Weekly Roundup, December 2, 2016

On Monday the Court heard arguments in Beckles v. United States. The case presents several issues revolving around a sentence enhancement for what prior convictions for what the sentencing guidelines call “a crime of violence.”  The case involves both issues of interpretation of the phrase and a constitutional challenge that it is void for vagueness. During oral arguments, some of the justices noted that the guideline commentary partly interpreted the clause, presumably providing meaning. They also questioned whether the commission could not best clarify its own language. Janice Bergmann, representing Beckles, responded that the guideline language was drawn from the ACCA residual clause, so interpretation or examples offered by the commission would be arbitrary. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben argued for the government. Dreeben presented a due-process framework that is fair but considers “history and practice.” Discretionary sentencing, he explained, is built on “individualization or proportionality.” SCOTUSblog discusses Monday’s arguments in detail, here.

On Tuesday, the Court heard arguments in Moore v. Texas, which presents the issue of whether Texas’s method of determining whether an inmate is intellectually disabled, and therefore cannot be executed, violates the Constitution. Attorney Clifford Sloan, representing Bobby James Moore, argued that the determination of intellectual disability must consider the medical community’s diagnostic framework. The state’s standards date back to 1992. Arguing on behalf of the state, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller said that the Texas framework was not “free-floating” but was consistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Hall v. Florida in 2014 and Atkins v. Virginia in 2002. The New Yorker dives into the life of James Moore in its interesting article titled “Will the Supreme Court stop Texas from executing the intellectually disabled?”

In the final case of the week, Jennings v. Rodriguez, the Court must determine whether immigrants must be guaranteed a bond hearing and possible release from custody. On Wednesday Ahilan Arulanantham of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California argued for detained immigrants. He defended a lower court injunction and argued that the Ninth Circuit’s requirement of a bond hearing every six months was appropriate. Ian Gershengorn, the Acting Solicitor General, argued for the government, and relied on Demore v. Kim, particularly with respect to detaining immigrants convicted of certain crimes. He argued that “[t]he Ninth Circuit’s decision is a serious misuse of the constitutional avoidance canon.” Kevin Johnson breaks down the arguments on either side of this debate via SCOTUSblog.

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