U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court News and Information Blog

U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog


Convicted murderer Mark Christeson got the rarest of reprieves: a Supreme Court stay blocking his execution (for now). With an execution set for midnight (Wednesday morning), he was spared with just a few hours to go over the dissent of Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Why the reprieve? The order didn't elaborate on the reason for the stay, but we covered his case yesterday on our Eighth Circuit blog: Christeson never received federal habeas review because his court-appointed counsel didn't even meet with him until after the deadline, then filed a late petition, and then spent the next seven years avoiding their own malpractice by continuing to represent him, pressing frivolous timeliness arguments on appeal.

The dubious duo still represent him, in fact -- though outside counsel, as well as a group of former judges, all submitted briefs to the Supreme Court asking for a stay while the issues of a denied substitution of counsel, the conflict of interest with his current counsel, and his denied habeas review are all sorted out.

The Supreme Court's three justices from Yale made the trip back to New Haven, Connecticut, on Saturday to receive the school's Award of Merit. The event was especially sweet for Justice Clarence Thomas, who for a long time has had a cold, estranged relationship with his alma mater. He remarked that the event was "far more special to me than at the time of my graduation."

But the event wasn't just a look into the life of Clarence Thomas. Two other justices, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, were also honored. Between the three of them, we learned many interesting things about the SCOTUS Yaleies. Here are 11 notes and trivia bits pulled from The Washington Post and The New York Times' recaps of the event:

Many have complained, time and time again, that the Supreme Court's refusal to allow cameras in the courtroom is the wrong move. Cameras in the court would help Americans understand how the co-equal third branch of the government works. It would increase transparency and trust in the Court's decisions as well. And, it would likely be extremely entertaining.

Alas, there are no cameras in the Court, not unless you sneak one in. There are microphones, but audio recordings of oral arguments are usually released days after the cases are argued, when the case is no longer news. Media coverage is typically done with Art Lien's amazing sketches and the audio feed, which makes for must-not-see TV. It's a stupid problem to have, but it's still a problem.

Fortunately, HBO's "Last Week Tonight" has an answer. If you haven't seen what the show's host John Oliver did to revolutionize coverage of Supreme Court cases, you need to stop everything and watch this clip now:

The Supreme Court's latest orders list is out, with three very interesting grants. First, what happens to a convict's guns? Can a court order them transferred or sold to a buyer of the convict's choice? Second, can a Batson issue be dealt with ex parte? And in the third grant, the Court explores the possibility of a facial challenge to a hotel records law under the Fourth Amendment.

In other news: The Court let another state voting law stay in effect, this time in Texas, in the strongest test of the Purcell v. Gonzalez holding yet. A district court had held that the law had a discriminatory purpose, and blocked it, but the Fifth Circuit, citing Purcell, reversed the trial court.

We've got two big pieces of news on the Supreme Court front, both involving issues of national importance: abortion and voting rights.

The biggest development has to be the Supreme Court's decision to vacate parts of a Fifth Circuit opinion that allowed Texas' new abortion law to go into effect; the law would effectively force all but a few abortion clinics in the state to close. The issue, and appeal, are likely to make it to the Court on the merits.

Meantime, back at the Fifth Circuit, the court allowed the Texas voter ID law to go into effect, despite the district court's finding that the law had a discriminatory purpose. That too will likely head to the High Court at some point.

Well, after much waiting, and a Columbus Day holiday, the Supreme Court's latest orders list is in -- and it's more of a letdown than the second "Sex and the City" movie.

Meanwhile, people are still protesting the fact that you can't protest on the marble plaza in front of the Court. A case challenging that rule is still pending in the D.C. Circuit.

And finally, we'll take a peek at this week's oral arguments schedule.

In what might be the most litigious election season in recent memory, the Supreme Court has stepped in and blocked three lower court rulings in the last week alone, some of which allowed controversial voting laws, and some of which blocked those laws. The seemingly conflicting rulings all have one thing in common: the Purcell rule.

Meantime, a court in Texas has blocked that state's voter ID law at the last second. A quick appeal, citing that same Purcell rule, is a foregone conclusion.

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard its first oral argument of the October 2014 term. The facts of Heien v. North Carolina are straightforward. Vazquez was driving Heien's car; Heien was sleeping in the back seat. A police officer thought Vazquez looked "stiff and nervous" as he drove by, so the officer followed him. The officer noticed one of the car's brake lights was out, so the officer pulled Vazquez over, issued a citation for the light, and asked for permission to search the car. Boom: drugs.

The issue is that the North Carolina statute in question requires only that a car have a working brake light, not two working brake lights (though the same statute also says all the lights -- plural -- have to be in working order). The state supreme court had never interpreted the law, but a state appellate court was hearing a case on that very issue. Thus, the question presented was "[w]hether a police officer's mistake of law can provide the individualized suspicion that the Fourth Amendment requires to justify a traffic stop."

SECOND UPDATE, October 10, 2014, 2:33 p.m.: The Supreme Court has just issued an order lifting the stay on same-sex marriages in Idaho, less than three days after Justice Kennedy's surprising initial stay.

UPDATE, October 8, 2014, 12:54 p.m.: Justice Kennedy has issued a new order, dropping the stay in Nevada. Gay marriage can proceed in Nevada, but it's still on hold in Idaho. Meantime, BuzzFeed reports that the conservative Nevada district court judge who ruled against gay marriage in 2012, and was ordered to issue the injunction (blocking the ban), has self-recused.

This morning, those of us on the west coast woke up to surprising news: Two days after the Supreme Court declined to take on the issue of gay marriage, and one day after the Ninth Circuit followed that up with a smackdown of Nevada and Idaho's gay marriage bans, the Supreme Court stepped in and pressed pause on Idaho gay marriages. And maybe Nevada too -- nobody is quite sure.

Speaking of stays, despite issuing a stay blocking last-minute changes to voting laws in Ohio, the Court has yet to rule on other requests out of North Carolina and Wisconsin. The latter state sent a follow-up request to the Court earlier today, while the waiting game rolls on on the two earlier requests.

The most surprising thing the Supreme Court did Monday was bury summary denials of certiorari to five pending same-sex marriage cases in the 80-page first order of the term.

But the second most surprising thing the Court did was to update its website. A new carousel of images greets visitors to the Court's main page, along with a more conspicuous calendar, a list of recent decisions, and a table of recent arguments with accompanying transcripts and audio recordings.