The U.S. Supreme Court today over-ruled, 6-3, its really bad 1972 holding that rights, like the 6th amendment fair trial requirements, were not necessarily incorporated into the states by the 14th. Oregon and Louisiana, astoundingly, did not require unanimous jury verdicts of guilty in criminal cases, allowing 10-2 convictions. In Louisiana, the anomaly was an 1898 relic of the Jim Crow era; I have no idea what Oregon’s excuse was.
Louisianans voted in 2018 to do away with the practice, passing an amendment to the state constitution requiring unanimous verdicts going forward. But up to a hundred prisoners, like Evangelisto Ramos who was serving a life prison sentence after being convicted of murder in a 10-2 jury vote, will get new trials because their convictions came under the old, unconstitutional law and their appeals aren’t exhausted. The case is Louisiana v. Ramos.
Two aspects of the decision are especially noteworthy, other than the fact that its seems obviously correct.
First, it overturned a precedent. The doctrine of stare decisis does not mean that the Court should never overrule erroneous precedents, but that there should be an automatic reluctance to do so without overwhelming reasons. As the majority opinion pointed out, every justice now on the current court has voted in the past to overrule multiple constitutional precedents. That issue may explain the second noteworthy aspect of the case: the unusual philosophical split.
Justice Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas Justice Samuel Alito dissented and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan. So much for the insulting rhetoric from both parties (and many journalists) that reduced the court to partisan voting blocks.The decision would have to be termed a liberal one, as it is conservatives who generally support federalism as well as adherence to stare decisus. So how did Clarence Thomas, among others, end up in the majority while Elena Kagan voted conservatives Roberts and Alito?
Theories abound. One can concoct motives with sinister portent: maybe Gorsuch, Thomas and Kavanaugh voted to reverse precedent in order to weaken the stare decisus doctrine in preparation for an attack on Roe v. Wade. maybe Justice Kagan was willing to let a hundred unjustly convicted Louisiana prisoners rot in prison in order to protect Roe. But abortion advocates should take solace in the fact that Justice Alito’s dissent includes a ringing defense of stare decisus. His vote would be necessary, presumably, to create any 5-4 decision overturning Roe.
The undeniable fact, however, is that this was the right call, and one that reverses a wrong of long-standing.
You should read the opinions though, and they are here.