SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Appeal challenging Obama eligibility rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has rejected for the second time a challenge to Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president over the unsubstantiated claim that he was not born in the United States.

The court did not comment Monday on its reasons, but it has turned away several similar appeals stretching back to shortly after Obama's election in November 2008.

Leniency request

doesn't start appeal clock

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court said Monday a convicted criminal's decision to ask for leniency can be used to delay the deadline inmates have to appeal to the federal courts.

The high court unanimously ruled for Khalil Kholi, who wants to appeal his 1993 conviction for sexual assault against two girls.

In 1996, Kholi's request for a sentence reduction in Rhode Island courts was denied. After his state appeals were finished, he appealed to federal court in 2007. A federal judge threw out his appeal, saying the deadline had passed because the request for sentence reduction cannot be used to ask for an extension.

But a federal appeals court overturned that ruling, saying a leniency request can be used to extend the deadline for a federal appeal. The high court agreed.

Usually, criminals have one year to appeal their state court convictions to federal court. But the 12-month deadline can be waived if there is a "properly filed application for state post-conviction or other collateral review with respect to the pertinent judgment or claim."

Kholi said his request for a sentence reduction was a "collateral review," something that wasn't a direct appeal of his conviction, a contention that the federal Courts of Appeals have divided on.

Justice Samuel Alito agreed that Kholi's reduction requests were "collateral reviews."

"We thus define 'collateral review' according to its ordinary meaning: It refers to judicial review that occurs in a proceeding outside the direct review process," Alito said.

The case is Wall v. Kholi, 09-868.

Court rules for inmate who wants DNA testing

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday gave a glimmer of hope to a death row inmate in Texas who wants to test crime-scene evidence that he says may show he is innocent.

The court's narrow, 6-3 ruling means that Hank Skinner, who was about an hour away from execution when the Supreme Court intervened last year, will not be put to death soon while his legal case continues.

But the decision will not necessarily result in Skinner winning the right to perform genetic testing on evidence found at the scene of the triple murder for which he received the death penalty.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said prison inmates may use a federal civil rights law to seek DNA testing that was not performed before their conviction. Lower federal courts had dismissed Skinner's claims at an early stage, although other federal judges have allowed similar lawsuits to go forward in other parts of the country.

Ginsburg said it is by no means clear that Skinner can prevail in his lawsuit and actually gain access to the evidence for testing. Even if he does win in court, she said, testing the evidence "may prove exculpatory, inculpatory or inconclusive."

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy, said Skinner's legal claims should have been cut off.

Robert Owen, Skinner's lawyer, praised the decision. "We look forward to making our case in federal court that Texas's inexplicable refusal to grant Mr. Skinner access to evidence for DNA testing is fundamentally unfair and cannot stand," Owen said.

Skinner, 48, was convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two adult sons on New Year's Eve 1993.

Police found him hiding in a closet in the home of a woman he knew, about three hours after the bodies were discovered. He was splattered with the blood of at least two of the victims. A trail of blood led police from the bodies to his hiding place, a few blocks away. He acknowledged being inside the house in the Texas Panhandle where the killings took place.

But other evidence was not tested at the time of Skinner's trial, on the advice of his lawyer. The untested material includes vaginal swabs taken from the girlfriend, Twila Jean Busby, at the time of her autopsy, fingernail clippings, a knife found on the porch of Busby's house and a second knife found in a plastic bag in the house, a towel with the second knife and a jacket next to Busby's body.

Skinner and his new defense team say that evidence could exonerate him. The state says Skinner is trying to game the system to delay his execution.

Like almost every other state, Texas has a law that allows prisoners to do DNA testing on evidence, long after their conviction. Skinner tried and failed twice to invoke the state law to get at the evidence.

He then filed the federal lawsuit, saying that the state had deprived him of his rights by withholding access to the evidence.

The case is Skinner v. Switzer, 09-9000.

High court rules vs.

gov't in open records case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court on Monday rejected the government's broad use of an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents from the public, ruling for a Washington state resident who wants Navy maps relating to its main West Coast ammunition dump.

The court, by an 8-1 vote, threw out an appeals court ruling that backed the Navy's decision to withhold maps showing the extent of damage expected from an explosion at the ammunition dump near Port Townsend in western Washington.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the court, said maps could not be withheld under a FOIA provision that deals with a federal agency's "personnel rules and practices." Kagan said that part of the law concerns "issues of employee relations and human resources."

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, saying the courts have consistently allowed broad use of the exemption for 30 years. "I would let sleeping dogs lie," Breyer said.

The case before the court revolved around competing ideas of public safety. The government said that releasing the maps could allow someone to identify the precise lo cation of the munitions that are stored at its base on Indian Island.

But Glen Milner, a longtime community activist, said that the people who live near the base have valid reasons for wanting to know whether they would be endangered by an explosion. An explosion at the Navy's Port Chicago ammunition depot during World War II killed 320 people.

Milner has raised safety concerns about several area naval facilities. While he could not get the map for the ammunition dump, an official at an area submarine base provided Milner a map showing the probable range of damage from an explosion at that facility.

Kagan said the Navy may have legitimate interests in keeping the maps out of public circulation. She said the government could stamp the maps "classified," which would keep them from being disclosed under FOIA. Or the Navy could perhaps rely on another FOIA provision that protects law enforcement information in some circumstances, she said.

The Associated Press is among 20 news organizations that filed a brief urging the court to limit the government's invocation of the personnel exemption.

The case is Milner v. Department of the Navy, 09-1163.

Court won't hear appeal on 'Spygate' lawsuit

By Jesse J. Holland

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court said Monday it won't review a decision throwing out a lawsuit stemming from the New England Patriots' 2007 "Spygate" scandal.

The high court refused to revive a New York Jets fan's class-action lawsuit against their football archrivals and coach, Bill Belichick.

Carl Mayer, a lawyer in Princeton, N.J., known for filing legal actions against New Jersey politicians, is a New York Jets season ticket-holder. He wanted millions of dollars from the Patriots and Belichick, claiming they deceived customers by secretly videotaping Jets coaches' in-game signals. His lawsuit claimed fans spent large sums to see games that were essentially rigged.

The suit alleged that the Patriots taped the Jets' signals in their twice-yearly contests for seven years, and sought triple damages for Jets fans based on a rough average of $100 a ticket. Mayer sought $185 million in damages for Jets fans alone.

The Patriots were caught taping signals at the Jets' 2007 home opener in Giants Stadium, a game New England won 38-14.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 for that incident, and stripped New England of a first-round draft choice.

A U.S. District Court judge and a federal appeals panel dismissed Mayer's class-action lawsuit. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Mayer failed to prove any legal right to damages.

The Supreme Court, without comment, refused to reconsider that decision.

The case is Mayer v. Belichick, 10-867.

Challenge to national motto turned down

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court will not hear an atheist's latest challenge to the U.S. government's references to God.

The court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from Michael Newdow, who says government references to God are unconstitutional and infringe on his religious beliefs.

This appeal dealt with the inscription of the national motto "In God We Trust" on U.S. coins and currency. An appeals court says the phrase is ceremonial and patriotic and "has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion."

The court refused to hear Newdow's appeal of that decision.

"In God We Trust" was first put on U.S. coins in the 1860s and on paper currency in the 1950s.

Published: Wed, Mar 9, 2011

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