U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Declines Cases on 'Choose Life' Plates, Juror Bible Reading

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Cases touching on religion and abortion were among several rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. One concerns whether anti-abortion activists can force Arizona to issue “Choose Life” license plates, and the other whether a Bible-reading juror requires a court to overturn a death sentence.

The court accepted no new cases yesterday. The action came as the justices heard arguments on whether smokers may sue over misleading advertising for light cigarettes, the New York Times reports.

In the license plates case, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the state of Arizona had violated the free speech rights of the Arizona Life Coalition by turning down its request for “Choose Life” plates. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves intact the 9th Circuit ruling, the Associated Press reports.

In the Bible case, a jury foreman read aloud a Bible passage to the entire jury before it imposed a death sentence, the Christian Science Monitor reports. It read, in part, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

An inmate had contended the passage violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial, according to the Christian Science Monitor story. Courts reviewing the sentence refused to overturn it, and the Supreme Court refusal to take the case leaves the sentence in place.

In another criminal case, the court refused to hear an appeal by Patrick Lett, sentenced to five years in prison by a judge who wrongly thought the law required him to serve time, the Associated Press reports in a separate story.

Lett got some help from an old Army buddy, law student Matthew Sinor of Ohio State law school. Sinor wrote to the judge, suggesting that he did not have to impose a minimum five-year sentence for cocaine possession under a “safety valve” for offenders with clean backgrounds.

The judge reduced the sentence to 11 days of time served, but the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The appeals court said the judge had not made a “clear error” within the meaning of the statute that allows for corrected sentences.

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