A Few Surprises in San Francisco v. Sheehan

This week, the Court decided San Francisco v. Sheehan, which involved a confrontation between police and a mentally ill woman whom they repeatedly shot. The assumed facts are a bit harrowing—the plaintiff had chased two officers out of her room by threatening to kill them with a kitchen knife—but the case ended up deciding somewhat less than expected. Instead of answering a major issue under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Court dismissed that question presented. And instead of opining on the Fourth Amendment, the Court found that the officers were protected by qualified immunity. Below are a few comments on the case’s unexpected aspects.

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An equitable result in Henderson v. United States

Over at SCOTUSBlog, I have an opinion analysis for Henderson v. United States.

Here’s how it starts:

After oral argument, the outcome in Henderson v. United States wasn’t really in doubt. The entire Court had expressed skepticism of the idea that a firearm owner convicted of a felony couldn’t lawfully sell his weapons on the open market, or transfer them to an independent third party. Today, in a crisp eight-pager by Justice Elena Kagan, the Court unanimously ruled in favor of the firearm owner. Along the way, the Court ironed out some significant legal wrinkles. Of special note, the Court clarified that felons can be entitled to the benefits of equity in federal court.

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Talking about Standing in Zivotofsky & Robins

Over at PrawfsBlawg, I’ve posted a conversation between Steve Sachs, Chris Walker, and myself on standing issues in Zivotofsky and Robins. The conversation was prompted by Will Baude’s NYT column on the subject. If you check it out, please feel free to add your own comments!

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“Argument analysis: Debating excessive force in the pre-trial setting”

Below is the start of my SCOTUSBlog argument analysis from today:

Today, the Court heard argument in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, a case about excessive force claims raised by pre-trial detainees. The basic question is whether a subjective or objective standard should govern these claims, but the Court spent a significant amount of the argument just trying to identify the practical ramifications of this choice. At times, it seemed that the Court was trying to choose between clarifying the fundamental principles in this area and simply dispensing with the case at hand on narrow doctrinal grounds. At the end of the argument, the result seemed uncertain.

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“Argument preview: Pre-trial detainees and excessive force in jail”

Here’s the start of my SCOTUSBlog preview of Kingsley v. Hendrickson:

Kingsley v. Hendrickson will be the Court’s next word on the law of excessive force. The case focuses on the relatively narrow question of what should happen when pre-trial detainees bring excessive-force claims against jail officers, but it’s impossible for the Court to answer that question without thinking about excessive force more broadly. In short, the issue before the Court is whether excessive-force claims brought by pre-trial detainees should be governed by the standard applicable to free people on the street, or instead by a standard like the one applicable to convicted criminals in prison.

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Johnson Argument on Vagueness—and Plea Bargaining?

Today the Supreme Court held argument on whether the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act is vague, not vague, or subject to a saving construction. Early on, Justice Alito asked a question that I think is at the heart of the case–namely, “whether the statute is unconstitutionally vague or whether this Court’s interpretations of the statute create the basis for a vagueness argument?” Or, as I’ve put it before, Who made a vague law vague? (For his part, Justice Alito seemed skeptical that “a statute [can] be vague simply because this Court messes it up.”)

In this post, I will set aside the main vagueness debate to highlight a surprising aspect of the argument: the Chief Justice’s concern about prosecutorial overreaching during plea bargaining. This issue is becoming a theme for the Chief—and could have important implications.

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The Irony of Justice Stevens’s Immunity Amendment

Justice Stevens is one of the most famous and persistent critics of the Supreme Court’s broad view of state sovereign immunity. So it was no surprise when his 2014 book Six Amendments proposed a constitutional amendment on this subject. Yet there is something quite surprising about Stevens’s proposal: if read according to its terms, it might not have any significant effect at all. Exploring this possibility turns out to be an interesting way of testing our intuitions about text and purpose in this area.

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