Court creates exception to no-impeachment rule for racial animus

Defendants have a right to an impartial jury, according to the Sixth Amendment, but state and federal laws tend to prohibit digging into jury deliberations to find signs of bias. Jury deliberations are meant to be private and so most challenges that seek to uncover what may have been said in order to prove impartiality are non-starters.

Today, the Supreme Court found an exception to that longstanding custom in a case out of Colorado: Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado.

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Justices Sotomayor and Baer discuss the “Future University Community” at U-M

On Monday, surrounded by first-generation students sitting in rows behind her and adorned in a black robe not unlike the one she wears to oral argument, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor accepted an honorary doctorate of laws from University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel (“Go Blue!” she said, to thunderous applause from an electric crowd, given the snowy weather outside and the early hour). Sotomayor was in Ann Arbor to participate in one of the first events of the University’s bicentennial, a colloquium titled, “The Future University Community.” After receiving her degree, the Justice joined German Justice Susanne Baer for a wide-ranging conversation moderated by NPR journalist Michele Norris.

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Supreme Court Reaffirms Sole Authority to Overrule Precedents

The Supreme Court issued its first decision of the October 2016 term, a per curiam (unsigned) opinion in Bosse v. Oklahoma, on Tuesday, October 11. Bosse, a simple case involving the use of victim impact statements (testimony from the relatives of the victims of a crime) retains some limits that such statements.

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On the Court, Data and Calling Out Lawmakers

Linda Greenhouse eloquently described the recent trend of courts beginning to question legislative intent for discriminating laws in The New York Times last week (The Courts Begin to Call Out Lawmakers). The court’s history of overturning race-neutral laws that discriminate has a fascinating genesis. In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court reviewed a San Francisco ordinance that required consent from the city board to operate a laundry business in a wooden structure. The statute was race-neutral at first glance, but its application was anything but. While nearly every non-Chinese operator received a permit, the board had been so generous to only one Chinese laundry operator, though about two hundred had applied.

The Court decided the case in favor of one such Chinese laundry operator. The decision was unanimous. The year was 1886. It was the first time the Court relied on data to determine whether a law had discriminated.

Few, if any, of the justices serving on the Court at that time have established themselves in the collective American memory. Students may learn about Marshall and Warren, but few will know Chief Justice Morrison Waite, much less his contemporaries. For too long, this was understandable: decisions like Yick Wo were exceptions to the rule of a Court unmoved by discrimination. Fortunately, at least five of our current Justices have begun to transform Yick Wo into a harbinger of a new jurisprudence.

SCOTUS Stays 4th Circuit Ruling in Transgender Bathroom Case

The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided 5-3 to stay a recent decision from a federal appeals court, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, temporarily suspending enforcement of that court’s finding that a trans boy was illegally prevented from using the men’s restroom at his Virginia high school. (Too many negatives? The school has been granted the ability, temporarily, to ban the boy from men’s restrooms in the school.)

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Election Laws Struck Down in Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin

Over the course of two weeks, voting restrictions passed in the wake of the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision have been struck down in three different states — Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

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