Supreme Court update

Three major cases were decided today by the United States Supreme Court. All three will have a major impact upon our State for the future.

First up, the case of Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council. In the 7-2 ruling, authored by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the State of Arizona had no right under to regulate election or voting requirements, being precluded from doing so under Federal Law. The issue in question revolved around the requirements Arizona used to prove citizenship. While Federal Law, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (colloquially styled the “Motor Voter Act”), requires only a signed formed, the Arizona statute required proof through either birth certificates, passports or naturalization papers.

The case sets an important precedent in the relation between Federal and State oversight of elections. Most directly, the decision will mean that Texas could not institute a similar measure. In a more expansionist view of this ruling, States would be prohibited from instituting more strict voting requirements than Federal Law allows. This view was partially taken by Scalia’s opinion, which relied heavily upon the Motor Voter Act’s instruction for States to “accept and use” federal forms. This could possibly have the implication of blocking more and more of super-strict State voting restrictions.

Next, the Court decided the case of Salinas v. Texas. In a typical 5-4, Conservatives versus Liberal ruling, written by Justice Alito, the court held that Miranda protections, most notably the right to remain silent, are not applicable. In that case, Defendant Salinas voluntarily entered a police station in order to answer questions about a recent murder investigation. After answering questions, Salinas stopped somewhat abruptly. At trial, the prosecution used Salinas’ silence as evidence of his guilt.

Justices Scalia and Thomas insinuated in a concurrence that, even if Salinas had expressly invoked his fifth amendment rights, it would not have granted him protection. The seven remaining Justices, however, disagreed.

Finally, in yet another 5-4 decision, the Court ruled in Alleyne v. United States to overturn a 2002  decision, Harris v. United States, pertaining to mandatory sentencing and Sixth Amendment litigation. In this case, the issue pertained to the sentencing of an individual found guilty of a crime, where a sentence would be enhanced if a certain fact were proved.

Specifically in Alleyne, the issue pertained to a Defendant convicted of armed robbery. The sentence would be enhanced if it could be proven that the Defendant was brandishing  firearm. Although the jury could not find this fact satisfied, the Judge did, and so the Defendant was sentenced with the enhanced penalty. In reversing the 11 year old Harris case, Justice Thomas joined with the 4 traditional liberals on the Court to state that the Sixth Amendment protects Defendants from anyone other than juries deciding such facts.

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