Mitchell v. Esparza (02-1369) and order list

November 4, 2003 Supreme Court Update

Greetings Court fans!

On the agenda today: 3 1/2 grants, and a summary reversal in a habeas case. I'll begin with the summary reversal. In Mitchell v. Esparza (02-1369), the Court summarily reversed the Sixth Circuit's decision affirming the grant of a habeas petition to a death row inmate. According to the Court, the Sixth Circuit had been insufficiently deferential to the state court's conclusions, and thus the grant of a habeas petition was inappropriate. The details of the case aren't important (the ultimate legal issue was whether petitioner was eligible for the death penalty even though the jury was never instructed that it had to find him to be the "principal offender" in a murder), but I think the reversal itself is interesting. This is the second summary reversal of the Term (an unusual procedure), and in both cases, the Court reversed appellate courts that had failed to give proper deference in habeas cases to state court decisions. Note to federal judges in habeas cases: DEFER!!!

Ok, enough on habeas. The Court agreed to hear the following cases:

1. Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (03-101): This is an ad law case, with the petition filed by my old colleagues at the Dept. of Justice (congratulations Sue!). The Court will consider the following question: Does the Administrative Procedure Act language authorizing federal courts to "compel agency action unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed" allow the courts to review the adequacy of an agency's ongoing management of public lands under general statutory standards?

2. Cigna HealthCare of Texas v. Calad (03-83) and Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila (02-1845): (These cases were consolidated, so I'm calling it 1 1/2 grants.) Much to chagrin of the current clerks at the Court, the Justices have taken the following ERISA case: Does ERISA preempt state law tort claims seeking damages for allegedly erroneous determinations of entitlement to benefits when the determination is based in part on the exercise of medical judgment?

3. Thornton v. United States (03-5165): This is a 4th Amendment case, about whether the police may conduct a lawful search of a vehicle after arresting an individual when the individual was not in the car when arrested.

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!


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