Tuesday, October 06, 2015

SCOTUS changes rules on "line-standers" and tries to improve "link-rot"

Here's the statement by the Court. SCOTUSBlog has more:

The Supreme Court, changing some of its procedures with Monday’s opening of a new Term, announced that lawyers who plan to attend oral argument sessions can no longer hire “line standers” to hold their places. This is now a do-it-yourself opportunity, the Court said in a statement outlining several changes.

Long lines usually form outside the Court building only when a high-profile case is scheduled, with heavy demand for the limited seating in the courtroom. The new policy apparently does not affect public lines. The Court did not explain the new policy for attorneys.

Other changes announced on Monday included making revisions to a published opinion of the Court more visible and a new effort to keep Internet links that appear within Court opinions from disappearing — what the Court indelicately calls “link rot.”

Monday, October 05, 2015

First Monday in October

The Justices are back to work. I wonder if they had Sunday night blues...

Anyway, here's the first order of the Term. Nothing really interesting except that the Court denied cert in an important insider trading case (More on that here).

The USA Today has a good article previewing the Term:

The Supreme Court embarks on a new term Monday that would make Yogi Berra proud: It truly is déjà vu all over again.

The justices will rule on affirmative action for the third time in four years. They will rule on public employee union fees for the third time in five years. They will deliver verdicts on class-action lawsuits and death penalty appeals, as they do virtually every year.

Before the term is out next June, they likely will consider the Affordable Care Act's so-called "contraceptive mandate" for the second time in three years and update what they meant a generation ago in ruling that states could not place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.

"It's kind of a term of sequels," says John Elwood, an appellate lawyer who argues frequently before the court. "There are many cases or questions presented from past terms ... that weren't decided the first time, and they're back now to be answered, hopefully, this upcoming term."

Other issues that could reach the court this term or next include President Obama's effort to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, challenges to voter-identification laws and other restrictions, and efforts by merchants such as bakers and florists to turn down same-sex weddings.

So far, the cases granted for oral argument this fall point the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts back in a conservative direction after a year heralded by liberals — for the landmark gay marriage and Obamacare rulings as well as others on housing and employment discrimination, judicial fundraising, and the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Interesting interstate commerce case before the Supreme Court

Cert was granted in Taylor v. United States — Whether, in a case under the Hobbs Act, the government must prove that robbery of a drug dealer does actually affect interstate commerce.

From Courthouse News:

David Anthony Taylor was indicted on July 26, 2012, on multiple charges of affecting interstate commerce when he robbed a drug dealer, identified in court documents as Whitney Lynch, of marijuana, drug proceeds and a cellphone in August 2009.
At the time, the documents said, Taylor was a member of the "Southwest Goonz," a gang that specialized in robbing drug dealers, who in knew both kept drugs and drug proceeds in their homes, and, because of their activities, would be reluctant to report the robberies to the police.
Taylor's first trial resulted in a hung jury. But a second jury convicted him on July 25, 2013, and he was sentenced to 28 years in prison, three years supervised release and a $1,000 fine.
Taylor appealed, contending both that the government failed to introduce sufficient evidence to establish that his robberies affected interstate commerce, and that the district court erred by preventing him from showing that the particular drugs he tried to steal did not affect interstate commerce.
But the Fourth Circuit held that because drug dealing in the aggregate necessarily affects interstate commerce, the government was simply required to prove that Taylor deplete or attempted to deplete the assets of such an operation.
It also held that "sufficient evidence was adduced at trial for a rational jury to find that Whorley was a drug dealer and that Taylor depleted or attempted to deplete his assets during the August 27 robbery."
"This is not to imply that the reach of the Hobbs Act is without limits," the Fourth Circuit said. "All robberies are disruptive, but not every disruption is an obstruction of commerce."
The court noted that the Sixth Circuit has held that the jurisdictional element of the Hobbs Act was not satisfied when the defendant stood convicted of robbing "private citizens in a private residence" of money, some of which just happened to "belong to a restaurant doing business in interstate commerce."

Thursday, October 01, 2015

13 new cert grants

The Order is here. More to follow on the cases shortly.

Meantime, there is some sentencing reform bouncing around Congress. Let's see what happens. This will be a minor, but important and good, step forward. We still need the judges to step up... From the NY Times:

A long-awaited bipartisan proposal to cut mandatory prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and promote more early release from federal prisons is scheduled to be disclosed Thursday by an influential group of senators who hope to build on backing from conservatives, progressives and the White House.

