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November 17, 2008

SCOTUS takes the DIG route to capital habeas case

Emily As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court this morning dismissed Bell v. Kelly, a capital habeas case heard just last week, as “improvidently granted.”  Kent at C&C provides this helpful explanation:

Sometimes "improvidently granted" is a term of art, but this time it is literally true.  They took a case that does not present the issue the petitioner claimed it presents.  As noted here, the premise of the question presented -- that the state court refused to consider evidence -- is false, and counsel for petitioner admitted as much in oral argument.  As discussed here, the case could have been used to resolve some important issues nonetheless, but the Court decided to simply dump it.

This DIG of a capital habeas case provides more support for the claims I put forward in my recent "Capital Waste" article.  At the start of this article, I make these introductory assertions:

I have concluded that, at least in the arena of criminal justice, the Supreme Court has recently done a poor job setting its own agenda and its failings have had a negative impact on state and federal legal systems.  Specifically, the Supreme Court has become caught up in what I call a “culture of death:” the Court devotes extraordinarily too much of its scarce time and energy to reviewing death penalty cases and adjudicating the claims of death row defendants.

Bell v. Kelly proved to be such a capital dog the Justices did not even bother to adjudicate the death row defendant's claims.  Rather, after deciding to take the case up, and having the parties and many amici write lengthy (and costly) briefs, and having everyone gear up for and conduct oral argument, the Justices decided they should just pull an Emily Litella and say "Nevermind."  Though I never mind being reminded of one of the late, great Gilda Radner's terrific SNL characters, I do very much mind my federal tax dollars going to this kind of capital waste of time and energy.

November 17, 2008 at 12:11 PM | Permalink


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If the issue were apparent at the petition stage I would agree with you, if it only became so at the briefs stage and then confirmed at oral argument I have to disagree. It may be frustrating at times but I prefer the SCOTUS to stay out of the business of advisory opinions, even when the facts in question do exist just not in the current case.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 17, 2008 4:11:18 PM

" . . . I do very much mind my federal tax dollars going to this kind of capital waste of time and energy."

Hopefully, this was a bit of hyperbole. It sounds a bit silly, given the questionable use of tax dollars in the federal government.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 17, 2008 5:32:47 PM

Also, unless I completely misunderstand how the courts operate the tax money was going to be spent regardless of whether this case was heard or not. Adding one case to the docket should not effect another case's chances of being heard (other than with conflicts of fact/law, rather than time constraints).

That tax money argument was almost the entire basis for the holding in Bean that the BATFE could not process the forms in question, and that the cabinet secretary (Treasury I believe but not certain off the top of my head) couldn't do them on his own even if he wanted to because as a salaried employee all of his time is already bought and paid for.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 17, 2008 8:30:46 PM

Thanks for the link to the skit!

Posted by: Stanley Feldman | Nov 17, 2008 10:54:53 PM

Wirklich danke, ich finde so eine gute Seite, ich muss es aufschreiben, um meinen Freunden empfehlen

Posted by: pandora perlen | Nov 4, 2010 11:10:05 PM

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