Supreme Court Wire

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There’s lots of action at the United States Supreme Court. Here is a rundown of important supreme court news …

“The government won’t be able to detain illegal immigrants indefinitely on criminal charges under a ruling by the Supreme Court.

In a 7-to-2 ruling, justices reasoned that a 2001 ruling covering detention of legal immigrants should also apply to illegal immigrants. The prior ruling said that legal immigrants who have served time for crimes can’t be detained for more than a “reasonable period,” generally six months.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to detain terror suspects who are deemed too dangerous to be freed.”


A splintered Supreme Court threw the nation’s federal sentencing system into turmoil Wednesday, ruling that the way judges have been sentencing some 60,000 defendants a year is unconstitutional.

In ordering changes, the court found 5-4 that judges have been improperly adding time to some criminals’ prison stays.

The high court stopped short of scrapping the nearly two-decade-old guideline system, intended to make sure sentences do not vary widely from courtroom to courtroom.

Instead, the court said in the second half of a two-part ruling that judges should consult the guidelines in determining reasonable sentences – but only on an advisory basis.


Thousands of cases nationwide have been on hold awaiting a high court ruling. The decision, which makes the guidelines advisory instead of mandatory, was seen as the most important criminal law decision of the court’s term.

Legal experts said it would have broad impact. Craig Margolis, a former federal prosecutor who now practices law in Washington, D.C., said tens of thousands of imprisoned defendants will seek to be resentenced and federal courts will have to decide if the ruling applied to them.

The court reaffirmed the principle in its ruling in June, striking down a similar state law that any facts necessary to support a longer sentence must be admitted by the defendant or proven to the jury.

In the court’s main opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer (news – web sites) said federal judges are no longer required to apply the guidelines, and only can consider them, along with certain other sentencing criteria, in deciding a defendant’s punishment.

The guidelines, long criticized by criminal justice reform advocates for imposing overly harsh sentences on a mandatory basis, set rules for judges to calculate punishment and attempt to reduce wide disparities in sentences for the same crime.


Although it will be weeks before the nation’s Supreme Court justices render a decision in a tax battle between the city of Sherrill and the Oneida Indian Nation, both sides Wednesday were confident they’d prevail.

The city and tribe appeared before the high court Tuesday, arguing whether Sherrill could collect taxes on property purchased by the Oneidas, who claim the land is sovereign and exempt from all local and state legislation, including tax laws.

However, the justices are expected to also address the bigger question of what happens to land, once part of an Indian reservation, that is reacquired by a tribe.

The court’s ruling will have far-reaching effects in upstate New York, where more than 330,000 acres are subject to Indian land claims. The outcome also could affect millions of acres of Indian land throughout the country and change the way Indian lands are taxed and governed.

Supreme Court Wire
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