Supreme Court

Gorsuch and Alito Fight Over Criminal Sentencing and the Right to Trial by Jury

Another day, another conflict between the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees in a criminal justice case.

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Today the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of federal law that permitted judges, acting without a jury, to impose criminal sentences in certain contexts. According to the opinion of Justice Neil Gorsuch, that provision violated the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. "Only a jury, acting on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, may take a person's liberty," Gorsuch declared in United States v. Haymond. "Yet in this case a congressional statute compelled a federal judge to send a man to prison for a minimum of five years without empaneling a jury of his peers or requiring the government to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito attacked Gorsuch for writing an opinion that "is not based on the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment, is irreconcilable with precedent, and sports rhetoric with potentially revolutionary implications."

The case centers on a man named Andre Haymond, who had served a prison sentence for possessing child pornography and was out on supervised release. When additional images of child pornography were discovered on his electronic devices, the federal judge in his case sentenced him back to prison for a mandatory minimum of five years. As the Court explained today in its ruling, under the federal law at issue, "if a judge finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant on supervised release committed one of several enumerated offenses, including the possession of child pornography, the judge must impose an additional prison term of at least five years and up to life without regard to the length of the prison term authorized for the defendant's initial crime of conviction."

Haymond challenged the judge's sentencing on the grounds that it violated his rights under the Sixth Amendment. Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, with Justice Stephen Breyer concurring in the judgment, voted today in favor of Haymond.

"The Constitution seeks to safeguard the people's control over the business of judicial punishments by ensuring that any accusation triggering a new and additional punishment is proven to the satisfaction of a jury beyond a reasonable doubt," Gorsuch wrote. "By contrast, the view the government and dissent espouse would demote the jury from its historic role as 'circuitbreaker in the State's machinery of justice' to 'low-level gatekeeping." Gorsuch made it clear that he would have no part of that.

As for the dissenters, they accused Gorsuch of seeking to obliterate a key part of the modern criminal justice system in the name of protecting the rights of criminal defendants. According to the dissent of Justice Alito, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, "the intimation" of Gorsuch's view is that "all supervised-release revocation proceedings must be conducted in compliance with the Sixth Amendment—which means that the defendant is entitled to a jury trial, which means that as a practical matter supervised-release revocation proceedings cannot be held."

This is not the first time that Gorsuch has clashed with Alito in a criminal justice case. It is not even the first time this week that the two have stood on opposite sides of a criminal justice dispute. Just two days ago, in fact, Gorsuch, again joined by the Court's Democratic appointees, ruled for a criminal defendant over a strongly worded dissent filed by Kavanaugh, which was joined by Roberts, Thomas, and Alito.

The next time you hear somebody talking about the Supreme Court's "conservative bloc" marching in intellectual lockstep, point them in the direction of these cases.

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  1. The idea that stacking the Court with conservatives will mean less argument seems to be unfounded. Being an SC justice on the left must be so easy. No need to worry about principles, arguments, logic, etc. Just rubber stamp the left’s bullet point of the day–and use whatever justification seems the least absurd. Then they’ll make movies about you for being a woman.

    By the way, how’s RBG’s heart holding up?

    Not too good, I hope.

    1. Conservatives argue on principles. Win.

    2. I’ve no love for RBG but, we can protect the Constitution without hoping for her pendent demise.

      1. She’s presumably hanging on because Trump is in office, and if she won’t leave until a Democrat is elected, and the only other way she leaves is a celestial retirement–while you (second person plural) want another Republican on the Court, . . .

        When they make political appointments for life, can this sort of . . . um . . . anticipatory speculation be avoided? So, the king’s come down with a terrible disease, you say? I can’t be the first person to notice that not everyone must have always interpreted that as bad news.

        I understand that it may not be appropriate conversation for polite company at the dinner table, but, for goodness’ sake, we’re on the internet!

