The Supreme Court, eager to complete their term and recess for the summer, did the unusual this week by releasing opinions on cases both Thursday and Friday. Six cases in all were handed down and, alas, none of them were the “sexy” cases court for which watchers have been waiting. Next week should bring decisions and opinions in the cases that have been argued, as well as decisions regarding taking new cases including the Trump travel ban.
Here’s a rundown of the cases decided this week:
Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Bd.
A 7-2 vote, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Thomas joined. This case concerned a fairly dry procedural question about what forum a federal employee could bring certain actions concerning rulings about their employment.
A 5-3 decision authored by Justice Kennedy with Justice Roberts dissenting joined by Justices Thomas & Alito. Here the court found that it was okay for Wisconsin to enact regulations diminishing the value of land, by looking at two legally distinct but commonly owned contiguous parcels be combined for takings analysis purposes.
Is that a bit dry too? Let’s tell the story with humans and see if it makes more sense. From unofficial Supreme Court site Oyez:
The parents of Joseph P. Murr and his siblings (the Murrs) purchased two adjacent lots (Lots E and F) in St. Croix County in 1960. The two lots together made up approximately .98 acres. In 1994 and 1995 respectively, the Murrs’ parents transferred Lot F and Lot E to their children. In 1995, the two lots were merged pursuant to St. Croix County’s code of ordinances. The relevant ordinance prohibits the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership, unless an individual lot was at least one acre. The ordinance further specified that if each lot is not at least one acre, the lots may be measured together to equal one acre. Seven years later, the Murrs wanted to sell Lot E and not Lot F. The St. Croix County Board of Adjustment denied the Murrs’ application to sell the lots separately.
Sadly the liberal members of the Court once again come down against the little guy. By forcing governments to pay for the land they want to seize or control, people are protected and government is held in check. This decision will simply result in more states and locales burdening private landowners without having to pay for the privilege.
This is a 6-2 decision authored by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justices Thomas & Alito dissenting. Mr. Lee came to the U.S. when he was thirteen years old. Thirty-five years later he was arrested for dealing drugs. He was offered a plea deal and accepted it. Since Mr. Lee never became a U.S. citizen, he knew he might be deported for pleading guilty. He received numerous assurances from his attorney that his plea would not make him eligible for deportation. The lawyer was wrong.
When the U.S. government tried to deport Mr. Lee, he objected and asked that the plea deal be set aside and the case sent to trial. The government contended that no reasonable person would risk trial simply to avoid the possibility of deportation. This case was simply about that question – was the deportation penalty severe enough to queer this deal? The executive branches of Obama and Trump seem to think the U.S. is not a place worth going to trial over because they said no one in their right mind would risk trial simply to stay in the U.S.A. Thankfully most of the Justices disagreed, and Mr. Lee can fight the charges in court.
Here we have a unanimous 9-0, opinion by Justice Kagan, with Justice Gorsuch filing an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Thomas joined. Justice Alito also filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
This case involves the crime of lying in the naturalization process. The government wanted to be able to prosecute anyone who lied during the process of becoming a U.S. citizen on any form, question, etc. Maslenjak argued that they should only be punished if the lie was material. For instance, lying about one’s weight vs. one’s status as a war criminal. The Court ruled the lie must be material.
6-2, in an opinion by Justice Breyer. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Ginsburg joined. This case concerns whether the Brady rule, a Court made rule that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defendants, required prosecutors to turn over several items of evidence. Turner and his fellow convicts wanted their convictions in the infamous Catherine Fuller attack and murder thrown out. The court ruled that the material would not have produced a different result at trial and so convictions would stand.
The Court ruled 7-2, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Kagan joined.
Here the question was if your lawyer screws up during jury selection and you are convicted, how bad an error does it have to be to force a new trial? Pretty bad. The Court said there needs to be “a reasonable probability of a different outcome but for counsel’s failure to object or that counsel’s shortcomings led to a fundamentally unfair trial, he is not entitled to a new trial.” That standard is quite a burden, and not one that advances liberty – your attorney can be quite incompetent, just not wildly incompetent. Hardly a model for the world to follow.
As always, another good resource for this material is SCOTUSblog which live blogs the decisions from the court. You can read their rundown of the six cases yet remaining here.
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