Five decisions emerged this morning from the Supreme Court, but none of them had the words Bilski or Skilling or Black on their front pages, so patent and white-collar crime law aficionados will have to wait until next Monday at the earliest.
But some of the five rulings are making news, most notably Samantar v. Yousuf and Berghuis v. Thompkins.
In Samantar, a case with foreign policy implications, the Court ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not govern whether former foreign officials living in the United States can claim immunity from lawsuits in U.S. Courts. The case arose from efforts to sue Mohamed Ali Samantar, a former top official of Somalia, for torture and abuse conducted by the government on its citizens in the 1980s.
Justice John Paul Stevens, entering his final month on the high court, wrote for a unanimous court that the text of the law, and its legislative history, led to the conclusion that the law was not meant to protect individuals.
Stevens emphasized, however, that this conclusion is narrow, and that Samantar might enjoy immunity under common law principles or "other valid defenses" to be examined by the district court on remand. There were no dissents, but Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, wrote separately to state that Stevens' reference to the legislative history of the statute was unnecessary or, as Scalia put it, "adds nothing except the demonstration of assiduous law-clerk research."
Human rights groups were quick to applaud the ruling. "In the United States, our government officials are not above the law – and the Court’s unanimous ruling today confirms that foreign government officials, who come and avail themselves of the benefits and privileges of living in the U.S., are not above the law either," said Pamela Merchant, executive director of the Center for Justice and Accountability. She was part of the legal team representing Bashe Yousuf, whose suit against Samantar, who lives in Virginia, can now continue.
In the Berghuis v. Thompkins case, a 5-4 majority ruled that a criminal suspect’s silence during police interrogation was not the equivalent of invoking his Miranda right to remain silent. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the suspect’s eventual uncoerced answer to a police question amounted to a waiver of his right to silence. In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision a “substantial retreat from the protection against compelled self-incrimination” embodied in Miranda v. Arizona. More on the ruling later at nlj.com.
Today’s other decisions: Carr v. United States, on the registration of sex offenders; Levin v. Commerce Energy, on federal court jurisdiction over state tax disputes; and Alabama v. North Carolina, a long-running dispute over the location of a storage site for low-level radioactive waste.
UPDATE: Our story on Berghuis v. Thompkins appears here.