The Supreme Court returned from a two-week recess today with a whimper, not a bang. It issued only one opinion, and granted no new ones, still leaving undecided around 30 of the Court's cases argued this term. It's going to be a busy June.
The decision du jour is Schriro v. Landrigan the case of Arizona death row inmate Jeffrey Landrigan, who blocked his lawyer's attempts to present mitigating evidence at sentencing. An Arizona court rejected his subsequent claim that his lawyer should have done more to present mitigating evidence. But in federal habeas proceedings, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed, finding Landrigan was entitled to a hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
By a 5-4 margin, the high court reversed the 9th Circuit. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority, which included Justice Anthony Kennedy -- like every 5-4 decision this term. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens pointedly quoted statements by Kennedy from prior opinions, but the pitch did not win Kennedy over.
Also Monday, Ford Motor won a significant victory when the Court sent back to lower courts a large punitive damage judgment in a California Ford Explorer rollover case. In the case Ford Motor Company v. Benetta Buell-Wilson, as soon as the Court issued the punitives-limiting decision in Philip Morris v. Williams in February, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher representing Ford, urged the Court to kick the Ford case back to lower courts for a reassessment. "This is a very good result," says Gibson's Theodore Boutrous Jr., who says the case now returns to California courts for arguments over liability standards and a possible new trial.