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November 2, 2009

Effective coverage of the SCOTUS Seale dodge

The New York Times has this effective piece, headlined "Court Declines Case of Klansmen in ’64 Slayings," and The BLT has this effective entry, headlined "Supreme Court Rejects 5th Circuit Plea in Kidnap Case," discussing the notable (lack of) action from the Supreme Court in a high-profile criminal case.  Here are the factual basics from the Times piece:

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would not review a case arising from the 1964 kidnapping and slaying of two black teenagers along the Mississippi-Louisiana border, an episode that continues to stir legal debate as it stokes memories of the ugliest racism.

The court declined to take the case of James Ford Seale, a cancer-stricken former Ku Klux Klan member now in his mid-70s, who was convicted more than three decades after the killings of Charles E. Moore and Henry H. Dee.  Mr. Seale is serving a life term for kidnapping and conspiracy, and the Supreme Court’s action on Monday means his conviction stands....

The Supreme Court had been asked by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to decide whether too much time had passed between the crime and Mr. Seale’s arrest in early 2007 for him to be prosecuted on a federal kidnapping charge.  Over the objections of Justices John Paul Stevens and Antonin Scalia, the court turned down the Fifth Circuit’s request.

Hard-core fed courts fans will be interested in how The BLT describes the context of the Justices' choice to turn down the Seale case now:

It's a rarely used, dusty corner of the Supreme Court's jurisdiction.  And on Monday the Court decided to leave it undisturbed, rejecting a request by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to resolve a question that could affect prosecution of long-ago civil rights cases in the south.

Under federal law dating back to 1802, one way to get a case before the Supreme Court is for a federal appeals court to certify the question it raises -- in other words, asking the justices to decide the question and instruct it on what to do.  It has never been a frequently-traveled path to the Supreme Court, but it has been allowed from time to time -- though not since 1981.  In a 1957 case, the Court suggested the appeals courts should resolve knotty questions themselves without certifying a question, except in "rare instances."

In July, the 5th Circuit invoked the certificate method to answer a question on which it had split 9-9: what statute of limitations applies in the federal prosecution of James Ford Seale, a Ku Klux Klan member accused in the kidnap and murder of two black teenagers in Mississippi in 1964....

According to a Justice Department tally, the issue could affect 22 possible prosecutions of racially-motivated crimes from the 1950s and 1960s. A majority of the 5th Circuit certified the question to the Supreme Court, calling it "an issue of first impression and of national importance."  The 5th Circuit said it was not ignoring its responsibility to decide cases, but that the judges were "simply unable to reach a decision."

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the 5th Circuit's plea, over the dissent of Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia.  The issue is "narrow, debatable, and important," Stevens said, and should have been taken.  "I see no benefit and significant cost to postponing the question;s resolution."  Stevens also lamented the virtual disappearance of the certification process. "The certification process serves a valuable, if limited, function.  We ought to avail ourselves of it in an appropriate case."...

Mayer Brown partner Stephen Shapiro says the high court may have rejected the 5th Circuit's plea now because it is at an interlocutory stage and "a dozen other issues" are still pending.  Shapiro said the Court is still in its phase of keeping its docket lean, and it may be concerned that "if you grant one now, next year there will be 20."

Steve Vladeck, professor at American University Washington College of Law, said the Court's action Monday is "hardly surprising, but disappointing."  With the 5th Circuit split, the issue will go unresolved for months if not years.  "If the certification procedure is still on the books, when else would you use it if not in a case like this?"

November 2, 2009 at 06:16 PM | Permalink


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Oh hey, the 5th circuit finally steps up for a criminal defendant ... who just happens to be a klansman. Not only do they give him en banc, then fail to give a majority of votes to the prosecution, a majority thinks he deserves this once in a century SCOTUS move.

I'd be "meh" if this were the 9th, but the 5th circuit is stacked with republican nominees and only 4 democratic nominees out of the 18.

Posted by: . | Nov 2, 2009 6:23:53 PM

"Not only do they give him en banc..."

Nope. The rehearing en banc was on the government's petition.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 2, 2009 8:10:50 PM

The freaks here should not get too uppity about any KKK case. The KKK was a lawyer founded, run, fraternal organization with a business plan. And, I do not mean the highly lucrative business of selling the robes, dunce caps and other fearsome accessories. Rather, the business plan was to lynch rich blacks and Jews. Then take their properties and transfer them to favored people, mostly lawyers. Meanwhile, this cannot be done without immunity from the local prosecutor and judges.

That lawyer courtesy to a lawyer fraternal organization, the KKK, continues in the form of weasel loopholes. Black folks should understand what the lawyer profession consists of and what they are still doing to black folks. The destruction inflicted on Black folks by the lawyer CCE is at least an order of magnitude larger than that of lynchings.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 2, 2009 10:26:11 PM

Bad facts make bad law. Bad precedent is easy to justify when it zings people we hate, but sooner or later it comes back to haunt us when it is applied in other cases. As a criminal defense lawyer, I am every bit as outraged when the individual denied due process is a thug as an angel. I don't love the fact that good decisions seem to come disproportionately in a cases involving brutal cops as innocents, but we all take those rulings and use them. I was horrified when Iraq denied Saddam Hussein a fair appeal and removed judges who ruled his way.

Imagine trying to prove your innocence to a crime committed in 1964! Witnesses are dead, evidence is lost, etc. This appeal technically didn't involve the lingering question of whether you need to prove intentional government misconduct to secure a dismissal based on due process violations, but limitations of action are there for a purpose. The fairness questions still linger. I don't see how the statute of limitations could have been rekindled in this matter. FIrst it was a capital case, then it wasn't, now it is again. I think the Court should have heard the case.

Posted by: Stuart Friedman | Nov 4, 2009 8:22:07 AM

Quite Interesting. Thanks for the information!

Posted by: Car dealership Waco | Jun 28, 2010 6:01:21 PM

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