Yesterday the Justices heard oral arguments in three Kansas death-penalty cases. The issues before the Court were whether the instructions given to the juries violated their Eighth Amendment right to individualized sentencing determinations because they did not indicate that jurors did not have to find mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, as well as whether the rights of two brothers were violated when they were sentenced together. I covered the arguments for this blog, while Lyle Denniston did the same at Lyle Denniston Law News. Other coverage comes from Jess Bravin of The Wall Street Journal and Adam Liptak of The New York Times. Continue reading »
After two hours of oral arguments this morning in a trio of Kansas death penalty cases, one thing seemed clear: a solid majority of the Justices appeared ready to reverse rulings by the Kansas Supreme Court that had overturned the inmates’ death sentences. What was less clear, however, was what effect such a ruling would ultimately have. Continue reading »
The transcript in Ocasio v. United States, argued on Tuesday morning, suggests that the Justices are ready to give “a simple answer” to the question presented, even if more complex questions beneath the surface give them some pause. Any “brain teaser” elements (see my preview of the arguments) will seemingly be left for another day. Other than Justice Antonin Scalia (who has dissented regarding the federal extortion statute before), no Justice appeared to be sympathetic to Ocasio’s argument to use the statutory language “from another” to limit a conspiracy conviction to violate the federal Hobbs Act. Justice Elena Kagan indicated early on that, in her view, the fact that the property at issue came not “from another” but from one of the co-conspirators himself, makes no difference: “The conspiracy offense is made out if two people agree that somebody should obtain property from another.” “Simple argument, simple answer,” as Justice Stephen Breyer summarized at the end.
Dèjá vu was the theme of the day on the second morning of the October argument session, as the Justices listened to arguments in DIRECTV v. Imburgia, the most recent in a line of cases from state supreme courts refusing to enforce arbitration agreements. This case presents the Court’s second look at the hostility of California law to waivers of classwide arbitration. Three years ago, after California courts refused to enforce provisions in arbitration agreements that barred class arbitration (on the ground that the provisions were unconscionable), a closely divided court in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion disagreed, holding that the Federal Arbitration Agreement preempted the California doctrine invalidating those waivers.
Yesterday the Court heard oral argument in two cases: Ocasio v. United States, in which it is considering whether a conspiracy to commit extortion requires the conspirators to agree to obtain property from someone outside the conspiracy, and the arbitration case DIRECTV v. Imburgia. Coverage of Ocasio comes from Zoe Tillman for the Supreme Court Brief (subscription required), who also talks to Ethan Davis, who argued on Ocasio’s behalf, for The National Law Journal. Noah Feldman previewed the case in his column for Bloomberg View, describing it as “a scenario ripped from the greatest television show ever made” – The Wire. Coverage of DIRECTV comes from David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of The New York Times. Continue reading »
The Justices closed out last Term with a high-profile death penalty case, holding that Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures do not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The decision in that case may be best known for Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in which he suggested that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment is back before the Court again tomorrow, albeit with lower stakes, this time in a set of challenges to the procedures used to sentence three Kansas inmates to death. The oral arguments and the Court’s eventual decision may tell us more about whether some of the Justices’ discomfort with the death penalty will translate into additional protections for defendants in capital cases or whether the Justices will instead remain – as they were in the Oklahoma case – sharply divided. Continue reading »
With the federal government opting not to use a back-up tactic to justify some deportations, officials and lawyers for a Tunisian national who had been sent out of the country have agreed on a way to let him return and not again face the same fate, based on a conviction in Kansas for hiding a small supply of a drug in his sock. That appeared likely to bring to an end the case of Mellouli v. Lynch, in which the Court had ruled in favor of Moones Mellouli on June 1 of this year.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., on Tuesday afternoon cleared the way for home-care workers who are hired by businesses to be eligible for minimum wages and overtime pay, beginning next Tuesday. The Chief Justice signed a simple order, without explanation, denying a request by three home-care industry groups for a delay of new Labor Department rules. He acted alone and without seeking a reaction from the department.