Justice Thomas was absent from the bench – “indisposed due to illness” said the Chief Justice after formally announcing the beginning of the new term.
The Justices then heard argument in the first case, Kahler v. Kansas, on whether states can abolish the insanity defense. Under a recent change to the “Guide for Counsel Arguing Cases” lawyers are now allowed two minutes, uninterrupted, to make their case before the justices jump in with questions. A light on the lectern briefly flashed before Justice Ginsburg jumped in with the first question of the term.
In addition to another morning argument, which I did not attend, the Court heard a rare afternoon argument in Ramos v. Louisiana on the requirement for state juries to reach unanimous verdicts.
An unusual start to the new term of what can now be truly called the Roberts Court. After Justice Kennedy’s retirement the Chief Justice, who on the bench occupies the center chair, now also becomes the center of gravity of the Court as the most likely swing vote.
Last week saw eight justices on the bench. After a weekend Senate confirmation vote followed by a swearing in at the Court, Justice Kavanaugh took his seat on the bench this Tuesday to hear arguments. After the drama of the past weeks it almost felt “normal’. No protesters in the courtroom, nor even on the plaza when I arrived early Tuesday morning though some did show up later.
. . or the all catholic bench.
As the first day of Rosh Hashanah this year coincided with the first day of the Supreme Court’s new term no arguments were heard on Monday. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan were absent, presumably in observance of the Jewish new year. That left the remaining five justices, all of whom are roman catholic. . . . L’shanah tovah !
The Supreme Court began its new term on a beautiful fall morning much appreciated after several grey days of wind and rain.
The argument heard was a case in which a woman, Carol Sachs, who while traveling on a Eurail Pass had suffered a horrible injury while boarding a train in Austria, is seeking to sue the European railway in U.S. courts. Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act such a lawsuit is barred except in commercial dealings. Because she bought her ticket in the United States, Sachs argues that her case falls under that exception.
SCOTUSblog’s analysis of the argument is here
While the big news today was the denial of all same-sex marriage ban petitions the Court also heard its first argument of the term, Heien v. North Carolina, a Fourth Amendment “reasonable” search case from the home town of Andy Griffith: Mt Airy, North Carolina.
In April, 2009, Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Darisse – pictured above with beard (and dislexically id’d) as he waited in line for a seat in the courtroom this morning – was working “criminal interdiction” on Highway 77 when he pulled over a vehicle for having a stop light out. After asking permission to search the vehicle officers found a baggie of cocaine and the owner of the car, Nicholas Heien, was arrested along with the driver.
It turns out, however, that North Carolina law only requires “a stop lamp on the rear of the vehicle” and since Heien’s car still had one good light the stop was illegal, and the cocaine “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
The question is whether the search was reasonable. After all, most of us would expect two working stop lights to be the law, and were surprised to learn otherwise (at least in NC). On the other hand ignorance of the law is no excuse for most defendants, so why should a police officer be allowed a mistake when enforcing the laws?
Not much has yet been published on today’s argument, and I have to confess that I get most of my information after the fact from what I read. I find it very difficult to draw and at the same time follow the thread of the argument; must be different parts of the brain – plus my wife says I’m hard-of-hearing. I did manage to pick up that Justice Scalia was never satisfied with the answer he got form petitioner’s lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher.
Above is my best drawing of the day, I think. Great subject.