Justices Wrangle Over Juror-Strike Precedent

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas complained Monday about inmates winning Supreme Court relief on the basis of new precedent about discriminatory jury strikes.
     Last month’s decision in Foster v. Chatman revived habeas claims from black man on death row after Georgia prosecutors used peremptory strikes to eliminate all four black prospective jurors.
     Citing this ruling in three cases today, the Supreme Court ruled summarily for Alabama inmate Christopher Floyd, Mississippi inmate Curtis Flowers and Louisiana inmate Jabari Williams.
     Such orders are known as GVRs, short for granting a writ of certiorari, vacating the decision below, and remanding for reconsideration.
     Justice Samuel Alito complained in a dissent today, however, that the court misused the GVR vehicle for Floyd, Flowers and Williams.
     The court usually does not issue an opinion with a GVR, but four of the justices did issue a concurrence for Williams that says a Louisiana procedural rule on juror strikes conflicts with the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky.
     In Batson, the high court set a three-step process for determining when a strike is discriminatory.
     Today’s concurrence says Louisiana veers from this jurisprudence, however, by letting the trial court, rather than the prosecutor, “supply a race-neutral reason at Batson‘s second step if “the court is satisfied that such reason is apparent from the voir dire examination of the juror.”
     Though Batson‘s second step says “the trial court [must] demand an explanation from the prosecutor,” a Louisiana court employed “the rule allowing judge-supplied reasons” when Williams was on trial in 2012, the Supreme Court found today.
     “On remand, the appropriate state court should reconsider petitioner’s argument that the rule cannot be reconciled with Batson,” the concurring opinion states. “A Louisiana court, ‘like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court’s interpretation of federal law.'”
     Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined this concurrence with Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
     Justice Alito dissented, saying “whether petitioner is entitled to relief on this ground has nothing to do with Foster, which ‘address[ed] only Bat­son‘s third step.'”
     Justice Clarence Thomas joined Alito’s dissent and a separate dissent Alito wrote about Flowers.
     The Flowers dissent emphasizes that the court’s “decision in Foster postdated the deci­sion of the Supreme Court of Mississippi in the present case.”
     “This is not a responsible use of the GVR power,” Alito wrote. “In this case, the Supreme Court of Mississippi decided the Batson issue. It found insufficient grounds to overturn the trial judge’s finding that the contested strikes were not based on race. If the majority wishes to review that decision, it should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari, issue a briefing schedule, and hear argument. If the majority is not willing to spend the time that full review would re­quire, it should deny the petition.
     “The court’s decision today is not really a GVR in light of our fact-bound decision in Foster. It is, rather, a GVR in light of our 1986 decision in Batson. But saying that would be ridiculous, because the lower courts fully consid­ered the Batson issue this petition raises. By granting, vacating, and remanding, the court treats the state supreme court like an imperious senior partner in a law firm might treat an associate. Without pointing out any errors in the state supreme court’s analysis, the majority simply orders the state supreme court to redo its work. We do not have that authority.”
     Alito and Thomas said they would deny Floyd’s petition for the same reasons.

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