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ABA legal positions prevail in recent high court rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered two decisions in February that largely reflect positions taken by the American Bar Association in amicus briefs filed before the court.

On Feb. 20 in Timbs v. Indiana, the high court barred states’ use of excessive forfeiture in civil cases in determining the excessive fines clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment applies to states under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause. In this case, the court ruled that Indiana erred in seizing Tyson Timbs’ $42,000 Land Rover when he faced a maximum $10,000 fine for selling a small amount of heroin. He purchased the vehicle with proceeds from an insurance policy after his father’s death.

The ABA brief, in support of Timbs, urged the court “to consider the fundamental importance of the right to equal justice without regard to economic status and the essential role of the excessive fines clause (of the 8th Amendment) in preserving that right.”

In its 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court found that “protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history for good reason: Such fines undermine other liberties.”

One day earlier, in Moore v. Texas, the justices reversed a decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that cleared the execution of a death row inmate whose lawyers contended he has an intellectual disability under clinical standards. The Supreme Court said the Texas court failed to adhere to the high court’s March 2017 decision that cited Texas’ use of nonclinical factors to reject Moore’s habeas corpus, or due process, application.

In both cases, lawyers for the petitioner, Bobby James Moore, argued their client could not be executed by Texas because his intellectual disability met the clinical standards the Supreme Court set in prior decisions.

The ABA filed a brief in support of Moore, arguing that Texas “failed to faithfully follow” the high court’s previous ruling. By a 6-3 vote, the justices agreed.

Related links:

Timbs v. Indiana

Moore v. Texas