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Thursday round-up

Wednesday was another busy day at the Court, which heard oral argument in two cases and issued two opinions.

Yesterday’s decision in Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America dominated coverage of the Court. In Williamson, the Court held that federal auto safety standards do not preempt state tort suits alleging that car manufacturers should have installed lap-and-shoulder belts on rear inner seats. The decision was unanimous. Justice Breyer wrote for the Court, Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. (Justice Kagan was recused.) The opinion is available here.  David Savage of the Los Angeles Times describes the the decision as “a surprise outcome,” but he also notes that “[i]t is not clear whether [it] will open a door to many more successful suits against automakers.” Citing Tuesday’s decision in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth (which Adam covered in yesterday’s round-up, and which is discussed further below), the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes points out that the decision in Williamson was “the Court’s second [preemption] case in two days,” and he suggests that “[t]he contrasting decisions show the difficulty in predicting the Court’s jurisprudence in this area and underscore the importance of the specifics of each case. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, SCOTUSblog, the Associated Press, the ABA Journal, Bloomberg, Courthouse News Service, Reuters,  JURIST,and The Note blog for ABC News also have coverage of the decision.

In Wednesday’s other opinion, Walker v. Martin, the Court held that a California rule requiring that habeas petitions be filed “as promptly as the circumstances allow” constitutes an independent state ground that can bar habeas relief in federal court. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court. The opinion is available here. Kent Scheidegger of Crime and Consequences praises the decision in a series of two posts. In the first, he explains why he e considers the decision to be “a major step forward” in restricting the ability of defendants to use “’inadequate state grounds’ as a weapon for wholesale gumming up .of the habeas works,”  while in the second he suggests that Martin “may be the most important case of the term in criminal law.” Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers observes that the case “united the Court’s liberal and conservative wings,” but he also hypothesizes that the Justices may have had “different reasons” for joining the opinion.

Although Wednesday’s oral arguments were somewhat overshadowed by the new opinions, they did not escape notice. In the first argument, Freeman v. United States, the Court considered whether sentences fixed by a plea agreement are “based on” a guideline sentencing range and accordingly subject to reduction under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(2). The Louisville Courier-Journal provides some background on the case (thanks to How Appealing’s Howard Bashman for the link), and the Associated Press (via the Daily Record) emphasizes that the outcome could affect “thousands of defendants.” Doug Berman of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog observes that the Justices “seem very engaged (and perhaps metaphysically challenged)” by the question presented in the case. At issue in the second case, Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB S.A., is the proper legal standard of the “state of mind” element of a claim for actively inducing infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b). JURIST has coverage of both arguments, and the argument transcripts are available here.

Finally, Tuesday’s opinion in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, in which the Court held that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 preempts design-defect lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers, continues to generate commentary. James Beck of Drug and Device Law identifies twenty-two “takeaways” from the opinion. Slate’s Arthur Allen provides some background on the case and notes that the Court’s “ruling fails to address” how decisions by the Department of Health and Human Services have “made the vaccine court difficult for parents to navigate.” JURIST also has coverage of the decision.


  • Here at SCOTUSblog, John Elwood reports that the Court denied cert. on Tuesday in two cases that had been relisted three times; the cases presented the question of whether the Court’s decision in Almendarez-Torres v. United States (1998), should be overruled. He also summarizes seven cases that the Court relisted for the first time on Tuesday.
  • At Crime and Consequences, Kent Scheidegger predicts that the Court will deny certiorari in Maples v. Allen, which presents a question related to that decided yesterday in Martin.
  • JURIST’s Andrea Bottorff has coverage of Tuesday’s oral arguments in Bond v. United States and United States v. Tinklenberg. Brooks Holland, guest blogging for SCOTUSblog, also discusses the Tinklenberg argument.
  • Leslie Kwoh of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger provides some background on J. McIntyre Machinery v. Nicastro, which asks whether a state court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a foreign manufacturer who has marketed and sold its product in the United States. Kwoh interviews Robert Nicastro, the plaintiff who seeks compensation for the loss of four fingers on his right hand during a machinery accident. (Thanks to How Appealing’s Howard Bashman for the link.)
  • R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post reports that “[a] group of more than a hundred law professors from across the country has asked Congress to extend an ethical code of conduct to the Supreme Court . . . and clarify when individual justices should step away from specific legal cases.”
  • SCOTUSblog’s own Kevin Russell discusses Tuesday’s opinion in CSX v. Alabama Department of Revenue. In that case, the Court held that that railroads can challenge Alabama’s sales and use taxes, which are imposed on railroads but not their primary competitors.

Recommended Citation: Amanda Rice, Thursday round-up, SCOTUSblog (Feb. 24, 2011, 9:27 AM),