The Supreme Court granted the Government's request to vacate the judgment of the D.C. Circuit and directed it on remand to direct the District Court to dismiss Garza's claim for injunctive relief as moot in Azar v. Garza. The Court did so under its precedent from United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36, 39 (1950) [PDF version
], wherein it held that when a case becomes moot on its way to the Supreme Court, the Court's practice is “to reverse or vacate the judgment below and remand with a direction to dismiss.” The Court recently applied its Munsingwear precedent in vacating two appellate court decisions upholding injunctions against the second iteration of President Donald Trump's “travel ban” [see blog
]. In so doing, the Court did not rule on the merits of whether the Government's policy regarding abortions for aliens in ORR custody was constitutional. Instead, quoting Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 75 (1997) [PDF version
], the Court explained that “[i]t would certainly be a strange doctrine that would permit a plaintiff to obtain a favorable judgment, take voluntary action that moots the dispute, and then retain the benefit of the judgment.”
The Court concluded that the situation in the instant case “[fell] squarely within the Court's established practice.” Here, it noted, Doe's claim for injunctive relief became moot after her abortion. The abortion occurred “sooner than expected” because of “voluntary, unilateral action” by Doe and her representatives. By effect, they “retained the benefit of [the D.C. Circuit's] favorable judgment.” The Court took the position that the fact the case became moot before the Government's petition for certiorari was not dispositive, concluding that “[t]he unique circumstances of this case and the balance of equities weigh in favor of vacatur.”
Supreme Court Declines to Delve Into Factual Disputes Over Attorney Misconduct Allegations
The Court declined to reprimand Garza's counsel for the Government's allegations that it made “material misrepresentations and omissions” that were “designed to thwart this Court's review.” However, the Court did state that it “takes allegations like those the Government makes seriously,” and stated that “all attorneys must remain aware of the principle that zealous advocacy does not displace their obligations as officers of the court.” It added, however, that “lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communication breakdowns constitute misconduct.” The Court did not find it necessary to resolve the dispute in order to answer the Munsingwear question.
Because of the Supreme Court vacature, the D.C. Court decision in Azar v. Garza, the D.C. Circuit decision will not constitute precedent going forward. However, it is important to note that the D.C. Circuit decision was vacated solely because the underlying issue had been rendered moot before the Government could file its emergency stay petition. The Supreme Court did not address the underlying issue of the legality of ORR's policy regarding abortions for minors in its custody. It is possible, if not likely, that this issue will be further litigated in the near future.
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