Findlaw Case Summaries: U.S. Supreme Court. 01/26/2010

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CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE, EVIDENCE, HABEAS CORPUS, PER CURIAM McDaniel v. Brown, No. 08-559 In habeas proceedings arising from a rape conviction, a circuit court of appeals’ order affirming the grant of petitioner’s habeas petition is reversed and remanded where: 1) the court of appeals’ analysis failed to preserve the factfinder’s role as weigher of the evidence by reviewing all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, and it erred in finding a state court’s resolution of petitioner’s claim to be objectively unreasonable; and 2) petitioner forfeited his claim that a prosecution expert incorrectly described the statistical implications of certain DNA evidence.

CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE, HABEAS CORPUS, SENTENCING Smith v. Spisak, No. 08–724 In capital habeas proceedings, a grant of petitioner’s habeas petition is reversed where a state court’s rejection of claimed errors regarding jury instructions and verdict forms, as well as ineffective assistance of counsel, was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as: 1) the jury instructions and forms in the penalty phase made clear that, to recommend a death sentence, the jury had to find unanimously that each of the aggravating factors outweighed any mitigating circumstances, but they did not say that the jury had to determine the existence of each individual mitigating factor unanimously; and 2) even assuming that defense counsel’s closing argument was inadequate in the respects claimed by petitioner, there was no reasonable probability that a better closing argument without such defects would have made a significant difference.

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW, CONTRACTS, GOVERNMENT LAW, PUBLIC UTILITIES NRG Power Mktg., LLC v. Maine Pub. Utils. Comm., No. 08–674 In a petition for review of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of a settlement agreement establishing rate-setting mechanisms for the sale of energy capacity in the New England region, circuit court’s partial grant of the petition is reversed where: 1) the Mobile-Sierra presumption does not depend on the identity of the complainant who seeks FERC investigation, and the presumption is not limited to challenges to contract rates brought by contracting parties; and 2) contrary to the ruling below, the Mobile-Sierra presumption applies when a rate challenge is brought by a non-contracting third party
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW, IMMIGRATION LAW Kucana v. Holder, No. 08–911 In a petition for review of the BIA’s denial of petitioner’s motion to reopen his removal proceedings, the court of appeals’ denial of the petition is reversed where 8 U.S.C. section 1252(a)(2)(B)’s proscription of judicial review applies only to Attorney General determinations made discretionary by statute, not to determinations declared discretionary by the Attorney General himself through regulation. .

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CIVIL PROCEDURE, GOVERNMENT LAW, WATER LAW S. Carolina v. N. Carolina, No. 138 In an original jurisdiction action by South Carolina seeking an equitable apportionment with North Carolina of the Catawba River’s waters, the special master’s grant of three nonparties’ motions to intervene is affirmed in part as to two of them where: 1) the Catawba River Water Supply Project was properly permitted to intervene because it showed a compelling interest in protecting the viability of its operations, which were premised on a fine balance between the joint venture’s two participating counties; and 2) Duke Energy was also properly allowed to intervene because it was likely that any equitable apportionment of the river would need to take into account the amount of water that Duke Energy needed to sustain its operations. However, the order is reversed in part where the interest of Charlotte, North Carolina was not sufficiently unique and would be properly represented by North Carolina.

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, ELECTIONS Citizens United v. FEC, No. 08–205 The Court rules that the government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether. Specifically, in an action brought by a nonprofit corporation, the makers of a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, challenging the constitutionality of a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures for speech that was an “electioneering communication” or for speech that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a candidate, a denial of a preliminary injunction for plaintiff is reversed in part where Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652 (1990), is overruled, and thus provides no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures. Hence, the part of McConnell v. Federal Election Comm’n, 540 U.S. 93 (2007), that upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act section 203’s extension of section 441b’s restrictions on independent corporate expenditures is also overruled. However, the order is affirmed in part where BCRA sections 201 and 311 were valid as applied to the ads for the documentary and to the movie itself because disclaimer and disclosure requirements may burden the ability to speak, but they impose no ceiling on campaign-related activities, or prevent anyone from speaking.

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