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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Medicaid suit, ministerial exception cases on tap for Court’s first week

DC Dicta is taking a weeklong hiatus. But we will return on First Monday – Oct. 3 – ready to cover the shiny new Supreme Court term.

Some the cases on tap during the first week of oral arguments include:

Douglas v. Independent Living Center of Southern California – the first argument of the term – which considers if Medicaid recipients and providers may sue under the Supremacy Clause to enforce a federal law they say preempts a state law reducing reimbursement rates;

Reynolds v. U.S., which asks whether an individual can challenge the constitutionality of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act and the legality of the Interim Rule implementing that law;

Howes v. Fields, which considers whether Mirada warnings are required before jail or prison inmates are questioned about issues unrelated to the cases for which they were incarcerated; and

Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, which presents the question of whether  the ministerial exception, which prohibits most employment-related lawsuits against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions, apply to a teacher at a religious elementary school bringing an ADA claim.

Davis executed after Supreme Court denies stay request

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued two execution stays in as many weeks, it declined to intervene in the execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia inmate convicted of shooting and killing an off-duty police officer in 1989.

Davis was executed last night, despite his claims of innocence, the recanted testimony of witnesses from his trial, and legions of supporters across the globe including former President Jimmy Carter. Prosecutors maintain that Davis repeatedly shot and killed off-duty officer Mark MacPhail in a fast food restaurant parking lot.

The Supreme Court denied Davis 11th hour request for a stay. According to the Associated Press, before he was administered a lethal injection, Davis said: “I am innocent. The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun.”

Supreme Court grants death row inmate third stay

For the second time in as many weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed the execution of a Texas inmate.

Just days after halting the execution of Duane Edward Buck just hours before he was to be executed, the Court yesterday once again granted  stay in the case of Cleve Foster, who was sentenced for a the rape and murder of a woman he met in a bar. Buck claims he received ineffective representation from his attorney.

This is the third time the Court granted a stay in Foster’s case, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog. “Three stays in one year by the Supreme Court is extraordinary,” University of Texas Law School professor Maurie Levin, who represents Foster on appeal, told the Law Blog.

In its brief, the Texas Attorney General’s Office called Foster’s claim “frivolous.”

Thomas: Supreme Court is too powerful and bicoastal

The Supreme Court is too powerful, and could benefit from justices from places other than the East and West Coasts, Justice Clarence Thomas said last week.

Some of the issues that the nine Justices settle would be better hashed out by lawmakers and other elected officials, Thomas told students and faculty members at the University of Nebraska College of Law Thursday.

“The really hard calls ought to be made by citizens and their political leaders,” Thomas said, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. “Other branches ought to make (those) decisions. That’s more democratic.”

“Our role is too great,” Thomas said of the Court. “I don’t know any more about these big moral questions” than other people do.

As for the justices, Thomas, who is from Georgia,  said he wishes there were more justices from different parts of the country.

“There’s nobody from the Heartland,” Thomas said, adding that the Court would benefit from geographic diversity that “reflects the fact this is a big country, not just the Northeast.”

Six of the nine justices were born in either New York or New Jersey: Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer hail from California.

The only heartland connection on the Court comes from Roberts, who moved to Indiana with his family while still in grade school.

Supreme Court grants 11th hour execution stay

Just before Duane Edward Buck was set to be executed in Texas Thursday night for a double murder, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution while the justice decide whether to take up his case.

Justice Antonin Scalia granted the order on the Court’s behalf, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reported. Buck claims that testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial that he is likely to be more violent because he is black impacted his sentence.

Buck had already eaten his last meal when the stay order was issued.

Ginsburg evacuated from plane after engine fire reported

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is safe and unharmed after she and 178 other passengers were evacuated from a plane at Dulles International Airport Wednesday after an engine fire was reported by the pilot.

The plane, United Airlines Flight 586, was scheduled to fly to San Francisco and was still on the ground when the Ginsburg and the other passengers were directed to exit via emergency slides. They returned to the terminal and no one was seriously injured.

Ginsburg chills at the theatre

Readers of this blog know that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a fan of the theatre. So it should be no surprise that the justice caught a performance of “The Boy Detective Fails” at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington Sunday.

But apparently Ginsburg was not a big fan of the venue’s air conditioning settings.  According to the Washington Examiner, Ginsburg was spotted during intermission – accompanied by a security detail – going to her car and retrieving a shawl to wear for the balance of the show.

Justice Souter is no Meryl Streep

Photo by Matthew Hutchins of the Harvard Law Record

Most of us have sent notes to out alma maters catching our classmates up on the things we’ve been up to since graduation. And guess what – retired Supreme Court justices do too.

Retired Justice David Souter caught his Harvard classmates up by writing a note in the school’s fiftieth-reunion class report, according to Harvard Magazine, beginning his statement with: “I retired when the Supreme Court rose for the summer recess in 2009, and a couple of weeks later I drove north from Washington [to New Hampshire] with no regrets about the prior 19 years or about the decision to try living a more normal life for whatever time might remain.”

As for his legacy on the Court, Souter wrote: “While the quality of the workmanship may be pronounced good, bad, or indifferent…, I realized long before I submitted my resignation that whatever the verdict might turn out to be, I was the luckiest guy in the world.”

Souter also recounted a brush with Hollywood royalty last year when he received an honorary degree from Harvard.

“Not only did Harvard generously award me an honorary doctorate, but it gave me the great pleasure of spending a little time with a fellow degree recipient, Meryl Streep,” Souter wrote. “She happened to be somewhat ahead of me in the cohort of honorands processing into the New Yard between rows of regular degree candidates, and we were just about at the corner of Widener when one senior boy reluctantly took his eyes off the eminent actress and noticed me. He smiled with diminished voltage as he said, ‘You’re no Meryl Streep.’”

Lawmakers call for hearing on Supreme Court recusal bill

First Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court is just around the corner, and some congressional Democrats are stepping up their push to try to make Supreme Court justices step aside in cases where they have financial or political ties.

The issue has received increased attention as the fight over the constitutionality of the federal health care law makes it way to the nation’s highest Court.

In a letter that will be sent to House leaders today, several Democratic lawmakers are calling for a hearing on the Supreme Court Transparency and Disclosure Act, H.R. 862, which would apply the code to Supreme Court justices, require the justices to publicly disclose the reasoning behind any recusal from hearing a case as well as the reason for refusing to recuse after a motion is made for them to do so, and direct the Judicial Conference to establish enforcement mechanisms for the code.

The letter, obtained yesterday by the New York Times, cites “alarming reports of justices – most notably Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – attending political events and using their position to fundraise for organizations. These activities would be prohibited if the justices were required to abide by the Judicial Conference Code of Conduct, which currently applies to all other federal judges.”

Scalia and Thomas have come under fire recently for their relationship with conservative political financiers David and Charles Koch, and for the political activities of Thomas’ wife, Virginia. Similarly Republicans have questioned whether Justice Elena Kagan should sit in on the health care challenge because she was solicitor general when the challenge to the law was first filed.