Supreme Court Preview

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The United States Supreme Court starts its Term each year on the first Monday in October. This year’s Term begins next Monday, October 5!

The Court will start off with three straight days of oral argument. (The calendar of cases to be hear the first week is here.) More arguments will follow the next week, and then there will be none until November. (The calendar of argument days this Term is here.) It will start issuing opinions around the end of the year, and will continue until June of next year.

The Court has granted certiorari in more than 50 cases so far — a slightly outdated list is here — presumably with a few more to come. Although the Court’s caseload has dropped dramatically in recent years, it is still averaging about 80 cases per Term, according to this provocative New York Times analysis. I don’t know the rule on this, but it seems as though if certiorari is granted by December or January, the case gets heard as part of this Term, while if it is granted later than that, the case becomes part of the next Term. If anyone knows the details, please chime in.

In any event, the Term is shaping up to be an interesting one from a criminal law perspective. Here’s a highly selective, somewhat arbitrary, and almost certainly somewhat inaccurate description of a few of the cases to watch (and issues to preserve, in some instances).

1. Padilla v. Kentucky, which involves another Jose Padilla — not the terrorism detainee and Supreme Court frequent flyer — will be argued October 13. It asks whether a defense lawyer renders ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to advise a non-citizen defendant about the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction.

2. Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida will be argued November 9. These cases ask about the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles convicted of violent, but not fatal, crimes to life without parole.

3. Maryland v. Shatzer will be argued October 5. It asks whether a defendant’s invocation of his right to counsel during a custodial interrogation bars an officer from approaching the defendant and seeking to initiate questioning forever (the gap was two and a half years in Shatzer).

4. Briscoe v. Virginia doesn’t yet have an oral argument date, but it essentially asks whether Melendez-Diaz was wrongly decided, with the Melendez-Diaz dissenters hoping that the Sotomayor-for-Souter swap will make a difference.

5. McDonald v. Chicago also doesn’t have a date yet, but will decide whether the Second Amendment applies to the states and so will determine the sweep of Heller, last Term’s Second Amendment blockbuster. See the New York Times preview here.

6. There are several federal habeas cases — some capital, some not — that procedure junkies will want to follow. They include Smith v. Spisak, to be argued October 13, Beard v. Kindler, to be argued November 2, and McDaniel v. Brown, for which oral argument hasn’t yet been set.

Anyone else want to nominate a case as worth watching?

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