On Monday, the Ninth Circuit issued a 6-5 en banc decision granting habeas relief for a Miranda violation. The case, Sessoms v. Grounds, has garnered attention in part because Chief Judge Kozinski wrote an opinion “regretfully dissenting” from the court’s judgment. Remarkably, Kozinski voted to deny habeas relief, even though he was “glad” that his own view of the law lost. Kozinski’s reluctant dissent provides a window into how judges struggle with the sometimes conflicting demands of law and justice.
In Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc. v. Koskinan, the Seventh Circuit recently found no standing where plaintiffs challenged the IRS’s failure to collect an Affordable Care Act tax. Koskinen may prove to be a bellwether for future cases involving challenges to executive inaction. But what’s most interesting about Koskinen is that it cited last year’s Supreme Court decision in Lexmark as a reason to argue in terms of relativity—that is, in terms of whether the plaintiffs before the Court were the best ones available–even though that inquiry seemed irrelevant as a doctrinal matter. The takeaway is that relativistic reasoning often lies just under the surface of current standing doctrine.
Justice Ginsburg recently offered some surprising public remarks on the pending same-sex marriage petitions currently before the Supreme Court. (H/t Dale Carpenter at VC.) In particular, Justice Ginsburg suggested that the Court should not (would not?) grant the currently pending same-sex marriage petitions at the end of the month because, in her view, there is no post-Windsor circuit split. As Lyle Denniston has noted, discussing pending cases in this way is highly unusual. Why would Justice Ginsburg take this unusual step?
In US v. Young, the Sixth Circuit recently affirmed a startlingly severe sentence for what seems like innocuous conduct, and the blogosphere has taken note (h/t Sentencing Law & Policy). As Eugene Volokh put it in his post title, the case involved a “15-year mandatory minimum federal sentence for possessing shotgun shells (no shotgun) almost 20 years after past felonies.” The case might go to the Supreme Court on the Eighth Amendment question it raises.
Viewed from another angle, Young illustrates two reasons to lament the rarity of executive clemency. First, whether Young’s sentence is just seems to depend on factors that weren’t pressed in court but that executive officials likely know about. A robust clemency tradition would bring those factors to light. Second, in the absence of executive clemency, the Sixth Circuit seems to have reached outside the proven record to do the executive’s job for it—and, in doing so, the court relied on allegations and innuendo instead of judicial findings.
Erin Morrow Hawley has written a fascinating short piece entitled “The Jurisdictional Question in Hobby Lobby.” Hawley’s basic claim is that all nine Justices in Hobby Lobby made “a serious mistake” in failing to address, much less mention, a jurisdictional problem. This incident calls to mind the Court’s controversial rule against ascribing precedential force to implicit jurisdictional findings.
The Court’s new policy of automatically re-listing cert petitions before granting them raises an interesting question: will the Court’s first conference of the new term (the “long conference”) generate any cert grants? This question has some practical importance and also draws attention to the Court’s frequently opaque operating procedures.
A friend recently pointed me to a fascinating 2012 study of the role of race in criminal juries (h/t Marginal Revolution). The study is entitled “The Impact of Jury Race in Criminal Trials” and was authored by Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer and Randi Hjalmarsson. The study looked at the connection between verdicts in two Florida counties and the racial composition of jury pools–that is, the groups of about 27 from which actual juries of 6 to 7 are chosen. In short, all-white jury pools convicted black defendants at a higher rate, but the study found that that disparity evaporated if the jury pool–not the jury itself–included at least one black member.