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Supreme Court hears arguments in drug sentencing, international arbitration cases
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Supreme Court hears arguments in drug sentencing, international arbitration cases

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases Tuesday. The two cases cover the application of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) and the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (known as the New York Convention).

In the first case, Shular v. United States, a Florida man was convicted of illegally possessing a firearm as a felon. His sentence was lengthened under the ACCA in part because of a prior drug offense. Shular’s attorneys argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday that his prior offense should not count as a “serious drug offense” as contemplated by the ACCA because Florida law does not require that criminal intent be proven. “The question here is whether Congress intended convictions under such an aberrational law to support the extreme sentencing enhancement,” Shular’s attorney stated, arguing that “the answer is no.” In response, the attorney from the Department of Justice argued that the “involvement” of the drugs in the offense is a plain enough reason to activate the ACCA, and that Shular’s suggested “categorical” approach “would increase the risk of arbitrary sentencing disparities.”

In the other case, GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA LLC, the two companies that are parties to the dispute are asking the court for different interpretations of an international treaty that enforces private arbitration agreements when one of the parties is from abroad. Outokumpu, from the US, sued the French GE company after work it did under a contract between Outokumpu and another company went awry. GE wants to enforce the arbitration agreement that Outokumpu had with the other company to keep their dispute out of court. At argument on Tuesday, GE’s attorney told the justices that although the New York Convention is silent on whether third parties can enforce arbitration, “other contracting states are close to unanimous” in saying that it doesn’t stop domestic law from doing so. Outokumpu, in response, argued that there is widespread agreement that “extension of an arbitration agreement to non-parties is supposed to be rare” and that finding for GE would problematically mean that “essentially all subcontractors would suddenly be able to arbitrate, even absent a written agreement.”

Chief Justice John Roberts sat to hear the arguments in the morning before heading to Capitol Hill for his other ongoing duties presiding over the impeachment trial of President Trump.