April 21, 2020

SCOTUS Requires Unanimous Juries

“In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a unanimous jury – but that defendants in state trials do not have such a right. [On Monday], by a vote of 6-3, the justices reversed course, holding that the Sixth Amendment establishes a right to a unanimous jury that applies in both federal and state courts.” SCOTUS Blog

“The justices’ 6-3 vote overturned the conviction of Evangelisto Ramos. He is serving a life sentence in Louisiana for killing a woman after a jury voted 10-2 to convict him in 2016.” AP News

Both sides agree with the decision:

“Living in the state with the second-most exonerations per capita, Louisiana voters had good reason to worry about the state’s nonunanimous jury verdicts. The city of New Orleans owns the unfortunate title of exoneration capital of the United States, with an exoneration rate almost 10 times the national average and almost 64% higher than the second-most exonerated city. As innocent people wrongfully lose their freedom and communities are left with actual criminals still on the streets, these wrongful convictions have a serious human cost…

“Just as both the conservatives and the liberals of the court joined together to end this unjust practice, so too should people of any political persuasion join together to celebrate this outcome.”
Marcus Maldonado, Washington Examiner

“This ruling is important because it continued a trend in which the court has held that protections in the Bill of Rights that originally applied only to the federal government also apply to actions by state governments…

“The court now has said that most of the significant protections of the Bill of Rights — the ones dealing with personal liberty — do apply to the states. That’s not just a legal nicety. At a time when the relationship between the states and the federal government is being newly debated — for example, in relation in immigration — it’s important that there is no daylight between the two when it comes to fundamental rights. Where basic rights are concerned, this must be one country.”
Michael McGough, Los Angeles Times

“Louisiana and Oregon have long since renounced the racist underpinnings of their non-unanimity rule. Yet they nonetheless retained it on less noxious but still ill-conceived reasoning: the theory that non-unanimity discourages hung juries, which waste resources, since cases then have to be retried. Besides ignoring that a unanimous jury is a fundamental right, this theory proceeds on two faulty assumptions: (1) Hung juries are worse than wrongful convictions or acquittals and (2) permitting non-unanimous verdicts makes hung juries less likely — to the contrary; it undermines the spirit of open-minded deliberation that encourages juries to arrive at a consensus.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“A 2018 report from the New Orleans Advocate validated what many had long suspected: that split-decision verdicts were particularly harmful in cases where the defendant was black, or when black people served on majority white juries. According to the paper’s research, black defendants in Louisiana were 30 percent more likely to be convicted by a split jury decision. When jurors don’t have to agree on a decision, jury members with strong dissenting opinions are effectively silenced. The Advocate found that in some parishes, this happened more frequently to black jurors…

“Justice Alito pointed out in Monday’s dissenting opinion that Louisiana and Oregon now face ‘a potential tsunami of litigation’ as defendants seek new trials for convictions that weren’t decided unanimously. But that crush of appeals signifies something valuable—it’s proof of the necessity of today’s ruling. The sheer fact there could be so many people denied a fair and just trial is exactly what made today’s majority opinion so important, and for too many, so overdue.”
Anne Branigin, The Root

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The splintered ruling for Ramos served as a referendum of sorts on stare decisis, the principle that the court decides cases according to past precedent. The issue has become a flash point at the high court in recent years, with the Democratic-appointed minority accusing the Republican-appointed majority of trashing the principle in a series of cases. Those 5-4 lines are skewed in this case, with its patchwork of multiple justices writing opinions and joining parts of others, but the precedent issue will almost surely arise again when, for example, the court rules in an abortion case later this term…

“Alito’s dissent, joined fully by Roberts, argues that ‘the doctrine of stare decisis gets rough treatment in today’s decision.’ He said the majority ‘casts aside an important and long-established decision with little regard for the enormous reliance the decision has engendered.’ Later in his dissent, in the part that Kagan didn’t join, Alito took aim at pronouncements from Democratic-appointed justices on precedent, before concluding that, ‘By striking down a precedent upon which there has been massive and entirely reasonable reliance in this case, the majority sets an important precedent about stare decisis. I assume that those in the majority will apply the same standard in future cases.’”
Jordan S. Rubin, Bloomberg Law

“Kavanaugh concurred with the result but wrote separately to outline his own framework for overturning precedent. In it, he emphasized his view that the Court is more empowered to overrule itself in constitutional matters, especially when its earlier decisions are ‘unmasked as egregiously wrong based on later legal or factual understandings or developments.’… It is easy to see him using this premise to, for example, argue that policies correcting for historical racial discrimination are no longer necessary, or that the fragile framework of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the constitutional right to abortion, is too convoluted to pass constitutional muster.”
Jay Willis, The Appeal

From the Right

“Justice Gorsuch has established himself as a muscular advocate of the Bill of Rights, and that has sometimes aligned him with the liberal Justices in criminal cases…

“Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote separately to outline his principles for when the Court should overturn precedent. Court-watchers will scrutinize that concurrence for hints on how he’ll rule on abortion precedents. As Adam White of the American Enterprise Institute notes, it’s a testament to how much Roe v. Wade has warped jurisprudence that even unrelated rulings are seen through the politicized abortion lens.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“I would like to focus on Justice Kagan’s rather surprising joinder in Justice Alito’s dissent (including in the part in which Alito decries ‘ad hominem [racial] rhetoric’ in the lead opinion). Kagan’s joinder is surprising because I would have thought her much more susceptible than Alito or the Chief to Gorsuch’s plea that no one should vote to ‘leave Mr. Ramos in prison for the rest of his life’ without being ‘prepared to say Louisiana secured his conviction constitutionally under the Sixth Amendment.’…

“One possible explanation for Kagan’s vote is that she holds a very strong view of stare decisis on constitutional questions. Kagan arguably suggested such a view just one year ago, when she joined a much-trumpeted dissent by Justice Breyer (in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt) that vaunted the importance of ‘stability in the law’... But a mere week later she (along with Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor) did not hesitate to overrule a 130-year-old precedent…

“Perhaps Kagan has resolved to try to become more consistent in applying a very strong view of stare decisis. But it’s fair to wonder whether any such resolution is simply strategic—based, that is, on a judgment that, given the revised composition of the Court, she has more to lose than to gain from precedents being overruled.”
Ed Whelan, National Review

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