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Court passes up jury bias case

The Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear any new cases, bypassing a number of significant issues — including a test of defense lawyers’ right to challenge a juror who admitted to a bias against the Muslim religion, when a believer of that faith was on trial.   The Court left intact a sentence of 28 years to life in prison for a college student in Colorado, convicted of sexual assault and other crimes against a household servant.  The appeal had the support of the Saudi Arabian government, expressing concern about its many nationals who are in the U.S. as students.   The case was Al-Turki v. Colorado (09-700).

Colorado courts rejected the challenge by Homaidan Al-Turki, a Saudi national, even though one of the jurors who had sat in the case had volunteered that he thought Muslims would follow the laws of God rather than the laws of man, and wondered if that qualified as a bias. The judge twice told the juror to decide the case based only on evidence, but refused requests by defense lawyers to question the juror to draw him out on his views about Islam.   State courts ruled that a juror could not be questioned about potential bias unless the juror had expressed “unequivocally an actual bias” against the accused or his faith.

The Supreme Court, as is its custom, gave no reason for denying review of that or any other case turned aside Monday.

Here in summary are some of the other questions that the Court refused to review:

** The constitutionality of a 1983 agreement between the U.S. government and the independent island republic of the Marshall Islands, shutting down all court review of claims by residents of the Pacific atolls of Enewetak and Bikini for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages when they were removed from their homes and their property was destroyed by years of U.S. atomic testing on those atolls.  (John v. U.S., 09-498, and People of Bikini v. U.S., 09-499).  The island peoples contended in their appeals that they had received only token payments on the damages they were found to have incurred.

** The proper standard for determining whether a worker, claiming religious bias in the workplace, has actually suffered discrimination in a case where the worker was not fired or otherwise disciplined because of his or her faith.  The appeal by a Michigan auto worker contended that he was required by the labor union that he declined to join, because of his faith, to pay more in an alternative to dues than a union member would have to pay.  Reed v. United Auto Workers (09-709).

** A test of the formula the U.S. government uses for determining whether to provide monthly cash benefits to disabled children in poor families.  A group of parents of disabled children argued that thousands of children have been denied benefits under that formula, even though Congress has expressed disapproval of the government’s approach.  Encarnacion, et al., v. Astrue (09-631).  (Justice Sonia Sotomayor took no part in the order.)

** A plea by two former California police officers for the Court to clear up a conflict among lower courts on when police, who have no warrant, may enter a private home to arrest an individual on a drunk-driving charge.  Bonvicino, et al., v. Hopkins (09-681).

** An appeal by a Washington State police officer, urging the Court to resolve a 3-3 split among federal appeals courts on when a coerced confession may be used as evidence to support a criminal charge, when that charge is never actually tried in court.  Jensen, et al., v. Stoot, et al. (09-728).

** A request to clarify when a foreign company may be sued in U.S. courts for harms that its products, made overseas, cause when used inside the U.S.  The case involved the families of Rhode Island citizens who were killed in a plane crash in Pennsylvania in 2005.  They were passengers in a plane made abroad by a Swiss company, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.  The appeal sought to test whether a foreign company’s intentional marketing of its product in the U.S. provides sufficient contact to allow it to be sued for injuries or deaths from that product in the U.S.  D’Jamoos, et al., v. Pilatus Aircraft, Ltd. (09-489).