Back in Bellefonte last week for two more days of preliminary hearing into the death of Penn State frat house pledge Timothy Piazza. Not an easy assignment. Not because of the challenge of drawing the ornate courtroom crowded with multiple defendants – eighteen charged, I think, though not all were present – and their lawyers, rather because of the anguish, and anger, and grief that were not just present but displayed and expressed.
June is when the Supreme Court releases the last of its opinions in cases argued earlier during the term, especially the harder to decide cases. This term big news on the last day was about a case yet to be argued, when the Court agreed to hear Trump’s travel ban in the next term.
In other Supreme Court news, after announcing the disposition of the remaining cases, and other housekeeping matters, the Chief Justice noted the retirement of Lyle Denniston, a veteran of nearly 60 years covering the Court and known as the dean of the Supreme Court press.
Here are some sketches from the Court’s June opinions. More June sketches are on my online archives.
Chief Justice Roberts announcing disposition of the term’s remaining cases, as well as the travel ban.
My sketch of Justice Gorsuch’s investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court yesterday. President Trump and first lady Melania attended, seated between Justice Kennedy’s wife, Mary, and retired Justice Stevens (not shown). Also present but not shown in my sketch were several former Attorney Generals, members of the Senate Judiciary (but not Grassley), and the new justice’s wife and daughters.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is shown at the lectern holding a scroll, really a prop onto which were pasted the words of Gorsuch’s formal commission.
A preliminary hearing began yesterday for members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State charged in the death Timothy Piazza. Piazza was one of the pledges made to run a gantlet of drinking stations on the night of February 2. He suffered serious injuries while falling-down drunk, including a skull fracture and ruptured spleen.
Piazza’s parents were in the Bellefonte courtroom as the hearing got underway. Timothy’s father visibly struggled with grief, his fingers shaking, when a photo of his unconscious son, intubated in the ICU was exhibited on a screen.
Difficult to watch closed-circuit video of Timothy Piazza’s dying hours showed him alone through the night, still inebriated and in pain, stumbling and thrashing about on the frat house ground floor.
By morning, as the house wakes up, Piazza is found in the basement and brought upstairs. His skin is gray, his legs and arms rigid . . . he appears dead. Yet no one calls 911. The frat brothers move him to a couch, put a blanket on him, try to put a t-shirt on him, and start cleaning up the house. Some just stand around, cell phones in hand.
District attorney Stacy Parks Miller repeatedly asks the witness, Detective Scicchitano, “Has anyone called 911 yet?” For the longest time the answer is “No”.
The Supreme Court announced opinions in four argued cases yesterday: Los Angeles v. Mendez, BNSF Railway v. Tyrrell, Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions, and Impression Products v. Lexmark International. On a gray, rainy day the general feeling was . . . meh.
A little late posting this sketch from Monday of Justice Kagan announcing the opinion in Cooper v. Harris. Note that Justices Alito and Breyer were absent from the bench though they did take part in the decision. Justice Gorsuch (spell check keeps insisting on “Grouch”), who was on the bench, took no part.
The full Fourth Circuit – less two recused – sat in Richmond yesterday for the first appellate review of Trump’s travel ban. Next Monday the Ninth Circuit will also hear arguments on a Hawaiian judge’s order blocking parts of the “Muslim ban”. The Ninth Circuit allows cameras, so don’t expect sketches.
Justice Breyer had the opinions in both cases announced today, Venezuela v. Helmerich & Payne International and Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami ( note, Justice Sotomayor was absent from the bench ).
And although one courtroom sketch covered both opinions, I also did my usual SCOTUSblog banner sketch.
On Wednesday the Justices heard arguments in the last two scheduled cases of the term. Between now and the end of June they will take the bench only to announce opinions, and possibly for the ceremonial investiture of Justice Gorsuch.
The first argument, Sandoz v. Amgen, an exceedingly complex case on a provision of the Affordable Care Act that covers biosimilar drugs.
The second argument, Maslenjak v. U.S., raised concerns, especially for Chief Justice Roberts, about prosecutorial overreach. The case involves a naturalized citizen who lied on her application and was therefore stripped of her citizenship.
“Some time ago,” Roberts asked the government’s lawyer, “outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles per hour in a 55-miles-per-hour zone. I was not arrested.” “Now you say that if I answered that question no, 20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you can knock on my door and say, guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all.”
A pair of civil jurisdiction cases on the next to last argument day of the Supreme Court’s term promised little in the way of news, but for a ringtone that sounded early into the first argument. Cell phones are not permitted in the courtroom, except maybe for the Justices. And sure enough, it was Justice Breyer’s phone that rang.
So that was the news of the day. Here are my sketches from the arguments, Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California and BNSF Railway v. Tyrrell, as well as the opinion in Lewis v. Clarke announced by Justice Sotomayor.