Year: 2010

The Line Formed Early


SCOTUS fans started lining up at 5pm yesterday for a seat in the courtroom. Today is the last day of opinions and the last day Justice Stevens will take his seat on the bench.

I am there.

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‘Honest Services Fraud’ Limited


Justice Ginsburg today announced the opinion of the Court in three cases testing “honest services” statutes, the most notable of which is the case of Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling.  A unanimous Court found that laws proscribing the fraudulent deprivation of “the intangible right of honest service” are unconstitutionally vague, and must be limited to bribery and kickback schemes (you can now go ahead and give that lucrative public contract to your brother-in-law, just don’t ask for your share).

Is this what was augured when the wheel fell off the cart?

For more on how this may affect the Blagojevich trial go here.

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SCOTUS Sketchbook


Rough sketches of Justices announcing yesterday’s opinions.

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US Loses Wheel at Blago Trial


As spectators lined up for the first day of testimony at the trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, and attorneys made their way into the courtroom . . .

. . . a wheel fell off of the United States evidence cart.

Probably doesn’t mean anything.

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Blagojevich Opening Statements


“What about me?” repeated Assistant U.S. Attorney Carrie Hamilton each time she described former Governor Rod Blagojevich’s attempts to use his office for self-enrichment.

Defense attorney Sam Adam, Jr. told the jurors “He’s broke. He’s broke. You know why he’s broke, ladies and gentlemen? It’s not hard. He didn’t take a dime.”

Chicago Sun-Times story here.

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New Constitutional Right for Juveniles


In an opinion announced today by Justice Kennedy the Supreme Court prohibits the sentencing of juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole if the crime does not involve murder.  What this means for the 129 prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries convicted as minors and sentenced to life w/o parole is a chance to show that they are “fit to rejoin society”, but no guarantee that they will ever be freed.  And from now on every juvenile convicted of a “non-homicide” crime may not be sentenced to life at the outset, but must have the possibility of release; they can still be sentenced to a very long term guaranteeing their incarceration into old-age.

WaPo story here.

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NY Terror Plot


No, not the Saturday night Times Square bomb attempt.  Sabirhan Hasanoff and Wesam El-Hanafi are said to have “conspired to modernize Al Qaeda by providing computer systems expertise”. The two appeared before a magistrate-judge in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Friday and are on their way to Manhattan for arraignment.

NY Times story here.

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Thicker Skins for Pettition-Signers?

“The First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls” said Justice Scalia in questioning a lawyer representing Referendum 71 petition-signers who want to remain anonymous.

The attorney for the petitioners, James Bopp, Jr. argued that signing the referendum petition, which seeks to repeal Washington’s “everything but marriage” domestic partners rights law, is an exercise of free speech protected by the First Amendment. “No person should suffer harassment from participating in our political process,” Bopp said.SC100429_Bopp

Washington state’s position is that signing a referendum petition is a legislative act. “The petitions for a referendum or an initiative are telling the government to do something” argued Washington’s Attorney General Robert McKenna.
The case is Doe #1 v. Reed.

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Happy 90th Justice Stevens!


Always courteous, retiring Justice John Paul Stevens questioned a lawyer arguing before the Court.

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Busy Day (for me) at the Court


The Supreme Court heard arguments in two interesting cases today neither of which made Nightly News (which is why I’m posting the drawings here).

In the first, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez,  a Christian student group challenged a University of California’s Hastings College of Law requirement that in order to be recognized as an official campus organization membership must be open to all students, regardless of belief or sexual orientation.

Arguing for the Christian Legal Society former U.S. 10th Circuit judge Michael McConnell sounded frustrated at some of the Justices’ questions, looking away and continuing to speak. Also sounding frustrated and perplexed were Justices Kennedy : “it’s frustrating not to know what is before us”, and Breyer :”what do I do with this case? ”

The second case, City of Ontario v. Quon, asks does an employee who sends personal text messages on a work supplied pager have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

The City of Ontario, California, represented here by Kent Richland, supplied it’s SWAT team officers with texting pagers. The officers were informed that their messages would be available to supervisors, but would likely not be looked at as long as they paid the cost of exceeding the text limit.

City officials later decided to perform an audit and obtained transcripts of messages sent on the devices. Officer Jeff Quon was found to have been sending personal messages, sometimes of a sexual nature, to his wife and to his mistress, a police dispatcher. Quon’s lawyer, Dieter Dammeier (pictured above) faced tough questioning from the start. Justice Ginsburg : “if an employee is told, now e-mails aren’t private, so we are warning you, we can monitor them, wouldn’t such an employee expect the same thing to apply to the pager?”

WaPo story on Hastings case here.

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