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    Supreme Court Roundup

    Click here for the article. (Requires free registration on the NYT web site.)

    Please keep discussion in re this thread civil. Thanks. --Stash

    =======================
    WASHINGTON, April 24 The Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped a contentious church-state dispute, declining to hear a case concerning a public school district's refusal to display a picture of Jesus submitted by a kindergarten student in response to an assignment to design a poster on the environment.

    The child's parents sued the school district, in Baldwinsville in central New York State, on the ground that the school's response to their son's artwork violated his right to free speech and amounted to official discrimination against religion.

    The suit was dismissed by the federal district court in Syracuse but reinstated last October by the federal appeals court in Manhattan. That court held that the school's action was suggestive of antireligious "viewpoint discrimination" that could be justified only by an "overriding" government interest.

    The appeals court sent the case back to the district court for further examination of whether there was discrimination and, if so, whether it might be justified, for example by the need to avoid the appearance of religious endorsement. The prospect of further proceedings in the case, which concerns events that occurred nearly seven years ago, meant that the Baldwinsville Central School District could not present the Supreme Court with a final judgment.

    While the justices usually turn down cases that are still under review, the school district argued in this case that the appeals court had reached a legal conclusion on which the lower federal courts are divided and that needed the Supreme Court's attention, regardless of future developments in that dispute. The justices offered no comment in refusing the case, Baldwinsville Central School District v. Peck, No. 05-899.

    The Supreme Court has not directly addressed this issue. Nor has it examined students' free-speech rights in elementary school. Its infrequent rulings on student speech have been in cases from high schools and universities. In 1988, the court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that a public high school principal's censorship of the student newspaper was justified because the paper was part of the curriculum and the school's control over its content was "reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns."

    In the Baldwinsville case, Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the case came "within the core of Hazelwood's framework." Further, Judge Calabresi said the question of whether the Supreme Court meant to give school administrators latitude to single out particular viewpoints for censorship was "anything but clear."

    Nonetheless, his opinion for the appeals court concluded that "a manifestly viewpoint-discriminatory restriction on school-sponsored speech" would be "unconstitutional even if reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical interests," unless justified by a "sufficiently compelling state interest."

    The school argued in its Supreme Court appeal that the appeals court misunderstood the Hazelwood decision. The federal appeals courts in Boston and Denver have concluded that neither the precedent nor the Constitution required that the regulation of school-sponsored speech be neutral as to viewpoint.

    The decision "robs teachers of the appropriate and necessary control of their classrooms" and will encourage "frivolous lawsuits," the school district told the court, adding that schools were surely free to sponsor speech against drug use or irresponsible sex without also presenting the opposite point of view.

    The kindergartner's parents, Joanne and Kenley Peck, were represented by Liberty Counsel, a legal organization based in Maitland, Fla., that describes itself on its Web site as committed to "restoring the culture one case at a time."

    These were among the court's other actions on Monday:

    Sentencing Error

    The court overturned a 10-year sentence for a convicted bank robber on the ground that the federal appeals court in New Orleans had improperly counted a previous narcotics conviction as placing him in the "career offender" category. That designation accounted for as many as four years of the sentence for the defendant, Jeffrey J. Salinas.

    Under federal sentencing law, a previous "controlled substance offense" can make an offender eligible for a higher sentence. But simple possession does not count as such an offense. Rather, the government must prove intent to manufacture or sell the illegal drugs.

    In this case, Salinas v. United States, No. 05-8400, the previous offense was for simple possession. Consequently, Mr. Salinas is entitled to be resentenced, the court said in an unsigned two-paragraph opinion.

    What made the case more than routinely interesting was that the government acknowledged the sentencing error in its brief to the court, yet argued that "further review is unwarranted" because two earlier robbery convictions could also serve to classify Mr. Salinas a career offender. Initially, the government declined to respond to Mr. Salinas's appeal, but the justices directed the solicitor general's office to file a brief.

    Prison Credit

    The court turned down two appeals challenging the way the Federal Bureau of Prisons calculates the "good time" credits that well-behaved prisoners are entitled to every year. The bureau calculates the credit not on the basis of the inmates' sentences, but on the time they are actually serving as the credits accumulate.

    A result is that thousands of federal inmates, entitled by law to a reduction of up to 54 days every year for good behavior, actually receive credit for only about 47 days.

    The order denying review in the two cases, Moreland v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, No. 05-8268, and O'Donald v. Johns, No. 05-8504, was accompanied by a statement by Justice John Paul Stevens. "Despite its technical character," Justice Stevens said, "the question has sufficient importance to merit further study, not only by judges but by other government officials, as well."
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    Click here for the article. (This was first reported on 18 April 2006.)

