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February 8, 2006

SCOTUS circuit assignments and the death penalty

Thanks to law.com, everyone can access this interesting article by Carl Jones at the Daily Business Review about the potential impact on death penalty litigation resulting from a shift in circuit assignments for Supreme Court Justices.  Here are a few snippets:

The U.S. Supreme Court has assigned Justice Clarence Thomas, a strong supporter of capital punishment, to handle emergency stay requests coming out of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The move could affect Florida death penalty appeals.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, a relative moderate on death penalty issues, previously handled the 11th Circuit, which includes Florida, Georgia and Alabama.  Kennedy will handle the 9th Circuit, which covers California....

Last month, Kennedy granted a temporary halt to the pending execution in Florida of convicted murderer Clarence Edward Hill, who was minutes from receiving a lethal injection. Hill received a reprieve while the high court debates a procedural issue involving how many times death row convicts can appeal their sentence....

"I think Thomas would not, on his own, have granted [Hill's] stay request," said Los Angeles-based attorney and author Edward Lazarus, who wrote of his experiences clerking for Justice Harry Blackmun in the book "Closed Chambers: The Rise, Fall, and Future of the Modern Supreme Court." "I think he, like Justice Scalia, really does not want to go back down the road of strict judicial oversight of the death penalty."

Of course, Justice Kennedy's shift to the Ninth Circuit hardly takes him out of all the capital punishment action.  California is scheduled to execute Michael Morales in less than two weeks, and Morales has a challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection working through the courts.

February 8, 2006 at 07:03 AM | Permalink


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Jones's article is much ado about nothing. Very nearly all stay applications are referred to the full court. Thomas would rule on it himself only in an unusual situation where it was not possible to present the motion to his colleagues. If need be, the Justices will get on a conference call in the middle of the night.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Feb 8, 2006 1:25:54 PM

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