…at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. But not over the flood of wrongful convictions or prosecutorial misconduct or police lying and cheating or Family Court judges selling children into slavery for kickbacks like they did in Pennsylvania. No, nothing like that.
The case was Felkner v. Jackson, and it will live forever at 562 US _____ (whatever). The Ninth Circuit had reversed a District Court Judge’s dismissal of a habeas corpus petition brought by an imprisoned sex offender, and the SCOTUS reversed the reversal.
I don’t know how I or the CDL blawgosphere missed this one, although Above The Law picked up on it because ATL revels in high level judicial gossip and the internecine bickering reflected in the opinion is very titillating from that standpoint.
Anyway, Felkner is a remarkable “per curiam” opinion, a very stern and unusual rebuke to a lower court and very quotable. Referring to the Ninth Circuit’s action, the Supremes said:
“That decision is as inexplicable as it is unexplained. It is reversed.”
While this abrupt language amuses the fops and dandies at ATL there is a serious side to what the Supremes did in this case. Any CDL will know exactly what I mean: courts render “inexplicable” and “unexplained” decisions against criminal defendants all the time. Constantly. And they almost never get reversed at all, let alone bitch slapped by the court above them the way the SCOTUS blasted the Ninth Circuit here. It would not be an exaggeration to say that for every “inexplicable and unexplained” court decision in favor of a criminal defendant there are 1,000,000 such decisions against them, and none of them even get a hearing in the SCOTUS, much less a summary reversal and a rebuke to the errant court below.
SCOTUS’s vituperation is apparently reserved for those extremely rare occasions on which a lower court actually rules in favor of a criminal defendant. The effect, and apparent intention, is to make those occasions rarer still. From practically non-existent to….what? Absolutely non-existent?
A little over a week later, by the way, the SCOTUS issued its decision in Connick.
The fish rots from the head.