    Justices Hear Case on Right to Choose Defense Counsel
    By Linda Greenhouse

    WASHINGTON, April 18 The right to counsel is a bedrock constitutional principle, guaranteed to criminal defendants by the Sixth Amendment. But what about the right to a particular lawyer? What about a defendant who wants the best, and can pay for it, but who is required as the result of improper government intervention to settle for second best, or worse?

    The issue in a Supreme Court argument on Tuesday was what remedy defendants can invoke when they have been improperly deprived of their choice of lawyer.

    The prevailing view in the lower courts, as in the case from the federal appeals court in St. Louis that the justices heard, is that such a deprivation is a "structural" error, so serious that it automatically entitles the defendant to a new trial.

    The government argued in its appeal that a new trial was not warranted unless the defendant could show that the preferred lawyer would have made a difference in the outcome.

    The circumstance is rare: most criminal defendants cannot afford lawyers, and indigent defendants must accept the lawyers the court appoints for them. Lawyers for Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez-Lopez, the defendant in the Supreme Court case, told the justices in their brief that they could find only 16 federal cases in the past 14 months in which defendants with paid counsel claimed a violation of a right to the lawyer of their choice.

    Nonetheless, as the argument on Tuesday made clear, the issue goes to the essence of the Sixth Amendment's promise that a criminal defendant may "have the assistance of counsel for his defence."

    Michael R. Dreeben, a deputy solicitor general arguing for the government, said the "overarching goal" of the Sixth Amendment was "to secure a fair trial, conducted in accordance with adversary procedures." Consequently, Mr. Dreeben said, defendants who were improperly denied their first-choice lawyer should get a new trial only if the deprivation rendered the trial unfair.

    A rule of automatic retrial, he said, amounts to "forcing society to bear the costs of a retrial even when there is no reasonable probability that another lawyer would have made a difference."

    Jeffrey L. Fisher, representing Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez, who was convicted of conspiring to distribute a large amount of marijuana, said the choice of a lawyer was inherent in a defendant's personal autonomy, as recognized 30 years ago by the court in a decision that guaranteed defendants the right to dispense with a lawyer entirely and represent themselves.

    The right to a preferred lawyer is a "core right" under the Sixth Amendment "that goes beyond simply a fair trial," Mr. Fisher said. "The right is violated at the moment the trial judge impermissibly disqualifies" the lawyer the defendant has selected, he added.

    In this case, United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, No. 05-352, Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez hired a California lawyer, Joseph H. Low IV, an experienced defense attorney who had recently been successful in negotiating a favorable plea agreement for another drug defendant in the same federal district court in St. Louis where Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez was to be tried.

    Because Mr. Low was not admitted to practice before that court, he needed permission from the judge overseeing the Gonzalez-Lopez matter to enter the case. While awaiting a decision, Mr. Low arranged for a local lawyer whom he knew, a specialist in consumer protection cases, to serve as counsel for what both men assumed would be a short period.

    But the judge denied Mr. Low's motion improperly, as the appeals court later ruled and prohibited him from having contact with Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez during the trial. Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez was convicted and sentenced to 24 years in prison.

    The appeals court, observing that "lawyers are not fungible," found a violation of Mr. Gonzalez-Lopez's Sixth Amendment right, vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial.

    During the argument on Tuesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was openly skeptical of Mr. Fisher's argument in support of a rule of automatic reversal. Observing that "there are hundreds of thousands of lawyers," the chief justice suggested it was improbable that a defendant's second choice would not approximate a first choice. "It's not as if he asks for a Rolls Royce and gets a Yugo or something," Chief Justice Roberts said.

    Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked Mr. Fisher what would happen if the second choice turned out to be a better lawyer.

    "Let's say the defendant wanted to be represented by a relative who specialized in real estate law," Justice Alito said. If that lawyer was disqualified and the defendant was eventually represented by an experienced criminal defense lawyer with a national reputation, "why wouldn't that be harmless error?" he asked.

    That would still be "unquestionably a Sixth Amendment violation," Mr. Fisher replied.

    The justices also had tough questions, probably more of them, in fact, for Mr. Dreeben, the government's lawyer. Justice Antonin Scalia was clearly unimpressed by the argument that as long as the trial was fair and the lawyer competent, the Sixth Amendment was not violated.

