Tuesday, April 12, 2011

City of Reno v. Conn, 131 S.Ct. 1812 (2011)

Fortunately for those who live within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit, the Supreme Court reversed that court's opinion in  Conn v. City of Reno, 591 F.3d 1081 (2010) en banc.  Without repeating the facts of that case in their entirety, two police officers arrested a woman who, on the trip to jail, announced she was going to commit suicide.  At the moment, the announcement was ludicrous although she made a futile attempt to do so. Officers took her to a suicide prevention nurse and the City took other steps to evaluate the threat.  Ultimately she committed suicide while in custody.
Her estate sued under a variety of claims and the 9th Circuit majority found the officers liable on a flimsy  Constitutional basis.  Rather then report the court decision, here are the words of the eight dissenting judges: "Until this opinion came along, police officers weren't required to serve as babysitters, psychiatrists or social workers, and judges didn't run suicide-prevention programs. Responsibility for preventing suicide rested with the individual and the family, not the state. But the panel has discovered that the Constitution demands a change in job description: Judges will henceforth micromanage the police, who in turn will serve as mental health professionals. The panel's reasoning has no stopping point, and our decision to let it stand threatens unprecedented judicial intervention in our local institutions.
At bottom, this case raises the question of whether the state has a legal (as opposed to moral) obligation to provide for the health of its citizens. We have repeatedly rejected the idea that such an obligation exists;  DeShaney v. Winnebago Co. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989). This is in part because the benevolent welfare state is in tension with our tradition of liberty and individual dignity . . . What the state provides for you, you do not provide for yourself, and as the sphere of public largesse grows, the realm of private initiative retreats. It also reflects a judgment that any redefinition of the role of the state should occur under the supervision of democratically elected officials, not unaccountable federal judges. States may obligate themselves, but they should not have novel duties thrust upon them by judicial fiat."
The State of Nevada sought cert., and the Supreme Court granted the request. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded part of the case (negligent training of officers by municipality (City of Reno v. Conn, 131 S.Ct. 1812. (2011), but in its decision did not reach plaintiff's other claims. On remand from the Supreme Court, the 9th Circuit panel merely reinstated its original decison (591 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2010), vacated the issue of negligent training, remanded  to the district court, and upheld the district court ruling on summary judgment against the City.  The district court may now try the case or hold additional hearings. Another waste of time; Conn v. City of Reno, 2011 WL 404336 (C.A. 9).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ar.Christ.Sch.Tuition v. Winn, 131 S.Ct. 1436 (2011)

The State of Arizona established a tax credit to any taxpayer who elected to contribute to a school tuition organization of their choice and recognized and approved by the state. The credit applied to secular and religious schools and a taxpayer could decline to seek the credit.  Disgruntled taxpayers alleged an Establishment Clause violation and the 9th Circuit agreed.
The Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit (again) and held the state extracted no money from its citizenry and the deduction was voluntary.
In an easy reversal of the 9th Circuit, the Court held the taxpayers who objected to this statute lacked standing to initiate a challenge.  Taxpayers suits have been repeatedly denied on grounds a general objection to tax policy is a legislative issue, not judicial; U.S. Const., Article III.
The Supreme Court again reminds federal appellate courts of the tripartite branch of government and unless the state explicitly applies taxpayer funds to a religious entity the legislative decision is unassailable in court.

Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388 (2011)

Note: this case has been previously reviewed and discussion of the facts and the relevant statutes in the 9th Circuit case are not repeated. The details of the brutal killing described in an earlier blog require no repetition.
Pinholster was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by a California jury and judge in 1984-twenty seven years ago.  The California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and penalty on appeal, and denied two petitions for habeas corpus alleging ineffective counsel.
The U.S. District Court subsequently held an evidentiary hearing. Pinholster presented evidence never previously submitted to the California Supreme Court, and the trial judge granted the petition upon finding counsel "ineffective." On appeal of the district court decision by the State, the 9th Circuit agreed the court could hear previously unsubmitted evidence on federal habeas corpus. Eight judges dissented.

This incomprehensible rule was jettisoned by the Supreme Court.  The Justices reversed the 9th Circuit (again), enforcing application of 28 U.S.C.2254 (d) (AEDPA), the statutory limitation on federal intervention of state court decisions on collateral review.

In the future, a federal habeas court is forbidden from considering any evidence not presented to a state court on a habeas petition; 28 U.S.C. 2254 (d) (1).  The Supreme Court: "Today . . . we hold that evidence introduced in a federal court has no bearing on § 2254(d)(1) review. If a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by a state court, a federal habeas petitioner must overcome the limitation of § 2254(d)(1) on the record that was before that state court." And this: "It would be strange to ask federal courts to analyze whether a state court's adjudication resulted in a decision that unreasonably applied federal law to facts not before the state court."
The Supreme Court also rejected the Ninth Circuit decision that the California Supreme Court improperly ruled on the ineffective counsel claim, citing the seminal case of Strickland v. Washington, (cite omitted). The Supreme Court repeatedly reminded the 9th Circuit that the test for "ineffective counsel" is not based on an independent review of the state court case comparable to ruling on direct appeal but whether its decision was unreasonable under 2254.

The language in Pinholster  should end the repeated attempts by the 9th Circuit to circumvent the law on "ineffective counsel."