Four new Supreme Court Cases
I'm sure you've all seen the decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, but several other decisions were handed down today as well. That means there's only 3 cases left on the docket (including Heller), and the Court is expected to issue these opinions tomorrow morning.
Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle Co., Inc.
Majority by Roberts, joined by Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy.
Concurrance and dissent in part by Ginsburg, joined by Souter, Breyer, and Stevens.
At issue here was the scope of authority granted to tribal courts to manage contracts between non-Indian parties regarding land within the reservation. The Long family (tribe members) had a contractual option to purchase the land when the Bank put it up for sale. Ultimately, the bank sold the land to another party under different terms than those offered to the Long family. The tribal court claimed jurisdiction, which the Bank disputed.
The court noted that once the tribe had sold reservation land outright, it lacked jurisdiction to prohibit free transfer of that land. Therefore, because the bank was a non-Indian actor and the land was free of tribal encumbrances, the tribal court had no appropriate jurisdiction over the bank.
A fairly interesting case because these types of cases rarely make it to the Supreme Court. If this case had not concerned reservations, it would have been dealt with at the appropriate state Supreme Court.
Giles v. California
Majority opinion by Scalia except as to Part II-D-2. Roberts, Thomas and Alito joined in full. Souter and Ginsburg joined all but Part II-D-2.
Concurrances by Thomas and Alito.
Concurrance in part by Souter, joined by Ginsburg.
Dissent by Breyer, joined by Stevens and Kennedy.
First addressing the mismatch of opinions and judges. Using the most common grounds approach, the Majority opinion except part II-D-2 is binding precident on the Court, because at least 5 judges supported that much. Since only 4 judges supported II-D-2 (it sounds like Scalia voted for it), it is not part of the final judgement.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of a defendant to confront a witness against him. But when the defendant is found to have caused the witnesses unavailability, his right to confront that witness is forfeited. The problem here was that the wrongdoing that prohibited testimony was not done to prohibit the deceased from testifying. It was in fact a wholly separate crime. The testimony that the prosecution wanted to use was from a previous domestic abuse case. Of course, for the court to conclude that the Defendant's wrongdoing prohibited trial, they would have to conclude that the Defendant had killed his wife, putting the cart before the horse so to speak.
Therefore, the court refused to grant an exception to the Confrontation Clause in this case, and so the victim's former testimony was inappropriately allowed by the California court.
Kennedy v. Louisiana
Majority by Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, and Breyer.
Dissent by Alito, joined by Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas.
I'm sure you've heard of this case already. The Supreme Court applied "evolving standards of decency that
mark the progress of a maturing society" to say that the death penalty for non-homicide cases was a violation of the 8th amendment. Can't say that I agree with the Court's reasoning on this one.
Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker
Majority by Souter, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, joined in part by Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer.
Concurrance by Scalia, joined by Thomas.
Concurrances in part and dissents in part by Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer.
Alito took no part in the case.
Another unique Supreme Court case dealing with maritime law. Between this, Heller, LG, and Long, the Supreme Court is really touching as many bases as it can this term.
This case deals with the award of punitive damages from the 1989 crash of the Exxon Valdez (yeah, cases take a while to litigate). In addition to the government fees and fines which settled earlier, Exxon was sued by private parties in Alaska, leading to this suit. Exxon's appeal is largely concerned with the billion-dollar punitive damages award, not so much the million-dollar compensatory award.
The justices were unable to agree on much, except that the lower court did not apply the Constitutional limits on punitive awards, and so the lower decision was vacated and remanded.