This morning the Supreme Court issued orders from the justices’ December 6 conference. The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket for the term.
The justices declined to take up the case of Louie Schexnayder, a Louisiana inmate who was sentenced to life in prison for the stabbing death of Eugene Price. After Schexnayder’s direct appeals were finished, he unsuccessfully sought state and then federal post-conviction relief. In 2008, after those efforts had concluded, a suicide note from an official in the state court where Schexnayder had filed his post-conviction applications revealed that the court had a practice of denying all pro se prisoner applications (like Schexnayder’s) without any review by a judge. A state court reviewed Schexnayder’s application again, and again denied it. A federal district court then denied Schenxnayder’s plea for federal post-conviction relief, following the rule of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that federal courts will not consider constitutional challenges to state post-conviction proceedings, even when the results of such proceedings are “beyond regrettable.” The 5th Circuit declined to review Schexnayder’s appeal, and today the justices turned down a petition filed by Schexnayder, who is now represented by counsel.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a statement regarding the court’s decision to deny review. She noted that Schexnayder had represented himself in some parts of the lower-court proceedings and had not “clearly set forth his claim that he was entitled” to post-conviction relief. Because the 5th Circuit “was not fairly presented with the opportunity to resolve the issue that” Schexnayder had asked the Supreme Court to review, Sotomayor wrote, she would not dissent from the denial of review. However, she continued, Louisiana’s “re-review procedure” “raises serious due process concerns. I expect that lower federal courts will examine the issue of what deference is due to these decisions when it is properly raised.”
Sotomayor filed a similar statement regarding the court’s denial of review in Cottier v. United States, the case of an inmate who was charged with “second-degree murder by an Indian in Indian country.” After Cottier’s co-defendants accepted plea deals with the government, they signed statements implicating Cottier in the murder that were also signed by a federal prosecutor. The statements were used as evidence of the co-defendants’ veracity, and the jury was allowed to take them into the jury room during its deliberations. Cottier asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutionality of allowing the jury to have the statements during deliberations, but the justices rejected his appeal today. Sotomayor observed that, in this case, “Cottier’s attorney did not object to the statements’ admission and used them as part of Cottier’s defense,” but she stressed that the “admission of such statements ‘is not a favored practice.’”
The justices asked the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in HSBC Holdings v. Picard, a case arising from efforts to recover fraudulent transfers made by Bernie Madoff’s company in New York to investors overseas. There is no deadline for the federal government to file its brief.
The justices turned down without comment Arizona’s efforts to bring a lawsuit against the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, the drug company that the family owns, in the Supreme Court. Explaining that the family and the company had “made billions off the promotion and sale of opioids, fueling a crisis with devastating effects in Arizona and the nation,” the state had asked the justices to exercise what is known as the Supreme Court’s “original jurisdiction.” In 2007, Purdue Pharma entered into a consent judgment with the state “to resolve the State’s investigation into the company’s misleading marketing of Oxycontin.” The state claimed that the company had violated that consent judgment; at the same time, it alleged, the state had transferred money to the Sacklers, which it wanted to recover to make sure that “the people of Arizona can obtain adequate relief for the devastation that the Sacklers and Purdue have wrought” in the state.
The justices also refused to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upholding a Kentucky law that requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound that includes both describing and displaying the image to the patient. Doctors challenging the law had argued that the law violates their rights under the First Amendment, but today’s order means that the 6th Circuit’s ruling (and the Kentucky law) will be allowed to stand.
The justices will hold their final regularly scheduled conference of the year on Friday, December 13.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.