September 23, 2011
Why Scalia Was Wrong On Troy Davis

(this post incorporates material from a previous post, found here.  I have refined my original remarks and added new ones, in order to present a more professional, formal argument on the matter stated above).

In August of 2009, the Supreme Court considered a petition for writ of Habeus Corpus from the late Troy Davis, under the name In re Davis (130 S. Ct. 1 (2009)).  The Court granted Davis relief by referring the case to a District Court for a hearing on the question of new evidence (the character of which is now well known) that may have exonerated Davis.  Scalia rather vigorously dissented.

Scalia’s dissent was premised essentially on two issues:

1) The District Court lacked the ability to actually grant Davis any relief.  Scalia cites the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which “bars the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus ‘with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim … resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.’”  In re Davis, 130 S. Ct. 1, 2 (2009), J. Scalia, dissenting.  Here, there was no federal law applied to Davis.  He was convicted under State law in a State Court, so issuance of a Writ of Habeus Corpus is barred.

2) Troy Davis was convicted by a jury at a trial which was “free from Constitutional defect,” and his appeals were denied on the merits by Georgia appellate courts.  Troy Davis therefore has not been imprisoned without Due Process of law, which is essentially what a Habeus Writ requires.  The type of relief he seeks can only be granted from a State court, and his petitions for said relief were already denied.

In order to understand Scalia’s reasoning, you have to understand Scalia’s jurisprudence: he hates judicial discretion.  Scalia greatest fear is the judge who takes the law into his own hands, or worse yet, ignores the law entirely, and adjudicates cases based on personal notions of what is “just.”  Scalia, rightfully so, fears that judicial discretion hides a sort of irreproachable tyranny that threatens to essentially supercede democratically-created laws.  Scalia fears the Juristocracy: a country whose judges rule by intuition rather than strict adherence to the law are essentially tyrants.  Scalia therefore observes “judicial restraint” by maintaining unwavering fidelity to historical traditions and black letter law.

There is much to be said about Scalia’s attitude towards judicial discretion; and many criticisms have been leveled at this controversial conservative jurist.  But chief among these criticisms is that Scalia, despite an avowed devotion to historical tradition, completely ignores the common law traditions of Equity.  Courts have, since time immemorial, had inherent power to grant equitable relief when formalistic obedience to legal procedure would produce a manifestly unjust result.  In the case of Troy Davis’s petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus, this authority is enshrined (as the opinion of Justice Stevens points out) in Sup. Ct. Rule 20(4)(a), which states that a petitioner who demonstrates that “exceptional circumstances warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary powers” is entitled to relief; it is also enshrined in 28 U.S.C. § 2241(b), which gives the court authority to transfer state criminal cases to District and Circuit Courts for remedial proceedings, and also via the original Habeus Corpus Jurisdiction granted by the Constitution (again, pointed out by Justice Stevens in the majority opinion). 

In other words, the Court had both inherent and statutory authority to do what it did; and to be fair, Scalia DID raise some reasonable points in his dissent (after all, you don’t get to the Supreme Court by being dumb).  In case you hadn’t gathered: the bulk of Scalia’s objection stems from the fact that Writs of Habeus Corpus are a very specific type of legal relief.  These writs are technically supposed to be issued only to prisoners who have been imprisoned without Due Process of law, as guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments.  To state Scalia’s argument once more with clarity: Davis had his Due Process already, and Federal Law denies the Supreme Court the ability to grant Davis relief.

But here’s why Scalia is wrong:

firstly, the federal law argument is completely bunk. The Constitution of the United States is itself technically a “federal law” (Title 1 of the U.S.C.).  Any Constitutional question arising from a State criminal proceeding necessarily arises under federal law.  Even if you disagree with this view of the Constitution, it doesn’t matter because any federal law which would restrict the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to a realm smaller than what is granted by the Constitution is necessarily itself unconstitutional.  While Article III grants Congress the ability to define the jurisdiction of federal Courts, it does not have the authority to define the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court where such definitions are inconsistent with the original jurisdiction granted by Article III itself.  In other words: if there’s a Constitutional infirmity in a State criminal proceeding, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over it under Article III, which cites “any case or controversy arising under the Constitution.”  So the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, to the extent that it circumscribes the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, violates the Separation of Powers between Congress and the Supreme Court.

Secondly, the Habeas petition is not unlike the common law writ of Coram Nobiswhich is a post-judgment writ issued to Defendants who file a motion to vacate a previously entered judgment on the basis of infirmity in the legal proceedings.  These infirmities include new evidence coming to light which suggests innocence.  If new evidence comes to light after trial which is compelling enough that it is “likely to have changed the outcome,” then that new evidence ipso facto demonstrates that the Defendant’s Due Process was defective, therefore making it Constitutionally defective, which makes it the Supreme Court’s business.  The Supreme Court is therefore well within its powers to act under Sup. Ct. Rule 20.4(a), in concert with its original Habeus jurisdiction, to grant Troy Davis the relief he sought in that 2009 court order.  

To conclude: Scalia’s objections are simply strict textualism taken to a fault.  He has such a seething hatred and fear of judicial discretion that he refuses to recognize the admittedly rare times when it’s actually proper; even when the power to exercise it is clearly granted by statute, and can be found in the historical traditions of the common law.

September 23, 2011
"This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent."

Justice Scalia, Dissenting, In Re Davis, 130 S. Ct. 1 (2009)

Scalia demonstrates once again that strict legalism masquerading as judicial restraint and prudence often leads to manifestly absurd results which run counter to fundamental principles of equity which under-gird our justice system.

h/t Kohenari

“Actually” infuriating.

(via absurdlakefront)

wait.. WHAT?!  i think you could easily argue that someone being found actually innocent proves that his or her initial trial was indeed not full or fair.