    "I don't want a 'competent' lawyer," Justice Scalia told Mr. Dreeben. "I want a lawyer to get me off. I want a lawyer to invent the Twinkie defense. I want to win."
    As more cases get reported on, I'll add them to this thread. It will be interesting to see where Alito goes as far as the judicial spectrum is concerned. By that, I mean that not all judicial conservatives are created equal.
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    "I don't want a 'competent' lawyer," Justice Scalia told Mr. Dreeben. "I want a lawyer to get me off. I want a lawyer to invent the Twinkie defense. I want to win."
    ****ing awesome!
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    Professional hobbit Focused70's Avatar
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    Click here for the article.

    Justices Reject Immunity Below State Level
    By Linda Greenhouse

    WASHINGTON, April 25 — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that cities, counties and other levels of government below that of states themselves are not protected by the general immunity from suits that states enjoy in federal court.

    Ruling in a case from Chatham County, Ga., which includes Savannah, the court overturned a decision by the federal appeals court in Atlanta that had shielded the county from an insurance liability suit from damage caused to a yacht by a faulty drawbridge.

    The appeals court acknowledged that the 11th Amendment, which the Supreme Court has interpreted as the precise source of constitutional immunity for the states, did not apply to smaller units of government under the court's precedents. But the appeals court found that "common law has carved out a 'residual immunity,' which would protect a political subdivision such as Chatham County from suit."

    But there is no such "residual immunity," Justice Clarence Thomas said in his opinion for the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas added, with reference to the intentions of the Constitution's framers, that the concept of a free-floating immunity for other levels of government "would serve to extend sovereign immunity beyond its preratification scope."

    A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990's invigorated the concept of state immunity and raised the question that the court answered in this case. The majority's position in the earlier cases, most of which were decided by 5-to-4 votes, was that because the states were sovereign before the Constitution was ratified, they retained immunity from suits in federal court as an aspect of their retained sovereignty, given expression by but not limited to the 11th Amendment.

    So the question naturally arose of whether this free-floating "residual" immunity applied below the state level to units of government. Under long-standing precedent of the lower court in this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, it did, at least to counties and municipalities that exercise power "delegated from the state."

    Given that all political subdivisions exercise power delegated by the state, the justices found this analysis unpersuasive. Only those subdivisions acting as "an arm of the state" can claim the state's immunity, Justice Thomas said.

    The phrase "arm of the state" is a legal term of art that the court has applied very sparingly in the 11th Amendment context to agencies that are subject to a state's complete control and that have no independent powers or separate legal identity. Port authorities, regional transportation systems, land-use planning agencies and the like that make claims to the special protections given to arms of the state are regularly rejected.

    In this case, Northern Insurance Company of New York v. Chatham County, No. 04-1618, the county conceded that it was not an arm of the state of Georgia, so Justice Thomas did not discuss the question further in his six-page opinion.

    The court was not unanimous in a second case from the 11th Circuit decided on Tuesday, a criminal case in which the question was whether a federal judge has the discretion to rescue the state after the prosecution fails to recognize and object to an error by the other side.

    In this case, Day v. McDonough, No. 04-1324, Florida prosecutors miscounted and failed to realize that a convicted murderer's petition for habeas corpus had been filed three weeks after the expiration of the deadline set by federal law for filing such petitions — one year after the time for filing direct appeals has expired. Under the law, petitions filed too late must be dismissed.

    Although the state did not request dismissal on this basis, and in fact described the petition as "timely" in its own legal papers, a federal magistrate judge noticed the error and asked lawyers for the inmate, Patrick Day, to explain the delay.

    The explanation was that they believed the 90 days available after a final judgment for filing a Supreme Court appeal were added to the one-year deadline, a position the 11th Circuit has rejected and that the Supreme Court agreed last month to review in a case from Florida.

    The magistrate judge accordingly rejected the explanation and recommended that the inmate's petition be dismissed. The Federal District Court agreed, as did the 11th Circuit, which ruled that a judge had the authority to dismiss a petition as too late even if the state never raised the point.

    By a vote of 6 to 3, with a majority opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court agreed. The dissenters were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer.

    "We stress that a district court is not required to double-check the state's math," Justice Ginsburg said, adding: "Nevertheless, if a judge does detect a clear computation error, no rule, statute or constitutional provision commands the judge to suppress that knowledge."

    The unusual alignment of votes in this case was a reminder that the justices' ideological alliances do not reliably predict outcomes, especially in cases of statutory interpretation. In this instance, the court was interpreting the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was intended to curb the flow of federal habeas corpus petitions from state inmates and was the first federal law to place a time limit on such petitions.

