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Tag: supreme court

The Wrap Up of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Criminal Cases for 2015-16, Including the Decision on Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Corruption Case

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supremes spent a very busy June and completed opinions on six difficult criminal cases, as well as three important civil cases and several others totaling 24 opinions as of June 27th.

That constitutes more than a quarter of the opinions for the entire year. The Court did, of course, have other business, several hundred certiorari petitions to review for next term’s docket, in-chambers opinions (applications to stay proceedings etc.), orders, and a few per curiam opinions deemed not to be worthy of full, authored opinion. The Justices have, for the most part, cleared the deck so that they can visit the grandchildren.

The Court rounded off the term on criminal cases by vacating the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in a convincing unanimous opinion that not only restored his career hopes but also those of hundreds of legislators who feared the government’s interpretation of Hobbs Act bribery would make politics as usual a dicey business.

The Court narrowed the definition of “official acts” and “pending question or matter” such that the standard assistance of constituents provided by politicians could not result in a career-ending indictment.  The Court did not go so far as to completely end McDonnell’s worries. It remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to review his claim that the evidence was insufficient, thus requiring dismissal of the charges. Even if he overcomes that hurdle or the Justice Department decides not to re-try the case, the question is whether future voters will forgive the First Couple’s receipt of $175,000 in shopping sprees and luxury vacations from someone who got essentially zero for his generosity.

As expected, the Court also vacated the judgment in Williams v. Pennsylvania, a capital case in which the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to recuse himself from ruling on a habeas petitioner’s appeal. What makes this action remarkable is that the Chief Justice, in his position as district attorney, had been involved in the criminal case by authorizing the decision to seek the death penalty and in supervising the case generally as head of the office. The vote, however, was closer than expected, 5-3, in reviewing this egregious behavior by former Chief Justice Castille. The dissent’s distinction was that the appeal involved a habeas decision, not the criminal phase of the case and occurred after Castille had left the prosecutor’s off ice. The state’s argument did not, however, pass the smell test, whatever artificial distinctions could be drawn.

In contrast, the Court ruled unanimously, 8-0, to reverse the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the conviction in United States v. Bryant. The case held that tribal court domestic assault convictions could be valid predicates in a federal habitual offender prosecution, even though the prior convictions were without counsel. This was not a 6th Amendment violation since the right to counsel does not apply in this misdemeanor context in tribal courts. A victory for serially battered Native American women.

It was a tough month for Puerto Rico. Another prediction whiff by this column occurred in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle. Apparently a vestige of Yankee imperialism lives on since the majority found that Congress, not the Puerto Rican people, was the historical source of the territory’s authority to enforce criminal laws. This meant that Puerto Rico is not sovereign in the same way that Indian tribes or the states are. Therefore the illegal firearms prosecution by local prosecutors was barred under Double Jeopardy after the Justice Department did a quickie prosecution for the same offense while the Puerto Rican case was awaiting trial.

For my money, Justice Breyer’s dissent had it right that all three branches of the federal government had returned that authority to the people of Puerto Rico when a self-governing Constitution was authorized. This broke any chain of authority going back to Congress. Yet another reason for statehood.

Then the Court piled on a week later when it struck down a Puerto Rican civil law as unconstitutional under the federal bankruptcy law. The case disallowed the attempt by Puerto Rican public utilities to restructure a $20 billion debt over the objections of creditors. Without a way to reduce its enormous debt, the case threatens the government’s ability to provide transportation and clean water to the public. Unlike say Detroit, Puerto Rico had been excluded from the Bankruptcy Code by Congress in 1984. Look for a renewed bail out plea by Puerto Rico to Congress.

In Taylor v. United States the Court rejected the defendant’s clever defense to a Hobbs robbery charge that he only intended to rob those who dealt in locally grown marijuana, and thus had no effect on interstate commerce. Not much left of this element in the context of drug dealing victims since all drug dealing affects the economy.

