October in the Supreme Court: What’s happening? Why should I care?

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – The US Supreme Court began what is expected to be a historic term Oct. 4, with in-person arguments scheduled after over 18 months of strictly virtual meetings. The agenda is set to impact every person in the nation, with new justices taking up issues such as abortion, guns, and religion.

The court is expected to remain closed to the public, with only lawyers involved in the cases and regular reporters on-hand, and masking guidelines in place. However, the public will be able to listen to live streams of the arguments.

What is happening, and when? More importantly, how could these cases impact life on the High Plains?

Here is a week-by-week look for October in the Supreme Court:

Oct. 4 – Oct. 8:

  • Monday, Oct. 4
    • Mississippi v. Tennessee – The states of Mississippi and Tennessee have gone to court in a disagreement over water in an underground aquifer that sits beneath parts of both states. Stretching back to 2005, the conflict started with Mississippi claiming that Tennessee was pumping water from the Mississippi portion of the aquifer. Tennessee said the aquifer is an interstate resource that should be shared fairly. The court is expected to decide whether or not Mississippi has sole authority over the groundwater and sandstone naturally stored in its borders, and whether Tennessee owes the fellow state money for damages.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The Texas Panhandle has an interstate water source of its own, with the Ogallala aquifer standing as a supplying resource to eight states. However, with the water drying out and farmers working hard to protect what’s left, disputes about which state gets what amount from the aquifer are a possibility in the future. How the court views Mississippi v. Tennessee’s argument could influence how any future conflicts over similar aquifers are settled.
      • UPDATE: “The first oral argument of the Supreme Court’s new term, Mississippi v. Tennessee, dealt with Mississippi’s claim that Memphis, Tennessee, is stealing Mississippi’s groundwater. The justices seemed skeptical of Mississippi’s claims — but they also displayed considerable concern about the potential breadth of the “equitable apportionment” doctrine and the court’s potential increasing involvement in future interstate disputes over natural resources.” commented an analysis on SCOTUSblog.com by Robin Craig.
    • Wooden v. United States – While Tennessee investigators were searching for a fugitive in 2015, one of which was not in uniform, came to William Wooden’s home. Incidentally an officer found Wooden, a convicted felon, to own multiple firearms – illegal under the Armed Career Criminal Act because Wooden had more than three prior convictions. Wooden argued that his burglary convictions from 1997 should not count as more than one crime, because the burglaries were from ‘a single occasion’, which would put Wooden’s total felony convictions down to three. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether offenses committed as part of a single spree, one after another, count as separate crimes or different aspects of a single crime.
      • Why does this matter to Amarillo? Recently, Amarillo saw a string of drive-by shootings on Labor Day for which a suspect was arrested on Oct. 1. The Amarillo Police Department responded to six shootings within 24 hours, and officers are currently working to find out whether or not the suspect in custody was responsible for any, or all, of them. If the suspect is tried in court for these Labor Day shootings, Wooden v. United States may impact how many crimes for which he is tried.
      • UPDATE: According to SCOTUSblog.com Analyst Daniel Harawa, “While the justices pressed both sides, there was one sticking point for the government that many justices kept returning to: United States v. Petty, a 1986 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In Petty, the solicitor general “confessed error” after a defendant received an enhanced sentenced based on six robbery charges stemming from the stickup of a diner. Congress enacted the different-occasions clause following the government’s concession. Many justices struggled to distinguish the facts of Petty with those here, with Justice Samuel Alito remarking, “You have a real problem, I think, with Petty.”
  • Tuesday, Oct. 5
    • Brown v. Davenport – In 2008, Ervine Davenport was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury after being shackled at his feet, waist, and hands throughout the trial. Because of the shackling, Davenport argued that the prosecution did not show that the shackles didn’t cause an undue influence the jury’s decision. The court is expected to decide the standard needed in order to grant federal habeas corpus relief to a person held in state custody.
    • UPDATE: The latest update from SCOTUSblog.com Analyst Eve Brensike Primus noted, “Very little argument time was focused on how to conduct an AEDPA inquiry in Davenport’s case if one is ultimately required. Sotomayor suggested a remand would be appropriate if the court concluded that a separate AEDPA analysis was required, but both sides have argued that they should win outright at the Supreme Court. We will have to wait until later in the term to see if the court is able to address Breyer’s concerns and fit all of these standards together in a way that provides clarity and guidance to lower courts.”
