“Dustbin of History”: Supreme Court Rules State Juries Must Be Unanimous In Major Constitutional Ruling

440px-Associate_Justice_Neil_Gorsuch_Official_PortraitThe Supreme Court handed down a major new ruling today that requires state juries to be unanimous to convict defendants in criminal trials.  It is a historic “incorporation” ruling that the Sixth Amendment would apply in the same way to the states as it does the federal government.  Most rights are incorporated, but the Supreme Court has long allowed this protection to be decided state-by-state. The court’s 6-3 ruling overturned its 1972 decision in Apodaca v. Oregon. Notably, the opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch who continues to follow his conscience in breaking from the right of the Court — as I expect he would when I testified in favor of his confirmation.   Gorsuch declared that “Louisiana’s and Oregon’s laws are fully—and rightly—relegated to the dustbin of history.”

Forty-eight states already require unanimous verdicts in criminal cases.  Only Louisiana and Oregon allowed for 10-2 verdicts.

While I am an advocate of federalism, I have always agreed with the position of Justice Hugo Black in supporting total incorporation of the bill of rights.  He lost to a selective incorporation majority which incorporated most but not all of the rights.

I have also never been a fan of extreme views of stare decisis, including hypocritical arguments by members of Congress against nominees who they say threaten precedent on favored cases but then later demand overturning other cases that they do not like.  Members of the Court show the same contradictions in primarily raising stare decisis when they are in the dissent.  Gorsuch dealt with the issue straight on at the outset of the opinion:

“The doctrine of stare decisis does not mean, of course, that the Court should never overrule erroneous precedents. All Justices now on this Court agree that it is sometimes appropriate for the Court to overrule erroneous decisions. Indeed, in just the last few Terms, every current Member of this Court has voted to overrule multiple constitutional precedents.”

The doctrine of stare decisis does not mean, of course, that the Court should never overrule erroneous precedents. All Justices now on this Court agree that it is sometimes appropriate for the Court to overrule erroneous decisions. Indeed, in just the last few Terms, every current Member of this Court has voted to overrule multiple constitutional precedents.

Now one of the last remaining nonincorporated rights has fallen to incorporation at the hands (or pen) of Neil Gorsuch, a surprising author given his support for federalism.  However, Gorsuch ruled that

 “[T]he Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is incorporated against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, if the jury trial right requires a unanimous verdict in federal court, it requires no less in state court.”

220px-010_alitoGorsuch was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas writing concurring opinions. Justice Samuel Alito dissented and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan. Alito objected that the decision not only overruled precedent but “imposes a potentially crushing burden on the courts and criminal justice systems of those States.”

The decision is further evidence of the tremendous intellectual contribution of Gorsuch to the Court.

 

Here is the opinion: Ramos v. Louisiana

28 thoughts on ““Dustbin of History”: Supreme Court Rules State Juries Must Be Unanimous In Major Constitutional Ruling”

  1. The next thing that needs done is to end retrials on hung juries.

    If 11-1 is not sufficient to convict, then 23-1 is not either.

    If the prosecution can not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, they do not get a 2nd shot.

  2. I agree that Gorsuch voted as would be expected.

    But I vigorously disagree with your claims regarding why.

    SCOTUS decisions are not about “conscience” – we do not decide the law of the land by “feelings”.

    I do not always agree with Gorsuch. But I always find that he reached his conclusion by applying the constitution, the law, and natural law principles – even if I might personally reach a different conclusion.

  3. Oil crashed today. zero? wtf is a zero price of oil

    Who’s the winner? not the US and not Russia– just China

    war is on the horizon a lot closer today than it was last week.

    1. Kurtz sees war, especially civil, everywhere.

      The oil crash that happened today points to the illusion of the US/Canada shale and tar sand industry built with highly leveraged debt, jingoism — and the assumption that the cost of a barrel of oil would never again fall below $50.00.

      Yet when the holders of easily extractable oil get into a pixxing contest we see the myth of our curtains of oil independence pulled back.

      It’s called comparative advantage, which is what trade should be based on, except capital has distorted this beyond any reasonable interpretation.

      So, let the Kurtz’s take up their guns — they will find the Goldilocks price point of all things.

  4. Personally, I think 11-1 decisions should be allowed but not 10-2’s.

    As far as stare decisis, it is pretty much either that or every time somebody goes to court, it is crapshoot. Stare decisis is why countries that adopted English Common law have stayed more stable than the others.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  5. The doctrine of stare decisis is absurd, corrupt, contrived, arbitrary, holds no weight or force and is not dissimilar to Monopoly money. Stare desisis does not constitute a trial which the accused shall enjoy. Cases must be adjudicated on the best evidence which bears on each particular case. Stare decisis juxtaposed with formal adjudication is like comparing fast food to haute cuisine. States have no authority or power to amend the Constitution by illicitly modifying the collective term, “jury.” The “manifest tenor” is extant. Jurists and juries reading criminal charges do not need interpreters and Americans reading their Constitution do not need “interpreters” from the judicial branch. The accused shall enjoy the jury, the whole jury and nothing but the jury.
    ______________________________________________________________________

    “If you’re half right, you’re half wrong. If you’re half wrong, you’re all wrong.”

    – Anonymous
    ___________

    Fifth Amendment

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
    _____________________________________________________

    “courts…must…declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.”

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

  6. Wow, this decision sure didn’t go down on idiological lines. Maybe there is hope for blind justice yet.

      1. Samatha Adams:

        Not the courts checkered history (Dred Scott, Roe, etc.) but … you know … real historical precedent like from England — as cited in the opinion.

      2. Apodaca was hogwash. It was 4-1-4. That 1 judge, Justice Powell, determined the whole thing, a la carte style.

        Serious criminal, life deprivation, should always have to be unanimous, state, or federal.

        The 6th implies it. Too long enough.

  7. I don’t see a problem with 10-2 decisions. Michael Kinsley wrote a column on the subject some time ago making the case.

    1. Paul
      I agree with you. That said: 92-97 percent of criminal charges end with a plea deal and no trial. We have far too many crimes on the books and too few people that can afford effective defense lawyers.
      And too few potential jury members who know what testilying is.

  8. Unlike the liberal Justices on the SCOTUS, the so called “conservative” Justices don’t always dance to the same tune. The left fought hard and dirty, to try to defeat Justice Gorsuch, now he is showing why he was the right person for the job. He is honest, has integrity, and believes in the Constitution.

      1. You should learn the difference between a ‘counter-example’ and something which ‘destroys’ a thesis.

        I’ll be impressed with Kagan when she admits Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were hooey, which she will never do.

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