Did Appeals Court Thumb Noses At Justices?

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The Supreme Court is being asked to rehear a controversial Texas death penalty case. Last year, reports the Los Angeles Times, the high court rebuked a panel of federal appeals judges for failing to review adequately the claims of a black inmate who argued that prosecutors had unfairly excluded African Americans from the jury in his 1986 murder trial. Prosecutors said they were trying to get jurors sympathetic to the death penalty. The justices sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit with directions to reexamine the jury selection. The 5th Circuit looked at the case again, and upheld the conviction of 53-year-old Thomas Miller-El.

Critics say the review was so cursory that the authority of the high court has been defied. Miller-El’s lawyers have been joined in the new appeal by former FBI Director William Sessions and a coalition of former federal judges and prosecutors, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. “It seems to me that the 5th Circuit is thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court,” said John Gibbons, a member of the group and a former 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judge appointed by President Nixon. “You don’t have the rule of law if intermediate appellate courts think they can ignore directions from the top.” The jury that convicted Miller-El and voted for a death sentence consisted of nine whites, one Latino, one Philippine American and one African American. The high court has the case on its conference list this Thursday.

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