Today the court hears oral argument in two cases. The first is McWilliams v. Dunn, which asks whether an Alabama defendant in a capital case whose mental health was at issue was entitled to assistance from a psychiatrist independent of the prosecution. Amy Howe previewed the case for this blog. Emily Rector and Kimberly Petrick provide a preview for Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute. At NPR, Nina Totenberg and Lauren Russell report on the case, noting that the argument comes at “a time of high drama over executions in Arkansas.” The second argument today is in Davila v. Davis, another capital case, in which the justices will decide whether ineffective assistance of counsel in a state habeas proceeding excuses a defendant’s failure to raise an underlying claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Steve Vladeck had this blog’s preview. Liza Carens and Scott Cohen preview the case for Cornell.
The court issued orders from its April 21 conference on Monday. It did not grant certiorari in any new cases or call for the views of the solicitor general in any cases. On Tuesday, the court released its opinion in Lewis v. Clarke. The court also heard oral argument on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The calendar for the April sitting is available on the court’s website. On Friday the justices met for their April 28 conference; our list of “petitions to watch” for that conference is available here.
The petition of the day is:
Issue: Whether lower courts are bound by the rationale of Justice Sotomayor’s lone concurrence in Freeman v. United States – with which all other justices in Freeman expressly disagreed – on the theory that it is the “narrowest grounds” of a plurality opinion under Marks v. United States.
Oyez has posted audio and transcripts from this week’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
The court heard argument this week in:
- Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board
- Town of Chester v. Laroe Estates, Inc.
- California Public Employees’ Retirement System v. ANZ Securities, Inc.
- Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission
- Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.
- Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer
- Weaver v. Massachusetts
John Elwood reviews Monday’s relists.
After we trumpeted that last week’s conference presented the newly installed Justice Neil Gorsuch with his first opportunity to show off his new door-opening and note-taking skills, the court announced that Gorsuch would instead be sitting out the conference so that, in light of the unusually short on-ramp before the April argument session, he could focus the brief time available preparing for oral arguments. Rumors flew that Gorsuch had spent the whole time with celebrity trainers, crashing on PX90 wrist workouts to ready himself for the fateful day when his colleagues would parade their extended families past the conference-room door at 3o-second intervals to test how long the famously affable Coloradan could remain famously affable. Gorsuch’s absence was reflected on the resulting order list, which contained a single, asterisked footnote on the first page confirming that the new guy “took no part” in considering any of the matters on the list.
So this week’s conference will be the first for Gorsuch. That fact is reflected in this week’s unusually long roll of relists, which are plentiful enough that it appears that the court may have simply rolled over the entire “discuss list” from last week’s conference. Three of last week’s relists return again, including the closely watched six-time relist and potential blockbuster Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 16-111, involving a cake decorator who refused on religious grounds to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. In addition to the repeat offenders, the court relisted a whopping 14 new cases. The new relists can be sorted into three main groups — plus one election-law case.
Last night the Supreme Court declined to block the executions of a group of Arkansas inmates, one of whom was executed shortly before midnight. Amy Howe covers the proceedings for this blog. Additional coverage comes from Lyle Denniston at his eponymous blog, who notes that “new Justice Neil M. Gorsuch cast his first votes as a member of the Supreme Court,” and that on “what appeared to be the main order in the Arkansas cases,” in which “the result was a 5-to-4 rejection of the inmates’ requests for postponement of execution and denial of review of their legal claims,” “Justice Gorsuch was in the majority with the court’s four most conservative members.”
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[UPDATED: After temporarily staying inmate Ledell Lee’s additional appeals last night to give them more time to consider his new filings, the justices rejected Lee’s request to block his execution, clearing the way for Arkansas to execute Lee. Lee was executed shortly before midnight local time.]
The battle over efforts by Arkansas to execute eight inmates in 11 days returned to the Supreme Court this evening. Earlier this week, the justices declined to step in and overturn a stay issued by the state supreme court that resulted in a reprieve for two inmates whose cases involved issues similar to those the justices will consider next week in an Alabama capital case. But another group of inmates did not fare as well in their challenges relating to Arkansas’ death penalty protocol. The inmates needed at least five votes to block the upcoming executions, but they could only get four votes (those of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) in one case and three votes (Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) in another.
Arkansas had hoped to carry out the executions before the end of the month, when the state’s supply of midazolam – a sedative used in the state’s lethal injection protocol – expires. One inmate, Ledell Lee, was scheduled to be executed tonight for the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, whom he robbed, strangled, and beat with a tire iron. Justice Samuel Alito, who is responsible for emergency appeals from the geographic area that includes Arkansas, issued a temporary stay to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and the Supreme Court to consider new filings by Lee, who argues (among other things) that he should be allowed access to DNA testing that would prove his innocence. The 8th Circuit denied relief late tonight, but the Supreme Court’s stay remained in effect as of 11:30 p.m. Eastern – approximately 90 minutes before the warrant for Lee’s execution is set to expire.
The petition of the day is:
Issue: Whether a state violates the 14th Amendment by denying married same-sex couples the same right afforded to married opposite-sex couples under state law to have the name of the birth mother’s spouse entered as the second parent on their child’s birth certificate.
In its conference of April 21, 2017, the court will consider petitions involving issues such as whether a state law that imposes retroactive tax liability for a period of almost seven years violates the due process clause; whether the warrantless seizure and search of historical cell phone records revealing the location and movements of a cell phone user over the course of 127 days is permitted by the Fourth Amendment; and whether the safe harbor of Section 546(e) of the Bankruptcy Code prohibits avoidance of a transfer made by or to a financial institution, without regard to whether the institution has a beneficial interest in the property transferred.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what a Supreme Court decision is about, or what the court has held, until well into the majority opinion. And then there are examples like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion for the Court in Nelson v. Colorado, which opened with the following concise paragraph:
When a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur, is the State obliged to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction? Our answer is yes. Absent conviction of a crime, one is presumed innocent. Under the Colorado law before us in these cases, however, the State retains conviction-related assessments unless and until the prevailing defendant institutes a discrete civil proceeding and proves her innocence by clear and convincing evidence. This scheme, we hold, offends the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.
Given that Colorado’s scheme appears to be unique, and that the Colorado legislature has already passed legislation that goes into effect in September and provides for automatic reimbursement of “amounts paid following a vacated conviction,” the actual impact of the court’s decision in Nelson will surely be modest. Instead, its more interesting implications may stem from the debate between the majority and Justice Clarence Thomas, who, alone in dissent, did not think it nearly as obvious that “defendants whose convictions have been reversed have a substantive right to any money exacted on the basis of those convictions.”