        1. Haha I legitimately lol’d at this.

        2. As a friend of mine likes to say ‘at the end of the day I don’t care how she leaves. Riding out of town on her horse, or slung over the back of it. So long as she leaves.’

      2. Not hoping for her demise, but she’s starting to resemble the Monty Python Dead Parrot skit.

      3. Speak for yourself, I’ve got money riding on it! *knocks on table*

      4. She’ll have a heart attack when Trump is re-elected.

        1. That would be EPIC!

      5. “I’ve no love for RBG but, we can protect the Constitution without hoping for her pendent demise.”

        She’s had a long, long, and, presumably, fulfilling life.
        Her continued presence on the court harms the country.
        Time for her to go, and it appears the only way that’s going to happen is through death.

        I’m curious though: what’s wrong with hoping for the death of a 90 year old woman, who’s had a great life, but won’t otherwise relinquish power?

        1. She clings to power to try and ensure an era of human bondage of the American people comes to pass. I don’t feel bad at the idea that it would be good for America, and humanity if she passed away. Of course, I would also be just fine with her retiring and living another decade too.

        2. “I’m curious though: what’s wrong with hoping for the death of a 90 year old woman, who’s had a great life, but won’t otherwise relinquish power?”

          Why are you bringing Nancy Pelosi into this?

    3. If your retarded partisan shrieking held any water, Sotomayor would always vote with her liberal colleagues. Yet she doesn’t.

      1. If Sotomayor is an exception to the rule, then someone might infer that there must be a rule–regardless of my retarded and partisan shrieking.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exception_that_proves_the_rule#Original_meaning

        1. Wow, someone actually using that correctly. That never happens.

        2. Eunuch.
          Owned.

          Not that that’s terribly difficult, but you did it so succinctly, Ken.
          Nice

    4. I hope RBG lives many more years. In retirement with her grandkids, regaling them with stories of the fun she used to have on the court.

      1. She can retake them with stories about mangling the constitution and if infringing on people’s rights. Plus her struggle for Marxism.

    5. “By the way, how’s RBG’s heart holding up?”

      She’s had colo-rectal and pancreatic cancer; most recently surgeons removed malignant nodes from her lungs, so I’m going with metastatic lung cancer. When you get to that point every day is indeed a gift, and when it comes time to buy the farm I can only hope there is another Gorsuch to take her place.

      1. I can imagine she’s not going to retire even if a Democrat gets into office.

        IMO, by the time you get to that point, you’re probably scared shitless that its retiring (and no longer having a purpose) that will kill you. And she’s been a SCJ for a looooooooong time. She’s been a Justice for almost as long as the whole rest of her career. Husband’s dead, children grown.

        It would be hard enough to find something worthwhile to keep you active and purposeful after leaving.

        1. Have you seen the more recent pictures of her? Are you sure she’s still alive?

          If she doesn’t retire soon, the remainder of her tenure on SCOTUS is going to turn into a reenactment of either Weekend at Bernie’s or the Monty Python Dead Parrot skit.

          1. Her situation really does scream out for another Bernie sequel

            1. I’ve also always wanted to see a Bernie/Robocop crossover.
              If someone can get the character rights and a producer, I’ll absolutely write+direct it for you…

              1. Hmm…
                I’m getting some ideas already on how to combine the two…

    6. You’re a vile cunt.

      You should embrace that aspect of your personality and spare us the walls of text defending everything any Republican ever does.

      1. It’s amusing to see a cold blooded sociopath, such as yourself, who delights in the murder of infants, speak with such indignation.

        Like you actually care about anything other than yourself and more power for your Marxist masters.

    7. If I were the President, I would insist on verification that she is in fact alive. We can’t put it past her partisans to fake her non-death until after the election.

      1. She’s just sleeping
        /Monty Python

  2. >>>Supreme Court’s Republican appointees

    Alito and Gorsuch nominated by presidents who are not the same (R) and neither conservative whatever dafuq that means

  3. And just think of how much better it would have been if Gorsuch’s seat had gone to Garland, its rightful possessor! /sarc

    1. The State and nothing but The State.

    2. He would have voted the same way, with the liberals, and be better on other issues like separation of church and state.

