Supreme Court Case Summaries: Professor Rory Little’s Perspective
A Service from the ABA Criminal Justice Section, http://www.abanet.org/crimjust
These summaries are written by Professor Rory K. Little (firstname.lastname@example.org), U.C. Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco, who has long presented “Annual Review of the Supreme Court’s Term” program at the ABA’s Annual Meetings. They represent his personal, unofficial views of the Justices’ opinions. The original opinions should be consulted for their authoritative content.
The CJS hopes these summaries will be helpful to members, because they are different from the average news or blog account, in at least three ways: first, a detailed account of the rationale of ALL the opinions issued in a case, including nuances found in separate concurring and dissenting opinions; second, an account of the decision that is essentially “neutral” — that is, not really a “perspective” in the sense of the author’s personal opinions, but rather a straightforward account that can be relied upon by lawyers of all stripes; and then third, a bit of “inside baseball” analysis of some of the twists or nuances that are not apparent in the opinion.
U.S.. Supreme Court Summaries – Criminal Cases June 24, 2010
Mail/Wire Fraud and “Honest Services” – Three cases:
Skilling v. United States, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1394.pdf
Black v. United States, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-876.pdf
Weyhrauch v. United Sates, http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-876.pdf
On June 24, the Court issued its long-awaited opinions in the trio of “honest services” mail and wire fraud cases. The Court (6-3) upheld the “honest services” statute, but limited it to schemes of “bribery and kickbacks.” Interestingly, in the lead case of former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, the Court’s major effort was spent not on mail fraud, but on the pretrial-publicity juror bias claims that Skilling presented, and the Skilling opinion will stand more as a major decision in that constitutional area than on the statutory definition (which is changeable by Congress) of mail fraud. Each holding (due process and mail fraud) was a 6-3 vote, but different Justices were the dissenters on each. And, perhaps significantly or perhaps not, this is the first decision in which the two women on the Court disagreed in written opinions, Justice Ginsburg writing the majority and Justice Sotomayor dissenting on the due process-fair trial ruling.
The various Skilling opinions consume 114 pages. The Court also eclipses what probably was not a record of three days ago (the six-page syllabus in Humanitarian Law Prroject) with a nine-page syllabus here. Yes, there are a lot of pages here, but nine pages for an allegedly accessible “summary” of the opinion is, for the Court, pretty silly.
In Black, the Court applied its Skilling mail fraud ruling to hold that Conrad Black’s jury instructions were erroneous, and remanded for a harmless-error analysis (as it did in Skilling). The Court also reversed the Seventh Circuit’s ruling that Black had forfeited his jury instruction challenge by opposing the government’s more-precise special verdict form, and provides an important discourse on courts of appeal imposing sanctions that the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure don’t specify, without notice.
Finally, in one sentence the Court simply vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Weyhrauch and remanded for further proceedings in light of Skilling.
Summaries of the various Justices’ opinions follow.