June 25, 2012 United States Supreme Court opinions

Miller v. Alabama

Miller was convicted for murder based on acts committed when he was 14. He received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his sentence. In a companion case, a 14 year old boy was convicted of capital murder by aiding and abetting and mandatorily sentences to life without parole. That sentence was upheld on post conviction review. In both cases, the Court, 5-4, reversed. It noted that eighth Amendment precedent mandates proportionality and individualized sentencing. It also noted that juveniles are different than and more amenable to rehabilitation than adults. Thus, mandatory life without parole sentencing regimes fail to give proper consideration to a youthful offender’s youth and cannot constitutionally be applied to young murders. While life without parole is categorically banned for nonhomicide offenses, it can be a constitutional sentence in a murder case if an individualized consideration of the child’s circumstances provides justification. The majority noted that this justification would be uncommon. It also rejected Alabama and Arkansas’ argument that life without parole has been upheld in other Eighth Amendment cases noting children are different from the adult offenders in those cases. It rejected a “national consensus” argument noting mere counting of state authorizing life without parole for youth offenders does not reflect a reasoned judgment by the legislatures. Nor do the procedures at eh transfer of young offender to the adult justice system require a different outcome as most transfer procedures are mandatory and the issues at transfer are different from those at sentencing. Justices Breyer and Sotomayor added a concurrence arguing that only juvenile offenders who kill or had the intent to kill should be eligible for life without parole and even then mere intent to kill may be insufficient. Chief justice Roberts dissented joined by three other Justices. He argued that 2000 mandatory sentences demonstrate that that life without parole for young murders demonstrates that the sentence is not constitutionally unusual. Additionally, the death penalty and nonhomicide precedent turned on the difference between the death penalty and other sentences, not the youth of the offender. He also argued the majority was going beyond the Court’s role to answer policy questions about juvenile justice instead of faithfully applying the law. Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, argued that the original understanding of the Eighth Amendment was a prohibition on torturous punishments and does not contain a proportionality principle. Further, original understanding did not prohibit mandatory sentencing regimes even mandatory death sentences. Finally, mandatory life without parole has already been upheld in prior cases as there is no constitutional requirement outside of death cases. Justice Alito, joined by Justice Scalia, argued that eth majority has abandoned all objective indicators when searching for where societies evolving decency now lies and thus look only to themselves which is not authorized by the Constitution.

Arizona v United States

Arizona passed a statute that, among other provisions, required police to determine of the immigration status of arrestees and others, authorized arrest of persons reasonably believed to be removable from the united sates, prohibited persons in the country illegally from seeking work and creating a state crime for failure to complete or carry federal registration documents. The United States sued to enjoin those provisions. The trial court granted an injunction which was upheld by a partially split 9th Circuit panel. The Court, 5-3, affirmed in part and reversed in part. The majority noted the federal government has broad powers over immigration and that Arizona was bearing a heavy burden from the presence of a significant number of illegal aliens. It held that eh registration crime was preempted because the federal alien registration regime occupies the field and allowing the state crime would conflict with federal policies. The prohibition on work which carried criminal penalties was preempted because the congress made the policy decision to impose criminal penalties on employers instead of employees and allowing the state criminal penalties would be an obstacle to the fulfillment of congressional purposes. The arrest power for removable aliens was preempted as it conflicted with Congress’ regime of civil notification and removal. The majority noted that a federal law allowing states to cooperate in the enforcement did not authorize a state to create its own immigration policy through arresting removable aliens. The questioning authority was not found to be preempted. Notwithstanding executive department priories, federal immigration law mandates that when states ask about a possible illegal alien in their custody, the federal government must respond. The majority noted that the provision can be read to avoid constitutional concerns and conflicts with federal framework and thus it was improper to evaluate the provision without a state court construction of the language. The majority noted other constitutional challenges may be raised after eh provision is actually enforced. Justice Scalia concurred in part and dissented in part. He argued that states, as part of their sovereignty, have the power to exclude unwanted persons unless prohibited by the constitution. Thus, despite the expansion of federal law on the mater, only an explicit preemption can prohibit Arizona form enforcing the four provisions in question. He agreed that the determination of status provision is not preempted without some enforcement data. He argued that the arrest of removable aliens is not preempted as Arizona has the power to have its own immigration policy where no federal law requires the opposite policy. Head argued the criminalizing failure to compete or carry registration papers is not preempted as states may make federally prohibited activity state prohibited activity and this is especially true when the state is defending its own interests in minimizing the impact of illegal immigration into its borders. He finally argued the probation on work is not preempted as federal law is silent and the legislative history cited by the majority is not indicative of anything. He closed noting the recent decision to allow certain illegal aliens who entered the country as children and asking if the states are left to the mercy of federal government when it comes to immigration. He answered that the Constitution would not have been ratified if this was the law and would allow states to protect themselves independent of the federal executive. Justice Thomas concurred in part and dissented in part arguing no one of the provisions actually conflicted with any federal statutory text. Justice Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. He agreed that the registration provision was preempted and that the determination provision was not. He argued the employment provision was not preempted as regulating employment is an aspect of the states police power and Court precedent requires a clear indication of preemption which he did not find in the federal statutory language. He finally argued the arrest power for removable aliens is not preempted as state officials are authorized to cooperate in the enforcement of federal immigration statutes, the federal executive is required to take removable aliens into custody and the untied states failed to demonstrate that no construction of the arrest power could be exercised constitutionally as required in a facial challenge

American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v Bullock

The Montana Supreme Court upheld a state law prohibition on corporate donations to political campaigns. The Court, 5-4, summarily reversed. The majority held Citizens United governed the case and the arguments relied upon by the Montana Supreme Court were rejected in Citizens United. The dissent, seeing no possibility that the Court would revisit Citizens United, voted to deny review.

 

 

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