Most oral arguments at the Supreme Court focus heavily on principles of law. But today in Turner v. United States and Overton v. United States, the discussion focused instead almost exclusively on the facts – such as the size of the garage in which the body of 48-year-old Catherine Fuller was found and the scenarios that prompted two of the men who allegedly participated in Fuller’s murder to plead guilty and testify for the prosecution. The advocacy in the case was excellent all around, but the justices were curiously subdued, making it difficult to predict how they might rule on the question before them: whether the rights of seven other men who were convicted for Fuller’s murder (an eighth man died in prison) were violated by the prosecution’s failure to turn over evidence that might have cleared them.
It has been over three decades since Fuller was robbed, viciously beaten and sodomized in the District of Columbia’s H Street NE neighborhood. But all three lawyers who argued today displayed such an impressive command of the facts of the case that it sometimes seemed as if the crime had occurred in October 2016, rather than 1984, with the eight justices serving as a trial court.
In its conference of March 31, 2017, the court will consider petitions involving issues such as whether the Alien Tort Statute categorically forecloses corporate liability; whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment; and whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit incorrectly narrowed qualified immunity when it held that officers clearly lacked reasonable suspicion for the brief detention of a driver after a valid traffic stop until a drug detection dog arrived and alerted to the driver’s car.
We live-blogged this morning as the court released opinions. The transcript is available at this link.
Today the court will hear oral argument in two cases. First up is Turner v. United States, which involves the scope of the prosecution’s duty to disclose exculpatory evidence under the Brady rule. Amy Howe previewed the case for this blog. Alla Khodykina and Rachael Hancock at Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute also provide a preview. The second argument today is in Honeycutt v. United States, which asks whether co-conspirators can be jointly and severally liable for forfeiture of the reasonably foreseeable proceeds of a drug conspiracy. Rory Little had this blog’s preview. Andrew Maury and Scott Benjamin Cohen preview the case for Cornell.
At the oral argument Monday morning in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands, the justices finally got their chance to weigh in on one of the Federal Circuit’s most controversial rules – its longstanding conclusion that corporate patent defendants are subject to suit in any district in which they do business, as opposed to only the state in which they are incorporated. The Supreme Court took the latter view in a 1957 decision (Fourco Glass v Transmirra Products), but the Federal Circuit has long thought that decision was irrelevant under the modern statutory venue framework.
The case involves the interplay between two venue statutes, a general statute (section 1391) and one that applies only to patent cases (section 1400). Section 1400 states that a “civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district where the defendant resides”; In Fourco, the last time the Supreme Court examined the statute, it concluded that corporations reside in “the state of incorporation only.” The general venue statute (Section 1391), by contrast, states: “For all venue purposes … [a corporation] shall be deemed to reside, if a defendant, in any judicial district in which such defendant is subject to the court’s personal jurisdiction with respect to the civil action in question.” Because large businesses are likely to have sufficiently pervasive business activities to be subject to personal jurisdiction throughout the nation, that section makes venue generally appropriate in most districts. The question before the court is which of those two understandings applies.
The petition of the day is:
Issues: (1) Whether a federal court has the authority to re-impose, under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the same “anti-retrogression” preclearance standard invalidated as to Section 5 by Shelby County v. Holder; (2) whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit erred in holding that, although the challenged reforms did not adversely affect minority voting, the North Carolina legislature nonetheless intended to deny African Americans the right to vote; and (3) whether statistical racial disparities in the use of voting mechanisms or procedures are relevant to a vote denial claim under Section 2.
This morning the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Jae Lee, a Korean immigrant who was charged with possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute it. Lee accepted a plea bargain after his attorney told him that he would not be deported. That advice turned out to be, as Justice Elena Kagan put it today, “supremely deficient”: In addition to the year and a day in prison to which he was sentenced, Lee’s conviction also carried with it the penalty of mandatory deportation. Lee asked a federal court to vacate his conviction, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit declined to do so. It reasoned that the evidence against Lee was so overwhelming that, even if he had received bad advice from his attorney that prompted him to plead guilty, Lee could not have suffered the kind of harm from that bad advice that would render his conviction unconstitutional. The justices today seemed more sympathetic to Lee than did the 6th Circuit, although it is not clear whether he can get the five votes needed to reverse the lower court’s ruling.
A Texas death-row inmate will get a shot at a new sentence after the Supreme Court ruled today that a state court applied the wrong standards to conclude that he was not intellectually disabled and therefore could be executed. Bobby James Moore was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting a supermarket employee during a 1980 robbery. But Moore argued that he was exempt from execution because he was intellectually disabled – for example, he failed first grade twice, still did not grasp basic principles like telling time at the age of 13, and had suffered a “debilitating” injury when he was hit in the head with a chain and a brick during the battle over integrating public schools.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s court of last resort for criminal cases – rejected Moore’s challenge to his death sentence. It relied on its 2004 decision in another case, Ex parte Briseno, involving an inmate’s intellectual disability. Briseno used a set of 1992 standards for evaluating intellectual disability, along with several “evidentiary factors” that take into account, among other things, whether the people who knew the inmate best when he was growing up regarded him as intellectually disabled. Moore asked the Supreme Court to weigh in; today the justices, by a vote of 5-3, vacated the Texas court’s ruling and sent the case back for a new look.