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SCOTUS denies one Indiana case, sidesteps others for now

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The Supreme Court of the United States denied one prisoner lawsuit from Indiana today, while not saying whether it will address another case from this state on judicial speech. No decision was made on a third Hoosier case it heard arguments on more than a month ago addressing vehicular flight.

The Indiana case the court denied certiorari on – the pro se prisoner civil rights suit of Larry B. Benge v. Edwin G. Buss, No. 10-3332 – comes from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Southern District of Indiana.

In September, the Pendleton Correctional Facility inmate sued on allegations that his segregation in prison prohibited him from visiting the law library, access he needed to prepare for a separate action on habeas corpus relief. Citing caselaw that states there is no free-standing right to a law library or legal assistance in prison, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt found no evidence of prejudice and denied the case.

Benge appealed to the 7th Circuit in October and the appellate court dismissed the appeal because of the prisoner’s failure to pay the required docketing fee. He filed notice late last year of his intent to file a certiorari petition with the SCOTUS. The high court's denial puts an end to the case. The prisoner’s separate habeas petition action was dismissed against him at the end of February.

Issuing a 34-page order list today following its private conference late last week, the SCOTUS didn’t grant or deny certiorari on a case it was expected to address – Torrey Bauer v. Randall T. Shepard, No. 10-425, which asks whether Indiana’s judicial canons can restrict certain speech and activities of judges and judicial candidates. The court docket reflects the case was distributed for the justices to consider on Friday, although they’re not obligated to follow any timetable for a decision. U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed the case and upheld the canons, and the 7th Circuit last summer ruled the state canons aren’t unconstitutionally restrictive of free speech and should stand.

While the SCOTUS has no timetable on when it must rule on a case, justices could at any time issue a decision in the Indiana case of Marcus Sykes v. United States, No. 09-11311. It heard arguments on Jan. 12 on the case that involves a question of whether vehicular fleeing from police is considered a “violent felony” warranting enhanced sentences under federal law.

Dozens of pending cases and requests were included on the SCOTUS order list today, including one Kentucky suit asking the court to reconsider a 2005 ruling addressing whether Ten Commandment displays should be allowed on government property. The justices declined to accept the case of McCreary County, Kentucky v. ACLU of Kentucky, No. 10-566.

Aside from those issues, the court issued two opinions today in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, No. 09-152, and CSX Transportation Inc. v. Alabama Department of Revenue, No. 09-520. In the Bruesewitz case, the court by a 6-2 vote held that a 1986 federal law prevents lawsuits by parents who claim that a drug maker should have sold a safer formulation of a vaccine that some say causes autism in children. The court in CSX Transportation voted 7-2 that the railroad company can challenge an Alabama tax of 4 percent on its purchase of diesel fuel.

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