      1. There is no ‘separation of church and state’.

        1. Yes, there is.

  4. Man, Gorsuch is turning out to be quite libertarian. We should all be thankful for that. As this case demonstrates, on many issues, conservatives are our enemies. Alito sucks.

    1. And Kavanaugh seems like Alito Jr.

      1. Disappointingly so. No matter how bad the law, longevity and ease of administration seems to be his main concerns.

        1. Unsurprisingly so.

      2. Honestly, I don’t like Kavanaugh at all right now as a Trump supporter. He made a HUGE mistake by picking Kavanaugh.

        1. Yeah, it’s really too bad the Democrats had to pick such a vicious way to oppose him, instead of on the merits. It made confirming him a matter of upholding the presumption of innocence, rather than an evaluation of those merits.

          “As for the dissenters, they accused Gorsuch of seeking to obliterate a key part of the modern criminal justice system in the name of protecting the rights of criminal defendants.”

          Guilty as charged, and good for him. If key parts of the modern criminal justice system conflict with the Constitution, (And they do!) they should fall. That’s what it means to have a constitution.

        2. He made a HUGE mistake by picking Kavanaugh.

          He didn’t exactly pick Kavanaugh. Kennedy retired and bequeathed the seat to Kavanaugh with Trump’s approval. Trump probably could’ve said, “No.” but he didn’t exactly get to choose Kavanaugh.

          1. he didn’t exactly get to choose Kavanaugh

            Not that he would’ve knowingly chosen better. Just saying ‘Bad choice’ is a false assertion.

      3. Kavanaugh is Kennedy’s handpicked successor, almost certainly chosen as a condition for his retirement.
        He still sucks, just not as bad as the Ds on the court. And maybe not as bad as Roberts.
        And the whole confirmation fiasco pisses me off for distracting from what an establishment bitch he is.

  5. This is a tricky one where no precedent should be set

    On one hand, supervised release – early supervised parole, there should be no right to a jury trial if conditions are violated.
    OTOH, you cannot sentence someone to life if they have served their original sentence, and can be tripped up by someone planting something

    1. This seems like an entirely separate issue from something like a parole violation. This is a new sentence for a new crime. Seems pretty obvious to me that the right to jury trial applies here. If they just sent him back to prison to finish the original sentence, that would be a different matter entirely.

      1. Agree. It was the extra 5 years tacked on that was the issue. It’s the existing system that can create a Kafkaesque hell. Jury only needs to find guilty of a particularly felonious parking ticket. And then the ‘three felonies per day’ can be used as a release gotcha to keep them locked up increasingly forever with no need for further jury involvement at all.

  6. Thank god for Gorsuch.

    1. Yup. now we get to see what an actual originalist on the SCOTUS looks like.

      Thomas is pretty close but he has made a few poor majority votes.

      Its funny how the Lefties on the court are pretty much voting the opposite of what Roberts will vote. Almost like they know Roe v. Wade will be overturned by Roberts, Alito, and Kavanaugh leading the charge and want to stick it to them on other cases to mess up their “legacy”.

  7. This is just a sentencing case. Its not a hot button civil liberties issue. Ill believe Gorsuch is a social conservative (like Scalia) until proven otherwise. I still think Kavanaugh has more potential to be a moderate, swing vote. Neither seems like they’re going to be very good (libertarian) though.

    1. Gorsuch has already proven to me that he gets it.

      Ill believe Gorsuch is a social conservative (like Scalia) until proven otherwise.

      What does that even mean or matter? How do you think Gorsuch would have ruled in Raich v. Gonzales where Scalia was just being conservative and certainly not being libertarian or “originalist.” Or how do you think Gorsuch would have ruled in Safford Unified School District v. Redding where Thomas said it was A-OK for a middle school to strip search a student? I can only guess, but my guess is that he would have ruled the opposite of these two social conservatives.

