“Ms Eisenstein, one question,” intoned the deep voice of Justice Thomas this morning just as Assistant Solicitor Ilana Eisenstein was concluding her argument. That marked the end of Thomas’ ten year record of not asking questions during oral arguments. He went on to pepper the lawyer with a dozen more questions, perhaps to make up for the absence of Justice Scalia, his recently deceased neighbor on the bench.
Justice Scalia’s chair and that part of the bench where he sat were draped in black cloth as a memorial today when the remaining eight Justices assembled to hear arguments. The memorial will remain in place for thirty days after which the seating of the Justices will be rearranged in order of seniority.
Chief Justice Roberts gave a brief tribute to saying, “Justice Scalia devoted nearly 30 years of his life to this Court in service to the Country he so loved.”
I came across my last sketch of Justice Scalia done on January 20, which it turns out was also his last day on the bench. He delivered the opinion in Kansas v. Carr. Scalia’s last dissent was in an opinion announced on January 25, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission v. Electric Power Supply Association, but the Justice was not on the bench that day.
Then it was on to the first of two arguments heard this morning, Kingdomware Technologies v. U.S.
I’m really falling behind here and would be at the Court today if it weren’t for thirty inches of snow filling the alley where my car is entombed. It’s appropriate that the first snowfall of the season came on the same day as an Alaska case, Sturgeon v. Frost, about a moose hunter’s right to use a hovercraft on federal land was argued.
Also argued last Wednesday was a Nebraska case originating from a dispute over a tribe’s ability to tax liquor sales in a town within the borders but not part of the reservation. I didn’t sketch the argument, but this spectacular spectator in the very back of the courtroom caught my eye . . .
On Tuesday two cases were argued (Monday was the MLK holiday). In the first, Heffernan v. City of Paterson, a Paterson, NJ police detective was demoted after being mistakenly perceived as supporting a challenger to the incumbent mayor during an election campaign. Jeffrey Heffernan, a twenty-year veteran of the police force, was seen picking up a lawn sign for his mother who supported the mayor’s opponent. Had Heffernan been picking up the sign for himself and put it on his own lawn, as a government employee he would have been protected from retaliation by his boss. But because everyone agrees that he was in fact neutral in his support of candidate Heffernan may have no recourse under the First Amendment.
The second of Tuesday’s arguments, Americold Realty Trust v. Conagra Foods, is beyond my ability to explain. It involves the “citizenship” of certain trusts and how they are, or are not, like partnerships or corporations. Fascinating stuff . . . for lawyers.
Moving into a new house can be very stressful, and we’re in the middle it. So forgive me if I just lump together all the sketches from Tuesday’s one argument, Molina-Martinez v. US, and Wednesday’s two, Bank Markazi v. Peterson and Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle.
On Monday the Supreme Court heard a case on money, speech and unions. The argument in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is over “agency fees” that public-sector unions, in this case the one representing California’s teachers, can charge non-members for negotiating on behalf of all workers. The non-union teachers in whose name the case was brought object to paying the fee because they say everything a government union negotiates is political, and therefor their First Amendment speech is hijacked.
Lawyer Michael Carvin argued the case for the petitioners – really for the Koch brothers funded Center for Individual Rights.
In the end, it appeared that a majority of the Justices will have no problem overturning the Court’s forty-year precedent.
Two pre-trial motions hearings were held in Baltimore yesterday for Officer Caesar Goodson who faces the most serious charge, second degree murder, for the death of Freddie Gray. Goodson drove the van in which Gray was given a “rough ride,” shackled hand and foot without the benefit of a seat belt.
During the first hearing Judge Barry Williams ruled that the trial will remain in Baltimore, and that the jury will not be sequestered but will be anonymous as in the trial of Officer Porter last month.
At a second hearing on whether Officer Porter, who faces a new trial in June after last month’s mistrial, can be compelled to testify in Goodson’s trial Porter took to the witness box briefly and refused to answer questions put to him by Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow.
After Judge Williams ruled that Officer Porter can be called to testify under immunity defense lawyer Gary Proctor said that he would seek an injunction to file an appeal in Annapolis first thing Thursday morning. It is unusual, and possibly unprecedented, for a defendant facing trial to be granted immunity without a plea deal. If the Court of Appeals grants the injunction Goodson’s trial, which is to start on Monday, could be delayed.
The first prosecution in the death of Freddie Gray ended in a mistrial for Baltimore Police Officer William Porter yesterday. It wasn’t exactly unexpected since the jury had sent out a note the day before saying they were deadlocked.
Here are a few of the sketches I did leading up to the judge declaring a mistrial. I have not included the sketch of Judge Barry Williams because it missed the mark – I never did get a good likeness of the judge.
The sketch below was done Monday morning while standing in line to get into the courthouse, but I added the color yesterday and so I include it.
Just posting today’s sketches of closing arguments in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer William Porter, and calling it a day.
Officer William Porter, on trial for charges relating to the death of Freddie Gray, took the stand on the first day of his defense. I missed his direct testimony which began just as lawyers at the Supreme Court were wrapping up their arguments in a big affirmative action case. But I arrived at the Baltimore courtroom in time to witness the cross-examination by Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow. Officer Porter impressed me as calm and forceful, and maybe even a little defiant. When Schatzow asked him if “stop snitching” was part of the Baltimore police culture Porter shot back, “Absolutely not. I’m actually offended that you would say something like that.”
The defense was done by the end of the week, and tomorrow closing arguments will be made. Then it will be up to the jury.
The Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments for the second time in the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of a policy that favored black applicants. Last time the Justices sent the case back to the circuit court, this time Justice Kennedy seemed to toy with the idea of sending it all the way back to the trial court; not likely.
You can read Lyle Denniston’s analysis here.
There’s also a lot of buzz today about Justice Scalia’s remark, “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, … a slower track school where they do well.”
He probably meant that black students more often come from high schools where the curriculum is less demanding and may be unprepared for UT’s more rigorous course load. While it sounded racist to some, it’s more likely just Scalia being his bad un-PC self.