Without Justice Scalia as a partner in dissents, Justice Thomas must feel lonely on that side of the opinions. Justice John Marshall Harlan was the first called the Great Dissenter for his opposition in the 19th Century to the Court’s abominable opinions denying equal protection to Black Americans. Since then others have been given the title as an expression of respect—Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1st Amendment freedom of speech context, Hugo Black and William O. Douglas in the 60s, and John Paul Stevens for his unique way of viewing the law in contemporary society. But Justice Thomas will never join their ranks. The Great Contrarian perhaps.

The Court in Utah v. Streiff held 5-3 that the attenuation doctrine could limit the exclusionary rule’s application in the context of a police officer who made an unlawful stop but then got lucky when he discovered that there was an outstanding arrest warrant for the detainee. The case made sense since the officer acted in good faith and did nothing to contrive the basis for the stop. As Napoleon said before Waterloo, it’s better to be lucky than good.

Another significant 4th Amendment decision was Birchfield v. North Dakota/Bernard v. Minnesota, in which the Court reviewed state statutes which made it a crime for detained drivers to refuse to submit to a sobriety test. Both breathalyzer and blood tests are considered searches incident to arrest, but is a warrant required? The Court distinguished between the two, finding that the former does not implicate significant 4th Amendment privacy interests but the latter does. So, unless there are exigent circumstances, a warrant is required to obtain a blood sample.

Finally the Court disappointed 2nd Amendment firearms advocates in holding in Voisine v. United States, by a 6-2 vote, that a conviction of domestic violence misdemeanor, even with only a showing of recklessness, could satisfy the federal statute’s prohibition of possession of a firearm.

For those schadenfreudian readers who kept track of the column’s predictions for the term, it is 17 out of 22, about 80%, great for a hockey forward on shoot outs, bad for a goalie.

Not that the summer will be a complete blow-off for the Justices. They, with the help of their law clerks, continue to look over about 100 new petitions for review received every week, along with motions, preparing for fall arguments, etc.

Actually, the Justices travel quite a bit throughout the year, frequently on the dime of outside groups. These trips totaled 365 for all nine of the Justices last year, ranging from about five a year by Chief Justice Roberts to around 25 by Justice Scalia. The trips often involve speeches which, no doubt, help educate the public about the life and function of the Court.

One interesting development this last month was the GAO’s report which gently supported the idea of live video of oral arguments, an issue advocated for some time. Two of the Circuit Courts, as well as dozens of state courts, already have stepped into the 21st Century with this project. The Court, however, is cautious about such changes, and column writers on oral arguments are unlikely to be made redundant in the near future.

This project has renewed my respect for the rigorous job the Justices have as the Supreme law of the land. Not the occupation for slackers or the faint of heart.

Parker’s Wrap Up of the Supreme Court’s 2015-16 Criminal Cases, Including the Vacating of Ex-Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Corruption Conviction

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supremes spent a very busy June and completed opinions on six difficult criminal cases, as well as three important civil cases and several others totaling 24 opinions as of June 27th.

That constitutes more than a quarter of the opinions for the entire year. The Court did, of course, have other business, several hundred certiorari petitions to review for next term’s docket, in-chambers opinions (applications to stay proceedings etc.), orders, and a few per curiam opinions deemed not to be worthy of full, authored opinion. The Justices have, for the most part, cleared the deck so that they can visit the grandchildren.

The Court rounded off the term on criminal cases by vacating the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in a convincing unanimous opinion that not only restored his career hopes but also those of hundreds of legislators who feared the government’s interpretation of Hobbs Act bribery would make politics as usual a dicey business.

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

Ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell

The Court narrowed the definition of “official acts” and “pending question or matter” such that the standard assistance of constituents provided by politicians could not result in a career-ending indictment.  The Court did not go so far as to completely end McDonnell’s worries. It remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to review his claim that the evidence was insufficient, thus requiring dismissal of the charges. Even if he overcomes that hurdle or the Justice Department decides not to re-try the case, the question is whether future voters will forgive the First Couple’s receipt of $175,000 in shopping sprees and luxury vacations from someone who got essentially zero for his generosity.

