WASHINGTON (CN) – Closing out a bustling week before summer hiatus, the Supreme Court took up seven cases Thursday and closed the book on dozens more, including one where North Carolina must redraw voting districts that were racially gerrymandered.
In the gerrymandering case, Covington v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court already affirmed judgment last year but proceedings have been ongoing over how the state must remediate the districts.
After the District Court ordered the state to implement the map drawn by a special master, the Supreme Court agreed to issue a stay pending appeal with regard to a pair of remedial districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.
Resolving that appeal Thursday in an unsigned opinion, the high court found that the District Court’s order must be affirmed for Senate Districts 21 and 28 and House Districts 21 and 57.
“The same cannot be said, however, of the District Court’s actions concerning the legislature’s redrawing of House districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties,” the opinion states. “There the District Court proceeded from a mistaken view of its adjudicative role and its relationship to the North Carolina General Assembly.”
Rather than confining its remediation to the issue of legislative districts that were racially gerrymandered, according to the ruling, the District Court’s findings on the Wake and Mecklenburg districts involved violations of the North Carolina Constitution’s ban on mid-decade redistricting.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissent that he objected to the summary disposition, saying the case should have been resolved after briefing and oral argument.
In another summary opinion Thursday, the Supreme Court clawed habeas relief back from to a California killer named Nicholas Beaudreaux. The Ninth Circuit had agreed with Beaudreux’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, but Thursday’s unsigned opinion says the lower court failed to show deference to the state court that ruled against him.
Justice Stephen Breyer noted a dissent but did not otherwise provide an opinion in the case.
The Supreme Court’s third summary reversal Thursday calls for additional briefing in a pro se suit where Mary Anne Sause accuses police in Louisburg, Kansas, of ordering her to stop praying after entering her home.
In another case, the Supreme Court cited its 2017 ruling in the case Jae Lee v. United States as justification for vacating a decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals involving a defendant named Umesh Kaushal. The Lee case involved a Korean immigrant who faced deportation after following his lawyer’s advice to plead guilty to drug charges.
Though the court did not issue an opinion in Kaushal’s case, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas said they would have denied certiorari because Lee was decided a month before the resolution of Kaushal’s case.
Other justices published dissents Thursday with regard to cases where the Supreme Court denied certiorari.
Justice Stephen Breyer used the cases of two men awaiting execution in Mississippi to reiterate his point that “the death penalty, as currently administered, suffers from unconscionably long delays, arbitrary application, and serious unreliability.”
The first of the inmates, Richard Gerald Jordan, has been on death row for nearly 42 years.
“More than a century ago, the court described a prisoner’s 4-week wait prior to execution as ‘one of the most horrible feelings to which [a person] can be subjected,’” Breyer wrote. “What explains the more than 4-decade wait in this case? Between 1976 and 1986, each of Jordan’s first three death sentences was vacated on constitutional grounds, including by this court.”
Jordan’s petition for certiorari noted that the inmate is kept isolated in squalid conditions. Now 72, Jordan has spent more than half of his life on death row. Not other Mississippi inmate has faced a death sentence for as long as Jordan has.
Breyer noted that Jordan’s case and that of a second inmate, Timothy Nelson Evans, illustrate the problem of arbitrariness.
Both men “were sentenced to death in the Second Circuit Court District of Mississippi,” which as Evans noted has accounted for “the largest number of death sentences” of any of the state’s 22 districts since 1976.
“This geographic concentration reflects a nationwide trend,” Breyer wrote. “Death sentences, while declining in number, have become increasingly concentrated in an ever-smaller number of counties.”
Breyer concluded his opinion by noting that “many of the capital cases that come before this court … involve … special problems of cruelty or arbitrariness.”
“Hence, I remain of the view that the court should grant the petitions now before us to consider whether the death penalty as currently administered violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment,” Breyer added.
Another case that inspired dissents Thursday involves a ruling by the Fourth Circuit for Rowan County, North Carolina, to change the prayers it uses to open board meetings.
Joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should have taken up the county’s case.
By emphasizing that the prayers in Rowan “are led by the legislators themselves, not by paid chaplains or guest ministers,” Thomas said, the Fourth Circuit “failed to appreciate the long history of legislator-led prayer in this country, and it squarely contradicted a recent decision of the Sixth Circuit.”
Finally on Thursday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari to E.I. du Pont de Demours & Co.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Thomas concurred in a dissent by Gorsuch, however, that the case offered an opportunity for the court to resolve a circuit split about whether agencies can advance statutory interpretations for the first time in litigation and then demand deference for its view.
No justice issued a dissent meanwhile when the Supreme Court refused Thursday to hear a challenge by First Resort Inc. against a San Francisco law that bars anti-abortion centers from engaging in false or misleading advertising.
“These so-called crisis pregnancy centers engaged in insidious and deceptive practices to trick women in decisions about their bodies,” city attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “These groups are entitled to be advocates, but they’re not entitled to break the law. False and misleading advertising by these clinics is a deceitful practice that preys on women when they least suspect it.”
The court did grant certiorari Thursday in seven cases.
In the case Herrera v. Wyoming, the justices will look at the elk-poaching conviction of Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow Tribe of Indians who engaged in subsistence hunting for his family in the Bighorn National Forest.
A case between Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. and Wall-Street.com asks whether an entity can be said to have registered a copyright claim merely by delivering the required application, deposit and fee to the copyright office.
Splitting with the Fifth and Ninth Circuits here, the 11th Circuit agreed with the 10th Circuit that the claim has been made only once the copyright office acts on the application.
Terance Martez Gamble won a writ of certiorari meanwhile for his challenge to the “separate sovereigns” exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause. This case arose from the 11th Circuit.
In Nieves v. Barlett, which arose from the Ninth Circuit, the justices agreed Thursday to decide whether probable cause defeats a First Amendment retaliatory-arrest claim, just as it defeats a retaliatory-prosecution claim.
Returning to the high court next term is the case Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt.
The justices first took up the case in 2015 and vacated an underlying ruling from the Nevada Supreme Court the following year.
Next term in this case, the justices will decide whether to overrule the 1979 case Nevada v. Hall, which “permits a sovereign state to be haled into another state’s courts without its consent.”
The justices took up a case from the 10th Circuit as well. This case, Obduskey v. McCarthy & Holthus LLP, asks whether the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings.
Finally from the Third Circuit, the justices took up the case Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht.
This case asks whether a failure-to-warn claim under state law is pre-empted when the Food and Drug Administration rejected the drug manufacturer’s proposal to warn about the risk after being provided with the relevant scientific data. “Or must such a case go to a jury for conjecture as to why the FDA rejected the proposed warning,” the petition for certiorari asks.