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December 15, 2009

A SCOTUS criminal justice term to remember (and the impact of Justice Sotomayor?)

With the addition of three new criminal justice cases to its docket yesterday (details here), the Supreme Court has further ensured that many of the biggest stories from the current Term are going to involve criminal justice issues.  I noted in this post back in October that there were a huge number of significant sentencing cases on the SCOTUS docket for October Term 2009, and the Court's criminal justice docket has only gotten only larger and more dynamic with grants in the last few months on topics ranging from calculation of good time credits to Fourth Amendment rights in text messages to crack sentencing modification authority.

Critically, there are not just a lot of criminal justice cases, but there are also a lot of very important and very challenging cases that seem unlikely to be resolved through the "traditional" right/left splits among the Justices.  Though the important juve LWOP Eighth Amendment cases might still produce the "usual" split among the Justices, oral arguments in the Padilla plea case and in the honest services cases suggest that there could be some novel voting blocks in rulings to come.  And, similarly, I do not think the usual left/right calculus allows for easy predictions concerning how the court might resolve the commerce clause issue in the upcoming Comstock sex offender case or the incorporation issue in the upcoming McDonald Second Amendment case.

In short, this SCOTUS Term is an especially exciting and dynamics time for persons interested in criminal justice matters to be closely watching the work of the Justices.  And as my post title hints, I think we can and should consider thanking new Justice Sotomayor for at least some of these developments.  I have speculated in the past that the initial addition of a real prosecutor like Justice Alito seem to help the Justices understand the importance of taking up more criminal justice issues with day-to-day importance, and I suspect the more recent addition of another real prosecutor like Justice Sotomayor has continued and accelerated this important and valuable trend.

December 15, 2009 at 11:27 AM | Permalink


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