The most newsworthy cases — gun rights, death penalty, voter laws — have yet to be decided. Click the below link, however, for synopses of the 07-08 term’s most important Supreme Court rulings to date: a case involving federal securities laws, a decision involving principles of Federalism, the International Court of Justice and criminal aliens, a case involving drug laws and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, a landmark criminal procedure decision, and a landmark tort reform decision involving medical devices.
— The Securities Fraud Case
What the Court did: The Court ruled a supplier of a company cannot be sued by investors under federal securities laws for allegedly conspiring with the company’s management to engage in securities fraud.
What it means: For all practical purposes the decision eliminates so-called “third party” securities fraud liability. It takes away several deep pockets from Democrat class action securities attorneys. Instead of being able to sue investment bankers, accounting firms, law firms, and the like, Democrat attorneys will be limited to suing companies and their managements. The decision limits the overall reach of federal securities laws. It boosts the positions of businesses who are subjected to shakedown lawsuits of various types.
How they voted: The majority was made up of Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy.
Winners: Businesses — large and small. Wall St. The job markets. The economy at large. Conservatives. Chambers of Commerce and other pro-business groups.
Losers: Democrat securities lawyers. The Democrat Party. Liberals.
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— The International Court of Justice/Texas-Mexico Criminal Case
What the Court did: The Court ruled states can ignore rulings from the International Court of Justice along with the wishes of the federal executive branch in the imposition of state law criminal judgments and sentences against foreign nationals, regardless whether informal consular requirements were or were not met with respect to the underlying criminal trials of those foreigners.
What it means: It reinforces the fact that states are sovereign governments. Barring the direct violation of a specific provision of a federal treaty, or the U.S. Constitution, a state court is bound only by that state’s own laws and precedents in connection with the administration of its criminal jurisprudence.
How they voted: The majority opinion was on behalf of Justices Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy.
Winners: Criminal prosecutors. State attorneys general. State judicial and legislative branches. Federalism/states’ rights advocates. Separation of powers advocates.
Losers: Foreign nationals who commit state crimes within U.S. borders. Criminal defense attorneys. Liberals. The federal executive branch.
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— U.S. Sentencing Guidelines
What the Court did: In two companion drug cases — one of which involved the race-charged item of crack cocaine — the Court reiterated that federal trial judges have discretion to deviate from federal sentencing guidelines, provided the sentences are reasonable in light of the circumstances.
What it means: Depending upon the predilections of the particular trial judge, federal drug defendants will receive lighter or stricter sentences than those set forth in the guidelines.
How they voted: The majority was made up of Justices Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy . . . Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer and Souter. Go figure.
Winners: Those who believe the federal government is too involved with traditional state law crimes. Federal trial judges. Separation of powers advocates. In some respects those who wish for weaker drug sentences; in other respects those who wish for harsher drug sentences.
Losers: Those who wish for certainty in the application of laws, in general, and of criminal sentences, in particular.
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— The New Rule of Criminal Procedure Case
What the Court did: The Court ruled individual states neither are mandated nor prohibited from applying new federal standards for criminal cases announced by the U.S. Supreme Court to finalized convictions against which prisoners assert challenges via state habeas corpus proceedings.
What it means: It reinforces the notion that states are sovereign governments and can choose how to administer their own habeas corpus laws in light of newly-announced U.S. Constitutional rules of criminal procedure. Depending upon the politics of the particular state, convicted criminals might have better or worse chances of winning state habeas petitions; federal habeas filings are not affected one way or the other.
How they voted: The majority was made up of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito . . . Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer.
Winners: Federalism/states’ rights advocates. In some respects those who wish for weaker criminal punishments; in other respects those who wish for stronger criminal punishments.
Losers: Those with an affinity for uniform laws.
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— The Medical Device Case
What the Court did: The Court ruled medical device manufacturers and distributors cannot be sued under state negligence and product liability laws for injuries caused by defects in their products if those products were approved for sale by the F.D.A.
What it means: Democrat plaintiffs’ attorneys take another huge hit. For all practical purposes the medical device industry is in the clear and now will be spared the costs of vexatious and ruinous litigation.
How they voted: This was an 8-1 decision. The Court’s liberal wing did not bother picking a fight here.
Winners: Consumers of medical device products and the economy at large. Tort reform advocates. The overall healthcare industry. Chambers of Commerce and other pro-business groups. Those with an affinity for uniform laws.
Losers: Democrat plaintiffs’ attorneys. The Democrat Party. Liberals.
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