Skip to Main Content
Resource · Blog

SCOTUS Preview: 4 Significant Cases to Watch in the 2023-2024 Term

by Michael Fenner, Consultant, FiscalNote Professional Services

Preview the potential game-changers in the 2023-2024 Supreme Court term. Even with fewer cases, the stakes are high with issues like opioids settlement and gun control.


Back to resources listing

The 2023 term of the United States Supreme Court will officially begin hearing oral arguments on October 2. Marred by headlines related to justices’ financial disclosures and ethics concerns, this term may potentially record the lowest number of cases with certiorari granted by the court in recent history. Following last year's significant dip to 60 cases from the historical average of about 80, it appears the Court may be establishing a new trend.

Despite the somewhat controversial coverage stemming from last term's high-profile rulings, the reduced number of cases may lead to fewer blockbusters. Nevertheless, there are a handful of cases that present the possibility of overturning precedent or having a large national impact. Here, we offer a preview of consequential cases to watch this term.

1. Harrington v. Purdue Pharma L.P.: Examining the Opioid Settlement

The landmark settlement between the Department of Justice and the manufacturer of OxyContin will be reviewed by the Supreme Court after questions arose around the terms of the agreement.

Purdue Pharma, owned by the Sackler family, has been in the spotlight for falsely marketing OxyContin as a non-addictive opioid treatment since 1996, contributing to a crippling nationwide dependency crisis. As part of the resolution, the company agreed to a $6 billion settlement that would spin Purdue Pharma and its assets into a non-profit dedicated to assisting recovery efforts for those battling addiction. The conditions of the $6 billion dollar settlement — where the Sackler family have signaled willingness to accept as high as $8 billion — include a fine, civil asset forfeiture, and a complete divestiture of the Sackler family from the company. Despite its magnitude, this settlement largely shielded the Sackler family from additional civil liability and did not personally fine the family members.

Many across the country, including President Biden, have called for additional review of the settlement, particularly the conditions safeguarding the Sacklers personally. The review of this settlement will challenge the legality of a court approving a plan under Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Code that dismisses additional claims from non-debtors — such as those addicted to opioids as a result of Perdue’s false advertising — without the consent of claimants.

This case will potentially reintroduce the possibility of civil liability for the Sackler family. It could also clarify the authority of courts approving large settlement agreements in lieu of multiple class-action lawsuits where a court can consolidate cases and dismiss claims.

This case, the latest to be granted certiorari by the Court, is yet to have a date set for oral arguments.

2. United States v. Rahimi: Reviewing Firearm Restrictions in Domestic Violence Cases

The Court will once again hear a challenge to the contentious issue of firearm regulations. Following the 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the Court held that gun regulation should be examined through the lens of the nation’s history of firearm laws.

The fundamental question before the Court is whether or not an individual subject to a domestic violence restraining order should be barred from firearm possession. If the Court maintains the lens of historical U.S. gun law analysis, the outcome remains uncertain. Critics of the conservative court argue that the interpretation of historical contexts can be divisive and often unclear, leaving much depending on the specific historical instances cited during oral arguments and on the Justices’ opinions.

If overturned, its impact will likely be limited in scope. The likelihood of the Court extending its ruling to also overturn prohibitions against felons in possession of firearms is rather slim given the nation’s history of enforcing such restrictions. Additionally, the Court — specifically Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Brett Kavanuagh — have been particularly cautious about the Court’s public image and have been vocal in moderating the Court’s conservative decisions in recent opinions.

3. Brown v. United States: Clarifying Drug Offense Definitions

This case will address a circuit split related to the “serious drug offense” as stipulated by the Armed Career Criminal Act. Consolidated with Jackson v. United States, the overarching question this case will consider is which law should a sentencing court reference when a conviction under the ACCA is in play.

Today, the ACCA defines a “serious drug offense” as either a violation of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act or violation of Maritime Drug Law Enforcement, or an offense of state law related to manufacturing, distribution, or possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance.

The question will consider whether the second definition of a “serious drug offense” incorporates federal drug schedules at the time of the firearm offense. Under the ACCA, prior drug convictions trigger automatic sentencing enhancements. Brown argues that, since the state list of controlled substances is different from the federal list, the enhancement should not be applied.

Historically, the Court tends to overrule lower court opinions, both of which have upheld the sentencing enhancement. However, the nature of the wording of the ACCA will likely result in a narrow ruling, potentially punting the issue back to Congress for clearer legislation. Expect to see concurrent opinions where Justices highlight a larger underlying issue not addressed in the current certiorari: the discrepancy between federal and state marijuana laws.

4. Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo: Revisiting Judicial Deference

The Court will reconsider a long-standing precedent related to judicial deference that stemmed from the 1984 Chevron case. This case resulted in the expansion of the executive branch’s authority, paving the way for regulators to exercice quasi-judicial powers.

The Court held that when Congress is ambiguous, and regulators have a “reasonable” interpretation of the ambiguous law in their rulemaking, the judiciary will defer to the regulatory authority.

The Court declined to hear the question related to the explicit facts of this case, rather opting to strictly hear arguments directly related to Chevron. The petitioner argues that this precedent, which conservatives have long criticized as an unconstitutional executive overreach, should be overturned.

Should the Court overturn Chevron, it would likely be the most consequential decision of the term. It would align with the Court's growing frustrations with Congress’ inaction and ambiguity in the law, while also curbing executive branch authority. Such a decision would extend the trend observed in high-profile Court opinions since the appointment of Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the waning days of the Trump administration.

Bonus: The Shadow Docket

Throughout the term, a few cases will likely be granted emergency hearings on the “shadow docket.” In the preceding term, challenges to the FDA’s authorization of mifepristone garnered attention following the Court’s prior decision to repeal Roe v. Wade.

Recently, the shadow docket has faced increased scrutiny as attention to the Court has also grown. Decisions arising from these hasty hearings are often short and provide little detail. Most often the orders seek immediate injunctive relief or the vacating of an order pending additional appeal. This docket also sees the application for staying executions, which this Court rarely grants.

Staying Ahead of Policy Shifts & Supreme Court Decisions

As we navigate an eventful term in the Supreme Court, it's vital to stay informed about ongoing developments. FiscalNote Professional Services is your trusted partner in this journey, providing comprehensive analysis, insights, and thought leadership. Tap into the expertise of our seasoned professionals to understand complex legal seas and predict the potential ramifications. The landscape may be evolving, but with FiscalNote, you can confidently stay ahead of the curve.

FiscalNote's Professional Services

See how we can provide custom analysis, visualizations of public policy data, and additional bandwidth to your team.

Back to resources listing