Justia Weekly Writers’ Picks


Metrish v. Lancaster, United States Supreme Court (5/20/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law

gavelIn 1993, Lancaster, a former police officer with a long history of severe mental-health problems, killed his girlfriend. At his jury trial in Michigan state court, Lancaster asserted a defense of diminished capacity. Under then-prevailing Michigan Court of Appeals precedent, the diminished-capacity defense permitted a legally sane defendant to present evidence of mental illness to negate the specific intent required to commit a particular crime. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Lancaster later obtained federal habeas relief. By the time of Lancaster’s retrial, the Michigan Supreme Court had rejected the diminished-capacity defense in its 2001 decision, Carpenter. The judge at his second trial applied Carpenter and disallowed renewal of his diminished-capacity defense. Lancaster was again convicted. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Lancaster’s argument that retroactive application of Carpenter violated due process. Lancaster reasserted his due process claim in a federal habeas petition. The district court denied the petition, but the Sixth Circuit reversed.  A unanimous Supreme Court reversed, holding that Lancaster is not entitled to federal habeas relief.  The Michigan Court of Appeals’ rejection of Lancaster’s due process claim does not represent an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent, 28 U. S. C.2254(d)(1). In Carpenter, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a diminished-capacity defense, reasonably finding the defense to have no origin in an on-point statute.  The Supreme Court has never found a due process violation where a state supreme court, squarely addressing a particular issue for the first time, rejected a consistent line of lower court decisions based on the supreme court’s reasonable interpretation of a controlling statute. Fair-minded jurists could conclude that a state supreme court decision of that order is not “unexpected and indefensible by reference to [existing] law.”

Read More: A Unanimous Supreme Court Ruling Underscores the Limits of Habeas Corpus as a Remedy for State Prisoners

Clukey v. Town of Camden, US 1st Cir. (5/21/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law

Plaintiff was a police dispatcher with the Town of Camden Police Department for thirty-one years until his department was eliminated and he was laid off. In the year following Plaintiff’s termination, at least two positions opened with the police department for which Plaintiff was qualified. The Town did not recall Plaintiff to either position. Plaintiff subsequently brought a procedural due process against the Town under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Town deprived him of a constitutionally protected property interest in his right to be recalled to employment. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint. The First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s order, holding (1) the district court correctly found that Plaintiff’s complaint alleged a protected property interest in his recall right; but (2) the district court erred in concluding that Plaintiff’s potential recourse to state law foreclosed his section 1983 claim, as Plaintiff’s injury could not be fully redressed by recourse to a state law breach of contract claim or the grievance procedures in a collective bargaining agreement. Remanded.

Read More: Federal judge panel puts Clukey v. Camden back in court

Isaacson v. Horne, US 9th Cir. (5/21/13)
Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Family Law

Arizona House Bill 2036 (H.B. 2036), enacted in April 2012, forbids, except in a medical emergency, abortion of a fetus determined to be of a gestational age of at least twenty weeks. Arizona law separately prohibited abortions after fetal viability unless necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life or health. The challenged provision at issue, Section 7 of H.B. 2036, extended the abortion ban earlier in pregnancy, to the period between twenty weeks gestation and fetal viability. Under controlling Supreme Court precedent, the court concluded that Arizona could not deprive a woman of the choice to terminate her pregnancy at any point prior to viability. Section 7 effects such a deprivation, by prohibiting abortion from twenty weeks gestational age through fetal viability. The twenty-week law was therefore unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of Supreme Court authority, beginning with Roe v. Wade and ending with Gonzales v. Carhart. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of declaratory and injunctive relief.

Read More: 9th Circuit strikes down Arizona abortion law