I tried desperately yesterday to find something worth blogging about but my searches were all in vain. Today, however, the Court’s ruling in three death penalty cases is just asking to be blogged about.

In Smith v. Texas, the Court, in an opinion written by the ever-swinging Justice Kennedy, held that Texas’s Court of Criminal Appeals had misapplied the ‘harmless error standard’ to Smith’s case on remand from the federal courts years earlier. The jury in Smith’s trial was could have reasonably “believed it was not permitted to consider Smith’s relevant mitigating evidence … it appears Smith is entitled to relief under the state harmless-error framework.”

Justice Souter penned a brief concurring opinion that is reprinted in its entirety:

I join the Court’s opinion. In some later case, we may be required to consider whether harmless error review is ever appropriate in a case with error as described in Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U. S. 302 (1989). We do not and need not address that question here.

Justice Souter’s opinion highlights the courts willingness to give less narrow review of the harmless error standard at a later date. The Court may have been unable to give that broad review at this time because of the weak majority that they were able to maintain. The four liberal justices (countering the four horsemen perhaps?) were probably forced to give an incredibly narrow ruling in order to swing Justice Kennedy over to their side.

Justice Kennedy was once again given the opportunity to pen the majority opinion in a tight 5-4 split on the Court. As the most senior Associate Justice, Justice Stevens surely granted Justice Kennedy this responsibility in order to get him in his good graces.

More on this case and the other two later today.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Categories

Random Posts

  • Who is Roy W. McLeese?: This morning, as I was perusing next month's hearing list, I noticed a name I wasn't familiar with: Roy W. McLeese. It isn't unusual to see ...
  • PDF Packs for the Past Decade: I've been pillaging the Supreme Court's website in search of PDFs that I can archive for future reference. Using the Court's website and the...
  • An Interview with Michael Dreeben: Michael Dreeben, a Deputy Solicitor General, spent the last semester on leave to teach at Duke University Law School. During his time there,...
  • Supreme Court Justices: Age at Retirement: Using the still-fabulous Supreme Court Compendium data set, I've thrown together a chart plotting the ages of each Justice at retirement. I ...
  • Belated Decade Advocate Scorecard: For one reason or another, it looks like I forgot to post my updated advocate scorecard for the decade at the end of the last term. Origin...