(via bandwagonpete)

Ahhhhh, can we get someone who does this for a living to comment?  Antonin Scalia is a true prince of Evil, but it doesn’t mean he is wrong.  Law is awful.

(via jasencomstock)

I’m not a practicing lawyer yet, but in my opinion as a 2nd-year law student, Scalia’s dissent was horrible.  Scalia hates judicial acts of discretion.  He is a strict originalist/textualist (except when doing so would interefere with his personally held political beliefs, but Scalia’s inconsistent jurisprudence is another issue entirely).

 There are MANY problems with Scalia’s attitude towards judicial discretion; but chief among them is that he completely ignores the common law tradition of equity.  Courts have inherent power to grant relief when formalistic obedience to legal procedure would produce a manifest injustice.  This authority is also enshrined in the Judicial Code under Sup. Ct. Rule 20(4)(a), which states that a petitioner who shows that “exceptional circumstances warrant the exercise of the Court’s discretionary powers” is entitled to relief; 28 U.S.C. § 2241(b), which gives the court authority to transfer state criminal cases to District and Circuit Courts for remedial proceedings, and also original Habeus Corpus Jurisdiction granted by the Constitution.  

In other words, the Court had both inherent and statutory authority to do what it did; and to be fair, Scalia DID raise some reasonable points in his dissent (after all, you don’t get to the Supreme Court by being dumb).  The bulk of his objection stems from the fact that Writs of Habeus Corpus are a very specific type of legal relief.  These writs are only supposed to be issued to prisoners who have been imprisoned without access to Due Process of law, as guaranteed by the 5th and 14th Amendments.  Scalia is effectively saying that Troy Davis had his trial already; Davis was found guilty in a jury trial “free of consituttional defects,” and state courts have already rejected his claims on the merits.  As far as Scalia is concerned, Troy Davis has had his Due Process already.

But here’s why Scalia is blatantly wrong: the Habeas petition is not unlike the common law writ of Coram Nobis, which is a post-judgment writ issued to Defendants who file a motion to vacate a previously entered judgment on the basis of some infirmity in the legal proceedings.  These infirmities include the existence of new evidence coming to light which suggests innocence.  If new evidence comes to light after trial which is compelling enough that it is “likely to have changed the outcome,” then that new evidence ipso facto demonstrates that the Defendant’s Due Process was defective, therefore making it Constitutionally defective, which makes it the Supreme Court’s business.  The Supreme Court is therefore well within its powers to act under Sup. Ct. Rule 20.4(a), in concert with its original Habeus jurisdiction, to grant Troy Davis the relief he sought in that 2009 court order.  Scalia’s objections are simply strict textualism taken to a fault.  He has such a seething hatred and fear of judicial discretion that he refuses to recognize times when it’s actually proper; even when the power to exercise it is clearly granted by statute, and also historically granted in the common law.

(Source: letterstomycountry, via jasencomstock-deactivated201306)

September 23, 2011
"This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent."

Justice Scalia, Dissenting, In Re Davis, 130 S. Ct. 1 (2009)

Scalia demonstrates once again that strict legalism masquerading as judicial restraint and prudence often leads to manifestly absurd results which run counter to fundamental principles of equity which under-gird our justice system.

h/t Kohenari

September 22, 2011
abaldwin360:

Spot the difference.

A compelling indictment of the Georgia Board of Pardons.  This makes the case for opening up their proceedings to the public all the more compelling.

abaldwin360:

Spot the difference.

A compelling indictment of the Georgia Board of Pardons.  This makes the case for opening up their proceedings to the public all the more compelling.

(via abaldwin360-deactivated20130708)

September 21, 2011
"Ballistics evidence used to convict Davis has since been debunked. Another witness has since emerged as a plausible suspect in the murder. Three jurors on the case now say that if they knew then what they know now, they would not have voted to convict. Davis was quite possibly innocent, but that was hardly the point. As expressed by the popular Twitter hash-tag, the problem was quite simply that there was #TooMuchDoubt."

— The state of Georgia executed Troy Davis at 11:08 p.m. A few quick thoughts on how it happened, why it matters, and where we go from here. (via motherjones)

September 21, 2011
"The incident that night was not my fault. I did not have a gun. […] I did not personally kill your father, son, brother. I am innocent."

— Troy Davis, in part of his final statement before execution, read by witnesses to the media. [Live Stream] (via pantslessprogressive)

(Source: pantslessprogressive)

September 21, 2011
"Despite the situation I am in, I am not the one who did it. May god have mercy on your souls, may god bless your souls."

— Troy Davis - Last words  (via cultureofresistance)

(Source: afro-dominicano, via socialuprooting)

September 21, 2011
"The time of death is 11:08."

— SPOKESWOMAN for the Georgia Department of Correction, confirming that Troy Davis has been executed. (via inothernews)

(via shortformblog)

September 21, 2011
Georgia Executes Troy Davis After His Last Pleas Fail

Georgia inmate Troy Davis was put to death by lethal injection late Wednesday for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer, after convincing thousands but not the justice system of his innocence.

Davis’ death came after a three-hour hold while the Supreme Court considered a late request for a stay, but in the end the court refused to stop the execution, despite calls for clemency from former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and others.

Although Davis’ attorneys say seven of nine key witnesses against him recanted all or parts of their testimony, state and federal judges repeatedly ruled against granting him a new trial.

Dozens of demonstrators protested outside the Jackson prison, where officers were prepared for any disruptions.

The Supreme Court had received the request for a stay less than an hour before the 7 p.m. ET time set for the execution, then delivered a one-sentence rejection more than three hours after the time had passed.

September 21, 2011

Rage Against The Machine, Freedom, 1994.

Freedom.


Yeah, Right.

10:58pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx9oHplr
  
Filed under: politics troy davis 
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