It was bitterly cold outside the Supreme Court this morning which may explain why there were fewer spectators than usual for today’s arguments.
These sketches are of the first argument, Henderson v. U.S., concerning a felon’s attempt to transfer ownership of a gun collection that as a result of his conviction he was no longer allowed to possess. Tony Henderson, who pleaded guilty to marijuana distribution, asked that the firearms, which had no part of his crime, be sold to a friend or transferred to his wife. The government refused, of course, pointing out that such a close connection to the recipient amounted to “constructive possession“.
Henderson’s lawyer, UVa law professor Daniel Ortiz, began his argument stating that his client was willing to have the guns sold by a federally dealer, though that was not his preference. That seemed fairly reasonable and straight forward to me – hey, even a non-lawyer like me might be able to follow this argument. But then they pulled out the scalpels and started dissecting the meaning of possession, forfeiture, due process, dominion and takings. “Well, it’s a kind of complicated transaction . . . , Your Honor”, responded Ortiz to a question from Justice Kagan.
For its part, the government was okay with letting a dealer sell the guns. But when it came to who picks the dealer the lawyer for the government faced some tough questions, especially from Scalia.
. . . thirteen yet to come (counting the two cell-phone search cases as one).
In Argentina v. NML Capital the Court sided with investors seeking to locate Argentina’s overseas assets in order to collect on bonds that went into default. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority while Justice Ginsburg, pictured here on the right, was the sole dissenter.
Justice Kagan, above, had the opinion in Abramski v. U.S., a case concerning “straw purchasers” of firearms. And Justice Thomas, below, announced the unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that state laws criminalizing false statements made about a candidate in an election can be challenged on First Amendment grounds even before anyone is actually prosecuted.
Even the turtles holding up the Bronze lamps on the Supreme Court plaza seemed to want to pull in their heads from today’s frigid temperatures.
Inside, the Justices heard arguments in two puzzling cases.The first, Paroline v. U.S., presented the Court with the problem of apportioning restitution to victims of child pornography. In this digital age, where the same image can be downloaded by many participants in the sexual exploitation of a child, to what extent is each viewer responsible for the humiliation and damage suffered?The lawyer for the victim, Utah law professor Paul Cassell, in this case insisted that each perpetrator should be responsible for the entire $3.4 million award. “You’re not claiming – or are you” asked Justice Kagan, “that she’s been victimized to the tune of $3.4 million as a result of this particular defendant’s offense?”
“He contributed to the entire amount,” said Cassell.
The second case, Abramski v. U.S., concerns the so-called “Straw Purchaser” law that is supposed to prevent sales to those not entitled to own firearms, such as convicted felons, by requiring gun dealers to have buyers fill out a form. The form asks, ”Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm listed on this form?”Justice Breyer, pictured above on the left, known for often posing convoluted hypotheticals had an esoteric analysis of the term ‘Straw Purchaser’. “It comes from ‘straw bail’,” he told petitioner’s lawyer, RichardDietz, “where someone else put up the bail and it was called straw because the people who made a career of that used to wear straw in their shoes. Interesting.”
“He made that up,” Justice Scalia interjected.
Lyle Denniston’s analyses of the arguments are here, and here.