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December 29, 2011

An effective review of the SCOTUS year that was(n't much)

Writing in The National Law Journal, Tony Mauro and Marcia Coyle have put together this lovely review of Supreme Court highlights from 2011.   The piece is headlined "Aside from Wal-Mart, few huge cases at high court; In business cases, there were rulings that pleased and angered both sides."  Here is the start of the piece along with are a few of the passages discussing some criminal justice SCOTUS happenings from the year that was:

The year 2011 at the U.S. Supreme Court was the calm before — and after — the storm.

The Court was no longer fodder for the State of the Union address, as it was in 2010. Few of the cases it decided in 2011 had the incendiary impact of the Citizens United decision of 2010 — or of the high-profile cases it will decide in 2012. The Court has agreed to hear cases on the Affordable Care Act, redistricting in Texas, Arizona's tough immigration law, broadcast indecency and environmental regulation, among others.  For a Court that views itself as apolitical and above the fray, 2012 will place the justices in the headlines plunk in the middle of a presidential campaign....

Other highlights and lowlights of this year at the Supreme Court: ...


California fared worse than Arizona in 2011. A bitterly divided Court, citing "needless suffering and death" in California prisons, upheld a court order requiring the state to reduce its prison population by an estimated 40,000 prisoners within two years to relieve overcrowding. The decision in Brown v. Plata, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, drew a stinging dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote that the Court was affirming "what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation's history." The state also lost the violent video game wars when the justices struck down on First Amendment grounds the state law barring the sale or rental of those games to minors.


To underscore the crowded conditions in California jails in the Plata case, Kennedy added some dramatic photographs in an appendix to his majority opinion.  Drawn from the trial record, they looked like photos from a magazine exposé or a documentary.  The use of photographs, maps or other images is extremely rare in Supreme Court decisions, and usually confined to redistricting cases or border disputes.  North Carolina lawyer Hampton Dellinger, who once catalogued the use of photos in Court rulings, said the practice should remain rare.  "Justices have plenty to disagree over, wielding words alone," he opined. "With today's visual technologies — more manipulable than ever — any movement towards making photos a regular part of the Court's opinions will likely lead to more arguments among the justices rather than less."...


The Court also continued a revolution begun in 2004 to revitalize the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause. The justices, whose divide in these cases is not along the usual ideological lines, held that prosecutors may not introduce a forensic lab report containing a testimonial certification through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the document or personally observe the test.  The revival of the confrontation clause continued this term with a case heard in December....


Scalia once said writing dissents made life bearable.  By that measure, June 9 was a red-letter day.  He dissented in Sykes v. U.S. and introduced a new word to the Supreme Court lexicon.  Kennedy wrote the 6-3 majority opinion, interpreting the Armed Career Criminal Act.  The Court found that fleeing from a law enforcement officer counted as a violent crime for purposes of the law.  That, Scalia said, represents "a fourth ad hoc judgment that will sow further confusion.  Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.  Four times is enough."  He did not stop at implying his colleagues were nuts.  Scalia made mincemeat of Kennedy's analysis in what he called the majority's "tutti-frutti opinion."

December 29, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Permalink


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