Monday, June 25, 2012

End of term fever

The Supreme Court issued four opinions today, but not the one that everyone was waiting for.

In Arizona v. U.S., the Court held that three provisions but not all of the Arizona statute dealing with illegal immigrants was preempted by federal law. Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito concurred in part and dissented in part in separate opinions.

In Miller v. Alabama, the Court by 5-4 vote struck down life sentences without the chance of parole for juvenile offenders. The dissenters pointed out that this is another in an increasing line of Eighth Amendment cases where the Court is just making it up based on its own reckoning of society's standards.

In Southern Union v. U.S., the Court held that the protections of the Sixth Amendment, that require a jury to make findings on elements of a criminal case that enhance sentencing, extend to matters involving criminal fines. In that case, the Defendant was fined $50,000 for 762 days for a continuing environmental law violation. The Defendant argued that the jury verdict had not necessarily determined a violation on more than one day.

Finally, in American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, the Court summarily overturned a state court decision that corporations have no First Amendment rights in connection with campaign finance, citing Citizens United.

Of these, the one that is the least supportable is the Alabama case. It seems unreasonable to decide what is cruel and unusual based on a head count of what the different states are doing, and even more unreasonable to conclude that what 29 states are doing does not comport with the "evolving standards of decency." Justice Alito pointed out in his dissent, who says we are becoming more decent over time anyway?

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