Too-close-to-call cases at Supreme Court
In this term, beginning Monday, several key cases could hinge on one justice.
(Page 2 of 2)
When lawyers for the detainees first asked the Supreme Court to take up the issue, the justices refused. Then, in a highly unusual move, the justices agreed three months later to hear the appeal. This has led to speculation that the court is primed to overturn an earlier federal appeals court ruling upholding the Bush administration's position and the 2006 law.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Some analysts go even further. "The court took this case to make a larger statement of who we are as a people," says Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown Law Center, who also represents a Guantánamo detainee in a pending case.
Professor Katyal, speaking on a recent panel at Georgetown, said the court will probably rule that fundamental rights apply at Guantánamo. "I expect a broader holding than we have had in the past," he added.
Supporters of the Bush administration say the court is unlikely to take such a dramatic step – even six years after the 9/11 attacks. The US is still at war, they say.
The cases are Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195) and Al-Odah v. US (06-1196).
A Texas death-penalty case is providing a forum for the high court to confront a series of fundamental questions about the scope of presidential power to direct state judges to enforce international court rulings. At issue in Medellín v. Texas (06-984) is whether José Medellín, a Mexican national on death row, should receive a hearing to examine the fairness of his conviction and death sentence.
As a Mexican national, Mr. Medellín had a right to contact the Mexican consulate at the time of his arrest for the gang-rape and murder of two girls. Texas authorities failed to notify him of this right and failed to notify the Mexican consulate of the arrest. Both failures violate an international treaty, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) later ruled that Medellín must be given a hearing to assess the level of prejudice to his case from the treaty violations.
President Bush issued a memorandum in February 2005 directing the Texas courts to give effect to the ICJ ruling. Rather than ordering a new hearing, the Texas courts found that nothing under Texas law required that Medellín be granted a new hearing because of the treaty violations.
Lawyers for Medellín say the president's memo and the ICJ ruling must be treated as federal law that preempts state law.
Texas Solicitor General R. Ted Cruz says that Mr. Bush's memo amounts to a suggestion, not a command. "State courts don't work for the president," he says.
The president does not have unilateral power to set aside state law, Mr. Cruz told a recent gathering of the Federalist Society in Washington. He added that the White House's position in the case "works a dramatic change in the power of the presidency."
The case touches on the balance of power between the national and state governments, the authority of the White House versus the state judiciary, the authority of the president versus Congress, and whether a ruling of an international court preempts state and federal law.
Also on the docket this term
•Baze v. Rees (07-5439): Does Kentucky's procedure for carrying out executions by lethal injection carry too high a risk of inflicting pain and thus amount to cruel and unusual punishment?
•Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (07-21) and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita (07-25): Does a state law requiring voters to produce government-issued photo identification to cast a ballot violate the free speech and equal rights of voters?
•Stoneridge Investment v. Scientific Atlanta (06-43): In the wake of major financial fraud at a publicly traded company, can investors sue vendors to that company who may have been aware of the fraud at an early stage but kept silent? (Only eight justices will consider this case, following the recusal of Justice Stephen Breyer.)
•Kimbrough v. US (06-6330): Do sentencing judges have the authority to reject the much-criticized 100-to-1 ratio in the federal sentencing guidelines for amounts of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, even though Congress has declined to change the ratio?
•US v. Williams (06-694): Does the latest effort by Congress to police child pornography on the Internet violate the First Amendment by outlawing the exchange of materials that some individuals might believe are child pornography but that aren't actually child pornography?
•Federal Express v. Holowecki (06-1322): Must an age-discrimination lawsuit be thrown out because the employee failed to use the correct legal form to file her complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?
•Sprint v. Mendelsohn (06-1221): Can a plaintiff in an age-discrimination lawsuit rely on testimony of others at the same company who say they were subject to similar discrimination, even though they worked for a different supervisor?