As expected, the Court also vacated the judgment in Williams v. Pennsylvania, a capital case in which the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to recuse himself from ruling on a habeas petitioner’s appeal. What makes this action remarkable is that the Chief Justice, in his position as district attorney, had been involved in the criminal case by authorizing the decision to seek the death penalty and in supervising the case generally as head of the office. The vote, however, was closer than expected, 5-3, in reviewing this egregious behavior by former Chief Justice Castille. The dissent’s distinction was that the appeal involved a habeas decision, not the criminal phase of the case and occurred after Castille had left the prosecutor’s off ice. The state’s argument did not, however, pass the smell test, whatever artificial distinctions could be drawn.

In contrast, the Court ruled unanimously, 8-0, to reverse the 9th Circuit’s dismissal of the conviction in United States v. Bryant. The case held that tribal court domestic assault convictions could be valid predicates in a federal habitual offender prosecution, even though the prior convictions were without counsel. This was not a 6th Amendment violation since the right to counsel does not apply in this misdemeanor context in tribal courts. A victory for serially battered Native American women.

Read more »

Scalia’s Participation in Discussions and Drafts Circulated Undoubtedly Affected the Rationales and Nuances of The Rule of Law

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

The Supreme Court issued four opinions in criminal cases in May, which leaves nine more cases to be decided in June before the end of the 2015-2016 term. The split in the vote for the cases was 8-0, 7-1, 5-3, and 5-3, with the Court siding with the government argument in three of the cases and the defendant in one case. The Court has issued 54 full opinions thus far in the term, 13 of them in criminal cases.

The votes seem to indicate that the absence of Justice Scalia has not, thus far, changed the result of criminal cases although his participation in the discussions and drafts circulated undoubtedly affected the rationales and nuances of the rule of law that resulted from the opinions. The politically charged cases that need a swing vote to give the case a 5-4 majority have ,of late, tended to be more often civil cases. An example since Justice Scalia’s death was Zubik v. Burwell on the issue of contraceptive coverage and First Amendment freedom of religion. In that case a week ago a 4-4 vote let the lower court’s decision stand.

And that, perhaps, has some positives by shifting the responsibility to resolve difficult disputes from a single unelected Justice to elected officials to find a compromise and a solution acceptable to a majority of their constituents. Not that our Congress has of late shown any ability to achieve this result.

Justice Scalia, however, showed no shyness about close votes or his role to stake an opinion on a result and reasoning that he felt was right. In her eulogy in February, Justice Ginsburg said, “We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.” So things are not as much fun without him, both in public at oral argument and apparently in chambers.

The column’s predictions of the results of the May cases included one swing-and-a-miss in the Courts’s decision in Betterman v. Montana. The Court unanimously found that the roots of Speedy Trial were limited to delays prior to conviction and did not extend to delays prior to sentence. I had thought that today’s importance of sentencing hearings and the effect of delay on a defendant’s ability to defend himself at the time of sentence could, in effect, expand the constitutional right to one of Speedy Justice. But I was unaware, at the time of the column, that defense counsel would concede at oral argument that they had failed to preserve the issue of whether due process could afford such protection. So that issue remains open for future litigants.

For prosecutors the most important opinion may have been Foster v Dulles, in which the Court found that a death penalty defendant had a right to a Batson hearing on whether the prosecutor had impermissibly made peremptory challenges to prospective jurors based on race. The trial and appeals judges accepted the trial prosecutor’s “neutral explanations,” but notes obtained 30 years after the trial showed otherwise. The case breathes life into the Batson prohibition and will hopefully discourage the practice and make trial judges more skeptical about disingenuous explanations.  The effect of unscrupulous removal of Black jurors is a taint on the perception of justice by members of the African American community. Black jurors matter.

