Conference Report: March 23 and 29 Conferences

The Supreme Court added only one new case to its docket for next year in its two most recent Conferences, held on March 23 and March 29. The Court granted certiorari in Stokeling v. United States, a case about the definition of “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”), 18 U.S.C. §924(e)(2)(B)(i). Because some state robbery offenses include the common law requirement of overcoming “victim resistance” as an element of the crime, the offense is often categorized as a violent felony mandating stricter sentencing. However, in this case, Florida state appellate courts have interpreted robbery offenses in the state to require only slight force. Petitioner argued that because only slight force is required, these robbery offenses should not automatically be considered violent felonies under the ACCA. The Eleventh and Tenth Circuits have held that a robbery conviction is categorically a “violent felony” within the ACCA’s elements clause. The Fourth Circuit, however, has concluded that some common law robbery offenses should not automatically be considered an ACCA “violent felony.” For more on the Armed Career Criminal Act, check out this link.

The Court also granted certiorari in Kisela v. Hughes and summarily reversed, without briefing, the Ninth Circuit in an excessive force case. Kisela, a police officer, shot and wounded Hughes, who was acting erratically and carrying a knife, and the officers perceived her as threatening another woman on the scene. Hughes sued Kisela, alleging that he had used excessive force in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Kisela on qualified immunity grounds, holding that the Fourth Amendment violation was obvious and because there was analogous circuit precedent. The Supreme Court held that they did not need to reach the constitutional issue because Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity because he did not have fair notice under clearly established law that his conduct was unlawful. The Court took the time to scold the Ninth Circuit for defining clearly established law at a high level of generality, which the Court said it had “repeatedly told courts – and the Ninth Circuit in particular” not to do. The case was remanded to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings.

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, dissented, arguing that granting Kisela qualified immunity gave him a shield against liability for clearly excessive behavior. Justice Sotomayor pointed out that Kisela did not observe the Respondent commit a crime, nor was she suspected of committing one. Further, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the summary reversal in this case is an “extraordinary remedy” and “symptomatic of ‘a disturbing trend regarding the use of this Court’s resources.’” She cautioned that this approach transforms qualified immunity into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers and guts the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment.

Justice Sotomayor also dissented from the denial of certiorari in Cozzie v. Florida and Guardado v. Jones, claiming that the Court has failed to address substantial Eighth Amendment challenges to capital defendants’ sentences for the second time. The issue is that the Petitioners in these cases were sentenced to death under a sentencing scheme that the Supreme Court has since been declared unconstitutional. In these cases, the Florida Supreme Court has declined to disturb the Petitioners’ capital sentences, finding that unanimous jury recommendations of the death penalty shows that the juries made the proper findings of fact under Hurst v. Florida. However, those juries were instructed that their role was merely advisory, and not the ultimate determination of death. This jury instruction was found to be impermissible in Caldwell v. Mississippi. Justice Sotomayor argues that the Supreme Court should intervene and force the Florida Supreme Court to address these issues. Courthouse News Services has more information about these fiery dissents, here.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the Court has not issued an order in Azar v. Garza, which was listed as being one of the five cases to watch at this Supreme Court Conference in an article written by Marcia Coyle. A pregnant teenager was caught illegally entering the United States and the federal government initially refused to let her leave the shelter she was being held in to obtain an abortion. The teenager, who is referred to as “Jane Doe,” was initially scheduled to have an appointment for counseling on October 25 and the abortion on October 26, but when her doctor became available, she was able to get the abortion on the morning of October 25, before the government could get the Supreme Court to prevent the procedure. The government is asking the Court to discipline Jane Doe’s attorneys for their conduct in this case. Rewire News publisjed two articles on this case, one supporting the government’s position and another supporting Jane Doe’s position.

To read the one of the Order Lists itself, click here; for a more reader-friendly discussion written by Amy Howe, click here. As always, check in regularly with ISCOTUSnow to stay up to date on the Supreme Court!

Written by ISCOTUS Fellows Zoe Arthurson-McColl and Eva Dickey, Chicago-Kent Class of 2020, edited by ISCOTUS Editorial Coordinator Anna Jirschele, Chicago-Kent Class of 2018, and overseen by ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent faculty member Carolyn Shapiro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *