Author Topic: A “view” from the courtroom: What the Constitution means to me  (Read 806 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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SCOTUSblog by Mark Walsh 6/26/2019

The court enters the day with eight argued cases remaining, and a strong presumption that there will be at least one more day of opinions, because Chief Justice John Roberts, on Monday, did not give his traditional announcement that the next court session would be the last one of the term.

Today’s opinions will bring forth a wide range of opinions on various provisions of the Constitution, including Article I, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments and the 18th and 21st Amendments, as well as the principle of stare decisis.

The courtroom atmosphere is unremarkable this morning. The public gallery is full, the bar section has plenty of room and the VIP section is devoid of any spouses of the justices. The alcoves for law clerks are pretty full, though, as the current clerk class has only a couple of more opportunities to see the justices from that unique perspective.

When the court takes the bench, Justice Clarence Thomas is absent. We don’t know where he is, but he will speak here only through his votes this morning.

The chief justice says that Justice Neil Gorsuch has the opinion in United States v. Haymond. Gorsuch cuts right to the chase.

“This case concerns the right to a trial by jury,” he says. “The framers of our Constitution regarded the jury as both a vital protection for the accused, and an essential feature of our system of self-government. To them, a jury made up of ordinary men and women formed a bulwark between the rights of individuals and the power of the state.”

He explains that a jury must find every fact that is essential to an individual’s punishment, and how in two relatively recent cases — 2000’s Apprendi v. New Jersey and 2013’s Alleyne v. United States — the court weighed statutes that increased the range of penalties a defendant could face based on new facts found by a judge by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than only on facts found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The court struck down those sentencing provisions.

Gorsuch describes the case of respondent Andre Haymond, who was sentenced to about three years in prison and a term of supervised release after a jury found him guilty. But after Haymond was accused of violating the terms of his supervised release, a judge found him guilty by a preponderance of the evidence and sentenced him to a new mandatory minimum term of five years in prison.

“By now the problem is probably clear,” Gorsuch says, going on to reject the federal government’s attempts to distinguish Haymond’s case from Apprendi and Alleyne.

Haymond’s new prison term based on facts found by a judge by a mere preponderance of the evidence “offends the ancient right to trial by jury,” Gorsuch says.