Fair Courts E-lert: SCOTUS Considers Bias in Jury Deliberations; Justice Moore Appeals Suspension

October 14, 2016

SUPREME COURT

SCOTUS Considers Racial Bias in Jury Deliberations

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case asking whether “racial bias in the jury room provides a limited basis for breaching the centuries-old legal principle of secrecy in jury deliberations,” according to the Associated Press. The article states, “several justices appeared persuaded that allegations of racial bias against defendant Miguel Angel Peña Rodriguez justify piercing the sanctity of jury deliberations when the constitutional right to a fair trial is at stake.” However, some justices “worried that such a ruling could lead to widespread claims of bias.” Justice Roberts asked: “Why would discrimination on the basis [of] sex, religious and sexual orientation get a different reception?” Peña Rodriguez’s attorney, Jeffrey Fisher observed that “18 states allow racial bias claims to be investigated, and their courts have not been overwhelmed by claims.” Rachel Kovner, a Justice Department lawyer who argued on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting Colorado, said “there are ways to address [racial bias] without undermining structural protections of the jury system that have withstood legal challenges for hundreds of years.”

JUDICIAL ETHICS

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Appeals Suspension and Seeks Recusal of Justices

Chief Justice Roy Moore has appealed his suspension from the Alabama Supreme Court and is seeking to have four state supreme court justices and three temporary justices recused from hearing the appeal, writes Brian Lyman for the Montgomery Advertiser. In January, Justice Moore “issued an order telling probate judges they had a ‘ministerial duty’ to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” six months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. On September 30th, “the Court of the Judiciary convicted Moore and suspended him for the rest of his term,” concluding that his order was “in direct defiance of the United States Supreme Court.” Moore’s recusal motion accuses the justices of “biased and unconscionable actions” related to matters under seal and also names one justice, Greg Shaw, who criticized Moore’s position on Obergefell as “silly.”  

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

MT High Court Candidates Discuss Influence of Campaign Spending on the Court

Candidates for the Montana Supreme Court held a forum on Monday to discuss issues facing the court and trends seen in this year’s high court races, writes Jayme Fraser for The Montana Standard. According to Fraser, the candidates spent some time discussing the “spike in spending on judicial campaigns” and “public concerns over whether the justices who are elected” can be impartial because of it. Fraser writes that “[m]ore than $1.1 million has been raised by [Kristen] Juras, [Dirk] Sandefur and organizations supporting their campaigns, according to state campaign finance records.” Sandefur said: “We have out-of-state corporate money being dumped into Montana by the Koch brothers and major companies not in Montana, who don’t give a hoot...about crime victims...[or] criminal justice,” referring to recent ads attacking his record on criminal justice. He suggested these groups were spending in support of his opponent Juras because they think she “will best suit their needs [and] do their bidding on our court.” Juras said she’d “just as soon not have any independent expenditures in the race [because] [f]rankly, we have no control over it.” She added that spending by attorneys who later appear before the court “causes concern.”

JUDICIAL PROCEDURE

MS Supreme Court Seeks Comments on Rules Unifying Criminal Law Procedures

The Mississippi Supreme Court is seeking comment on proposed new criminal procedure rules, writes Arielle Dreher for the Jackson Free Press. According to Dreher, these rules are the result of “[a]n independent study group made up of attorneys, former judges, and law professors from around the state [who] reviewed for six years the existing criminal court rules and drafted potential changes,” and a further review from a “committee of Mississippi Supreme Court...justices” that reviewed those recommendations over the past five years. Dreher explains that the rules will “clarify and emphasize the rights and rules of those being arrested.” According to Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey, there is currently “no consistency from place to place.” Steffey said the changes will “update outdated practices regarding plea bargaining and bail as well as eliminate the possibility that one judge can determine how to interpret a rule and run their court in a certain way.” Chief Justice Waller said “[i]t's an important advancement to organize and bring uniformity to the criminal justice process.”