Supreme Court hears arguments in interstate radioactive waste disposal suit

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in two cases. In Alabama v. North Carolina [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on an interstate dispute over the disposal of radioactive waste. The dispute centers on an agreement, entered into by eight southern states in 1986, for the disposal of the region's low-level radioactive waste. Under the agreement, North Carolina was selected to construct a facility for waste disposal and received financial assistance to that end. However, North Carolina did not obtain a license for the facility and subsequently withdrew from the compact. The four remaining states that are still parties to the agreement brought suit against North Carolina in the Supreme Court seeking enforcement of monetary sanctions. The Court has original jurisdiction over the dispute and agreed to hear the suit in 2003. Both parties were arguing Monday for exceptions to the reports of the special master [preliminary report, PDF; second report, PDF]. Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that, contrary to the special master's reports, they should be entitled to summary judgment:

North Carolina breached the Southeast Compact in this case. Whether you examine it from the perspective of the sanctions that were imposed by the commission or whether you evaluate it from the perspective of the repeated statements by the executives of the commission that there had been a material breach and a repudiation, or whether you examine it from the perspective of the undisputed record that was collected by the special master, the conclusion it seems to me is inescapable that what North Carolina did here by taking no action between December 1997 and July of 1996 simply does not fulfill the responsibilities that they had, that North Carolina had assumed, and therefore the only issue should be what is the appropriate remedy for this extraordinary breach?
Counsel for North Carolina argued that the compact is "based on a consensual model, where it - each - each state can withdraw and therefore the compact has to be in the rough financial interest of each of the States at any point in time."

In Briscoe v. Virginia [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a state violates the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment [text] by allowing a prosecutor to introduce a certificate of a forensic laboratory analysis without presenting the testimony of the analyst who prepared the certificate. The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that there was no Confrontation Clause violation because the accused has a right to call the analyst as his own witness. Just last term, the Court ruled [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] 5-4 in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a forensic analyst's laboratory report is testimonial evidence under the Confrontation Clause, giving criminal defendants a right to cross-examine the analysts. Counsel for the petitioners urged the Court not to reverse that decision:
We ask the Court in this case to take no new ground beyond that established just last term in the Melendez-Diaz case, but the stakes of this case are high. If the Court were to reverse Melendez-Diaz and hold that a State may impose on the defendant the burden of calling a prosecution witness to the stand, it would severely impair the confrontation right and threaten a fundamental transformation in the way Anglo-American trials have been conducted for hundreds of years.
Counsel for the state of Virginia argued that the defendants' rights are adequately protected if the defendant is able to call the witness.


 

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