Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sex, Guns, & Terrorism

The Supreme Court is ready to crank up for the year (actually, it already cranked with the unusual early argument in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission). Next week it will be hearing oral argument in nine cases, four of them criminal:
In the weeks after that, the Court will hear a number of other cases we'll keep an eye on. But the news today is that the court added ten cases to its docket just two days after Adam Liptak wrote in the Times about the Court's "plummeting" docket. Moreover, six of those cases are criminal and all six deserve special attention here:
  • Carr v. United States concerns the retroactive application of the federal sex offender registration and notification law. Specifically, Carr asks the Court to say that prosecution for failure to register when the relevant acts predated the law is unconstitutional. Retroactive application of Ohio's law (and a congeries of related issues) will be argued in the Ohio Supreme Court on November 4.
  • McDonald v. Chicago asks whether the Second Amendment prohibits the states from unduly infringing the right to bear arms as it prohibits the federal government. The Court decided the federal issue last year in District of Columbia v. Heller, but application to the states remains an open question.
  • Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project & Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder are cross appeals concerning the constitutionality of the law making it a crime to provide material aid to terrorists. The always-ripe-for-reversal 9th Circuit said part of the law was unconstitutional and parts were not. The Supremes will decide whether it was wrong about either or both of those decisions.
  • U.S. v. O'Brien & Burgess raises a technical question involving application of a sentencing enhancement for use of a machine gun in a crime. But the answer may indicate how the Court, and in particular now-Justice Sotomayor, will continue to view Apprendi/Blakely/Booker-type issues.
  • Berghuis v. Thompkins asks whether police can try to talk someone out of waiving Miranda rights.
  • Berghuis v. Smith looks at questions regarding a jury of one's peers. That phrase doesn't mean a jury like you, of course. It means a jury that's a "fair cross section" of the community, and that pretty much means that the jury system can't be designed to exclude, say, disproportionate numbers of African Americans. But how do you establish that it is so designed? Smith may say.
As Bette Davis didn't quite say, fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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