The most prominent legal story this week has nothing to do with criminal law. The Supreme Court spent three days hearing oral argument on the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care reform law. Two things unrelated to the merits of the case intrigue me. First, lots of pundits think that at least a portion of the law will be struck down (the part requiring individuals to purchase health insurance if they’re not otherwise covered), and the Atlantic argues here that a legal blog has been hugely influential in shaping the public debate about, and the legal fate of, the law. Not this blog, obviously, but still: I am drunk with power! Second, I hugely enjoyed the beginning of this New York Times story: “The three days of Supreme Court arguments . . . on the . . . health care law will be a legal marathon, and the lawyers involved have been training. Last week, there were so many . . . moot courts that they threatened to exhaust something that had never been thought in short supply: Washington lawyers.”
In other news:
- In between all those oral arguments, the Supreme Court actually decided a criminal case this week. Setser v. United States will be of interest to folks who are concerned with the interplay between state and federal sentences.
- Will technology solve the drunk driving problem? Politico reports here that Congress is considering directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study the feasibility of “nonintrusive technology based around touch or breathing that would be able to sense when a driver is drunk and disable the car.” The idea is that the technology – such as steering-wheel mounted, touch-based alcohol detectors – could be made available as an option on new cars. The American Beverage Institute opposes the provision, viewing it as the first step to mandating such devices on all vehicles.
- A couple of items regarding the death penalty cropped up this week. Over at Crime and Consequences, Kent Scheidegger commented on an order, issued by a federal judge in Arizona, criticizing the FDA for allowing states to use imported drugs for lethal injections. Those who enjoy Scheidegger’s writing will appreciate his post, including the dry remark that “[u]se of an exclamation point in a judicial opinion, by itself, should raise a presumption of reversibility.” Meanwhile, Sentencing Law and Policy noted here that Japan recently conducted three executions, all by hanging.
- Speaking of writing, I like the writing of Richard Posner, who sits on the Seventh Circuit. In a recent opinion reinstating an inmate’s lawsuit over allegedly tainted jail food, Judge Posner wrote that “[d]eliberate withholding of nutritious food or substitution of tainted or otherwise sickening food, with the effect of causing substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains, and maybe an anal fissure (which is no fun at all, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anal_fissure (visited March 15, 2012)), or other severe hardship, would violate the Eighth Amendment.” Um, I guess so. The food in question is “nutriloaf,” a staple in at least some correctional institutions, which Judge Posner described as follows: “‘Nutriloaf’ isn’t a proprietary food like Hostess Twinkies but, like ‘meatloaf’ or ‘beef stew,’ a term for a composite food the recipe of which can vary from institution to institution, or even from day to day within an institution; nutriloaf could meet requirements for calories and protein one day yet be poisonous the next if, for example, made from leftovers that had spoiled.” If the foregoing hasn’t ruined your appetite, more details are available here at Above the Law.
- Finally, an item on the lighter side. The Washington Post notes here that in D.C., nonprescription eyeglasses have “become something of a sensation in the . . . courthouse scene: Attorneys say inmates trade them before hearings, while friends and family sometimes deliver them during jailhouse visits. Some lawyers even supply them themselves.” We scooped the Post by over a year, addressing eyeglasses, dress clothes and tattoos here, plus exploring the legal issue of whether indigent defendants are entitled to hipster glasses at the state’s expense.