ILNews

SCOTUS set to start term

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Next week will be a big one for Indiana in the Supreme Court of the United States.

The nation's highest court will hear six arguments next week, including a much-anticipated and publicized case involving Indiana's voter identification law, and another state's case that has Hoosier interest on the constitutionality of lethal injections.

On Tuesday, the justices will take on a pair of Indiana cases. The combined cases are Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, No. 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, No. 07-25, which challenge the state's two-year-old voter photo ID law that has been upheld by both U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The cases are the first scheduled that morning, which begin at 10 a.m. Arguments are expected to last about an hour.

On Monday, the SCOTUS' second case of the morning will be a Kentucky case questioning the state's use of lethal injection, and whether a three-chemical concoction used is considered "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. That case is Baze v. Rees, No. 07-5439, and takes on an issue that has been raised frequently by Indiana death row inmates, including three in the past year who are now all dead.

Those inmates had filed federal suits challenging the state's lethal injection method, making similar cruel and unusual punishment claims. Their petitions challenged how Indiana executes death row inmates, with claims that they'd be fully conscious and in agonizing pain for the duration of the execution process. They argued that state inmates who've been executed have repeatedly failed to receive adequate anesthesia and have remained conscious during the administration of lethal drugs. Other states have halted executions to review this method.

But the suits never gained steam in District Court and are now moot on the grounds that all three are dead. David Leon Woods and Michael Lambert were executed by lethal injection last year; the third, Norman Timberlake, died from natural causes in his Michigan City cell in November while still on death row.

Aside from those cases, justices also will consider issues during the week that involve immigration and deportation, employment age discrimination, taxes and nontradable return of capital, and whether a defendant's lawyer can waive the right to a federal judge presiding over jury selection without consulting that client. While the court doesn't hold arguments Thursday or Friday, justices will meet Friday in private conference and could decide when to schedule arguments in another Indiana case it's accepted.

That case is Indiana v. Ahmad Edwards, No. 07-208, which asks whether the Sixth Amendment grants someone found competent to stand trial the right to represent himself in a criminal proceeding. In early December, the court agreed to hear that case and it has tentatively set arguments for March, though a docket date hasn't yet been set.

The Supreme Court's arguments are not televised or broadcast live, but coverage of can be found online on the Indiana Lawyer Web site at www.theindianalawyer.com, as well as in the Indiana Lawyer Daily and print editions of the newspaper.
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