Supreme Court hears First Amendment, <i>habeas</i> cases News
Supreme Court hears First Amendment, habeas cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in two cases. In Pleasant Grove City, UT v. Summum [oral arguments transcript, PDF; merit briefs], the Court considered whether privately donated monuments displayed in public parks qualify as private speech under the First Amendment, requiring municipalities to display monuments from all other donors. Respondent Summum, a small religious sect, requested permission from Pleasant Grove City to erect a monument of the "Seven Aphorisms of Summum" next to a privately donated monument of the Ten Commandments. When this request was denied, Summum filed a suit against the city, alleging a violation of First Amendment Rights. The district court granted summary judgment for Summum, and the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF], holding that the park was a traditional public forum and that the Ten Commandments monument constituted the private speech of its donor. At oral argument before the Supreme Court Wednesday, counsel for the city argued that the Ten Commandments monument constitutes government speech because it was "selected by the Government, [is] owned by the Government, controlled by the Government, and [is] displayed on Government property. Counsel for Summum argued that the city's denial of Summum's request violated "the core free speech principle that the Government may not favor one message over another in a public forum."

Also Wednesday, the Court heard arguments in Bell v. Kelly [oral arguments transcript; PDF; merit briefs], in which the Court considered whether the deferential standard in the federal habeas statute [28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), text] should be applied to claims a state court did not consider. Edward Bell was convicted of the 1999 murder of a local Virginia police officer and was sentenced to death. Following a number of failed appeals, Bell sought a federal writ of habeas corpus, which was dismissed by the district court. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed [text, PDF] the decision, and Bell then sought certiorari. Bell contends that his counsel was ineffective during sentencing, an argument he was not able to fully develop because of the fact-finding rules imposed in the lower courts. At oral argument, counsel for petitioner Bell argued that "[t]he State court refused to permit the full development of the evidence. And it…misled the court." Counsel for the respondent argued that there was no new claim, saying "[e]verything that he presented in Federal court was presented to the State court. There is absolutely no difference."

– 11/17/2008: The Supreme Court dismissed [order, PDF] the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.