Friday, September 22, 2006

Supreme Court Cases

Here's an interesting Los Angeles Times article on two upcoming Supreme Court cases, both reviewing decisions written by the Ninth Circuit's Stephen Reinhardt. For instance, in the first case (opinion available here), Matthew Musladin had been convicted of murdering Tom Studer. A few of Studer's surviving relatives attended the trial while wearing buttons that had Tom Studer's picture on it (but no text). That's it -- that's what the case was about.

To Reinhardt, the mere fact that relatives were present at trial while wearing those buttons somehow managed to deprive Musladin of a fair trial: "The buttons essentially 'argue' that Studer was the innocent party and that the defendant was necessarily guilty . . . . [a] reasonable jurist would be compelled to conclude that the buttons worn by Studer's family members conveyed the message that the defendant was guilty . . . ." Reinhardt also wrote that it was "objectively unreasonable" for the state court of appeals to find that "[t]he simple photograph of Tom Studer was unlikely to have been taken as a sign of anything other than the normal grief occasioned by the loss of a family member."

The article includes a comment from law professor Vikram Amar:
In the Supreme Court, "there is almost a palpable skepticism for what comes out of the 9th Circuit," said Vikram Amar, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

"They don't have any faith that Reinhardt calls it straight. I don't want to call him a bad judge, but a lot of these decisions are hard to understand," added Amar, who was a clerk for the 9th Circuit and the Supreme Court.
Not to go out on a limb here, but I'd bet on reversal.


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