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March 3, 2014

SCOTUS grants cert in (small?) cases involving jury dishonestly and religious freedom in prison

As reported here at SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court this morning granted cert in five cases.  Two of these cases ought to interest criminal justice fans, as described by Lyle Denniston:

The Supreme Court, beginning to shape its docket for the next Term starting in October, agreed on Monday to hear five new cases, including a constitutional challenge to a state prison system’s policy barring inmates from wearing beards....

The Court has already rounded out the list of cases it will hear and decide during the current Term, so all new granted cases will go over to October or later.

 Here, in brief, are the issues in the granted cases:...

Warger v. Shauers — scope of a right to new trial in federal court because of alleged dishonesty by a juror during the jury selection process....

Holt v. Hobbs — religiously based challenge, under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, to the Arkansas prison system’s ban on the wearing of beards by inmates.  (This is a case filed directly by an inmate, in a hand-written petition.)

These grants, combined with the relatively limited number of major criminal justice cases on the SCOTUS docket in the current Term, reinforce my sense that the Justices are right now largely content to play "small ball" on a range of issues as they continue to be stalked by any number of big lurking criminal justice issues relating to the Second (right to carry), Fourth (GPS tracking), Sixth (applications of Apprendi and Booker) and Eighth Amendments (applications of Graham and Miller).

March 3, 2014 at 12:40 PM | Permalink


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Holt is only tangentially related to criminal justice. My guess is that SCOTUS took the case because it is another religion case in line with Hobby Lobby, the public prayer case, Little Sisters, etc. The underlying trend seems to be that the court is going to get heavily involved in "religious exemptions" to "otherwise valid" law or in other words what it means to place a "substantial burden" on the exercise of religion. This is evident from the way they framed the question in Holt--whether the 1/2 inch beard is in effect a reasonable accommodation or strikes a reasonable balance between the law and religious beliefs. Gazing into my magical crystal ball, I would be shocked if they did not find for Holt.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 3, 2014 3:12:26 PM

And I am amazed they took the jury case.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 3, 2014 3:51:17 PM

They last week or so avoided a few more 2A cases.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 3, 2014 4:57:00 PM

I'm guessing they won't take a 2A case on carry outside the home until there is a contested circuit split. Illinois could have provided that but the state more or less caved. The recent California case could provide it but it's not clear yet whether the state is going to try and take the case to the full 9th circuit or SCOTUS.

Also, while the court rejected the NRA carry cases they have not yet done so with the SAF case out of New Jersey and honestly that always seemed like a much better case anyway. The NRA (deliberately I think) chose to muddle in other issues beside carry outside the home. 've honestly been disappointed with NRA's behavior since the days of Heller and I haven't seen much of anything in the meantime that does anything to rehabilitate them.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 3, 2014 5:33:47 PM

Yes, when the denial of cert was covered at Volokh Conspiracy in the past, a few people noted that the specifics of the claim could explain the Court's decision-making process. It is to be noted that they took quite some time to develop free speech law in the 1920s-1940s and beyond & we are basically at that starting phase with the 2A.

Be interesting if (or when) they can find a case that won't be split 5-4.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 3, 2014 6:58:39 PM

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