The comprehensive plan, which has the crucial support of Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Judiciary Committee, is the product of intense and difficult negotiations between Republicans and Democrats who hope to reduce the financial and societal costs of mass incarceration that have hit minority communities particularly hard.

The push has benefited from an unusual convergence of interests in an otherwise polarized Washington and has become a singular issue that usually warring groups have rallied around. Progressive advocacy groups have embraced the possibility of less jail time and better preparation for offenders when they are released; conservatives have championed the potential savings in reducing prison populations and spending on the strained criminal justice system.

According to those familiar with the still-secret agreement, the legislation proposes an extensive set of changes in federal sentencing requirements. Those changes include a reduction in mandatory minimum sentencing to five years from 10 for qualified cases; a reduction in automatic additional penalties for those with prior drug felonies; and more discretion for judges in assessing criminal history.

The legislation would also ban solitary confinement for juveniles in nearly all cases, and allow those sentenced as juveniles to seek a reduction in sentencing after 20 years. Many of the new rules could be applied retroactively to people now serving time.

Not sure the new laws will help the creative drug dealers here:

Investigators seized a sweet stash that looked like it was ready to be stuffed into a piñata earlier this summer, but drug testing proved it was more than nine pounds of methamphetamine, disguised to look like candy.

On Wednesday, Jorge Maldonado, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to distribute the drug in Broward County. The charge carries a maximum punishment of life in federal prison.

Maldonado, of Okeechobee, was arrested July 7 in Lauderhill and admitted he was being paid $2,000 to deliver the methamphetamine to South Florida. Pieces of the drug were individually packaged in brightly-colored candy wrappers labeled with Spanish words.

Investigators have issued warnings in recent months about street drugs that have been disguised as hard candy. They say it is particularly dangerous because children and adults could unwittingly consume the drug.

A Bradenton man, Jesus Castellano, 53, who was arrested on related charges, is scheduled to plead guilty next week in federal court in Tampa. Authorities seized about another 19 pounds of the "meth candy" from his home in July.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Weeds or native plants?

Judge Posner discusses and uses pictures!

Good times.

It's an 8th Amendment Term from SCOTUS. From Rory Little at SCOTUSblog:

Last June, the Supreme Court’s Term ended not with the same-sex marriage opinions (announced three days earlier), but rather with Justice Stephen Breyer’s surprising and comprehensive opinion (joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in Glossip v. Gross, which announced that both Justices now “believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.” Justice Antonin Scalia responded that if the Court were to grant merits review on that question, then he correspondingly “would ask that counsel also brief whether” longstanding Eighth Amendment precedents, “beginning with Trop [v. Dulles (1958)], should be overruled.” Meanwhile, in the Glossip argument, Justice Samuel Alito had candidly described the many aspects of capital litigation as “guerilla war against the death penalty,” while Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan had remarked that the Court was being asked to approve an execution method akin to “being burned alive.” Needless to say, the Justices are deeply divided about the meaning and application of the Eighth Amendment’s “cruel and unusual punishment” clause.

Which makes it all the more interesting that in the Term that will open on October 5, five of the thirty-four cases in which the Court has granted review involve Eighth Amendment issues, four of them the death penalty. All five cases will be argued in the first three argument weeks of the Term (four in October, and the fifth on November 2). One can expect that the smoldering embers of the Glossip debate will be quickly reignited. This Term may be the biggest Eighth Amendment term in forty years (since Gregg v. Georgia in 1976).


After the Justices’ “long Conference” on September 28, at which they will address hundreds of cert. petitions that have piled up since the summer recess began, the Court will announce review in a number of new cases of great import. Some may well divert attention from what appears to be an unusual focus on Eighth Amendment cases and questions. But the granting and argument of five Eighth Amendment cases to open the Supreme Court’s 2015 Term signals, I think, the deep cultural (as well as economic and federalism) concerns that Americans in general seem to have regarding capital punishment. In at least some of these cases – with that of the Carr brothers being the best example – there seems to be no doubt about guilt. The horrific character of multiple rapes and murders is undeniable. Yet in Carr, while affirming the defendants’ guilt, the Kansas Supreme Court nonetheless found reason to vacate their death sentences. Such cases thus starkly showcase the divergent views on the Eighth Amendment – and a nine-Justice Court is not different in this regard from much of America. So stay tuned for what may be the most dramatic Supreme Court discussion of Eighth Amendment values since its re-affirmation of capital punishment statutes long before the Justices’ law clerks were born.

And locally, former TD Banker Frank Spinosa is going to plead guilty.