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June 13, 2005

A quick set of SCOTUS highlights

All of today's Supreme Court decisions are now available on-line via SCOTUSblog here and How Appealing here.  I have now had a chance to give Austin, Stumpf and Miller-El very quick reads, and thus I can share a quick set of summaries and reactions.

The unanimous Austin decision (per Justice Kennedy), concerning what process is due before a prisoner is transferred to a supermax prison, reaches two important conclusions: (1) the defendant had a protected liberty interest, and (2) Ohio's new transfer procedures provided sufficient process respecting that interest. Both aspects of Austin should be significant in prisoner due process litigation, though I found the decision's most notable passage to be this stark discussion of the State's interest in supermax transfers:

Prison security, imperiled by the brutal reality of prison gangs, provides the backdrop of the State's interest.  Clandestine, organized, fueled by race-based hostility, and committed to fear and violence as a means of disciplining their own members and their rivals, gangs seek nothing less than to control prison life and to extend their power outside prison walls.

The Stumpf decision, which reversed the Sixth Circuit's reversal of a capital conviction, includes a very interesting remand concerning whether the defendant's capital sentence should still stand.  Though the majority opinion (per Justice O'Connor) deftly punts this issue back to the lower courts, two brief and interesting concurring opinions by Justice Souter (which Justice Ginsburg joined) and by Justice Thomas (which Justice Scalia joined) providing dueling perspectives on what might transpire in the next round of litigation in this case.

Finally, I suspect the majority opinion by Justice Souter and the dissent by Justice Thomas in Miller-El will generate lots of blog discussion elsewhere.  But, in a separate post, I will soon share a few thoughts on Justice Breyer's fascinating concurrence.

June 13, 2005 at 12:29 PM | Permalink

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