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U.S. Supreme Court

Garland Would Be Most Significant Shift on Court Since Thomas Replaced Marshall

No surprise that the biggest news in the legal world is Merrick Garland's nomination by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. The Republicans in U.S. Senate are refusing to even give a hearing to Garland, who is the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

But in the unlikely event that Garland gets confirmed to the Supreme Court, Robert Barnes, writing for the Washington Post, observes that replacing the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia with Garland "would be the most significant shift on the Supreme Court since Clarence Thomas was confirmed in 1991 to replace the liberal civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall."

Scholars project that Garland would be to the right of the court's liberals and would join Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is to the left of the court's conservatives, in the center of the court.

Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, told The Post, “'Chief Judge Garland’s jurisprudence is the epitome of centrist, case-by-case adjudication — not because he lacks deep methodological commitments, but because he’s never been prone to go out of his way to wax philosophical about those commitments. He has a remarkable dearth of separate opinions, and even his majority opinions tend to be fairly efficient, technical resolutions of the legal questions before him.”' 

Reuters: Srinivasan or Garland Likely to Be Obama's SCOTUS Pick

Reuters' Julia Edwards reports that President Barack Obama is likely to pick one of two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. His selection has come down to Judge Sri Srinivasan, who, if confirmed, would be the first Asian American to serve on the nation's highest court, or Judge Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit.

The announcement is expected as soon as tomorrow.

Senate Republicans have vowed not to hold confirmation hearings on any nominee the president names to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Supreme Courts Examines Recusals in Death-Penalty Trials

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this week on whether former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille violated constitutional law when he ruled on a death penalty case in which he had been involved as a prosecutor,'s Jeremy Roebuck and Jonathan Tamari reports.

Castille, when he was the Philadelphia district attorney, authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Terrance Williams. Later, Castille, as a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, participated in the ruling rejecting Williams' appeal.

During oral argument, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. worried that requiring recusal in such circumstances "could lead to unintended ramifications such as requiring all prosecutors-turned-judges to step aside from cases for any prior involvement, no matter how small," Roebuck and Tamari report.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Class Actions

The U.S. Supreme Court, 6-3, has ruled that class action defendants can't defeat lawsuits just by offering lead plaintiffs everything they sought to recover, The New York Times' Adam Liptak reports. That means companies can't pick off class representatives and thus defeat class actions.

The plaintiff received unwanted text messages and sued under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The case is Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez.

Supreme Court Divided Over Puerto Rico's Autonomy

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on whether Puerto Rico has the legal authority to try two gun dealers for allegedly illegal firearm sales after they plead guilty in federal court, USA Today's Richard Wolf reports.

The Obama administration has taken the position that Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, can't do so. But the Puerto Rico constitution gives the territory autonomous self-government.

A majority of the justices appeared to side with Puerto Rico during the oral arguments, Wolf reports.

Supreme Court Rules Florida's Death Penalty Law is Unconstitutional

Florida's death penalty law has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports. The reason? Allowing judges, instead of juries, to impose the death penalty violates the Sixth Amendment. The court ruled 8-1 that only a jury, not a judge, can decide the "aggravating circumstances" that would lead to the decision that execution is the appropriate sentence for a defendant.

 A judge in murderer Timothy Hurst's case independently decided to impose capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, opined that the Sixth Amendment requires Florida to base Hurst's sentence on a jury verdict, not judicial factfinding.

Opinion: Partisan Divide Will Result in Supreme Court Vacancies Staying Vacant

Legal writer Linda Hirshman challenges the assumption that the next president will hold great power over the Supreme Court's makeup. The partisan divide is so deep in Washington that it may be impossible to get Supreme Court nominees confirmed, Hirshman says in this Washington Post opinion piece. The consequence would be that judgments of the lower circuit courts of appeal would stand in case the Supreme Court justices were evenly divided. That would favor liberals because of the "wealth of recent Democratic appointments on the lower courts," Hirshman opines, and also because "much of the conservative heartland is marooned in blue circuits."

Chief Justice Urges Improvement of Contentious Federal Litigation

In Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s annual report on the state of the federal courts, he has "implored lawyers to work together and judges to take a more hands-on role to improve a federal litigation system that has grown 'too expensive, time-consuming, and contentious,'" The Washington Post's Robert Barnes reports. Roberts said the 2015 amendments to the federal civil rules provide an opportunity to improve the federal courts, including for burdensome discovery requests.

Breyer: Mass Internment Doubtful in the United States

Even though Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer doubts that mass internment would happen again in the United States, ABC News' Alexander Mallin reports.

The Supreme Court has never overturned its decision approving of the Roosevelt Administration's detention of Japanese Americans in World War II. But, if mass detention of one group was attempted again in the U.S., Breyer said American courts would likely enforce the country's "'stronger traditions of civil liberties'" that have developed in the intervening 70 years.

Supreme Court Rejects Another Consumer Class Action

The U.S. Supreme Court, 6-3, has rejected another class action. This time, the majority of the court ruled this week that a class action cannot proceed against DirecTV over early-termination fees because those fees have to handled by private arbitration, The Washington Post's Robert Barnes reports.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, struck down a California law that makes class-action bans in contracts unenforceable.

Barnes further notes the ruling continues the trend of strengthening the authority of companies to channel consumer complaints into arbitration.


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