A new study confirms that widely held impression. Justice Elena Kagan highlighted the issue during a speech in 2014. “Case in and case out,” she said, “the category of litigant who is not getting great representation at the Supreme Court are criminal defendants.”
The New York Times made significant changes to an exclusive report about a potential criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s State Department email account last night after the Clinton campaign complained about the story, Politico reports. The paper initially reported that two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation “into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state.” The clause that cast Clinton as the target of the potential criminal probe was changed: the inspectors general now were asking for an inquiry “into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state.” The Times also changed the headline from “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton's Use of Email” to “Criminal Inquiry Is Sought in Clinton Email Account.” Reporter Michael Schmidt said, “It was a response to complaints we received from the Clinton camp that we thought were reasonable, and we made them.”
Every member of the U.S. Supreme Court received free travel in 2014, according to a report by Reity O’Brien, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity. The news site compiled financial disclosures detailing “the stock holdings, travel, spousal income, gifts and debts of the nine Supreme Court justices (which) show the many ways that the judges can pad their finances.” The site found that, through investments, most justice are millionaires, and all nine were paid to travel. Six of the justices received paid trips to Europe in 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The justices do not have to disclose the costs of their reimbursed travels, which included a three-week multi-stop trip that Justice Anthony Kennedy took to Salzburg, Austria, San Francisco and Aspen, Colorado, last July, paid for by the Aspen Institute and the University of the Pacific.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the highest-profile death penalty challenge in seven years, and the justices will began to consider this question: Does Oklahoma's use of the common surgical sedative midazolam fail to make prisoners unconscious during lethal injections, thus violating the Eighth Amendment's protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”? For many court watchers, however, a subject of special scrutiny is the credibility of Oklahoma’s key expert witness, Dr. Roswell Lee Evans, who has testified that inmates “would not sense the pain” of an execution after receiving a high dose of midazolam. The case, first brought by four condemned Oklahoma inmates, stems from the botched April 2014 execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. Although Lockett received a substantial dose of midazolam intravenously, it failed to render him unconscious as he was administered the paralytic agent vecuronium bromide and the caustic heart-stopping drug potassium chloride. Witnesses reported that he moaned and writhed on the gurney for more than 40 minutes until his death.
Can We All Get Along? The question posed by Rodney King over a decade ago in the wake of the Los Angeles riots is still, unfortunately, at the top of the nation's agenda in the wake of the deaths of unarmed young man at the hands of police over the past year. It was the central question of the 2015 Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference on Crime in America, held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Feb 9-10, 2015, which focused on “Race, Justice and Community.” More than 40 practitioners and researchers joined 20 journalists from around the country and a wide public audience for the Symposium, which also marked the 10th anniversary of what has become one of the most prestigious events on the nation's criminal justice calendar—and a unique forum for exchange of views among journalists and the professional criminal justice community. This year's symposium featured cameo presentations by Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, NYC Correction Chief Joe Ponte, and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson (who delivered the keynote address on the second day).
A blistering dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas to a 7-2 Supreme Court decision not to delay same-sex marriage in Alabama offers the strongest signal yet that gay rights advocates are likely to prevail when the marriage issue is considered by the court this spring, reports the New York Times. Thomas criticized his fellow justices for looking “the other way” as another federal court pushes aside state laws, rather than taking the customary course of leaving the laws in place until the court addresses larger constitutional issues. In dissenting from the unsigned order in the Alabama case, Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, suggested that the court was poised to establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, a question the court ducked in a pair of decisions in 2013. Thomas accused the majority of an “indecorous” and “cavalier” attitude in refusing to maintain the status quo in Alabama until the coming Supreme Court decision. “This acquiescence,” Thomas added in a telling passage, “may well be seen as a signal of the court's intended resolution of that question.”
William Baude, a University of Chicago law professor, says it is time to cast a light on the U.S. Supreme Court’s secretive “orders docket,” a crucial part of the court’s work that most people don’t know anything about. Writing in the New York Times, Baude explains that work at the Supreme Court is divided into two main categories. One group includes the 70-some cases each year that the court selects for extensive briefing, oral argument and a substantial written opinions. These are the cases we hear about in the news. The orders docket includes nearly everything else the court must decide — which cases to hear, procedural matters, and whether to grant a stay or injunction that pauses legal proceedings temporarily.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of Brooklyn, whose nomination as Attorney General goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, had a formative experience as a legal advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda that gave her a global perspective that sets her apart from most who have held the top U.S. law enforcement job, the Los Angeles Times reports. Lynch traveled repeatedly to Africa over six years, helping to train inexperienced lawyers serving at the United Nations-established court who were given the task of prosecuting those responsible for the 1994 genocide. With a security guard in tow, she drove through lush, terraced mountainsides to interview survivors about the horrors they endured and investigate gruesome atrocities that convulsed Rwanda and left 800,000 people dead. Lynch’s overseas contacts and experience with international law could prove helpful in a job that has been transformed since Sept. 11 into one of the key national security portfolios in Washington.
“Fix the Court,” a new advocacy campaign aimed at the secretive workings of the U.S. Supreme Court, launches today with a six-figure advertising campaign on Fox, MSNBC and select websites, reports USA Today. With money from the non-partisan New Venture Fund, the campaign is intended to bring more media and advertising firepower to what has been a diffused effort on the part of liberal, conservative and government watchdog groups concerned about the high court’s renowned seclusion. “They told us where we can pray, picked our president, allowed billionaires to buy elections and made choices of life and death,” the ad intones. “Nine judges, appointed for life to a court that makes its own rules and has disdain for openness and transparency — the Supreme Court, the most powerful and least accountable branch of government.” The campaign asks that justices specify why they recuse themselves from cases so the public can gauge their potential conflicts of interest; file annual online financial disclosures; abide by the same code of conduct that applies to other federal judges; give advance notice of their public appearances, and improve media and public access to their courtroom and courthouse plaza.
Writing in the New York Times, Erwin Chemerinsky, the California-Irvine law school dean, says that the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very difficult to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse. Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims' only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles.