Supreme Court

Gorsuch and Sotomayor Fault SCOTUS for Declining to Hear Important Criminal Justice Case

The two jurists dissent from denial of certiorari in Stuart v. Alabama.



Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an important case dealing with forensic evidence, criminal trials, and the Sixth Amendment right of defendants to confront their accusers. Writing in dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, criticized the Court for turning a blind eye to such constitutional malfeasance.

The case is Stuart v. Alabama. Here's how Gorsuch summarized the stakes in his dissent from denial of certiorari:

To prove Vanessa Stuart was driving under the influence, the State of Alabama introduced in evidence the results of a blood-alcohol test conducted hours after her arrest. But the State refused to bring to the stand the analyst who performed the test. Instead, the State called a different analyst. Using the results of the test after her arrest and the rate at which alcohol is metabolized, this analyst sought to estimate for the jury Ms. Stuart's blood-alcohol level hours earlier when she was driving. Through these steps, the State effectively denied Ms. Stuart the chance to confront the witness who supplied a foundational piece of evidence in her conviction.

As Gorsuch noted, the Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine one's accusers is supposed to serve as a safeguard in cases like this against the introduction of erroneous evidence. Yet here "the engine of cross-examination was left unengaged, and the Sixth Amendment was violated." For that reason, and others, Gorsuch and Sotomayor faulted their colleagues for failing to take the case.

This is not the first time that Gorsuch and Sotomayor have joined forces on the criminal justice front. Just last month, for example, during oral arguments in Gundy v. U.S., the two justices seemed to agree that Congress violated the Constitution by, in Gorsuch's words, giving "a blank check to the attorney general." They've also been operating on similar wavelengths in Fourth Amendment cases.

While it's common nowadays to think of the Supreme Court exclusively in terms of its conservative and liberal blocs, Gorsuch and Sotomayor have shown that the story is more complicated when it comes to questions of criminal justice.