The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] on racial discrimination in the jury selection process. In Foster v. Chatman [transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court must decide whether the “Georgia courts err[ed] in failing to recognize race discrimination … in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case.” The case involves a black defendant and a white victim. The state of Georgia struck all four black prospective jurors, and the prosecution’s notes later revealed that the prospective jurors had been identified and labeled as black. The Georgia courts found no race discrimination. At argument Monday the justices questioned the lawyers about whether they had authority to hear the case and then spent the rest of the time on the race issue. Many of the justices appeared to side with the petitioner, pointing out that many of the prosecution’s reasons for striking jurors appeared dubious.
The court also heard arguments Monday in Spokeo v. Robins [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] to determine whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute. Plaintiff Thomas Robins seeks statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act [text] for a technical violation of the statute that did not cause him any harm. Robins alleges that defendant Spokeo, Inc. [corporate website], a persons search website, published false information about him. Under the Act, an individual may seek recovery for a bare violation. The case thus raises the constitutional issue of whether the Act confers standing on a plaintiff who alleges a violation of a federal statute but who does not allege any resulting injury. The justices appeared split Monday, with Chief Justice John Roberts pointing out, “we have a legion of cases that say you have to have actual injury.” Justice Elena Kagan, by contrast, suggested that this is exactly the type of injury that Congress set out to remedy.