US Supreme Court: May 2009 Archives

Next week (June 1-5)

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The US Supreme Court is nearing the end of its term and still has several important decisions to be issued.  I'll be out of town for most of next week and will be unable to post to Harmful Error.  Scotusblog always has the latest news on Supreme Court decisions and orders.  Opinions are announced at 10 a.m. east coast time, or 7:00 a.m. pacific time.

Abuelhawa v. United States - In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Souter, the Court holds that using a cellphone to make a drug purchase when the crime would be only a misdemeanor does not "facilitate" a felony distribution crime.

Haywood v. Drown - in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Stevens, the Court holds that it is unconstitutional for a state to bar all damage lawsuits brought under a federal civil rights law against prison officers or guards.  New York had allowed only a claim against the state itself in a special claims court.

Montejo v. Louisiana - In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, the Court overrules Michigan v. Jackson concerning the rights of a criminal suspect in police custody after the appointment of counsel.

The facts:  Montejo was charged with first degree murder and the court ordered the appointment of counsel during a 72-hour hearing.  Later that day, the police read Montejo his rights under Miranda v. Arizona and he agreed to go along on a trip to locate the murder weapon.  During the trip he wrote an inculpatory letter of apology to the victim's widow.  After returning from the trip, he met his court appointed attorney for the first time.  Counsel objected to admission of the letter at trial, but it was admitted and Montejo was convicted.

The Court holds that stare decisis does not preclude reconsideration of Michigan v. Jackson.  The Court finds that Edwards v. Arizona provides enough protection for suspects who want to invoke their Miranda rights and that Jackson is not necessary to protect a defendant's rights.  The Court holds that a defendant has the right to waive his Sixth Amendment rights and that counsel need not be present or consulted when a client elects to waive those rights by speaking with the police after counsel has been appointed.  "Edwards and Jackson are meant to prevent police from badgering defendants into changing their minds about their rights, but a defendant who never asked for counsel has not yet made up his mind in the first instance."  The Court acknowledges that Miranda and Edwards guarantee Fifth Amendment rights, not Sixth Amendment rights, and apply only if the suspect is in custody, but find that Sixth Amendment rights for suspects not in custody are unnecessary because "when a defendant is not in custody, he is in control, and need only shut his door or walk away to avoid police badgering."

As for Nevada, the Court has cited to Michigan v. Jackson in two opinions but has not indicated whether it found the rule established in Jackson to be sound. The Court could hold that the protections provided for by Jackson should be recognized by our state constitution.

I initially thought that the quick fix here is for counsel to consult with the client and invoke the right to counsel at the first court appearance for all interrogations and interactions with the police or other state agents.  Such action should guarantee that the client receives the assistance of counsel at every stage of the proceedings, including questioning by police officers.  After a long, and good, discussion with Chip Siegel, I'm not sure that my initially thought on a remedy was correct.  It may be that the client will have to invoke the right to counsel at the time of the interrogation and that a blanket waiver during the first court appearance will not be sufficient, although it probably wouldn't hurt either.  Advice to the client is therefore critical in making sure that he is not interrogated by officers following the appointment of counsel.  I'll keep an eye our for analysis by others following this issue.

The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in Nevada v. Harte.  The case presented a challenge by the State to the Nevada Supreme Court's decision in McConnell v. State.

The Court granted certiorari in one case this morning:  Merck & Co. v. Reynolds presents the issue of whether under the "inquiry notice" standard applicable to federal securities claims, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until an investor receives evidence of scienter.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari in four cases this morning.  Scotusblog provides links to the petitions, oppositions, replies, amici briefs and opinions below.

Beard v. Kindler - Is a state procedural rule automatically "inadequate" under the adequate-state-grounds doctrine - and therefore unenforceable on federal habeas corpus review - because the state rule is discretionary rather than mandatory?

Black, et al.  v. United States - Whether the "honest services" clause of 18 U.S.C. ยง 1346 applies in cases where the jury did not find - nor did the district court instruct them that they had to find - that the defendants "reasonably contemplated identifiable economic harm," and if the defendants' reversal claim is preserved for review after they objected to the government's request for a special verdict.

Lewis, et al. v. City of Chicago - Where an employer adopts an employment practice that discriminates against African Americans in violation of Title VII's disparate impact provision, must a plaintiff file an EEOC charge within 300 days after the announcement of the practice, or may a plaintiff file a charge within 300 days after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice?

Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, et al.
Whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is consistent with separation-of-powers principles - as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board  is overseen by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is in turn overseen by the President - or contrary to the Appointments Clause of the Constitution,  as the PCAOB members are appointed by the SEC.

