Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scotus Term Summary, 2007-08

New York Times summarizes here, the most important decisions of the Supreme Court term just ended, leading with the Guantanamo Bay habeas/access to courts decision, Boumediene v. Bush, No. 06-1195, (the guarantee of habeas corpus applies at the Navy base in Cuba, the court said, and the truncated alternative procedure that Congress set up was not an adequate substitute.).

Not very surprisingly, the decision was “no bolt out of the blue” according to the majority. The minority (Justice Scalia for one) strove mightily to instill fear, the fear of deaths of more Americans, as a direct result of the decision.

Curious, how justices can disagree so drastically on the nature of a notion of what it means to live, and govern, under the rule of law.

What one hand giveth, the other taketh away: By contrast to the sharp division in the Guantánamo case, the court was unanimous in another case on the availability of habeas corpus. It rejected the Bush administration’s argument that two United States citizens facing criminal charges in Iraq, and held in that country by the American military, could not seek federal court review of their detention. The two were entitled to file habeas corpus petitions, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the court in Munaf v. Geren, No. 06-1666. Proceeding to the merits of the petitions, the court ordered them dismissed on the ground that holding the men while awaiting further action by the Iraqi authorities did not violate their rights.

The Times counts five access to courts decisions deserving of mention.

Of the ten criminal cases deserving mention, two involved sentencing after Blakely: Gall v. United States, No. 06-7949, (upheld a trial judge’s refusal to impose prison time on a young drug offender, despite the sentence of 30 to 36 months called for by the guidelines), AND Kimbrough v. United States, No. 06-6330 (the court upheld a lower sentence for a man convicted of a crack cocaine offense than the guidelines called for under a formula that treated crimes involving crack cocaine much more harshly than those involving cocaine in its powdered form. Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion. Both cases were decided by the same 7-to-2 alignment, with Justices Thomas and Scalia dissenting). Others involved the lethal injection challenge, death penalty for rape of a child, money laundering, and another had implications for international law.

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