As a practical matter this racist practice gives support for elements who want to eliminate or greatly reduce the number of peremptory challenges given to trial prosecutors. This was the recent recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Rules of the Judicial Conference. In this age of strange people showing up for jury duty, such a change would damage a trial prosecutor’s ability to get an unbiased jury. The other effect of the decision will be to be to make prosecutors more careful about what they leave in their case files.

The two 5-3 cases involved questions of predicate offenses under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (Torres) and whether the person from whom property was taken could be a Hobbs Act conspirator. He can. (Oceano)

There are a bunch of interesting and knotty cases left for next month, including former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s future as a free man.

 

 

Parker: Scalia’s Participation in Discussions and Drafts Circulated Undoubtedly Affected the Rationales and Nuances of The Rule of Law

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court issued four opinions in criminal cases in May, which leaves nine more cases to be decided in June before the end of the 2015-2016 term. The split in the vote for the cases was 8-0, 7-1, 5-3, and 5-3, with the Court siding with the government argument in three of the cases and the defendant in one case. The Court has issued 54 full opinions thus far in the term, 13 of them in criminal cases.

The votes seem to indicate that the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia has not, thus far, changed the result of criminal cases although his participation in the discussions and drafts circulated undoubtedly affected the rationales and nuances of the rule of law that resulted from the opinions. The politically charged cases that need a swing vote to give the case a 5-4 majority have, of late, tended to be more often civil cases. An example since Justice Scalia’s death was Zubik v. Burwell on the issue of contraceptive coverage and First Amendment freedom of religion. In that case a week ago a 4-4 vote let the lower court’s decision stand.

And that, perhaps, has some positives by shifting the responsibility to resolve difficult disputes from a single unelected Justice to elected officials to find a compromise and a solution acceptable to a majority of their constituents. Not that our Congress has of late shown any ability to achieve this result.

Justice Scalia, however, showed no shyness about close votes or his role to stake an opinion on a result and reasoning that he felt was right. In her eulogy in February, Justice Ginsburg said, “We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the “applesauce” and “argle bargle”—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh.” So things are not as much fun without him, both in public at oral argument and apparently in chambers.

The column’s predictions of the results of the May cases included one swing-and-a-miss in the Courts’s decision in Betterman v. Montana. The Court unanimously found that the roots of Speedy Trial were limited to delays prior to conviction and did not extend to delays prior to sentence. I had thought that today’s importance of sentencing hearings and the effect of delay on a defendant’s ability to defend himself at the time of sentence could, in effect, expand the constitutional right to one of Speedy Justice. But I was unaware, at the time of the column, that defense counsel would concede at oral argument that they had failed to preserve the issue of whether due process could afford such protection. So that issue remains open for future litigants.

For prosecutors the most important opinion may have been Foster v Dulles, in which the Court found that a death penalty defendant had a right to a Batson hearing on whether the prosecutor had impermissibly made peremptory challenges to prospective jurors based on race. The trial and appeals judges accepted the trial prosecutor’s “neutral explanations,” but notes obtained 30 years after the trial showed otherwise. The case breathes life into the Batson prohibition and will hopefully discourage the practice and make trial judges more skeptical about disingenuous explanations.  The effect of unscrupulous removal of Black jurors is a taint on the perception of justice by members of the African American community. Black jurors matter.

As a practical matter this racist practice gives support for elements who want to eliminate or greatly reduce the number of peremptory challenges given to trial prosecutors. This was the recent recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Rules of the Judicial Conference. In this age of strange people showing up for jury duty, such a change would damage a trial prosecutor’s ability to get an unbiased jury. The other effect of the decision will be to be to make prosecutors more careful about what they leave in their case files.

The two 5-3 cases involved questions of predicate offenses under the Immigration and Naturalization Act (Torres) and whether the person from whom property was taken could be a Hobbs Act conspirator. He can. (Oceano)

There are a bunch of interesting and knotty cases left for next month, including former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s future as a free man.