No action taken in Nevada v. Harte

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The Washoe County DA's Office has filed a petition for certiorari with the US Supreme Court in Nevada v. Harte.  The case presents a challenge to the Nevada Supreme Court's ruling in McConnell v. State, which held that the State may not obtain aggravating circumstances for burglary, robbery and other underlying felonies if the defendant is found guilty only under a felony-murder theory.  The US Supreme Court listed the case on its conference agenda for last Friday, May 14, but no decision was made on the petition.  It is again listed for conference this Friday.  This may be an indication that the Court is interested in the issue.  It's likely that the order from Friday's conference will be released next Monday.

Scotusblog provides copies of the cert. petition, brief in opposition and opinion below.

Via Scotusblog:

Ashcroft, et al., v. Iqbal:  in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court on Monday threw out a claim that two top Bush Administration officials adopted a specific policy of racial and ethnic discrimination in a roundup and detention of hundreds of men of Arab  descent following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  The Court held that the lawsuit did not cite specific enough factual grounds for a claim of intentional bias by former Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and then-and-current FBI director Robert Mueller.  The Court did not, however, declare legal immunity for Ashcroft, Mueller, or other lower-ranking officials who allegedly carried out discriminatory policies sent down from the top.  Rather, the Court addressed only the requirements that had to be made in the initial lawsuit to show that the selection of those to be rounded up were the result of race, religious or national origin bias, in order to survive a motion to dismiss.  The case was remanded to the 2nd Circuit for a decision on whether the plaintiffs could amend their lawsuit.

AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen:  The Court rule in a 7-2 decision, that federal law does not require an employer to set current pension benefits at a level that will make up for a denial of work credit for maternity leave for pregnant workers, when such a denial  was not illegal at the time it ook place.  Neither the law that pre-dated the case nor a new law on job bias made it illegal for a company to decline to upgrade benefits to account for past employment actions that were legal at the time.  The denial was not a form of discrimination based on sex under the law as it existed prior to Congress's passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978.  Failing to make up for the past denial, it concluded, was a legitimate choice to make in a pension system that was not intentionally discriminatory.

The US Supreme Court issued four opinions today:

Flores-Figueroa v. United States - The decision below, which held for the United States, is reversed and remanded in a 9-0 opinion by Justice Breyer, available here.  Justice Scalia filed an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment, joined by Justice Thomas, and Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in part and in the judgment. 18 USC 1028A(a)(1) forbids "aggravated identity theft" and imposes a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term for a person convicted of certain predicate crimes.  The statute requires that the government establish that the defendant "knowingly  . . . uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person."  The defendant gave his employer counterfeit Social Security and alien registration cards contaning his name but other people's identification numbers and was charged under the statute.  He moved for acquittal on a claimt hat the government could not prove that he knew the documents' numbers were assigned to other people. The government argued, and the federal district court and Eighth Circuit agreed, that the word "knowingly" did not apply to "of another person."  The Supreme Court unanimously reversed and held that under 1028 the government must show that the defendant knew that the means of identification at issue belonging to another person.  As a matter or ordinary English grammar, "knowingly" is naturally read as applying to all the subsequently listed elements of the crime.  Where a transitive verb has an objects, listerns in most context assume that an adverb, such as knowingly, thad modifies the verb tells the listener how the subject performed the entire action, including the object. 

Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc.  The decision below, which held for HIF Bio, is reversed and remanded in a 9-0 opinion by Justice Thomas, available here. Justice Stevens and Justice Scalia filed concurring opinions. Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Souter.  The Court holds that a federal district court's order remanding a case to state court after declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state-law claims is not a remand for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.  Appellate review of the order is therefore not barred by 28 USC 1447.

Arthur Andersen LLP, et al. v. Carlisle, et al.  The decision below, which held for the company owners, is reversed and remanded in a 6-3 opinion by Justice Scalia, available here. Justice Souter filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Stevens.  The opinion addresses stays of actions involving arbitration and appeals from orders denying stay motions.

Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, et al. v. United States; Shell Oil Company v. United States   The decision below, which held for the United States, is reversed and remanded in an 8-1 opinion by Justice Stevens available here. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion. - The opinion addresses liability of an arranger for contamination under CERCLA.

With thanks to scotusblog for the links and early info.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari in four cases today:

Sullivan v. Florida - constitutionality of life prison terms without a chance for parole for juveniles who commit crimes other than murder in their teen years.

Graham v. Florida - same

Hemi Group LLC v. City of New York - Whether a city government meets the RICO standing requirement that a plaintiff be directly injured in its "business or property" by alleging non-commercial injury from non payment of taxes by non-litigating third parties.

Shady Grove Orthopedic Ass'n v. Allstate Insurance - Can a state legislature prohibit federal courts from using the class action device for state law claims?

Scotusblog provides links to the petitions, briefs in opposition and replies.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the US Supreme Court category from May 2009.

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