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--------------- Print Magazine --------------
  May 2016
  April 2016

US Supreme Court judge speaks
against pre-appointment grilling of judges

When judges are grilled just before their appointment to the highest court of the land, it gives the impression that their appointment is somehow dependent upon the way they might be expected to rule in cases involving certain issues. The practice has drawn flak from a US Supreme Court judge, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Justice Kennedy, addressing an audience in West Palm Beach, expressed his dissatisfaction with the political litmus test the nominees to the Supreme Court are subjected to and said, “The idea that you appointed a judge for a particular result seems to me not right.”

Kennedy was of the opinion that the questions pertaining to particular legal issues were irrelevant because the lawmakers should only consider whether or not a particular nominee has the experience, temperament and character to be appointed the judge of the highest court.

“The Senate is a political body, and they have to act in a political way. The framers knew that… I do think it has an obligation to recognize the necessity of preserving the neutrality and independence and integrity of our court,” Justice Kennedy observed.

Justice Kennedy is known for his strong stance in favour of extending constitutional rights to take sexual orientation in its fold and wrote judgment in 1996 rejecting a Colorado constitutional provision that denied gays the right to challenge discrimination.

He has also been a passionate defender of free speech and penned the majority opinion that defended the burning of the American flag as part of free speech. He is reported to have remarked, “Sometimes the Constitution requires us to make decisions we don’t like.”

Obama administration may relax Miranda rights for terror suspects


It is not unusual for the security of the citizens in general and the rights of the accused to come in serious conflict. With the threat of international terrorism looming large, it is not difficult to imagine that such situations would arise more frequently.

The question, therefore, is regarding the degree of faith one could place in the law enforcement agencies because the issue of the detainees’ rights is very closely associated with the issue of civil liberties, for it is equally easy to imagine situation in which the relaxation pertaining to detainees’ rights could be put to some seriously regrettable use.

The Obama administration is reportedly considering the possibility of loosening Miranda rights with regard to the terror suspects in order to allow the investigators to obtain information regarding terrorist activities more swiftly without jeopardizing the conviction of the suspect being questioned.

Miranda rights were laid down by the US Supreme Court in 1996 in Miranda v. Arizona, wherein the Supreme Court ruled that when a suspect is arrested he must be read his rights and if he declines to speak, the interrogation must stop. The Supreme Court ruled thus:

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in the court of law; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

However, there can certainly be situations where the exercise of Miranda rights might put public safety under threat. Therefore, a public safety exception was read into Miranda rights, according to which a suspect may not be allowed to exercise his or her Miranda rights if there is an imminent threat to the safety of the general public.

Obama administration drew some serious criticism when the authorities read out Miranda rights to terror suspects like Shahzad and Nigerian bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Life term to juvenile without parole unconstitutional: US Sup. Court

Young offenders must be treated differently because they do not stand in the s a m e position as an adult criminal or a hardened offender. Keeping the lesser degree of culpability in mind and the possibility of reformation, the US Supreme Court has ruled that juvenile offenders cannot be awarded life sentences without the possibility of parole unless it is a case of culpable homicide.

The court was dealing with an appeal by a resident of Florida, who had been sentenced to life at 17 for violent burglaries. It was argued on his behalf that the sentence violated his constitutionally guaranteed right against “cruel and unusual” punishments. The lower court had trashed the appeal but the Supreme Court differed saying, “The Constitution prohibits the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile offender who did not commit homicide”.

The Supreme Court took note of the fact that there were around 129 US youths who were undergoing life sentences without parole, out of which 77 were in Florida alone.

“A State need not guarantee the offender eventual release, but if it imposes a sentence of life it must provide him or her with some realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of that term,” the Court held in its 32-page judgment.

However, the decision of the Supreme Court was not unanimous with 3 judges of the 6 dissenting. One of the dissenting judges, Justice Clarence Thomas, criticized the majority judgment on the grounds that in holding the life sentence without parole to juveniles the Supreme Court had applied “its own sense of morality and retributive justice”.

The judgment is a ray of hope for the juvenile offenders serving such punishment because although the judgment does not guarantee parole to them, it does open the possibility.

Apart from the juveniles serving life sentences with no parole, there are 2,000 more undergoing the same sentence for murder.


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