 

 

Philadelphia Inquirer: FBI, Local Police Invade Citizens’ Privacy

cellphone-tower-photo2By Adam Bates
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Our cellular phones, the U.S. Supreme Court recently opined, contain “a digital record of nearly every aspect of [our] lives – from the mundane to the intimate.” Indeed, many of us use our cellphones to privately convey our love, our insecurities, our fears, our locations, and our most sensitive relationships.

Yet right now, across the United States, law enforcement agents have secret, unfettered access to all of it, and the government is trying to keep it that way.

It was recently revealed that the FBI has been colluding with the Oklahoma City Police Department to conceal the use of equipment capable of powerful, surreptitious, and constitutionally dubious cellphone surveillance. The device, known as a StingRay, operates by mimicking the signal of a cell tower. The StingRay puts out a boosted signal that muscles out the signals of legitimate cell towers and forces nearby phones to connect to the device.

Once your phone is connected, the operator of the device can triangulate your position, see the incoming and outgoing numbers, and by all indications intercept the actual content of your communications. Police often deploy StingRays without probable-cause warrants or, in some cases, court orders. Even when police seek warrants and orders, the federal government has coached them to mislead judges about precisely what they are being asked to authorize.

StingRay deployments have been confirmed in at least 24 states and the District of Columbia, and there is every reason to believe many of the remaining states possess them and simply haven’t been forced to disclose it. Different departments have different deployment policies, but cities such as Baltimore have admitted to deploying the devices in thousands of investigations.

To read more click here. 

Texas Businessman Takes Case Against FBI to Supreme Court

courtroomBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The owner of a trucking company in Texas, where FBI agents used an 18-wheeler without permission and the driver was killed, wants to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Houston Chronicle reports that owner Craig Patty filed a $6.4 million lawsuit for damages following the November 2011 incident, which involved a botched Zetas Cartel sting.

In March, an appeals court dismissed the suit. Now Patty is appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

“The facts of this case are straight out of a Hollywood movie, and yet are completely true and undisputed,” Houston lawyer Andy Vickery states in recent petition to the court.

Other Stories of Interest

Parker’s Supreme Court Watch: Losing Scalia Vote Has Not Changed Result in Criminal Cases

Ross Parker

Ross Parker

Ross Parker was chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for 8 years and worked as an AUSA for 28 in that office.

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court will follow the usual pattern of not hearing oral argument in May and June. But that doesn’t mean that the Justices are loafing in their chambers. Far from it. There are per curiam opinions to write, individual opinions to author and certiorari petitions to consider.

So far this term the Court has issued a half dozen per curiam (by the Court) opinions. These are decisions without a designated author, usually without a dissent or concurrence and concerning well settled areas of the law. The cases are often non-controversial, do not involve an oral argument, and serve to quickly dispose of a routine issue. They are sometimes criticized as a method of avoiding individual Justice accountability and controversies. An example is the case of Bush v. Gore, regarding the election of 2000. The cases of this term, although having some value in terms of the development of the law, do not appear to be subject to this criticism.

The most significant and time-consuming of the work to be done in the two months left of the term are the draft opinions to circulate, discuss and argue about and the cases to decide before the June adjournment. Among criminal cases, which only make up a fraction of the docket of 150-200 cases annually, the Justices still have 12 cases to decide among the 22 oral arguments they heard from October to April.

Predicted 9 of 10 Decisions

So far the Court has decided 10 of the 22 heard during this term. This column has, thus far, correctly predicted the result in 9 of the 10. Not too shabby.

The case I missed was Luis v. United States, in which 4 Justices held that the pretrial freezing of untainted assets subject to forfeiture violated the 6th Amendment. The precedential value of the case is discussed further below.

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia’s absence has, no doubt, been felt in the process of deciding cases, but losing his vote has not changed the result in the criminal cases, at least not that is visible to the public. His votes on cases that had not been announced as of the time of his death are void, but there have been no 4-4 criminal cases handed down. In that situation the ruling of the lower court stands.

