Immigration, attorney-client privilege: The next 7 cases before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will return on Monday to hear its first oral arguments of 2023, considering cases that could impact attorney-client privilege, labor laws and foreign nations’ legal immunity.

The justices will hear seven cases in the two-week sitting, though none involve major Biden administration policies — student loan debt relief and Title 42 will get their days in court later this term. 

Here are the cases slated for oral argument this month:

In re Grand Jury

The court will kick off the year on Monday with a case whose background is shrouded in mystery.

The case arose when a tax law firm declined to produce certain documents demanded by a grand jury subpoena issued during a criminal tax investigation into the firm’s unnamed client.

Justices will consider whether the firm can withhold so-called dual purpose communications, meaning those intertwined with legal and non-legal advice, after lower appellate courts split on whether legal advice must be the “primary” or a “significant” purpose for attorney-client privilege to apply.

The firm, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some attorney groups, argues the more stringent threshold creates an unpredictable test for tax firms and in-house legal counsels that regularly intertwine legal and business guidance, effectively eroding the privilege.

The federal government contends that following their argument would sweepingly shield documents about accounting and business development without a compelling justification.

Ohio Adjutant General’s Department v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Later on Monday, justices will consider if a 1978 law regulating the labor practices of federal agencies extends to Ohio National Guard technicians.

The National Guard is organized by individual states, but the federal government can also activate it for a particular mission, setting up a legal battle when Ohio’s National Guard in 2016 attempted to end a collective bargaining agreement with its civilian technicians.

The technicians union in a complaint with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), which Congress created to oversee labor relations for executive agency employees, alleged the Guard didn’t negotiate in good faith.

The FLRA sided with the union, but the Ohio National Guard argues the technicians are not federal executive agency employees, so the FLRA never had authority.

Glacier Northwest Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

In late 2017, ready-mix concrete company Glacier Northwest filed a lawsuit in Washington state against its employees’ union, seeking damages for concrete purportedly destroyed because the workers went on strike after the fleet was already loaded.

The justices on Tuesday are set to consider whether federal labor laws prevent the lawsuit at all before the National Labor Relations Board determines if the union engaged in protected activity.

Glacier Northwest, describing the union’s timing as “sabotage,” argues the circumstances meet an exception for cases to move forward outlined in the court’s 1959 San Diego Building Trades v. Garmon decision.

Teamsters argues the exception doesn’t apply and that the strike was protected activity.

Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Centro de Periodismo Investigativo Inc.

The justices will hear arguments on Wednesday about whether a financial oversight board Congress established to manage Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has immunity from a public records lawsuit.

States receive sovereign immunity from certain lawsuits, but the group seeking the records argues that the rule doesn’t apply because Puerto Rico is a territory.

Even if it did, the group contends the law establishing the board clearly states the entity does not enjoy immunity in federal courts.

The board contests that position, arguing the statute does not provide clear and unmistakable language revoking its sovereign immunity.

Santos-Zacaria v. Garland

Justices will hear their first immigration case of the calendar year on Jan. 17, when they will dive into a requirement that migrants exhaust “all administrative remedies available” before appealing their immigration decisions in the courts.

The case involves Leon Santos-Zacaria, who said she fled Guatemala after being raped and receiving death threats because she is transgender.

Santos-Zacaria elevated her immigration ruling to a federal appeals court, but the court held that she had failed the exhaustion requirement by not filing a motion asking the Board of Immigration Appeals to reconsider their earlier decision.

Santos-Zacaria argues she did not need to file the motion to satisfy the requirement and that the requirement regardless does not bar the court’s jurisdiction. The federal government disputes her interpretation.

Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States

The justices on Jan. 17 are set to hear a challenge to the indictment of Halkbank, a bank almost entirely owned by Turkey’s government, alleging it circumvented U.S. sanctions on Iranian funds.

The bank denies the allegations, but rather than considering their merits, it instead urged justices to deem the indictment unlawful based on historical factors and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which in 1976 established when a sovereign nation is immune from a U.S. lawsuit.

The federal government argues the law does not apply to criminal cases, and even if it did, the case would fall under an exception allowing suits arising from a foreign government’s commercial activity.

Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools

The court’s final case this month, set for Jan. 18, arose after deaf student Miguel Luna Perez and his parents settled with Sturgis Public Schools in 2018 over Perez’s claims that he was denied a qualified sign language interpreter for 12 years.

They settled those claims under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but the Supreme Court will consider the validity of Perez’s subsequent lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

A lower appeals court ruled that since Perez settled the earlier claim, he didn’t exhaust the process, so federal law bars him from bringing a similar case under the ADA.

The school district asked the justices to uphold that decision, but Perez contends that the settlement qualifies as exhaustion.

Perez further argues that exhausting the IDEA was never required to begin with, because his new lawsuit seeks a remedy the earlier claim couldn’t provide.

The school district argued the remedy sought doesn’t change the requirement.