« What might 2009 have in store for . . . the US Sentencing Commission? | Main | "Sex offender wins $500,000 Alaska lottery" »

January 13, 2009

Statutory interpretation at center of debate in SCOTUS clemency case

Adam Liptak has this article in the New York Times, headlined "Weighing Reach of Law in Appeals for Clemency," discussing the oral argument before the Supreme Court yesterday in Harbison v. Bell.  Here are excerpts:

In an unusually testy argument, the Supreme Court on Monday tried to make sense of a federal law that provides lawyers to poor inmates on state death rows when their cases move to federal court.  The question for the justices was whether the law also requires the federal government to pay those lawyers to present clemency petitions to governors and other state officials....

The law in question says lawyers handling federal capital cases must also be paid to represent their clients in “proceedings for executive or other clemency as may be available to the defendant.”

William M. Jay, an assistant to the solicitor general, said the law applies only to “federal proceedings before a federal officer.”  Dana C. Hansen Chavis, a federal public defender, told the justices that interpreting the law to apply only to federal clemency would render its language meaningless in many cases, as people convicted of state crimes are not eligible for federal clemency.

Everyone can read the full Harbison v. Bell transcript at this link.  Any predictions, dear readers?

January 13, 2009 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Statutory interpretation at center of debate in SCOTUS clemency case:


I think the defendant will lose this one. He'll likely pick up Scalia, Souter, and Ginsburg on the textual argument "executive or other clemency" (just a paraphrase- I don't have the exact phrase in front of me right now), and Justice Stevens on policy grounds, but I think the remaining four conservatives will team up with Justice Breyer to vote against the defendant (Alito was particularly anti-defendant on this one). If I'm wrong, it will be per Justice Breyer, not Thomas. Thomas usually isn't swayed by these types of textual arguments.

Posted by: Jacob Berlove | Jan 14, 2009 8:14:38 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB