Making a statement on the Supreme Court

Today the Supreme Court indeed granted certiorari in a case arising from some of the massive immigration raids the government has conducted recently. The case, Flores-Figueroa v. United States, will determine the burden of proof the government must show in prosecuting alleged illegal immigration under criminal identity theft laws. SCOTUSBlog has the deets and the filings on the case.

That was the only certiorari grant the Court issued today, but some of the other justices had more to say on some other matters. And they said it in statements.

Justice John Paul Stevens issued a statement regarding the Court’s denial of certiorari in Walker v. Georgia, a case in which a death row inmate challenged the constitutionality of the state’s administration of the death penalty.

While Stevens joined with the other justices in unanimously denying cert because the inmate had not first sought redress from state courts, Stevens still took the opportunity to say more. And procedural defect aside, in Stevens’ opinion, the petitioner – who asserts that the state has failed to adhere to self-reporting and other requirements to ensure that the death penalty is not arbitrarily administered – has a point.

“Justice [Potter] Stewart was the principal architect of our death penalty jurisprudence during his tenure on the Court,” Stevens wrote. “In his separate opinion in Furman v. Georgia, he observed that death sentences imposed pursuant to Georgia’s capital sentencing scheme were ‘cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.'”

Although the Georgia statute was amended since the Furman decision, Stevens said the Court’s acceptance of the new law’s constitutionality was based on its administration in a way that “would protect against the imposition of death sentences influenced by impermissible factors such as race.” If that is not happening, Stevens reasoned, then it could run afoul of the Eighth Amendment and the state’s highest court should have looked in to that issue.

“The Georgia Supreme Court owes its capital litigants the same duty of care and must take seriously its obligation to safeguard against the imposition of death sentences that are arbitrary or infected by impermissible considerations such as race,” Stevens wrote.

Stevens also noted that the denial of cert does not prevent the petitioner from trying again – something that may likely happen since he knows he has at least one vote in favor of granting cert.

Walker will not get the vote of Justice Clarence Thomas, who also wrote a statement regarding the case. “Petitioner brutally murdered Lynwood Ray Gresham, and was sentenced to death for his crime,” Thomas wrote. “Justice Stevens objects to the proportionality review undertaken by the Georgia Supreme Court on direct review of petitioner’s capital sentence. The Georgia Supreme Court, however, afforded petitioner’s sentence precisely the same proportionality review endorsed by this Court.”

The statements come after other justices last week made their thoughts known about cert denials through statements. Most noted was a statement by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. who fancied himself a crime writer of sorts and talked about the tough-as-cheap-steak nature of a Philly cop’s life.


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