    • Hemphill v. New York – Darrell Hemphill was tried in New York state court and convicted of second-degree murder. During the trial, the court ruled that the defense attorney’s introduction of evidence toward a different shooter opened the door to the prosecution being able to respond with testimony given at prior legal proceedings – something usually barred by the Sixth Amendment. The court is expected to decide whether and under what circumstances a defendent forfeits their rights under the Sixth Amendment’s clause in question.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? For example, both of these cases could impact future court handlings of the cases connected to Billy Ivy, Jr. While Ivy died in jail in September 2020, Jessica Black was charged in August 2021 with capital murder of multiple people in connection to Ivy’s cases. These cases could influence not only what evidence is allowed in any trial in which Black is a defendent, but how defense attorneys may use habeas corpus depending on a jury’s decisions.
      • UPDATE: “Tuesday’s oral argument in Hemphill v. New York made apparent that a New York evidentiary rule, known as the “door opening” rule, implicates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause. But by the end of the hour-long argument, it wasn’t clear how the justices are inclined to deal with the interaction of the two,” said SCOTUSblog.com Analyst Shaakirrah Sanders.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 6
    • United States v. Zubaydah – Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, is a former associate of Osama bin Laden. He was detained as an “enemy combatant” by the CIA in its detention and interrogation program in Poland from 2002 to 2003, and his treatment was later ruled to be torture by the European Court on Human Rights in Poland. However, the Polish investigation into Zubaydah’s treatment by the CIA hit a snag when the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that not all information requested was allowed to be given out on the grounds of national security interests. The court is set to discuss how state secrets and privilege should be treated in international investigations.
      • Why does it matter to Amarillo? The High Plains is home to not only the Pantex facility, a company that is the primary nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility for the United States, but also Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, N.M. Information not only able to be reported by the press, but released by the US armed forces and its related companies could be impacted by this case. Connected to that, business and employment in the area.
      • UPDATE: Analyst Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog.com said that the argument took an unexpected turn in the final few minutes. “The tone of the argument changed significantly when Fletcher returned to the lectern for his rebuttal. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had been relatively quiet up to this point, asked Fletcher why the government couldn’t simply allow Abu Zubaydah to testify “as to his treatment during these dates.” When Fletcher responded that Abu Zubaydah and his lawyers had not asked for him to testify, so that the Department of Justice had not discussed the possibility with officials at the Department of Defense, Gorsuch voiced his frustration. “This case has been litigated for years and all the way up to the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said, “and you haven’t considered whether that’s an off-ramp that the government could provide that would obviate the need for any of this?”
        “Sotomayor, who sits next to Gorsuch on the bench but is generally at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, joined the fray. She told Fletcher that “we want a clear answer” from the federal government: “Are you going to permit him to testify as to what happened to him those dates without invoking a state secret or other privilege? Yes or no. That’s all we’re looking for.”
        Fletcher indicated that the federal government would be happy to respond, leaving open the possibility of further developments in the case in the not-too-distant future.”

Oct. 11 – Oct. 15

  • Tuesday, Oct. 12
    • Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C. – In 2018, Kentucky enacted a state law that criminalized a certain method of abortion “prior to performing a procedure inducing fetal demise.” EMW Women’s Surgical Center (EMW), the only licensed outpatient abortion facility in the state, claimed it effectively banned that method of abortion and violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of abortion rights according to Roe v. Wade. While the district court ruled in EMW’s favor and overruled the law, Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to join the case to defend the law. The court rejected his request and agreed with the district court’s ruling, and said that the law put an undue burden on all the people it restricted. The US Supreme Court will meet its first direct argument about abortion this session with this case, and decide whether a state official can intervene in a case to defend a state law that has been invalidated, and discuss the Fourteenth Amendment protections on abortion.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 13

How any of these cases will resolve, and their impacts on the future of the country and the Amarillo community has yet to be seen. However, MyHighPlains.com will keep a close eye on the situation as it continues.

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