Today’s 5 New Supreme Court Opinions

June 16th, 2011

The Court decided 5 cases today, still no Brown v. EMA (video game violence case).

First, in Tapia v. United States,the Court held that 18U. S. C. §3582(a) does not permit a sentencing court to impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant’s rehabilitation. Justice Kagan delivered the opinion for the unanimous Court.

We consider here whether the Sentencing Reform Act pre-cludes federal courts from imposing or lengthening aprison term in order to promote a criminal defendant’srehabilitation. We hold that it does.

Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Alito joined, and wrote “separately to note [her] skepticism that the District Judge violated this proscription in this case.”

Although I am skeptical that the thoughtful DistrictJudge imposed or lengthened Tapia’s sentence to promote rehabilitation, I acknowledge that his comments at sen-tencing were not perfectly clear. Given that Ninth Circuit precedent incorrectly permitted sentencing courts to con-sider rehabilitation in setting the length of a sentence, see ante, at 2, and that the judge stated that the sentenceneeded to be “long enough to get the 500 Hour DrugProgram,” App. 27, I cannot be certain that he did not lengthen Tapia’s sentence to promote rehabilitation inviolation of §3582(a).

In Bond v. United States, the Court held that “Bond has standing to challenge the federal statute on grounds that the measure interferes with the powers reserved to States.” Justice Kennedy wrote for the unanimous Court.

This case presents the question whether a person indicted for violating a federal statute has standing to challenge its validity on grounds that, by enacting it, Congress exceeded its powers under the Constitution, thus intruding upon the sovereignty and authority of the States.

The Court did not address the merits, and remanded it.

Justice Ginsburg concurred, joined by Justice Breyer, and notes that this holding is not limited to challenges under the 10th Amendment, but applies to any challenge to the statute under which a person was convicted.

For this reason, a court has no “prudential” license todecline to consider whether the statute under which the defendant has been charged lacks constitutional applica-tion to her conduct. And that is so even where the consti-tutional provision that would render the conviction void is directed at protecting a party not before the Court. Our decisions concerning criminal laws infected with discrimi-nation are illustrative. The Court must entertain the objection—and reverse the conviction—even if the right toequal treatment resides in someone other than the defendant. . . . In short, a law “beyond the power of Congress,” for any reason, is “no law at all.” Nigro v. United States, 276 U. S. 332, 341 (1928). The validity of Bond’s conviction dependsupon whether the Constitution permits Congress to enact§229. Her claim that it does not must be considered and decided on the merits.

In Davis v. United States, the Court held that “Searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.”

Justice Alito wrote for Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and (in an interesting vote) Justice Kagan.

The question here is whether to apply this sanction [the exclusionary rule] when the police conduct a search in compliancewith binding precedent that is later overruled. Because suppression would do nothing to deter police misconduct in these circumstances, and because it would come at a high cost to both the truth and the public safety, we hold that searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to theexclusionary rule.

Justice Sotomayor concurred in judgment, leaving open the question whether “exclusion would appreciably deter Fourth Amendment violations when the governing law is unsettled.”

Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justice Ginsburg, arguing that this opinion marks a shift from previous precedents, and he is fears that.

In sum, I fear that the Court’s opinion will undermine the exclusionary rule. And I believe that the Court wrongly departs from Griffith regardless. Instead I would follow Griffith, apply Gant’s rule retroactively to thiscase, and require suppression of the evidence. Such an ap-proach is consistent with our precedent, and it would indeed affect no more than “an exceedingly small set of cases.”

In J.D.B. v. North Carolina, in a somewhat surprising opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote for Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, holding that “A child’s age properly informs Miranda’s custody analysis.”

It is beyond dispute that children will often feel bound to submit to police questioning when an adult in the same circumstances would feel free to leave. Seeing noreason for police officers or courts to blind themselves to that commonsense reality, we hold that a child’s age prop-erly informs the Miranda custody analysis.

Justice Alito dissented for the Chief, and Justices Scalia and Thomas, and wrote that this opinion injects subjectivity into Miranda, which should be a bright-line rule. Alito notes, in no uncertain terms, that opinions like this may result in a “modification” of Miranda that will result in Miranda “los[ing] clarity” “bit by bit”:

The Court rests its decision to inject personal characteristics into the Miranda custody inquiry on the principlethat judges applying Miranda cannot “blind themselves to . . . commonsense reality.” Ante, at 1, 8, 10–11, 14. But the Court’s shift is fundamentally at odds with the clear prophylactic rules that Miranda has long enforced. Miranda frequently requires judges to blind themselves tothe reality that many un-Mirandized custodial confessionsare “by no means involuntary” or coerced. Dickerson, 530U. S., at 444. It also requires police to provide a rote recitation of Miranda warnings that many suspects already know and could likely recite from memory.13 Under today’s new, “reality”-based approach to the doctrine, perhaps these and other principles of our Miranda jurisprudence will, like the custody standard, now be ripe for modification. Then, bit by bit, Miranda will lose the clarity and ease of application that has long been viewed asone of its chief justifications.

In Smith v. Bayer, the Court held that “In enjoining the state court from considering Smith’s class certifi-cation request, the federal court exceeded its authority under the “re-litigation exception” to the Act.” Justice Kagan wrote for a unanimous Court, for Parts I and II-A.

In this case, a Federal District Court enjoined a statecourt from considering a plaintiff’s request to approve aclass action. The District Court did so because it had earlier denied a motion to certify a class in a related case,brought by a different plaintiff against the same defen-dant alleging similar claims. The federal court thought itsinjunction appropriate to prevent relitigation of the issueit had decided.We hold to the contrary. In issuing this order to a state court, the federal court exceeded its authority under the“relitigation exception” to the Anti-Injunction Act.

Justice Thomas did not join the remainder of the opinion (but did not write a separate opinion, like he did in Whiting).