Monday, April 14, 2008

A Busy SCOTUS Week

The Supreme Court has a full schedule of oral arguments this week, including a few really interesting ones.

The case that will get the most attention comes on Wednesday, when the Court considers the constitutionality of a Louisiana inmate's death sentence. That, alone, isn't all that rare, but what makes this one big is the underlying crime - rape of a child. You see, back in the 1970s, the Court held that states couldn't impose the death sentence for rape. But in that case, the victim was a legal adult (albeit a 16-year old). Some states - Louisiana is the first to implement it - have thus read the Court's precedent to not extend to rapes of a children. It will be interesting to see whether the Court's "evolving standards of decency" only works one way or if it will expand the offenses to which capital punishment applies.

Two other cases, both set for Tuesday, are much less high profile, but interesting for a different reason. In each case - both federal criminal cases - the Government and the defendant agree that the Court of Appeals made a mistake. You'd think that would be that, right? Not quite:

On Jan. 7, Jay Jorgensen took an unusual call from his former boss, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.

Alito's request: Would Jorgensen have time to argue a Supreme Court case in April -- a case Jorgensen had never heard of -- for free?

In Greenlaw v. United States, it seems the government had decided that it agreed with [petitioner - JDB] Michael Greenlaw on the main sentencing-related issue in the case. So the Court needed someone else to argue against lawyers for Greenlaw, a Minneapolis drug dealer.

* * *

Even more rare is the fact that Jorgensen won't be the only lawyer arguing as an appointed counsel under these circumstances on Tuesday. In a separate sentencing case called Irizarry v. United States, Catholic University law professor Peter 'Bo' Rutledge, a former Clarence Thomas clerk, will also be appearing as 'amicus curiae in support of the judgment below,' as the Court phrases it. This will also be Rutledge's first time before the Court.

'I've been talking to Bo. We're both honored and both scared,' says Jorgensen. Rutledge declines comment.
I can imagine how difficult it will be to defend court decisions that are seen as completely wrong by the parties. But, given that I think those decisions were wrong, I'll go against my usual instincts and not root for the underdogs!

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