The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in Henderson v. Shinseki [oral arguments transcript, PDF] on the time limits for seeking judicial review of the denial of a veteran's claim for disability benefits. The issue is whether the time limit in 38 USC § 7266(a) [text] constitutes a statute of limitations subject to the doctrine of equitable tolling, or whether the time limit is instead jurisdictional and therefore bars application of that doctrine. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the decision of the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which held that the 120-day appeal period set forth in § 7266(a) is not subject to equitable tolling and dismissed veteran David Henderson's claim for benefits. Counsel for Henderson argued that the Federal Circuit erred for three reason:
First, the statute contains no clear indication that the deadline is jurisdictional. Rather, the text and structure points away from a jurisdictional reading. Second, the deadline that applies to disabled and largely uncounseled veterans seeking their first day in court is not the type of deadline that Congress would be expected to rank as jurisdictional. And third, a jurisdictional reading would render some of the most disabled of veterans the least likely to obtain benefits and would treat veterans worse off than almost all litigants in our federal system.Counsel for the respondent argued that "the judgment of the court of appeals should be therefore be affirmed" under the court's ruling in Bowles v. Russell [opinion text].
Also Monday, the court heard arguments in Pepper v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF] on whether a federal district judge can consider a defendant's post-sentencing rehabilitation as a permissible factor supporting a downward sentencing variance under 18 USC § 3553(a) [text]. The court must also determine whether, when a sentence is vacated on appeal and a new judge is assigned on remand, the new judge must follow the prior district judge's sentencing findings. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the district court's 77-month sentence of Jason Pepper for a drug offense. At the certiorari stage, the US government agreed with Pepper that the Eighth Circuit erred and urged the justices to vacate and remand the case, but the court decided to take the case, leaving amicus curiae to argue in support of respondents.