Posted on February 26, 2007 at 11:53 am by Lyle Denniston
UPDATE 1:25 PM: Added cert. papers in Watson case.
The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether states may constitutionally open up their primary elections to voters of all parties, voting on a common ballot, if the candidates are identified on the ballot by party. The orders can be found here.
The consolidated cases case of Washington State Grange v. Washington Republican Party (06-713) and State of Washington v. Washington Republican Party (06-730, briefs here) will return the Court’s attention to an issue it last decided in 2000 in California Democratic Party v. Jones. The specific legal question is whether a so-called “blanket primary” is truly non-partisan if candidates are allowed to identify their parties on the common ballot, and the top two winners are nominated to run in the general election.
In a second order granting review, the Court indicated it will decide whether parents of a disabled child are entitled, under federal law, to reimbursement of private school tuition if the child had not previously received any special education from the public schools system or other government agencies. The issue arises in Board of Education of New York City v. Tom F., et al. (06-637). The child involved in the case had attended private school throughout his childhood, at a school that does not have an approved special education program. The boy’s parents refused to have him placed in a public school program, kept him in private school, and obtained tuition reimbursement. The city school system lost in an appeal to the Second Circuit.
The Court also agreed to decide when a gun is “used” during a drug crime, leading to a mandatory five-year sentence. The specific issue in Watson v. U.S. (06-571, petition, BIO, reply) is whether a gun is “used” if an individual trades illegal drugs for a gun. The Circuit Courts are split deeply on the issue. The appeal by a Louisiana man, Michael A. Watson, relies primarily upon a 1995 Supreme Court ruling, Bailey v. U.S.
In a separate order, the Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to offer the federal government’s views on the right of an individual taking part in a retirement plan to recover money losses in his or her pension account because of the fault of plan managers or administrators. The issue arises in retirement plans set up as defined contribution plans. The Labor Department has joined in cases in lower courts, urging resolution of a conflict on the question. The new case is LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg & Associates (06-856, documents here).
Here, in summary, are some of the issues raised in cases that the Court on Monday refused to hear:
** Whether it is unconstitutional to impose a criminal sentence that runs for decades — 200 years, in this instance — because each count is sentenced separately and each sentence must be served consecutively. The case of Berger v. Arizona (06-349) involved a 200-year sentence based on 20 counts of possessing child pornography.
** Whether the Miranda v. Arizona decision bars the use of a confession in a case where officers obtained a damaging statement before warning the suspect of his rights, then got the same admission after giving warnings. The Ohio Supreme Court barred the admission. The case was Ohio v. Farris (04-464).
** Whether the Court would reopen the question of whether a state may constitutionally ban multiple marriages. The case of Holm v. Utah (07-535) involved a plea for the right to engage in a plural union, when it involved only a religious commitment ceremony, not a formal marriage.
** Whether the federal law that bars discrimination against the disabled applies to a state’s termination of the parental rights of a disabled couple. The case was Irving N., et al., v. Rhode Island Department of Children (06-603).
** Whether cities or states must get a federal Clean Water Act permit before transferring water, untreated, from one body of water to another to supply water for human drinking. The Second Circuit Court required New York City to get a permit for taking water out of an upstate reservoir and pumping it into a stream that is popular with trout fishermen. The case was New York City v. Catskill Mountain Chapter of Trouts Unlimited (06-729.
** Whether a federal appeals court had the authority to review a decision by a federal judge sending a case back to state court for trial. The case involved a Fourth Circuit Court ruling that required a military contractor in Iraq to defend in state court its actions in an incident that left four American workers dead after an ambush in the city of Fallujah. The case was Blackwater Security Consulting v. Nordan (06-857). Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., in October had refused to stay the Circuit Court ruling, and the case is now proceeding in state court.
** Whether the RICO anti-racketeering law’s coverage of “enterprises” applies to a corporation and its agents, on the theory that they are part of a joint activity that commits at least two federal crimes. The case of Mohawk Industries v. Williams (06-873) had been before the Court in 2005, but that ended without a ruling on the merits, and a remand to the Eleventh Circuit; in its second decision, the Circuit Court again ruled against the large rug manufacturing company on a claim that its hiring of illegal aliens resulted in depressed wages for all of its hourly workers.