SCOTUS

SCOTUS Hears Arguments on Gerrymandering Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments today in a case that could determine whether extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, The New York Times reports. While they all seem to agree that gerrymandering is “distasteful,” as Justice Samuel Alito put it, the justices have differing perspectives for determining when the practice veers into the realm of violating the Constitution. In his remarks, Chief Justice John Roberts worried that the court’s legitimacy would be damaged by a ruling appearing to favor one political party or another.
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SCOTUS to Hear Case of Death Row Inmate Unable to Stop Lawyer from Conceding Guilt

The U.S. Supreme Court today announced it will consider whether it is unconstitutional for defense counsel to concede a defendant’s guilt over his express objection, the ABA Journal reports. The question centers around the case of Robert Leroy McCoy, a Louisiana death row inmate who objected to his lawyer’s suggestion to admit guilt and accept a plea deal. His lawyer, Larry English, argued that it was his ethical duty to save McCoy’s life, and therefore admitted McCoy’s guilt with the goal of sparing him from the death penalty.
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U.S. Supreme Court to Consider Mandatory Union Contributions for Public Employees

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to revisit the issue of mandatory collective bargaining fees for public employees, the ABA Journal reports. The Court was split 4-4 in March 2016 when it first looked at whether public sector employees who aren’t members of a union can be required to pay for collective bargaining. Now with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, the case has the potential to “deal a crushing blow to organized labor.”
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U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case of Tennessee Immigrant

The case of a Memphis restauranteur who faces deportation after pleading guilty to a drug charge was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court last week, the Washington Post reports. Jae Lee’s lawyer told him there was no way he’d be deported if he took a plea deal, but he was wrong. The court will decide whether Lee should be given a second chance in court due to bad lawyering. Lee is a legal resident who has lived most of his life in the United States. "This case answers what kind of prejudice you have to show in order to get relief from the mistakes made by your trial lawyer," said one of Lee's lawyers, Patrick McNally of Nashville.
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Democrats Have Votes to Filibuster Gorsuch

Democrats in the U.S. Senate secured enough votes today to block U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, setting the stage for Republicans to enact the “nuclear option” and change the rules regarding the filibuster, the Washington Post reports. Four Democrats joined the effort to block Gorsuch today. That followed Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, which Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) characterized as “excruciatingly evasive.” Republicans could confirm Gorsuch by voting to eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.
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GOP Could Consider Alternative Strategies to Confirm Gorsuch

Other than taking the “nuclear option” — which would change the rules regarding filibusters — Senate Republicans have other options to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, the ABA Journal reports. One option is the “two-speech rule,” in which senators could only give two speeches in a legislative day, and if the Senate doesn’t adjourn for the night, one “legislative day” could go on for weeks. It would limit each Democrat to two speeches and after they are finished, only a simple majority vote would be needed for confirmation. The second option is a recess appointment, in which the president could put Gorsuch on the bench during a recess, but the appointment would only last until the next session of Congress, which would end in late 2018 or 2019.
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SCOTUS Strikes Down Texas Death Penalty Mental Standards

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas state standards used to determine whether someone is mentally fit to receive the death penalty, the ABA Journal Reports. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 5-3 majority decision, saying that “adjudications of intellectual disability should be informed by the views of medical experts,” while in the case in question, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals relied on seven evidentiary factors that did not cite “any authority, medical or judicial.” 
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Gorsuch Faces First Day of Confirmation Hearings

Hearings to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began in Washington today, the ABA Journal reports. Up for discussion was Gorsuch’s questioning of Chevron deference, as well as Gorsuch’s views on the separation of powers. Many Democrats applauded Gorsuch’s qualifications, while voicing their discontent of the Senate’s refusal last year to allow Judge Merrick Garland a similar hearing. When Gorsuch himself gave his statement, he noted that he does not believe that judges are merely “politicians in robes.”
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ABA Rates SCOTUS Nominee ‘Well Qualified’

The American Bar Association has rated U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch as “well qualified,” the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary announced yesterday. The rating is based on hundreds of interviews and a thorough review of Gorsuch’s writings. “Well qualified” is the highest rating the committee offers.
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SCOTUS: Jury Deliberations Not Guaranteed Secret if Bias Involved

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that courts must make an exception to jury deliberation secrecy if evidence shows that those discussions involved racial bias, the New York Times reports. The case stems from a 2010 sexual assault trial in which a juror reportedly said of the defendant, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that jury selection and reports from jurors alone are not always effective in determining racial bias. 
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