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Chemical Weapons Prosecution Spurs Lively Argument

When Carol Anne Bond’s best friend gave birth to a baby fathered by her, Bond’s, husband, she sought revenge. She applied toxic chemicals to her friend’s mailbox, doorknobs, etc. She was caught on video surveillance and arrested, but the local authorities choose not to press charges. Instead she was charged in federal court under the Chemical Weapons Convention because she put postal workers at risk.

 

Arguing for Bond, Paul Clement told the justices that prosecutors had overreached; that the treaty should only apply to “warlike” uses of chemicals, and not to attempts to poison a “romantic rival”.

Solicitor General Verrilli had a harder time at the lectern trying to convince the Court to not put limits on the implementation of international treaties.

Among the many hypotheticals posed to the Solicitor General was a statement from Justice Alito that he and his wife had passed out “chemical weapons” to children -i.e., Halloween chocolate. Why, he asked, would that not fall under the Chemical Weapons Convention since the treaty bans any chemical harmful to animals as well as humans, and, he noted, “chocolate is poisonous to dogs”.

The case is Bond v. U.S.

Lyle Denniston covers the argument here.

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Tradition vs. Transparency

My sketch of a panel discussion hosted by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on transparency – read cameras – in the Supreme Court that took place at The National Press Club this morning.

The panel, from right to left, was composed of Alan Morrisson, Pete Williams, Neal Katyal, Maureen O’Connor, Ken Starr and moderator Tony Mauro. They all pretty much agreed – with a teeny bit of reservation from Katyal – that cameras are inevitable and belong in the Supreme Court.

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Miranda and Metaphysics

Scott Cheever, a long time user of crystal meth,  shot and killed an officer while high. At trial he used the defense that in his intoxicated state he could not have formed the “intent to kill” that would get him the death penalty.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death, but during the trial in state court the prosecution called to the witness stand a psychiatrist who had earlier examined the defendant under a federal court order, before the case was transferred to state court. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state violated Cheever’s Fifth amendment right against self-incrimination by calling the psychiatrist to testify.

The question before the U.S. Supreme Court today, are statements made by a defendant during a court-ordered mental evaluation protected under the fifth amendment?

Several times during the argument reference was made to “peering into the defendant’s mind”.  Does it seem fair, as Cheever’s attorney, Neal Katyal, put it  ”that the government can peer into someone’s mind and extract information . . . un-Mirandized . . . and have that used against them”?  . . . After all isn’t it just a little bit like cheating on your metaphysics final by looking into the soul of the boy sitting next to you ? . . . (apologies to Woody Allen)

By the end of the argument it wasn’t looking good for Scott Cheever as Justice Sotomayor asked his lawyer, “Mr. Katyal, assuming the incredulity of my colleagues . . . which way would you rather lose?

 

 

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Michigan’s Affirmative Action Ban

The Supreme Court this afternoon heard arguments on Michigan’s “Proposal 2″, a voter-approved law that forbids the use of race in college admissions, as well as public employment and contracting. The case is Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (note that I’ve labeled my drawings “Schuette v. BAMN” because it’s shorter. BAMN stands for “By Any Means Necessary”, and comes from the challenger’s full title, Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary). But enough from me. Here are the sketches.

Lyle Denniston has the full story here.

 

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Mercedes-Benz USA Liable for Argentine Atrocities?

Can the Daimler AG’s subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz USA, be in sued in California courts for human rights violations committed over thirty years ago during Argentina’s “Dirty War”?  The Ninth Circuit said yes, but the Supreme Court clearly does not agree.

The lawyer for the victims of Argentine state terrorism, Kevin Russell, had an uphill battle. The best he may hope for is that the case is sent back to the lower courts.

Lyle Denniston’s analysis of the argument is here.

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Campaign Finance Back Before the Supremes

A long line of spectators and a smattering of demonstrators, some with halloween themed placards – as well as two suspected C-span interns with a crappy banner that demanded “Cameras in the Court NOW!” – were on the Supreme Court plaza this morning for the Court’s latest go at campaign finance.

The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, is brought by a wealthy Alabama businessman who is challenging the limit on total contributions during a two-year election cycle. Current law limits individual contributions to candidates to $48,600 and $74,600 to parties and PACs during the two-year cycle. That the law limits the number of candidates to whom he could donate $1776 Shaun McCutcheon considers a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

A lawyer for Senator Mitch McConnell argued that limits on the aggregate contributions should meet the test of strict scrutiny to pass constitutionality.

While Solicitor General Donald Verrilli warned that without the limits elections could be dominated by wealthy donors.

Lyle Denniston’s story here.

 

 

 

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First Monday in October

The Supreme Court began the October 2013 term with a new Clerk and a not so good argument.

The new Clerk of the Court, Scott Harris can be seen standing on the left as the Justices take the bench.

The first argument of the new term, an age discrimination case from Illinois, ran into trouble right from the beginning when Justices began to question whether the case should even be before them. The lower circuit court, it seems, should not have ruled before the matter was brought to trial.

The last words from respondent’s lawyer, after being admonished by Justice Scalia, were, “we could have done a better job”.

Lyle Denniston has the story here.

 

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Getting Ready for SCOTUS

Brennan Center Supreme Court Preview

Here’s a little sketch of a panel discussing the upcoming Supreme Court term at NYU’s Brennan Center in DC. Pictured, left to right, are The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen, SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe, University of Baltimore Professor Garrett Epps and Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center.

 

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Big Wins For Gay Marriage

On the last day of the its term the Supreme Court today handed twin victories to the cause of marriage equality.

If there was an empty seat in the courtroom I couldn’t see it.

Justice Kennedy had the first opinion, U.S. v Windsor, in which the Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.And of course Justice Scalia read a lenghty dissent.

The second victory for same-sex marriage was by default in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts where the Court found that the petitioners in support of California’s Proposition 8 lacked standing, thereby allowing the lower court’s ruling to stand.

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court

Supreme Court Waters Down Voting Rights Act

A 5-4 divided Court today struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, effectively putting the burden on victims of voter descrimination to seek relief. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for a majority that included Justices Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito.In a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the Voting Rights Act”.

Lyle Denniston’s take on the opinion is here.

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Posted in Opinions, Supreme Court
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