Fall 2004

Supreme Court Update:
Discrimination, Sentencing, Criminal Procedure Cases to Highlight 2004-05 Term

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2004-2005 docket includes cases concerning discrimination on the basis of race, age, and sex, the constitutionality of certain sentencing practices, and criminal procedure issues.

Several cases this term will focus on civil rights and equal treatment before the law. In Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education (No. 02-1672), the Court will decide whether Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 implicitly provides a private right of action to individuals who, although not themselves the victims of gender discrimination, suffer retaliation because they have complained about gender discrimination against others. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that Jackson, a high school girl’s basketball coach fired because of his accusations of discriminatory practices against his team, enjoyed no such right of action. The ABA has filed a Section-sponsored amicus curiae brief in the case on petitioner’s behalf.

On the heels of its landmark decision last term in General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. v. Cline, 124 S.Ct. 1236 (2004), in which it held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) did not apply to situations of reverse age discrimination, the Court will decide in Smith v. City of Jackson (No. 03-1160) whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under the ADEA. Currently there is a five-to-three circuit split over the application of the ADEA to such claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit determined that the claimants, police officers and dispatchers employed by the City of Jackson, Mississippi, could not bring a disparate impact claim under the Act. In Johnson v. Gomez (No. 03-638), the Court will consider whether California’s practice of segregating state prisoners by race for at least 60 days violates the Equal Protection Clause. The case arises from a challenge by a prisoner at a state prison where inmates are routinely assigned to cellmates of the same race while undergoing evaluations to determine permanent assignment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the State’s safety concerns about racial tensions between inmates were reasonably related to the segregation practice.

Early in the term the Court will hear consolidated cases addressing federal sentencing guidelines. In United States v. Booker (No. 04-104) and United States v. Ducan Fanfan (No. 04-105), the question before the Court is whether the Sixth Amendment is violated when a judge imposes an enhanced sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines based upon the judge’s determination of a fact that was not found by the jury or confessed by the defendant. The Court agreed to hear this case to determine the effects of Blakely v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. 2531 (2004), in which it invalidated a Washington statute authorizing a sentence outside the established range if the judge found other aggravating factors. In Booker, the defendant, although receiving a sentence at the bottom of the sentencing range, argued that giving the judge any discretion in this regard violates his right to trial by jury.

Another sentencing-related case likely to draw attention is Roper v. Simmons (No. 03-633), in which the Court will consider whether, once it holds that a particular punishment is not “cruel and unusual” and thus not barred by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, a lower court can reach a contrary decision based on its own analysis of evolving standards. It also will decide whether a death sentence for a person who commits murder at age 17 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court of Missouri set aside the death sentence of Simmons, who had committed murder at 17, and re-sentenced him to life imprisonment, refusing to follow Stanford v. Kentucky, 492 U.S. 361 (1989), in which the Supreme Court declined to bar the execution of offenders who were 16 or 17 years-old at the time of their crimes because there was not then a national consensus against such executions. The Supreme Court of Missouri determined that such a national consensus against executing juvenile offenders has since developed. The ABA filed an amicus brief in the case in support of the respondent.

Also on the 2004-05 docket are the following criminal procedure cases:

· Devenpeck v. Alford (No. 03-710) (whether an arrest violates the Fourth Amendment when a police officer has probable cause to make an arrest for one offense, if that offense is not closely related to the offense articulated by the officer at the time of the arrest);

· Illinois v. Caballes (No. 03-923) (whether the Fourth Amendment requires reasonably articulable suspicion to justify using a drug-detection dog during a legitimate traffic stop); and

· Muehler v. Mena (No. 03-1423) (whether asking questions about criminal activity pursuant to a valid search warrant constitutes an unconstitutional seizure when an officer does not have probable cause to believe that a person has engaged in criminal activity).

· Florida v. Nixon (No. 03-931) (whether the Florida Supreme Court erred in concluding that Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238 (1969) prohibited trial counsel from adopting a strategy, after fully informing his client and without objection from the client, not to contest overwhelming evidence of guilt to protect the best interest of his client in contesting the appropriateness of imposing the death penalty).

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