Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chill a Little, Dudes

Someone really needs to get the Supreme Court Justices to tone down their rhetoric a little. Snarky sniping has become the norm in politics, but one might hope for judges to be a bit more bland and respectful.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded an Eleventh Circuit decision that, all nine Justices agreed, including a holding that was erroneous in light of a subsequently decided Supreme Court case. But they disagreed (5-4, naturally) as to whether vacatur was necessary, inasmuch as four of them believed that the Eleventh Circuit's opinion contained an alternative holding that would have supported the judgment notwithstanding the erroneous holding. The majority thought that the alternative holding at least might have been infected by the erroneous holding and decided that the better option was to remand to the Eleventh Circuit to make sure.

Oh, and by the way, the Eleventh Circuit's decision affirmed a death sentence.

Look, as faithful readers know, I don't have the strongest feelings either way on the death penalty. But I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suggest that where a man's life is at stake, the judicial system should act carefully. If there's even some possibility that the ultimate judgment is erroneous, it won't kill anyone (one might say) to take a careful look at the matter before executing the defendant.

So I can't understand why the dissenters feel the need to complain about the Court's "flabby standard," to say that "the Court outdoes itself," and to create snarky and degrading acronyms for the Court's action ("the SRIE, Summary Remand for Inconsequential Error—or, as the Court would have it, the SRTAEH, Summary Remand to Think About an Evidentiary Hearing").

This kind of rhetoric doesn't serve anybody well. If you disagree, go ahead and dissent, but at least do so respectfully. The Court is asking the Eleventh Circuit to take another look at the case before the defendant is executed. Let's not rush him to his death with jeers and bad jokes.

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