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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Most Americans favor death penalty, but numbers are falling

The majority of Americans – 61 percent – favor the death penalty, according to a new Gallup poll. But that percentage is down from past years.

In fact, the percentage is the lowest since 1972, the year the Supreme Court voided all existing state death penalty laws in Furman v. Georgia.

Just last year, 64 percent of polled Americans voiced support for capital punishment. In 1994, support for the death penalty was at 80 percent, which was the highest level since Gallup began polling on the issue in 1936.

According to the latest poll, 35 percent of Americans oppose the death penalty. In 1994, only 16 percent of Americans opposed it.

The Funniest Justice, week 2: The arm’s-length joke

During oral arguments Wednesday in the case considering whether strips searches of individuals jailed on minor offenses violates the Fourth Amendment, attorney Carter Phillips was asked how close prison officials get to the inmates.

“It almost certainly would have been about an arm’s length, because [the jail officials are] handing them clothes to change into,” Phillips said. “It is sort of hard to be longer than arm’s length and actually get the clothes into his hand.”

“Two arms’ lengths,” corrected Justice Antonin Scalia. “I mean, [the inmate] could reach out, right?”

And with that laugh, Scalia moves into a tie with the chief justice in our weekly Funniest Justice tally. Here are the standings after week 2:

Chief Justice John G Roberts: 3

Justice Antonin Scalia: 3

Justice Stephen Breyer: 2

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (the silent type): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

Court declines to take up same-sex adoption records case

Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court added two cases to its docket – one dealing with fees under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act and another involving double jeopardy issues after a partially hung jury – but the justices again made news for a case it declined to hear.

The Court denied certiorari in the case Adar v. Smith, which involves a same-sex couple who sought to have both of their names listed on their adopted child’s birth certificate. They claim Louisiana public records officials violated their Equal Protection rights as well as the Full Faith and Credit Clause by refusing to list their names on the child’s birth certificate despite the fact that the adoption was formalized by a New York State court. The 5th Circuit disagreed.

The case had been seen as a potential bellwether on the issue of the scope of the Full Faith and Credit Clause in relation to gay couples’ adoptive rights, SCOTUSblog reports.

Supremes ponder strip search limits, arbitration

After taking Columbus Day off, the U.S. Supreme Court is back in action to hear oral arguments this week  on issues including whether claims arising under the Credit Repair Organizations Act are arbitrable, and whether the Fourth Amendment limits strip searches on jail inmates held on minor charges.

The Court will also issue orders, likely adding more cases to its docket.

More on the Court’s newsworthy moves on this blog and on Lawyers USA online.

The Funniest Justice, week 1: Hail to the Chief comic

During oral arguments in the case Maples v. Thomas, attorney John C. Neiman, Jr., sought to explain why a state’s attorney sent a notice to a defendant – as opposed to his lawyer – that his time to file a petition for relief had expired.

“At that point in time, the State case was over,” Neiman siad. “So, it was hardly clear if [the prosecutor] was going to do something that he didn’t have to do under the rules.”

“Why did he do it, then?” asked Chief Justice John G. Roberts. “Just gloating that the fellow had lost?”

That remark earned the chief justice one of the three laughs he drew during this term’s first week of oral arguments, putting him in the lead of our first weekly tally of The Funniest Justice. The ever comedic Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer were right behind him with two laughs apiece, and Justice Elena Kagan also drew chuckles from the audience once.

Here are the week 1 standings:

Chief Justice John G Roberts: 3

Justice Antonin Scalia: 2

Justice Stephen Breyer: 2

Justice Elena Kagan: 1

Justice Anthony Kennedy: 0

Justice Clarence Thomas (the silent type): 0

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 0

Justice Samuel Alito: 0

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 0

Scalia and Breyer testify, debate before Congress

After oral arguments concluded at the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer had another appearance to make – before Congress.

The justices traveled across the street from the Supreme Court building to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, where Scalia lamented the declining in quality of federal judges. That decline, he said, was caused by Congress’ overzealous criminal lawmaking, which created the need for so many more judges.

“Federal judges ain’t what they used to be,” Scalia told the committee, according to Mark Sherman of the Associated Press. The federal judiciary is “not as elite as it used to be.”

The justices, never afraid to publicly disagree, expressed their different views of constitutional interpretation.

“I’m hoping that the ‘living Constitution’ will die,” Scalia said at one point, according to the Huffington Post’s Mick Sacks. Breyer responded by repeating a nearly 200-year-old quote by Chief Justice John Marshall: “It is a constitution we are expounding” because it is “to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs.””

Verrilli’s debut

Spotted at the U.S. Supreme Court today: Donald Verrilli making his first oral argument before the justices as solicitor general. He argued for the government in the final argument of the week in the copyright case Golan v. Holder.

Gaffe puts Scalia in the obits

Justice Antonin Scalia is alive and well.

This is important to clarify, considering  readers of the Washington Post this weekend saw a picture of Scalia accompanying an obituary – for someone else.

The gaffe involved the obituary of Peter Terpeluk, Jr., a Republican fundraiser and former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. The Post used a photo submitted by Terpeluk’s family showing Terpeluk posing with Scalia – but the shot was inadvertently cropped to show Scalia instead of Terpeluk. The paper corrected the mistake in Monday’s paper and online, and the mistake was also noted by the publication’s ombudsman.

Supreme Court approval rating slides

Americans’ approval of the U.S. Supreme Court has dipped to its lowest level since John Roberts took the helm as chief justice in 2005.

According to the latest Gallup poll, the Court has a 46 percent approval rating – a drop of 5 percent over last year, and a 15 percent dip from its 61 percent approval rating in 2009, when the Roberts Court was most popular.

According to Gallup, the drop in approval numbers for the historically popular Supreme Court is more likely a reflection of citizens’ overall loss of trust in government, rather than a reaction to actions by the Court itself.

The poll found that Americans still have a positive view of the judicial system. According to the poll, 63 percent of Americans in the same poll say they trust the judicial branch.