Order List

October 23, 2009 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court fans!

The Court granted cert in three new cases this week, including Kiyamba v. Obama (08-1234), where the Court will consider whether the remaining Uighur Guantanamo Bay detainees, whom the government has deemed innocent of any wrongdoing, must be ordered released in the United States if no third-party country will take them (the Uighurs, who are Muslim Chinese, cannot be transferred to China, since they would face a grave risk of torture and persecution there). Specifically, Kiyamba (if not mooted through diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration to find a country willing to accept the few Uighurs left at Guantanamo) will address "[w]hether a federal court exercising it habeas jurisdiction . . . has no power to order the release of prisoners held by the Executive for seven years, where the Executive detention is indefinite and without authorization in law, and release into the continental United States is the only possible effective remedy."

In the consolidated cases of Kaisha v. Regal-Beloit Corp. (08-1533) and Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regal-Beloit Corp. (08-1554), the Court will address this scintillating question: "Whether the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, which governs certain rail and motor transportation by common carriers within the United States, 49 U.S.C. §§ 11706 (rail carriers) & 14706 (motor carriers), applies to the inland rail leg of an intermodal shipment from overseas where the shipment was made under a ‘through' bill of lading issued by an ocean carrier that extended the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 46 U.S.C. § 30701 Note, to the inland leg, there was no domestic bill of lading for rail transportation, and the ocean carrier privately subcontracted for rail transportation."

In addition to the cert grants, there were a few other tidbits of interest from the Court. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Scalia, issued an impassioned dissent from the denial of cert in Virginia v. Harris, Jr. (08-1385), which would have addressed whether the police can pull over and check a driver based solely on an anonymous tip that he or she is drunk. The Virginia Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment precludes police from pulling over a driver if they do not themselves see that driver doing something unsafe on the road. Roberts pointed out the problem with such a rule: "The decision below commands that police officers do nothing until they see the driver actually do something unsafe on the road – by which time it may be too late." Roberts acknowledged that Florida v. J.L. held that uncorroborated anonymous tips, alone, typically lack the indicia of reliability required for Fourth Amendment purposes, but noted that the state and federal courts were "deeply divided" as to whether J.L. applies in a driving context: "The imminence of the danger posed by drunk drivers exceeds that at issue in other types of cases." Although Roberts did not opine on whether the Fourth Amendment would or would not bar such a stop, he thought the Court should definitively determine whether such stops were legitimate tools for police to use in battling drunk driving. And he noted that "[t]he effect of the rule below will be to grant drunk drivers ‘one free swerve' before they can legally be pulled over by the police. It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check."

The Court also issued a per curiam decision in Corcoran v. Levenhagen (08-10495), involving a federal habeas corpus petition challenging a death sentence. Corcoran, convicted of four counts of murder, challenged his sentence on five grounds: (1) the Indiana trial court committed various errors at the sentencing phase; (2) his sentence violated the Sixth Amendment; (3) Indiana's capital sentencing statute was unconstitutional; (4) the prosecution committed misconduct at sentencing; and (5) he should not be executed because he suffers from a mental illness. The District Court granted habeas relief solely on the Sixth Amendment basis, leaving the others unaddressed. The Seventh Circuit then reversed, but, rather than sending it back to the District Court to address the remaining issues (or even mentioning those issues in its opinion), it ordered the District Court to "deny the writ" and stated that "Indiana is at liberty to reinstate the death penalty." Corcoran then petitioned for rehearing based on the unaddressed claims, which the Seventh Circuit denied. The Court reversed the Seventh Circuit, finding that it "erred in disposing of Corcoran's other claims without explanation of any sort," and holding that the District Court should have been permitted "to consider Corcoran's unresolved challenges to his death sentence on remand[.]"

Have a great weekend!


From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana
For more information, contact Kim Rinehart or any other member of the Practice Group at 203-498-4400