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

May 2013 Archives

Defending Dissent: Scalia's 'Bluster' Masks Good Points in Perkins

"Everyone's innocent in here, don't you know that?"

-Red, "The Shawshank Redemption"

Earlier this week, the court released two opinions dealing with habeas corpus petitions. Though both were ideologically split 5-4 decisions, the McQuiggins v. Perkins majority opinion and dissent were unusually contentious. Scalia's dissent spends as much time mocking the majority as it does discussing the law. Ginsburg's opinion refers to the dissent as "bluster."

Underneath Scalia's huffing and puffing, however, was a series of very valid points.

Roundup: Two Controversial Decisions Expand Habeas Availability

We were starting to worry that the ideological differences that make for such great theater amongst the Nine were beginning to dissipate. After all, the latest handful of decisions by the Supreme Court have come down without much dissent or controversy. Were Scalia and Ginsburg becoming BFFs not just outside the Court, but in?

This week, our faith in dissent, dispute and left-versus-right schisms was validated by two decisions dealing with inmates challenging their convictions. In one, much to Justice Scalia’s chagrin, the court “created” an exception to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) statute of limitations.

In the other, the court expanded last year’s Martinez decision, which allowed issues of ineffective assistance of counsel to be raised in collateral post-conviction proceedings in extremely limited circumstances.

Fun With SCOTUS: Quizzes to Waste Your Time, Test Your Trivia

It's the Friday before Memorial Day and the last thing you want to do right now is focus on tasks that require thinking. That's okay. You've worked hard this week, right?

Even if you have a bundle of briefs to complete before the close of business, it's a well-known fact that short breaks actually increase productivity. That's right. Come over to the dark side of procrastination. Take these quizzes, and then return to your work, with your batteries recharged.

Lancaster Decision: Not Retroactive if the Defense Never Existed?

Burt Lancaster has twice been convicted of murdering his girlfriend in 1993. The former police officer, with a history of severe mental problems, argued both insanity and diminished capacity at his trial in 1994. He later obtained federal habeas relief from that conviction, after successfully arguing a Batson claim.

He fared no better in his 2005 retrial, when he tried to argue diminished capacity in a bench trial. The court refused to allow him to assert the defense, citing the Michigan Supreme Court's decision in People v. Carpenter in 2001, which abolished the defense of diminished capacity.

Certs Granted: Greece, NY Prayer Case, Four Others

For the first time in thirty years, and despite recent opportunities to do so, the Supreme Court will address one of the touchiest of all subjects: prayer in public meetings.

Greece, New York begins its town meetings with an invocation. Though there is no official policy deciding who can open the meetings with a prayer, and despite the spot being open to all faiths, every single prayer from 1999 through 2007 was delivered by Christian clergy members. Not until two residents objected to the policy were other faiths included (though the town maintains that they had the right to do so earlier).

Defalcation Defined By SCOTUS; FAA Doesn't Preempt Your Tow Truck

Earlier this week, we took a look at the Monsanto case, which had major implications for patent law and our nation’s farming industry. We also hinted at the outcome of the Court’s two other unanimous decisions for this week, one dealing with bankruptcy and defalcation, and the other dealing with a shady tow truck lot and the limits of federal law preemption.

Defalcation Defined

It is undisputed that Randy Bullock was not acting in bad faith when he violated his fiduciary duty as trustee to family life insurance trust. On three occasions, he borrowed funds from the trust, and each time, he paid the trust back — with interest. Nonetheless, his brothers sued and won a judgment against him. He sought to discharge that debt in bankruptcy. The code, however, prevents discharge of debts resulting from defalcation.

Unanimous x3: Monsanto's Magic Beans, Defalcation, and Towing

Our nation's greatest court, with nary a hint of dispute, dissention, or differing reason, released three unanimous opinions today. And while some (the tow yard) will likely have little-to-no impact in the real world, another (Monsanto's soybean patent case) may have a far greater impact, especially in the areas of genetically modified crops, vaccines, and any other self-replicating products.

Monsanto Roundup-Ready Soybeans

In many ways, Monsanto giveth, and Monsanto taketh away. They invented an herbicide that kills pests -- and plants. They also invented a plant that resists that herbicide -- the Roundup-Ready soybean. And while they'll give you the genetically altered soybeans to plant (for a fee, of course), they take away the right to replant those beans in subsequent years through patent enforcement and licensing agreements.

SCOTUSblog's Interim Stat Pack - Insight on Coming Opinions?

There's something uniquely appealing about statistics. Maybe it's because analyzing numbers and making correlation and causation arguments is conceptually similar to analyzing legal issues (gather evidence, make predictions with set levels of certainty, such as by a preponderance). Lawyers are analytical. Statistics are a useful tool to satisfy that tendency.

And while baseball has sabermetrics to help predict the performance of players and teams, the Supreme Court has Kedar Bhatia's SCOTUSblog stat pack -- which breaks down everything from the pace of judicial opinions released to the amount of times the Ninth Circuit has been reversed this term.

It's a law geeks paradise, and from that data, one might be able to make some predictions:

SCOTUS and Big Business, Sitting in a Tree? New Study

Comcast. Dukes. Concepcion. Heck, Citizens United. The big-name pro-business rulings have come aplenty in this present incarnation of the Supreme Court. Is this a case of big names triggering the availability heuristic -- the principle that noteworthy events figure more prominently in our minds? (Planes are safer than automobiles, even though a plane crash makes the news.)

Or, do the stats back popular perceptions?

We Missourians live by one credo: show me, don't tell me. A study published by the Minnesota Law Review, and conducted by Lee Epstein, William M. Landes, and the grand Judge Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit did exactly that, and found that the numbers match the rumors.

New Book Tracks History of Habeas Corpus in America

Habeas corpus. It seemed so important in law school — those halcyon days when you thought you would spend your career fighting for civil liberties — but years of bankruptcy/M&A/insurance defense/family law hearings make habeas irrelevant to most lawyers. For many of us, habeas corpus remains a lofty principle rather than a part of practice.

(Because the U.S. government doesn’t just lock an American up for months without due process, right?)

After 9/11, lawyers and policy makers began debating whether the standard rights of the accused, including habeas, should apply to suspected terrorists. An increasingly vocal segment of the population championed the idea that national security trumped civil liberties. Anthony Gregory, a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, was troubled by post 9/11 detention policy — particularly the 2006 Military Commissions Act and activity at Guantanamo — so he set out to write a policy paper on habeas corpus.

When in Doubt, Deny, Deny Deny

The Supreme Court isn't in a hurry to fill its docket for the 2013 Term. So far, the Court has only granted cert in 19 merit-based cases.

While there are already some stand outs in the next term -- like Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action --some of the recent rejects have drawn as much attention as the cases that have been granted.

This week alone, the Court denied certiorari in three cases that would have made for interesting arguments.