      Neither seems like they’re going to be very good (libertarian) though.

      Obviously Kavanaugh won’t be. No one ever suspected him of being anything close to libertarian. He’s basically just a boot licker.

    2. “This is just a sentencing case. Its not a hot button civil liberties issue.”

      The right to trial by jury is a hot button civil liberties issue so far as I’m concerned.

      1. Same here.

      2. word.

  8. Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito attacked Gorsuch for writing an opinion that “is not based on the original meaning of the Sixth Amendment, is irreconcilable with precedent, and sports rhetoric with potentially revolutionary implications.”

    Of which the only concerning part is that it might not be based on the original meaning of the 6th amendment.

    I mean, I’m all for having respect for precedent – but not because its precedent. Because a certain amount of legal stability is worth tolerating a certain amount of bad or ‘illegal’ law to maintain. Stare Decisis is a guide, not an unbreakable core principle.

  9. “all supervised-release revocation proceedings must be conducted in compliance with the Sixth Amendment—which means that the defendant is entitled to a jury trial, which means that as a practical matter supervised-release revocation proceedings cannot be held.”

    That’s not the takeway I got from this.

    I see it as *if you’re going to pile on new sentences* – rather than revoke a privilege (supervised release, being that you are not released from your sentence, just the incarceration portion of it) – then you need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of peers.

    And I’m fine with that.

    These people found child porn on his devices – how hard, really, would it have been to have another abbreviated trial where they could have presented this evidence?

    1. Or, maybe not write in mandatory new sentences for people found violating the terms of their probation?

      1. Or, better yet, stop prosecuting people for simply possessing pictures.

        1. Anyone who defends child porn as ‘pictures’ has serious problems

          1. Seriously.

  10. Interesting that Alito writes that Gorsuch’s opinion “is irreconcilable with precedent”.

    Gorsuch wouldn’t care about that. Last term, he stated – a couple of dozen times – that various precedents should be re-examined. And really Alito doesn’t hold precedent in that high regard either, at least for precedent he doesn’t like.

    Gorsuch’s pals at the federalist society have a conference every year about why stare decisis and precedent should be thrown into the landfill. This year’s conference; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYxDAXm_gVc

  11. Someone should do an analysis between republican and democrat appointees on how often they agree/disagree down party lines.

    1. Current party lines or party lines at the time of appointment?

      I have a feeling that if someone brought a court case about trannies pummeling women in sports lots of lefties would be TERF-bashing RBG.

      1. Fuckin’ transtesticles!

  12. I have a question for you

  13. Where, in Article 1, Section 8 does the Constitution give the power to Congress to make criminal laws about child pornography?
    That should be the first question asked, when a law is presented to the SCOTUS. If Congress doesn’t have that power, the law is unconstitutional, on it’s face, and should be struck down.
    Such laws are for the states as outlined in the Tenth Amendment.

    1. Where does it say it can’t?

      And no, really… what is it with two commentors on this thread defending possession of child pornography?

      I’ll grant that 16-17 year olds can and do consensually produce their own stuff, but child pornography is not limited to that and these comments are kind of disgusting in their inability to recognize what that law is for.

  14. I have to laugh at all those who act as if RGB gets to decide how long she lives. She is 85 yrs old and has multiple health issues. Anyone who has lost their parents or is over 60 will tell you when a older person starts having multiple health issues, it is only a short time til they die. Multiple health problems means your body is breaking down and medical care can only do so much. Look at Bush 41. Sure he lived until he was 94 but the last 10-12 years of his life he was often sick and very frail. Reagan died at 90 of Alzheimers. Even Carter is showing signs his age is finally catching up with him. RBG is not actually a superhero even if that is what the childish minds of leftists want to believe.

  15. Gorsuch is a total G yo!

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