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Supreme Court decisions

Several decisions by the US Supreme Court yesterday, although none that are probably of much interest to my legions of faithful readers.  In one case, the Court upheld the right of states to exempt their own municipal bonds from taxation, while taxing those of other states.  If you're going to read the decision, put on a pot of coffee:  the case produced seven different opinions.  There was also a decision on the Armed Career Criminal Act, which you probably want to read if you do Federal criminal stuff, and a decision on the guy who wanted to blow up the LA airport back in 2000. 

The case with the most import was US v. RodriguezThe defendant had been convicted of pandering child porn by offering to sell somebody obscene pictures of his daughter.  Turns out he didn't have any -- of her, anyway.  (He did have obscene pictures of other minors.)  He argued that prosecuting him for trying to sell something he didn't have violated the First Amendment, and the 11th Circuit, for reasons known only to them and their god, bought into this.  The Supremes didn't. 

Probably the most noteworthy aspect of the case was that it upheld the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003.  That, of course, translates to the PROTECT Act of 2003.  This, and the USA PATRIOT Act, which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (no, I'm not making that up), convince me that (a) Congress is paying someone to do nothing besides come up with this stuff, and (b) that person could probably benefit from smoking the 70 joints a day that might, just might, increase his risk of heart disease, as the study I mentioned on Friday showed.  If he did, you might see a law to protect elderly medical students given the beguiling name of the Bill to Universally and Legislatively Legitimize Septuagenarian Hospital Interns Today Act of 2008.

One case that I didn't blog about when it came out was one a couple months back, Snyder v. LouisianaIt involved a Batson challenge, with the Court deciding that a prosecutor's reasons for striking a black juror in a death penalty case were insufficient to establish a race-neutral justification.  It's hard to discern a specific holding from Snyder, other than that examination of Batson challenges might not require as much deference to the trial court's determinations as prior cases have held.

In fact, Snyder might be one of those rare cases where the Supreme Court accepts certiorari not because of some overarching issue of constitutional law, but simply to correct a wrong.  The case involved a black man accused of slashing his estranged wife and her boyfriend, killing the latter.  The prosecutor had not only used his peremptories to strike all five blacks on the jury panel, but then repeatedly told the jury that it was "another OJ Simpson case."

I had blogged about the case when it was argued in December, and said at the time

In fact, the probable result of Snyder will be a more demanding and less deferential standard toward trial judges on these issues.  As became clearer and clearer during oral argument, the trial judge in Snyder's case had adopted a stance of almost total passivity in the face of the prosecutor's racially-charged arguments, in one instance stating that he'd allow the jury to consider the Simpson analogy because the prosecutor didn't mention Simpson's or Snyder's race.  That prompted Justice Souter to dryly observe, "That is not a critical mind at work, is it?"

I'm not sure what's the most disturbing part about the case:  the actions of the prosecutor, the actions of the trial court, or the fact that jury selection in the case started on a Tuesday, the jury was empaneled Wednesday, the defendant was found guilty on Thursday, and the death penalty was imposed on Friday.

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