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Monday, June 26, 2006

When It Rains, It Pours

Traffic, Metro, Amtrak, the National Gallery -- all fell victim to the weather system that has settled over the nation's capital. Not us here at the Digest, though. The rain can’t stop justice. (Well, for the most part.) And it seemed only to propel the Supreme Court's routine end-of-the-term deluge. So amidst a rainstorm that would give Noah pause, the Court issued a number of important decisions today.

Walter Dellinger of Duke Law gives a good, quick run-down of the day’s activities in Slate:
The court this morning announced its decisions in five cases, leaving five more to be decided. In today's rulings, the court held that a state can tell a capital sentencing jury that if factors favoring life and favoring death are in equipoise, the jury must decide for the death penalty; that a criminal defendant's right to counsel of his or her choice must be respected; that some sentencing errors are harmless; that parents litigating the educational rights of their disabled child have to pay for their expert witness; and probably most importantly, that Vermont's efforts to limit campaign expenditures are unconstitutional.

Today's rulings provide an important window on the impact that new justices Alito and Roberts are already having. In each of the decisions, all of which were split, Alito and Roberts voted together . And, as with the rain outside, they made a splash in several (that's our last tortured rain pun, we promise). Here's the breakdown.

  • In the death penalty decision (Kansas v. Marsh) , Alito and Roberts joined the majority in a 5-4 ruling that the dissent called "morally absurd."

  • In the right to counsel decision (United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez), also decided 5-4, Alito wrote and Roberts joined the the dissent.

  • In the case involving sentencing issues (Washington v. Recuenco), Alito and Roberts joined a 7-2 majority.

  • In the campaign finance decision (Randall v. Sorrell) , Alito and Roberts joined Justice Breyer's plurality opinion . Justice Kennedy separately concurred, as did Justices Thomas and Scalia . Justice Stevens, Souter and Ginsburg dissented.

  • In the case denying expert witness fees to parents who prevail in lawsuits on behalf of their disabled children (Arlington School District v. Murphy), Alito and Roberts joined a 6-3 majority.

As big as these decisions were today, we can expect even more fireworks (hey, Congress isn’t the only place excited for the 4th of July recess) later in the week when the Court addresses issues like the Guantanamo military tribunals, Texas' mid-census redistricting scheme and the constitutional right to mount an insanity defense.

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