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Supreme Court opens October 2010 term with arguments on bankruptcy, sentencing

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] opened its October 2010 term Monday by hearing oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] in Ransom v. MBNA [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report]. In this case, the court is considering whether, in calculating a debtor's "projected disposable income" during the plan period, a bankruptcy court may allow an ownership cost deduction for vehicles only if the debtor is actually making payments on the vehicles. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that the bankruptcy court may not allow such deductions. Counsel for the debtor, Jason Ransom, argued that, "[i]n 2005 when Congress passed the Bankruptcy Act, it made a policy decision to limit judicial discretion on a case-by-case basis in the area of reasonable and necessary expenses." Counsel for the respondent, MBNA, argued that, "[t]he Bankruptcy Code precludes an above-median income debtor like Petitioner from shielding from his creditors $471 a month for a car payment that he does not have." Counsel for the US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of the respondent.

In the consolidated cases of Abbott v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] and Gould v. United States, the court heard arguments on whether the minimum sentencing guidelines for armed offenses in 18 USC § 924(c) [text] include the drug offense giving rise to the sentence, or another weapons offense for the same transaction. Counsel for the petitioner Carlos Gould argued, "[t]he Government ... advocates a narrow construction that is not supported by the text and defends it primarily on the basis that section 924(c) supposedly should always produce the most severe minimum sentence for every defendant. Respectfully, the Government's interpretation is incorrect." Counsel for the US government argued that "the 'except clause' is triggered by an offense which has a greater mandatory minimum and which has the same elements as and is the same offense as a section 924(c) offense."

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