US Supreme Court: May 2010 Archives

Via Scoutsblog

United States v. Marcus - reversed and remanded, 7-1, in an opinion by Justice Breyer.  Justice Stevens dissents and Justice Sotomayor took no part in the case.

  • Holding: The Court overturns the 2d Circuit's standard on "plain error."

United States v. O'Brien -affirmed, 9-0, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy.  Justice Stevens concurs and Justice Thomas concurs in the judgment only.

  • Holding: The fact that a firearm was a machine gun is an element to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, and is not a sentencing factor to be proved to the judge at the time of sentencing.

 Robertson v. United States - writ of cert. dismissed as improvidently granted in a per curiam opinion.  The Chief Justice dissents, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Sotomayor.  The issue presented was "whether an action for criminal contempt in a congressionally created court may constitutionally be brought in the name and pursuant to the power of a private person, rather than in the name and pursuant to the power of the United States. 

Hardt v. Reliance Standard Insurance -  reversed and remanded, 9-0, in an opinion by Justice Thomas.  Justice Stevens concurs in part and in the judgment.  The Court clarified when a worker covered by an employee benefit plan under ERISA is entitled to recover attorney's fees in a lawsuit over benefits.  

Lewis v. City of Chicago - reversed and remanded, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Scalia.

  • Holding: A plaintiff who does not file a timely charge challenging the adoption of an employment practice may assert a claim of disparate impact even if the lawsuit is aimed at an application of the practice.

American Needle v. NFL - reversed, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Stevens.

  • Holding: The NFL's team joint licensing of the use of trademarks on clothing and other consumer goods may be challenged under the Sherman Antitrust Act's section 1.  

The Court also issued a per curiam decision in Jefferson v. Upton, a capital case:  "Petitioner Lawrence Jefferson, who has been sentenced to death, claimed in both state and federal courts that his lawyers were constitutionally inadequate because they failed to investigate a traumatic head injury that he suffered as a child. The state court rejected that claim after making a finding that the attorneys were advised by anexpert that such investigation was unnecessary. Under the governing federal statute, that factual finding is presumed correct unless any one of eight exceptions applies.See 28 U. S. C. §§2254(d)(1)-(8) (1994 ed.). But the Court of Appeals considered only one of those exceptions (specifically §2254(d)(8)). And on that basis, it considered itself "duty-bound" to accept the state court's finding, and rejected Jefferson's claim. Because the Court of Appeals did not fully consider several remaining potentially applicable exceptions, we vacate its judgment and remand."

Certiorari grants:

Skinner v. Switzer 
The motion of petitioner for leave to proceed in forma 
pauperis and the petition for a writ of certiorari are granted. 

Issue: May a convicted prisoner seeking access to biological evidence for DNA testing assert that claim in a civil rights action under 42 USC 1983 or is such a claim cognizable only in a petition for writ of habeas corpus 

Sossamon v. Texas
Issue: Limited by the Court to this question: whether an individual may sue a state or state official in his official capacity for damages for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc.
Issue: (1) Whether, when Congress has provided that compliance with a federal motor vehicle safety standard "does not exempt a person from liability at common law," 49 U.S.C. § 30103(e), a federal minimum safety standard allowing vehicle manufacturers to install either lap-only or lap/shoulder seatbelts in certain seating positions preempts a state common-law claim alleging that the manufacturer should have installed a lap/shoulder belt in one of those seating positions; (2) whether that same federal motor vehicle safety standard impliedly preempts a state tort suit alleging that the manufacturer should have warned consumers of the known dangers of a lap-only seatbelt installed in one of its vehicles.

AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion
Issue: Whether the Federal Arbitration Act preempts states from conditioning the enforcement of an arbitration agreement on the availability of particular procedures -- here, class-wide arbitration -- when those procedures are not necessary to ensure that the parties to the arbitration agreement are able to vindicate their claims.

Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn; Garriott v. Winn

Issues: (1) Whether respondents have taxpayer standing when they cannot allege that the Arizona Tuition Tax Credit involves the expenditure or appropriation of state funds; and (2) whether a tax credit that advances the legislature's legitimate secular purpose of expanding educational options for families unconstitutionally endorses or advances religion simply because taxpayers choose to direct more contributions to religious organizations than nonreligious ones.

Briefs and lower court opinions on the cert. grants are available at the Scotusblog link above.

This morning the US Supreme Court issued a decision in Graham v. Florida.  The defendant was 16 years old when he was sentenced to life for a burglary offense.  Florida does not have a parole system, so he could not be released absent a grant of executive clemency.  The Court, in a 6-3 decision, holds that the sentence violates the 8th Amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court notes that although most states allow for a life-without sentence for juvenile offenders for some non-homicide offenses, only 129 juvenile offenders are serving such sentences, and of those 77 are in Florida.   The remaining 52 imprisonments are in 10 states and the federal system.  The Court relies upon the rarity of the sentence in finding that it is cruel and unusual, as well as the inadequacy of penological theory to justify the sentence.  It notes that a study's authors were not ably to obtain a definite tally for Nevada (or Utah and Virginia), but the Court's research shows that Nevada has five juvenile nonhomicide offenders serving life without parole sentences.  The Court also finds that nonhomicide crimes cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability.  A life sentence may be imposed, but the State must provide a meaningful opportunity for release.  The Court also notes that the United States is the only country that imposes this type of sentence.

The Court quotes former-Nevada Supreme Court Justice Springer in Naovarath v. State, 105 Nev. 525, 526, 779 P.2d 944 (1989): "[T]his sentence [of life without the possibility of parole] 'means denial of hope; it means that good behavior and character improvement are immaterial; it means whatever the future might hold in store for the mind and spirit of [the convict], he will remain in prison for the rest of his days.'"

The majority opinion is authored by Justice Kennedy and joined by justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor.  Justice Stevens filed a concurring opinion that was joined by justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor.  Justice Roberts filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.  Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Scalia and in part by Justice Alito.  Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion.

The Court issued two other opinions today.  In United States v. Comstock, the Court in a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Breyer, Congress acted within its authority in enacting 18 USC 4248, which allows the civil commitment of mentally ill federal prisoners who are sexually dangerous. 

In Abbott v. Abbott, the Court holds that a parent has a right of custody under the Hague convention on child abduction that gives the parent authority to consent before the other parent can remove a child fromt he country where the child is living.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the US Supreme Court category from May 2010.

US Supreme Court: April 2010 is the previous archive.

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