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February 5, 2024

With possible opinions this week, might SCOTUS soon answer if "and" means "or" in Pulsifer safety valve case?

Regular readers likely recall that I have been watching closely the SCOTUS sentencing case of Pulsifer v. United States, a statutory interpretation matter dealing with a (too) complicated sentencing provision of the FIRST STEP Act.  The unclear statute at issue in Pulsifer became law in 2018, was dividing circuits by 2021,and the Pulsifer cert petition was filed in October 2022 and granted by SCOTUS in February 2023.  (In addition, the US Sentencing Commission felt compelled in 2023 to build guideline amendments around the statutory ambiguity.)  A resolution of the issue in Pulsifer — which can be imperfectly summarized as a question of whether "and" means "and" or "or" in the context of an expansion of the safety value mandatory minimum exception — has long been needed and has been a long time coming.

But the Supreme Court has now indicated that on Thursday, the day the Justices are scheduled to hear oral argument on whether Donald Trump is now constitutionally ineligible to be President, it "may announce opinions."  I think that means we will definitely get at least one opinion, though how many and which one are left as matter of speculation.  So, in this post, I am speculating on the chances that we could get Pulsifer this week.  And though I am wishing hard that the Pulsifer opinion is just days away, and even though the Pulsifer oral argument was the very first of this current Term, I am not getting my hopes up.

The Justices have been notably slow in the release of opinions this Term, and Adam Feldman here at Empirical SCOTUS has some great data and thoughts on opinion pacing.  So, it wil not surprise me if we were to get only one or two opinions this week.   And, historically, the opinions that get handed down "earlier" are those that are unanimous or nealy unanimous.  The oral argument in Pulsifer suggested a divided court, with at least a couple Justices appearing to have strong views on each side of the case.  Though I suspect we will get Pulsifer within the next few months and not have to wait until late June, I would not place a prop bet that it's coming this week.  But it would be cool to be proven wrong with this prognostication.

A few prior related posts about SCOTUS Pulsifer case:

February 5, 2024 at 01:16 PM | Permalink


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