The Supreme Court rounds out its December sitting this week with a couple of cases rife with ex-bedfellows, strange bedfellows and riverbeds.
Monday: Messerschmidt v. Millender
Shoot a sawed-off shotgun at your ex-girlfriend and you might just bring together some strange bedfellows to help you at the Supreme Court. When Shelly Kelly reported her ex-boyfriend's behavior to the Los Angeles Police Department, they obtained a warrant to search his place of residence for all firearms and proof of ownership or possession, as well as anything that showed his membership with the Crips gang. The SWAT team busted in and cleared the house, which was owned by the trigger-happy boyfriend's foster mother, Augusta Millender. They did not find the weapon Kelly had described, however. Instead, they came up with Millender's personal shotgun. Only later did the detective on the case find the suspect hiding under a motel room bed.
Millender alleged violations of her Fourth Amendment rights, claiming that the police had no probable cause to search for anything more than the ex-boyfriend's sawed-off shotgun. The Supreme Court on Monday will hear argument over whether the detective's error was serious enough to allow Millender, supported by the NRA and the ACLU, to pass through usual legal safeguards and sue the detective in his personal capacity.
Tuesday: Williams v. Illinois
For the fourth time in four terms, the Supreme Court will have it out over the limits of the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause. In 2009, the justices broke into an ideologically-scrambled 5-4 decision in which Justice Antonin Scalia led Justices Clarence Thomas, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to hold that lab reports entered into evidence must be accompanied by the lab tech who prepared it, no matter how reliable the report or understaffed the lab. Stevens and Souter have since retired, but when the Court revisited the issue in 2010 and again last term, both Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan followed in their predecessors' footsteps.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, have perpetually dissented on this issue, and they will likely be hoping to peel off one vote to stop what they see as an unjustified exaltation of constitutional principle over criminal procedure practicality.
Wednesday: PPL Montana v. Montana
On Wednesday, the Court will explore the record of Lewis and Clark's expedition to determine who owns the riverbeds upon which three Montana dams rest. Awesome for constitutional history buffs -- and I'll try to make it awesome for everyone else in my after-argument recap.
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