Lisa Soronen

Author Articles

The Supreme Court held 6-3 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison without parole before Miller v. Alabama (2012) was decided may have their sentences reviewed. In Miller v. Alabama the Court held that a juvenile may not be sentenced to life in prison without parole “absent consideration of the juvenile’s special circumstances in light of the principles and purposes of juvenile sentencing.” The Court suggested that rather than relitigating sentences states may allow relevant juvenile offenders to be eligible for parole.      

In an 8-1 decision in Kansas v. Carr, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling overturning a jury’s death sentence for the Carr brothers and Sidney Gleason in an unrelated murder. Reginald and Jonathan Carr were convicted of killing four people in the “Wichita Massacre”; one intended victim survived because her hair clip deflected the bullet.  

The...

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the President’s deferred action immigration program violates federal law or is unconstitutional. The Court will issue an opinion in United States v. Texas by the end of June 2016.

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program allows certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to lawfully stay and work temporarily in the United States. About 5 million people are affected.

Twenty six states sued the United States and won before the Fifth Circuit.

In Hurst v. Florida the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Florida’s death penalty sentencing scheme is unconstitutional because it allows the judge, instead of requiring the jury, to impose the death sentence.

In 2000 in Apprendi v. New Jersey the Court held that any factual determination that exposes a defendant to a punishment greater than that authorized by a jury’s guilty verdict must be determined by the jury. In Ring v. Arizona (2002) the Court held that Arizona’s capital sentencing scheme violated Apprendi because it allowed the judge to find facts necessary to impose the death sentence.

Florida’s scheme worked similar to Arizona’s. A jury verdict for first-degree murder would result in life in prison without parole unless a judge finds facts supporting a death sentence. But in Florida, unlike Arizona, the jury attends the sentencing evidentiary hearing and renders an “advisory verdict.” The jury does not have to specify any factual basis for its recommendation but the judge must give it “great weight.”

All 50 states have adopted implied consent laws requiring motorists as a condition of driving in the state to consent to a blood alcohol content (BAC) test if they are suspected of drunk-driving.

The Supreme Court will decide whether state statutes criminalizing a person’s refusal to take a chemical BAC test where police have not obtained a warrant are unconstitutional. Thirteen states criminalize the refusal to take a warrantless BAC test. 

In Missouri v. McNeely (2013) the Supreme Court held that police generally have to obtain a warrant to conduct a BAC. So the argument goes, it is unconstitutional to criminalize the refusal to take a BAC test if a warrant was required to conduct the test but not obtained.

The three decisions that the Supreme Court has agreed to review all upheld the state statutes.

It was a typical oral argument at the Supreme Court in a “big” case. Protesters outside with opposing messages tried to out yell each other, but everyone inside was listening to Justice Kennedy.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 States have enacted statutes authorizing fair share.

If the Court doesn’t overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) it may instead rule that public employees may be allowed to opt-in rather than required to opt-out of paying “nonchargeable” political union expenditures.

A challenge to President Obama’s immigration deferral program and (another) challenge that could harpoon the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could make it on the Supreme Court’s docket this term and be decided by the end of June.

For the first time at the Supreme Court’s private conference on January 15 it will consider petitions in United States v. Texas (immigration) and Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services (ACA).

The Court will have three choices: grant the petitions, deny the petitions, or postpone making a decision until a later conference. If it postpones a decision in either case, it must decide at the January 22 conference to accept the cases or they will be heard next term (assuming the petitions are ultimately granted). 

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief argues that a government employer’s perception that an employee has exercised his or her First Amendment rights cannot be the basis for a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit. 

Officer Heffernan was assigned to a detail in the Office of Chief of Police. He was reassigned after he was seen picking up a campaign sign for the current police chief’s opponent.

The First Amendment protects non-policymaking public employees who support a candidate in an election. Officer Heffernan maintains that he was in no way involved with the police chief race. The sign wasn’t for himself; it was for his bedridden mother.

This term the Supreme Court has taken two cases from California involving arbitration clauses. One has been decided, the other will be decided later this term. Both cases are of interest to states as they involve preemption of state law by the Federal Arbitration Act.

In Shapiro v. McManus the Supreme Court held unanimously that a three-judge court must be convened to decide a constitutional challenge to a redistricting plan even if the judge to which the request was made doesn’t think the challenger will win.  

Stephen Shapiro, dissatisfied with Maryland’s “crazy-quilt gerrymandering,” sued Maryland arguing its congressional redistricting plan violated his First Amendment right of political association. While a plurality of the Supreme Court stated in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) that political gerrymandering cases cannot be brought under the Equal Protection Clause, Justice Kennedy, concurring in the same case, suggested such claims may be possible under the First Amendment.  

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