It probably was not a good sign for Houston criminal-defense attorney Seth Kretzer, arguing yesterday on behalf of petitioner Erick Davila in Davila v. Davis, when, early in his opening presentation, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested that the court could decide the case on narrower grounds than those presented in his petition – by ruling that his client’s claim that his direct appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance was meritless. Kretzer did his best to persuade the justices that they should indeed reach the question presented, that is, whether a prisoner’s failure to raise the ineffectiveness of his direct appellate counsel in a collateral state post-conviction proceeding can be excused by the ineffectiveness of the post-conviction lawyer. But there seemed to be few takers across the bench for Kretzer’s argument that the Supreme Court should extend its 2012 decision in Martinez v. Ryan and answer that question in the affirmative. Indeed, if the justices are inclined to reach the question presented, it seemed clear by the end of Monday’s 59-minute argument that they would likely resolve it in favor of the respondent, Lorie Davis, director of the Correctional Institutions Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
We live-blogged this morning as the court issues opinions. The transcript is available at this link.
Today the court hears oral argument in two cases. First up is Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, another civil procedure case involving a court’s specific jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants sued by out-of-state plaintiffs. Ronald Mann previewed the case for this blog. [Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the counsel to the respondents in this case.] Andrew Maury and Eugene Temchenko preview the case for Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute. The second argument today of the day is BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, in which the justices will consider the contours of personal jurisdiction for lawsuits brought under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Amy Howe had this blog‘s preview. Karen Smeda and Natalia San Juan preview the case for Cornell. At the Cato Institute’s Cato at Liberty blog, Walter Olson argues that today’s cases offer the court an opportunity to draw lines that will enable “the federal judiciary to police overreaching by state courts in their jurisdictional claims.”
The petition of the day is:
Issues: (1) Whether, viewing the facts from the petitioner’s perspective, he acted reasonably, under the Fourth Amendment, in firing in self defense, when an officer in his situation would believe that the suspect was armed, was suspected of a violent crime, refused to show his concealed hand, refused commands, and came at the officer; and (2) whether the petitioner was entitled to qualified immunity, when existing precedent did not clearly establish that the use of deadly force was unlawful under the particular situation faced by the officer, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s analysis contravened the U.S. Supreme Court’s explicit directions.
[Note: This post was updated to report on the execution of Jack Jones and to add additional information about the case of Marcel Williams, including the Supreme Court’s denial of his application for a stay of execution, the district court’s temporary stay, the lifting of that stay, and Williams’ execution.]
Less than 12 hours after a Texas death row inmate found apparently sympathetic ears for his plea that he was entitled to have assistance from his own psychiatrist at his trial, the Supreme Court turned down a request by an Arkansas inmate to put his execution, one of two scheduled for tonight at a prison in southeast Arkansas, on hold.
Inmate Jack Jones was scheduled to die at 7 pm local time for the brutal robbery, rape and strangulation of Mary Phillips. Jones argued that subjecting him to the state’s lethal injection protocol would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment because he suffers from diabetes and hypertension and has taken several medications for his chronic pain. The net effect of these chronic conditions, he contended, is that “he is likely to be either not rendered unconscious and thus suffer a painful death,” or he will “be left alive but brain damaged.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice to dissent publicly from the court’s denial of a stay. Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 pm local time.
Three decades ago, James McWilliams was convicted of the robbery, rape and murder of convenience store clerk Patricia Reynolds. An Alabama judge sentenced McWilliams to death, rejecting both his pleas to consult with an independent psychiatrist about psychiatric records that his attorney had recently received and his argument that he suffered from serious mental health issues. That denial of an independent expert, McWilliams’ attorney told the justices today, violated his client’s constitutional rights, established in a Supreme Court decision, Ake v. Oklahoma, issued just a few months after Reynolds’ murder. After an hour of oral argument this morning, the court’s four more liberal justices seemed to agree. And perhaps most critically for McWilliams, Justice Anthony Kennedy also seemed persuaded.
On April 27 at 9 a.m., the Constitutional Accountability Center will host its fourth annual “Home Stretch at the Supreme Court” event. Speakers will include Deborah Archer, Brianne Gorod, Erin Murphy and Don Verrilli; Amy Howe will serve as moderator and Elizabeth Wydra will give opening remarks. More information about this event, which will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, is available at this link.
On the last day of scheduled oral arguments in the term, the Affordable Care Act — the always controversial “Obamacare” statute — returns yet again to the Supreme Court, although many of the justices and their clerks will probably be wishing it weren’t so.
The consolidated patent cases Sandoz v. Amgen and Amgen v. Sandoz involve the complex interaction between the Patent Act and the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, which is an approximately 17-page subchapter contained in the larger 906-page ACA. That larger statute has not been hailed for precise drafting or ease of application. This new litigation will certainly not improve the reputation of the statutory behemoth.
For the second week in a row, the Supreme Court did not add any new cases to its merits docket for next term. The dearth of new grants is likely attributable to the fact that Justice Neil Gorsuch – who did not participate at all in last week’s conference – only participated in a handful of the orders issued today.
Even if the court did not grant certiorari in any cases, however, today’s order list was nonetheless full of news. First, the justices did not act on one of the most closely watched cases on their current cert docket: Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the challenge by a Colorado “cake artist” with religious objections to creating a cake for a same-sex wedding. At this point, there is no way to know why the case has been relisted several times without any action from the justices, although two of the more likely possibilities are that one or more justices could be dissenting from the denial of review or that the justices are waiting for Gorsuch to weigh in.