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December 4, 2007

SCOTUS resolves easy(?) ACCA issue, provides tea leaves

As Lyle Denniston reports here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court handed down two opinions this morning, including a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg in Logan v. United States (available here). Here is Lyle's account of the Logan ruling:

The Logan case involved the interpretation of the phrase “civil rights restored” in the federal Armed Career Criminal Act.  Those who have been convicted previously of felonies and are then convicted of possessing guns are subject to a maximum sentence of ten years, but that maximum is increased to life for those who have had three prior convictions for violent felonies — including violent misdemeanors.  But Congress exempted from that enhancement feature those who have had their civil rights restored.  James D. Logan of Janesville, Wis., was convicted of being a felon posseesing a gun and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, based upon three prior convictions for misdemeanor battery — a crime that causes no loss of civil rights. Logan argued that convictions that carry no loss of civil rights should be treated the same as those for which rights were lost then later restored.  The Court rejected that claim. “Congress did not include offenders who retained civil rights at all times in its dispensation for offenders whose civil rights have been restored,” Justice Ginsburg said. “We are not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made had its attention trained on offenders who retained civil rights.” And, she added, the Court cannot “recast” the law in a way that Congress did not.

Logan struck me as a relatively easy case and this result is not at all surprising.  Indeed, what makes the case worth reading is mostly an effort to read between the lines for tougher cases on the horizon, ranging from Gall and Kimbrough, to harder ACCA cases to be argued in January, to the gun rights restriction debate that may surround the Second Amendment case.

Particularly for Gall and Kimbrough, the emphasis on statutory construction in Logan is notable.  Though perhaps most significant is the fact that Justice Ginsburg's authorship likely means she is not the main author for the opinions in Gall and Kimbrough.  (Same goes for CJ Roberts, who authored the other civil opinion issued today, although both cases decided today come from the Court's second sitting this Term, whereas Gall and Kimbrough came from the first.)

December 4, 2007 at 11:00 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Given that _Gall_ & _Kimbrough_ are the aftereffects of us still struggling with the Court's revision of 3553 in _Booker_, I find it ironic that the Court (via Ginsburg, of all people) says that "We are not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made . . ." to deal with cases like this.

Posted by: JDB | Dec 4, 2007 11:14:19 AM

Indeed. If only the Court had shown such admirable restraint from legislative tinkering in Booker.

Posted by: Def. Atty. | Dec 4, 2007 11:18:17 AM

Though perhaps most significant is the fact that Justice Ginsburg's authorship likely means she is not the main author for the opinions in Gall and Kimbrough. (Same goes for CJ Roberts, who authored the other civil opinion issued today, although both cases decided today come from the Court's second sitting this Term, whereas Gall and Kimbrough came from the first.)

I don't know the court as well as some, but I think today's opinions might make it more likely that Roberts or Ginsburg wrote Kimbrough/Gall, and that those aren't unanimous. Generally (I think), each justice gets 1 majority opinion from every sitting.

If Roberts or Ginsburg wrote Kimbrough/Gall, and it's not unanimous, then perhaps the first majority opinion was finished awhile back. While other Justices are writing concurrences or dissents, Roberts and Ginsburg naturally started working on their majority opinions from the second sitting.

Again, I'm not a professional court watcher, so there might be something I've missed.

Posted by: | Dec 4, 2007 11:41:09 AM

I find it ironic that the Court (via Ginsburg, of all people) says that "We are not equipped to say what statutory alteration, if any, Congress would have made . . ." to deal with cases like this.

Well, in Logan, "cases like this" aren't cases involving a violation of the Constitution. In Booker, they were, so the Supreme Court had to do something to fix the situation.

What it did is certainly worthy of scorn, but I don't think Justice Ginsburg's comments in Logan are ironic.

Posted by: | Dec 4, 2007 11:43:59 AM

There was no need to carve out parts of the statute to fix anything in _Booker_ - the court could have simply required that the Guidelines be calculated in Sixth Amendment compliant fashion, left it there, and waited for Congress to decide what it really wanted to do. More directly, the irony is that the _Booker_ "fix" was allegedly based on what Congress would have wanted in the situation (all evidence to the contrary see Scalia's dissent) - the exact thing the Court today says it is not equipped to do.

Posted by: JDB | Dec 4, 2007 3:43:18 PM

JBD,

Spot on.

Bill

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 4, 2007 5:38:21 PM

It was clear from the oral argument for Gall/Kimbrough that Roberts thought that the previous Court had screwed up in Booker and hadn't really thought through a solution (made obvious by his plaintive "what would you do?"'s to both parties), so you haters out there better hope that he isn't scribblin' the majority because I think that'll mean a presumption of reasonableness so expansive it'll blot out Booker.

Posted by: dweedle | Dec 5, 2007 10:23:05 AM

What do you mean when you post this?
presumption of reasonableness so expansive it'll blot out Booker
Do you mean a federal judge will have more freedom?

Posted by: | Dec 6, 2007 12:14:17 PM

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