EPA issued a compliance order directing the Sacketts to cease construction on their landlocked plot in a developed neighborhood because it was a "wetland." The Sacketts tried to challenge the EPA, but federal courts said they lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review the compliance order because the EPA hadn't sued to enforce the order. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Sacketts could sue under the Administrative Procedures Act to challenge the compliance order because they had no other adequate remedy.
  3. Lawyer Immunity. In April, the Court held that a private attorney temporarily retained by the government for an investigation is entitled to qualified immunity from a civil rights lawsuit. The unanimous Court noted that some cities -- like New York -- have a full-time internal affairs staff, while small cities must rely on private individuals for investigations. "There is no reason Rialto's internal affairs investigator should be denied the qualified immunity enjoyed by the ones who work for New York," Chief Justice Roberts wrote.
  4. Fair Sentencing? In its 5-4 Dorsey v. United States decision, the Court held that the Fair Sentencing Act's new, lower mandatory minimums apply to the post-Act sentencing of pre-Act offenders. We're guessing that this ruling will produce more short-term appellate litigation than any other decision from the 2011 Term.
  5. Papers, Please. After years of litigation, the Supreme Court killed most of S.B. 1070, the Arizona Immigration Law. The sole surviving section from this round of judicial review was the "papers, please" provision, which requires that officers who conduct a stop, detention, or arrest must verify the person's immigration status with the feds if they suspect the person is an illegal immigrant. The Arizona decision largely thwarted the growing trend toward state immigration laws, though it left the door open for similar status verification measures. With the "papers please" policy now in effect, it won't be long before we see a new crop of lawsuits asserting racial profiling challenges to the law.

Granted, our picks aren't entirely the sexiest of the bunch -- some would argue that they're cases only a lawyer could love -- but most of these cases will keep clients coming through your door for at least a little while.

In this economy, who wouldn't love that?

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