The US Supreme Court [official website] issued its final orders [order list, PDF] of the term Thursday, granting certiorari in two cases, and sending several controversial cases back to lower courts for reconsideration. In White v. Woodall [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will consider jury instructions in a death penalty case. Robert Keith Woodall pleaded guilty to murder and chose not to testify during the penalty phase. His request that the jury be instructed not to draw any adverse inference from his decision not to testify was denied, and the jury sentenced him to death. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted habeas relief [opinion]. The questions before the court are (1) whether the Sixth Circuit violated 28 USC §2254(d)(1) [text] by granting habeas relief on the trial court's failure to provide a no adverse inference instruction even though the Supreme Court has not "clearly established" that such an instruction is required in a capital penalty phase when a non-testifying defendant has pleaded guilty to the crimes and aggravating circumstances; and (2) whether the Sixth Circuit violated the harmless error standard in Brecht v. Abrahamson [opinion] in ruling that the absence of a no adverse inference instruction was not harmless in spite of overwhelming evidence of guilt and in the face of a guilty plea to the crimes and aggravators.
In Paroline v. United States [docket] the court will decide what, if any, causal relationship or nexus between the defendant's conduct and the victim's harm or damages must the government or the victim establish in order to recover restitution under 18 USC § 2259 [text]. The case involves restitution for a victim of child pornography. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] "that § 2259 imposes no generalized proximate cause requirement before a child pornography victim may recover restitution from a defendant possessing images of her abuse."
In Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice [docket; cert. petition, PDF], a case concerning abortion-inducing drugs, the court certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma: Whether HB 1970 [text, DOC], Section 1, Chapter 216, OSL 2011 prohibits: (1) the use of misoprostol to induce abortions, including the use of misoprostol in conjunction with mifepristone according to a protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration; and (2) the use of methotrexate to treat ectopic pregnancies. The court reserved further proceedings in the case until it receives a response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which struck down [JURIST report] HB 1970 in December, along with an abortion ultrasound law. Oklahoma's attorney general petitioned the Supreme Court for review [JURIST report] in March.
The court also sent two Texas voting rights [JURIST backgrounder] cases back to the US District Court for the District of Columbia for reconsideration in light of its decision in Shelby County v. Holder [JURIST report], which struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) [Cornell LII backgrounder]. Texas v. Holder [docket] concerns Texas' voter ID law, and Texas v. United States [docket] concerns redistricting [JURIST reports].
Also Thursday the court declined to review two new same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] cases. In Brewer v. Diaz [docket] the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down [JURIST report] an Arizona law denying benefits to same-sex partners of public employees. In Coalition for Protection of Marriage v. Sevcik [docket] the US District Court for the District of Nevada dismissed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban. The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, a non-profit group which opposes same-sex marriage, petitioned the Supreme Court for review [JURIST report] before the Ninth Circuit could hear the case.