SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justices won't consider city's cash bail policy

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on whether a Georgia city's practice of jailing people accused of low-level crimes who can't afford to pay bail is constitutional.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in August upheld Calhoun's policy of jailing people for up to 48 hours before a judge rules whether they can't afford bail.

The Southern Center for Human Rights sued on behalf of Maurice Walker, who was charged with walking while intoxicated and arrested in September 2015. He couldn't pay a preset $160 bail and spent six days in jail.

The city revised its policy after the lawsuit was filed. The appeals court upheld the revised policy.

The high court on Monday declined to hear Walker's appeal, meaning the 11th Circuit decision stands.


Court nixes anti-abortion group's appeal over videos

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is rejecting an appeal from an anti-abortion group that surreptitiously recorded Planned Parenthood employees.

The justices joined lower courts Monday in allowing Planned Parenthood's racketeering and other claims against the Center for Medical Progress to proceed.

Two members of the group also are facing criminal charges in California over the secret recordings.

The center says its videos show Planned Parenthood employees illegally selling parts of aborted fetuses.

Planned Parenthood says the center surreptitiously accessed its conferences to gain meetings with its staff and create deceptively edited and false videos that were posted online.

Planned Parenthood denied wrongdoing in connection with its fetal tissue practices.


Justices rule against Missouri inmate with rare health issue

By Jessica Gresko
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Missouri can execute an inmate who argued his rare medical condition will result in severe pain if he is put to death by lethal injection, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The justices split along ideological lines in ruling 5-4 against inmate Russell Bucklew, who is on death row for a 1996 murder.

The court's five conservative justices rejected Bucklew's argument that subjecting him to lethal injection would violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. He said a tumor in his throat is likely to burst during the execution, causing him to choke on his own blood.

"Today we bring this case to a close at last because we agree with the courts below that Mr. Bucklew's claim isn't supported by either the law or the evidence," Justice Neil Gorsuch said in summarizing his majority opinion from the bench.

Bucklew - who has a medical condition that causes blood-filled tumors to grow in his head, neck and throat - was up against Supreme Court precedent in trying to get the justices to agree with him. The court has previously ruled that inmates challenging the method a state plans to use to execute them have to show that there's an alternative that is likely to be less painful.

Bucklew proposed that Missouri execute him by having him breathe pure nitrogen gas through a mask instead of by injecting him with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. Missouri countered that no state has ever carried out an execution as Bucklew suggested, calling his proposal vague and untested.

Gorsuch wrote that Bucklew had "failed present any evidence" that his alternative method of execution "would significantly reduce his risk of pain." Moreover, Bucklew had not shown that Missouri could readily implement his suggestion, wrote Gorsuch.

In a dissent for the court's four liberal justices, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that his colleagues acknowledged that the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibits states from executing prisoners by "horrid modes of torture" such as burning at the stake.

"But the majority's decision permits a state to execute a prisoner who suffers from a medical condition that would render his execution no less painful," he wrote.

Breyer wrote that he didn't believe Bucklew was required to identify an alternative means of execution because the inmate was challenging Missouri's method only as it applies to him. And even assuming he was required to do so, Breyer said, Bucklew did satisfy that requirement.

The five justices ruling against Bucklew included Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose vote was seen as pivotal to the outcome of the case. That's because last year his eight current colleagues split 4 to 4 over whether to allow Bucklew's execution to proceed. Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the fifth vote to spare Bucklew. Kavanaugh replaced Kennedy, who retired in July.

Kavanaugh wrote a 2-page opinion agreeing with his conservative colleagues. He noted that an inmate challenging the way a state plans to carry out the death penalty isn't limited to proposing an alternate method of execution authorized under that state's law. Kavanaugh wrote that he wanted to emphasize the majority's conclusion that: "we see little likelihood that an inmate facing a serious risk of pain will be unable to identify an available alternative."

Bucklew is on death row for the 1996 murder of Michael Sanders.

The case is 17-8151, Bucklew v. Precythe.

Published: Wed, Apr 03, 2019

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