As we reported here, minutes ago, the Supreme Court ended its session this morning with a surprise announcement: it will return to the bench Thursday for a special sitting that may well include announcement of the long-awaited Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. But that was not all the Court did today. It issued three other noteworthy opinions.
In Kucana v. Holder, the Court strongly affirmed the role of federal courts in reviewing removal or deportation orders in immigration cases. In the case before the justices, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit had interpreted a federal law to find that it did not have jurisdiction to review Justice Department and immigration court decisions not to reopen deportation proceedings.The case involved the deportation of Agron Kucana, an Albanian citizen. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, cited "separation of power concerns" in determining that the executive branch should not have the power to limit the jurisdiction of the judiciary.
Wood v. Allen, new Justice Sonia Sotomayor's second majority opinion, upheld a death sentence in Alabama for defendant Holly Wood against a challenge based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, said that a defense lawyer's failure to investigate "powerful mitigating evidence" was the result of "inattention and neglect."
In South Carolina v. North Carolina, a water dispute that came to the Court under its original jurisdiction, the Court said entities that are not states can, in some circumstances, intervene as parties. By a 5-4 vote, the Court said the Catawba River Water Supply Project and Duke Energy Carolinas had interests separate from the states and could intervene, but the city of Charlotte could not.
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. dissented, voicing concern that the Court's original jurisdiction jurisprudence -- mainly lawsuits between states that are filed with the high court as first resort, not last -- could be altered in a "fundamental way" by allowing private entities to join the litigation as parties rather than as friends of the court. Original cases, he said, could be transformed "from a means of resolving high disputes between sovereigns into a forum for airing private interests."
In passing, Roberts gave a shout-out to the special masters who are appointed by the Court to gather the facts and make recommendations in these original cases. As we reported here, Roberts seemed to minimize the importance of special masters during oral arguments in the Carolinas case last October. He said their recommendations are not entitled to much deference and said the masters are more "more akin to a law clerk than a district judge." In today's dissent, Roberts said the Supreme Court is able to handle complex original cases "by relying on the services of able special masters, who have become vitally important in allowing us to manage our original docket. But the responsibility for the exercise of the Court's original jurisdiction remains ours alone under the Constitution."