In one case decided, Luis v. United States, however his absence may have affected the precedential value of the decision. The plurality opinion was signed by only 4 Justices, but with Justice Thomas’s concurrence in the result (but not the reasoning), there was a five-vote majority with 3 dissents. The stare decisis (precedential authority of the principle of law) effect on future, similar cases of the primary opinion will have to wait for those future cases. This has been a matter of some debate. Compare The Legal Tender Cases (1870) with Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co. (1974).

In any event the likelihood of a 4-4 stalemate is more likely in some of the hot-button civil cases currently pending, like the lawsuit to block President Obama’s order to defer deportation of 5.5 million aliens and the case involving Texas’s restriction on abortion law. Few of the pending criminal cases are likely to end up in this predicament. It has been speculated that the Court sometimes looks for a more narrow reasoning to achieve the result of a decision if the preliminary vote is 4-4. The precedential value of the case is limited but at least the opinion serves the purpose of the “right” result rather than just letting the lower court’s opinion stand.

Next month’s column on the Court will report on the case decisions during the month of May, and the following one will wrap up the significant developments of the Court’s term.

Supreme Court Watch: Loss of Scalia Vote Hasn’t Changed Outcome of Criminal Cases

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The Supreme Court will follow the usual pattern of not hearing oral argument in May and June. But that doesn’t mean that the Justices are loafing in their chambers. Far from it. There are per curiam opinions to write, individual opinions to author and certiorari petitions to consider.

So far this term the Court has issued a half dozen per curiam (by the Court) opinions. These are decisions without a designated author, usually without a dissent or concurrence and concerning well settled areas of the law. The cases are often non-controversial, do not involve an oral argument, and serve to quickly dispose of a routine issue. They are sometimes criticized as a method of avoiding individual Justice accountability and controversies. An example is the case of Bush v. Gore, regarding the election of 2000. The cases of this term, although having some value in terms of the development of the law, do not appear to be subject to this criticism.

The most significant and time-consuming of the work to be done in the two months left of the term are the draft opinions to circulate, discuss and argue about and the cases to decide before the June adjournment. Among criminal cases, which only make up a fraction of the docket of 150-200 cases annually, the Justices still have 12 cases to decide among the 22 oral arguments they heard from October to April.

Predicted 9 of 10 Decisions

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

So far the Court has decided 10 of the 22 heard during this term. This column has, thus far, correctly predicted the result in 9 of the 10. Not too shabby.

The case I missed was Luis v. United States, in which 4 Justices held that the pretrial freezing of untainted assets subject to forfeiture violated the 6th Amendment. The precedential value of the case is discussed further below.

Justice Scalia’s absence has, no doubt, been felt in the process of deciding cases, but losing his vote has not changed the result in the criminal cases, at least not that is visible to the public. His votes on cases that had not been announced as of the time of his death are void, but there have been no 4-4 criminal cases handed down. In that situation the ruling of the lower court stands.

In one case decided, Luis v. United States, however his absence may have affected the precedential value of the decision. The plurality opinion was signed by only 4 Justices, but with Justice Thomas’s concurrence in the result (but not the reasoning), there was a five-vote majority with 3 dissents. The stare decisis (precedential authority of the principle of law) effect on future, similar cases of the primary opinion will have to wait for those future cases. This has been a matter of some debate. Compare The Legal Tender Cases (1870) with Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co. (1974).

In any event the likelihood of a 4-4 stalemate is more likely in some of the hot-button civil cases currently pending, like the lawsuit to block President Obama’s order to defer deportation of 5.5 million aliens and the case involving Texas’s restriction on abortion law. Few of the pending criminal cases are likely to end up in this predicament. It has been speculated that the Court sometimes looks for a more narrow reasoning to achieve the result of a decision if the preliminary vote is 4-4. The precedential value of the case is limited but at least the opinion serves the purpose of the “right” result rather than just letting the lower court’s opinion stand.

Next month’s column on the Court will report on the case decisions during the month of May, and the following one will wrap up the significant developments of the Court’s term.

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