Eighth Amendment

This week the Supreme Court, via a one-line order by Justice Anthony Kennedy, dismissed an appeal in Brown v. Plata for want of jurisdiction. Thousands of law students enrolled in Fed Jur and Fed Courts classes this semester may argue that there’s nothing sexy about jurisdiction, even by law’s substantially reduced standards for “sexiness.” The dismissal of Plata, though, has some significant effects for millions of people.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Kennedy that overcrowding in California prisons caused continuing violations of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights to adequate health care and that the overcrowding problem required a population limit. (Justice Scalia dissented, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Alito also dissented, joined by the Chief.) As a result, California Governor Jerry Brown needed to drastically improve prison conditions or drastically reduce the state’s prison population by releasing inmates.

A flurry of state appeals and motions to change the original order ensued. Then, on September 24 of this year, a three-judge panel gave Brown until the end of January to meet its original order to remove more than 9,600 inmates from California prisons by the end of the year, absent successful negotiations with the plaintiffs. In an attempt to sufficiently improve prison conditions, Governor Brown negotiated a deal with legislators to spend $400 million on improvement of health care services to California prisoners, but he believed he needed more time in order to fully comply by the panel’s deadline. He filed an an appeal for a stay with SCOTUS….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Consequences of Brown v. Plata Are Nothing to Dismiss: The California Prison Case Continues”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court released opinions in two habeas cases, McQuiggin v. Perkins and Trevino v. Thaler. The holdings reek of liberal judicial activism, however well-intentioned.

In Perkins, my least favorite of Tuesday’s cases, the Court held that a showing of “actual innocence” is sufficient to circumvent the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s (AEDPA) statute of limitations. In effect, a narrow majority decided to judicially amend a validly enacted statute, creating an exception that the majority admits that the statute itself does not contain. On top of that, this particular case may have been a pretty defective vehicle for addressing the limitations question anyway. There’s a pesky matter, discussed at oral argument, about the procedural posture of the case, making it pretty dubious whether the Court should have even gotten to the merits here.

(Cases like Perkins make me want to appropriate my own version of Dan Savage’s “DTMFA” — shorthand for “Dump the Mother-F*cker Already.” Too often, it would be useful to just be able to write “DTMFA” for “DIG the Mother-F*cker Already” for cases that I wish that SCOTUS would dismiss as improvidently granted. But, alas, you probably have to be a syndicated sex columnist for the privilege of coining long-but-useful acronyms.)

Dark days for the fair application of AEDPA….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Death Penalty Dilemma”

Thursday the Supreme Court will sit for its final session of October Term 2011. The Court will issue opinions in all the cases pending before it. For example, the Court will let the American people know whether they ever have a right to lie.

The Court will also rule on the case that, according to a sign I saw earlier, presents the question of whether we need to “Get The Feds Out of Medicare.” I’m not sure about the details of that case though, because it hasn’t gotten much press attention (I only read the Bicycle Times).

Today, however, the Court issued two opinions in argued cases. The fun in the courtroom was not in the opinions, but in the dissents….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “While We’re Waiting For Obamacare, It’s All About The Dissents”

This morning saw significant activity at the U.S. Supreme Court. Although we did not get a ruling in the health care reform case (aka Obamacare), SCOTUS did hand down a number of important opinions. Check back later today, when we expect to have color commentary from our Supreme Court correspondent, Matt Kaiser, who attended the proceedings in person.

In the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty summary of what transpired at One First Street this morning, including links to the underlying opinions. The most high-profile case was the Court’s decision on the controversial Arizona immigration law, but there were other major cases that were resolved today as well….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What Happened at the Supreme Court Today?”

I feel queasy just looking at this photo of Nutriloaf.

Deliberate withholding of nutritious food or substitution of tainted or otherwise sickening food, with the effect of causing substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains, and maybe an anal fissure (which is no fun at all, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anal_fissure (visited March 15, 2012)), or other severe hardship, would violate the Eighth Amendment.

– Judge Richard Posner, in Tuesday’s ruling in Prude v. Clarke. The Seventh Circuit reinstated a lawsuit filed by a prisoner who alleged that being fed nutriloaf (a.k.a. Nutraloaf) in the Milwaukee County Jail amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

(Judge Posner had more strong words to say about nutriloaf, as well an in-depth analysis to answer this crucial question: what the heck is nutriloaf?)

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Quote of the Day: Hopefully He Doesn’t Know From Personal Experience”

Fashion: brought to you by lawyers.

* A bill to legalize gay marriage in New Jersey has passed in the state Senate. If this passes in the state Assembly, will Chris Christie put the kibosh on it? Someone better make him a faaabulous offer he can’t refuse. [Wall Street Journal]

* They might not be the most stylish bunch, but without lawyers (and the contracts they write), events like New York Fashion Week wouldn’t happen. Models, please keep that in mind while you do your little turn on the catwalk. [Reuters]

* Is a mandatory life sentence a cruel and unusual punishment for the Underwear Bomber? Because you’ve got to remember, it’s not like the guy actually killed 300 people. He only almost killed 300 people. [Detroit Free Press]

* Hey 0Ls, here’s some advice on how to “beat” the wait-list blues that’s reminiscent of bad dating advice: don’t call too soon; it’ll make it look like you’re “desperate and hasty.” [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Two Occupy Wall Street protesters are suing the police officer who pepper-sprayed them. Here’s a video of what happened. Those poor little hipsters, they didn’t even see it coming. [New York Daily News]

* Pennsylvania may have new child abuse reporting requirements by the year’s end. Apparently the key to efficiency in state government is to sully the reputation of the state’s pride and joy. [CNN]

* “There is always room for a good law school, regardless of the climate.” Say hello to Peter C. Alexander, the founding dean at the Indiana Tech law school that nobody wants. [Journal Gazette]

* The hunt for the remains of Mercer Law grad Lauren Giddings is playing out like an episode of Scooby Doo. Will the gang be able to investigate at Old Man Jenkins’s Browning’s farm? [Macon Telegraph]

* A paralegal-cum-prisoner is suing over his soy-based diet, saying it’s cruel and unusual punishment. He’s doing life for child sexual battery, so I say bring on the soy! [New York Times]

* Lat once said that lawyers are like cockroaches: you can’t kill them. Probably why this lawyer bugged out when he saw his creepy-crawly brethren on an AirTran flight. [New York Daily News]

In a New York Times op-ed, mentioned previously in Morning Docket, Professor Zachary Shemtob and I argue that executions should be made public. More specifically, we argue that executions should be broadcast live or recorded for future release, on the web or on television.

Public execution has some unsavory connotations, perhaps dating back to the days when hangings took place before rowdy crowds in the public square. But when you stop and think about it, the idea really isn’t all that crazy….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Should Executions Be Televised?”