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October 9, 2007

Notable aspect of the oral argument in Watson

The transcript from today's SCOTUS oral argument in Watson v. United States (06-571) in now available here.  As well previewed in this article from the Christian Science Monitor, the facts are a bit more engaging that the legal issue raised by a sentence enhancement from a gun-for-drug transaction. 

The transcript is an interesting read, though what stood out for me was how Justice Breyer (and even  Justice Ginsburg) seemed so eager to stretch the applicable federal statutes to find a way to skunk the  defendant, while Justice Scalia (and also Chief Justice Roberts) seemed most troubled by the government's arguments.

October 9, 2007 at 10:45 PM | Permalink


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My reading of the transcript is a bit different. While I too noticed the comments from Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, I see those comments as expressing the concern that a ruling for the petitioner would be one-time loophole that the government will close in all future cases by instead charging defendants under a neighboring statutory provision.

On the merits, however, I suspect that Ginsburg, and perhaps even Breyer too, will vote to reverse. And I think reversal is likely here. If the transcript is indicative of the eventual vote, I think that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Stevens, Scalia, Thomas, and Souter are likely votes to reverse. I could see either Breyer or Alito writing a dissent along the lines of, "well, the language is awkward, but Congress's intent is clear here, and we should uphold the conviction on that basis." Just my guess.

Posted by: lt | Oct 10, 2007 8:20:35 AM

I have long preferred true conservatives on an appellate bench in a statutory construction case. They give more respect to the statutory text, and they think the government's power is limited by the statutory language. They have far less inclination to simply read the statute the way they wish it had read. Hardly a rule without numerous exceptions, however.

Posted by: Dcounsel | Oct 10, 2007 3:12:44 PM

Another observation about this case. It's facts show that the government's hallowed quest for "uniformity" in sentencing is nothing more than a sham. The government came upon someone who simply wanted to possess a gun, that was all. But it contrived to find a way to treat him much more seriously than this, by suggesting the introductions of drugs into the purchase, raising the sentence once, and then claiming that this amounted to "use" of the gun, raising it again (mandatorily). I say, "Shame!" Don't those agents and prosecutors have anything better to do than creating crimes that were realistically not going to occur and subjecting someone to years and years of extra punishment because of their actions?

Posted by: Dcounsel | Oct 10, 2007 3:23:39 PM

should have been "Its facts" in second sentence above.

Posted by: Dcounsel | Oct 10, 2007 3:24:25 PM

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