    In Justice Ginsburg's analysis, the argument that tipped the case in the state's favor was the discretion that the court's precedents had given federal judges to consider other defenses in habeas corpus cases that a state had failed to raise. One example she cited was an inmate's failure to pursue a complaint through the state courts before turning to federal court. "It would make scant sense" to treat the time-limit issue differently, she said.

    But Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Thomas and Breyer, said the majority had failed to take into account the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which incorporate the traditional rule that a defense that a party to a case fails to raise in a lower court is forfeited.

    Justice John Paul Stevens, while agreeing with Justice Ginsburg's analysis, did not sign her opinion because, he said, the court should have withheld its judgment while considering the new Florida case.

    That case, Lawrence v. Florida, No. 05-8820, to be argued in the court's next term, might lead to the conclusion that Mr. Day came within the proper time limit after all. Justice Breyer agreed with Justice Stevens on this point.
    And Patrick, you don't care, but I know that I (and possibly some of our armchair political pundits) definitely do care when it comes to SCOTUS.
    Last edited by Focused70; 04-26-2006 at 12:17 PM.
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    Professional hobbit Focused70's Avatar
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    Click here for the article.

    Supreme Court Debates Lethal Injection Method

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some Supreme Court justices had tough questions for a Florida lawyer about whether the state's lethal injection method causes excruciating pain for death row inmates.

    Justices were taking up the latest capital punishment debate that focuses on the trio of drugs used in Florida and most other states.

    ''Your procedure would be prohibited if applied to dogs and cats,'' Justice John Paul Stevens told Florida Assistant Deputy Attorney General Carolyn Snurkowski.

    Justice Stephen Breyer said that a medical journal study found that inmates can suffer pain under the three-drug combination and it ''doesn't seem too difficult'' to alter the medicines.

    Snurkowski said that it would be up to the inmate to detail a new method, an argument that seemed to anger several court members.

    ''Doesn't the state have a minimal obligation on its own'' to investigate whether its executions cause gratuitous pain, asked Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

    The high court is delving into a limited part of the subject: whether inmates can file special last-minute challenges to the chemicals used in lethal injection even if they've exhausted all their regular appeals.

    Even still, the justices had a wide-ranging discussion about the way executions are carried out, and how they can be contested.

    Justice Antonin Scalia said that if justices allow Florida death row inmate Clarence Hill to pursue claims, that could drag out a case that has already been pending for more than two decades.

    Hill, convicted of killing a police officer, was strapped to a gurney with lines running into his arms to deliver the drugs when the Supreme Court in January intervened and blocked the execution.

    He claims that the chemicals used in Florida executions and by many other states -- sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride -- can cause excruciating pain. The first drug is a pain killer. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack.

    Justices have never ruled on the constitutionality of lethal injection, which is used by the federal government and every state that has capital punishment except Nebraska.

    In this case, they can give inmates new authority to challenge lethal injection as unconstitutionally cruel. The court's decision to hear the case renewed legal efforts around the country on behalf of death row inmates, and executions have been stopped in California, Maryland and Missouri.

    If the court allows Hill to file a civil rights action, ''it will be a stamp of approval from the United States Supreme Court for these challenges to go ahead,'' said Deborah Denno, a Fordham Law School professor.

    She said the outcome may not reveal much about the new court.

    Chief Justice John Roberts replaced the late William H. Rehnquist, and Justice Samuel Alito replaced the retired Sandra Day O'Connor.

    O'Connor wrote the court's 2004 ruling in its last lethal injection case. Justices said that Alabama death row inmate David Larry Nelson could pursue a last-ditch claim that his death by lethal injection would be unconstitutionally cruel because of his damaged veins. He argued that prison staff would have to cut into his flesh to get to a vein.

    Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said, ''Hill's failure to follow the rules governing that process should not be rewarded by the opportunity to delay his well-deserved execution with a last-minute challenge in the form of a civil rights lawsuit.''

    Hill was convicted of killing Pensacola Police Officer Stephen Taylor in 1982. Taylor's family is growing weary after 24 years of delays and want Hill, now 48, to be executed.

    ''It needs to be done and it needs to be over with,'' said Linda Knouse, the slain officer's sister.

    The case is Hill v. McDonough, 05-8794.
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    mrelwooddowd Patz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SobaAddict70
    Click here for the article.



    And Patrick, you don't care, but I know that I (and possibly some of our armchair political pundits) definitely do care when it comes to SCOTUS.

    Still no one cares! I love America!
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    Professional hobbit Focused70's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrelwooddowd
    Still no one cares! I love America!
    Ain't that the truth.
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    Um yeah, maybe if you could paraphrase those articles for me...
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