U.S. Supreme Court

Kennedy Overturns Former Clerk

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Justice Anthony M. Kennedy overturned his former law clerk in a decision yesterday saying that state courts are in the best position to make decisions on potential jurors.

Kennedy wrote for the majority in a 5-4 ruling that said federal courts should defer to a state judge’s judgment that the juror should not be seated. The decision will make it easier for prosecutors to remove potential jurors who are ambivalent about the death penalty, the New York Times reports.

The juror had said he did not think the death penalty should be used very often. He did think it should be used if it was likely an inmate would murder again if he is released from prison.

The opinion overturns a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals written by Judge Alex Kozinski, described as a “conservative icon” by the Times. When Kennedy was a 9th Circuit judge, Kozinski served as his law clerk.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent that the decision overturned a long-time distinction between jurors who merely express an opposition to capital punishment and are eligible to serve, and those who are unable to perform the legally required duties of a juror.

He added that Kozinski “surely was entitled to assume that the law had not changed so dramatically.”

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