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Friday round-up

Last night the Supreme Court declined to block the executions of a group of Arkansas inmates, one of whom was executed shortly before midnight. Amy Howe covers the proceedings for this blog. Additional coverage comes from Lyle Denniston at his eponymous blog, who notes that “new Justice Neil M. Gorsuch cast his first votes as a member of the Supreme Court,” and that on “what appeared to be the main order in the Arkansas cases,” in which “the result was a 5-to-4 rejection of the inmates’ requests for postponement of execution and denial of review of their legal claims,” “Justice Gorsuch was in the majority with the court’s four most conservative members.”

On Wednesday, the court heard oral argument in Weaver v. Massachusetts, which asks whether a criminal defendant must show prejudice when his counsel’s deficient performance leads to “structural error” in his trial. Rory Little has this blog’s argument analysis.

In Nelson v. Colorado, the justices held on Wednesday that a state cannot require a defendant whose conviction is invalidated to prove actual innocence before recovering fines and fees imposed as a consequence of the conviction. Steve Vladeck analyzes the opinion for this blog. In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports that critics described the Colorado law struck down by the justices as “part of a national trend to extract fees and fines from people who find themselves enmeshed in the criminal justice system.” At the Cato Institute’s Cato at Liberty blog, Trevor Burrus discusses the decision, observing that although its effect is limited because Colorado is the only state with a law like the one invalidated here, “for many former criminal defendants in Colorado, the ruling can help them get their money back and, perhaps, a little dignity too.”

At Bloomberg BNA, Patrick Gregory reports on Wednesday’s oral argument in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, a constitutional challenge to Missouri’s exclusion of a church-run preschool from a state program that provides grants to nonprofits to resurface playgrounds, noting that “Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer joined the court’s more conservative bloc in questioning whether the state could exclude the church from its grant program because it’s a religious institution.” At the Cato Institute’s Cato at Liberty blog, Ilya Shapiro discusses the argument, finding the apparent sympathy for the church across the ideological spectrum “surprising, because if indeed the case is headed to a 7-2 resolution, then it would’ve been 6-2 without Gorsuch and there was no need to hold it for so long.” At Rewire, Jessica Mason Pieklo weighs in on the case, arguing that the “church is asking to keep the significant benefits it already receives in the form of tax exemptions as a religious institution, while also having the state write checks directly to it so that the church can improve its property, which is part and parcel of its religious ministry.”

At Empirical SCOTUS, Adam Feldman examines Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the bench, noting that over the course of all the week’s arguments, and excluding Justice Clarence Thomas who, as usual, was silent, “Gorsuch with 114 questions asked more than Justices Alito, Ginsburg, and Kennedy.” At Supreme Court Brief (subscription required), Tony Mauro looks ahead, noting that a “wider array of tricky cases argued by tough advocates faces Gorsuch next week.”


  • In Time, Justice Sonia Sotomayor lauds retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for founding “iCivics, a nonprofit that uses video games to teach middle and high school students how America’s democracy works,” asserting that “[t]oday there could not be more pressing work.”
  • In the Muscatine Journal, Emily Wenger reports that at a recent event in Iowa, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) “said he expects a Supreme Court Justice resignation within the year.”
  • At Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost observes that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has repeatedly “spoken out against judge-imposed death sentences,” “can now take a bow for significant reforms in death penalty cases in two of the states with among the highest number of executions since capital punishment was reinstituted in 1976,” because Alabama and Florida have “enacted laws eliminating judges’ power to impose a death sentence except based on factual findings or recommendations from a jury.”
  • At In a Crowded Theater, Erica Goldberg looks at the court’s decision on Tuesday in Coventry Health Care of Missouri v. Nevils, in which the justices held that a federal law governing employee benefits pre-empts state laws barring subrogation and reimbursement, arguing that the court’s “Supremacy Clause analysis elides an interesting problem and unnecessarily disparages legal formalism in a troubling way.”

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Recommended Citation: Edith Roberts, Friday round-up, SCOTUSblog (Apr. 21, 2017, 7:36 AM),