Another October (Update)

The October 2012 Term of the Supreme Court opened yesterday, the first Monday of October. Lawyers and law professors, the media and those passionate about the law, will obsess over the cases. Tom Goldstein has created a business out of his former blog, SCOTUSBlog , out of it.

Does it matter? When is the last time the Supreme Court decided something that changed your life? When is the last time the Court issued a fully formed opinion that answered all the questions surrounding a disputed issue, without leaving a half dozen more questions unanswered so that people will spend the next generation arguing over the application of a new holding?

Sure, there are occasional sea change decisions, Booker, Heller and Citizens United come to mind.  But for the most part, does anything that happen at One First Street change much of anything in the trenches?  Does it change anything on your street?

From time to time, I’ll waste time and brain cells on Supreme Court decisions, parsing the words to determine who really won and what it really means.  Lawprofs will write thousands of posts over the most inconsequential of decisions, for lack of anything better to do with their time or to show how deeply they think in the hope of arriving at some truly significant thought.

But for a long time now, it’s been my sense that we’re gushing over essentially nothing. Rarely is anyone saved. Rarely is anything changed. Rarely does it matter to anyone in the trenches or on the street.

Am I missing something?  Is this important in your practice? In your life? Is it worth all the attention it received or are we just spinning wheels?

Update: There are days I wonder whether I’m using some foreign language here that is utterly incomprehensible to readers. Obviously, I’ve been horribly unclear as none of the comments reflect anything remotely resembling the issues raised.  Padilla? Seriously?

29 comments on “Another October (Update)

  1. Rob R.

    Padilla v. Kentucky: criminal defense attorneys must advise of the “truly clear” immigration consequences of the defendant’s plea. That’s pretty huge, and given the increasing number of people who are facing immigration consequences because of programs like secure communities, has really changed things. Chaidez, pending this term, will determine how retroactive Padilla is. Also, Melendez-Diaz: where the authors of lab sheets have to come to court to be crossed. And what about Strickland? Or are you really aiming this post to non-lawyers? Heck, it’s gotten to the point where I read Scotus Blog everyday!

  2. marc r.

    Definitely using Miller v Alabama the last couple months. Not sure how the opinions don’t affect us directly as much as legislation or executive enforcement.

  3. Max Kennerly

    I have to pay attention because sometimes they blow up whole areas of civil litigation because they don’t like them, or they hold that the Rules of Civil Procedure don’t really mean what they say.

    The sad part is always feeling defensive about the Supreme Court. No lawyer who represents human beings ever thinks, “boy, this term the Supreme Court might expand my clients’ rights.” They just wonder what right is next on the chopping block.

  4. Shawn McManus

    Kelo and the recent ruling on the PHACA/Obamacare have made a pretty big impact on the day-to-day for the folks within my sphere.

    My estimated tax increases Obamacare alone will account for every year’s movie seen, latte purchased, and a lot of dining out.

  5. David

    It’s my job to pay attention to environmental law, so Sackett v. EPA and its ramifications kept me pretty busy for a few months after the decision. And there are two more potentially big cases on the docket for December, so I’ve got a reason to care this year, too.

  6. DHMCarver

    Padilla (2010) certainly had a direct effect, as my better half does immigration defense work. Bullcoming (2011) will surely help hundreds of defendants facing our justice system. You yourself noted Citizens United (2010). NFIB v. Sibelius (2012) surely had a huge effect on millions of us (perhaps better considered as what the effect would have been had the health care law been overturned, as four of the justices wished). So it seems about once or twice a year there is a case that has a wide impact. But overall, I would have to agree with your conclusion: “But for a long time now, it’s been my sense that we’re gushing over essentially nothing. Rarely is anyone saved. Rarely is anything changed. Rarely does it matter to anyone in the trenches or on the street.”

  7. Dan

    I think the importance of Padilla to criminal defense attorneys is a little overrated. Its a wrinkle, but it doesn’t make favorable witnesses, or the resources to go to trial, or the stomach to risk a trial suddenly appear.

  8. Gideon

    Wow. The comments took your comment literally.

    Yes, I pay attention. Is it worth it? I don’t know. Sometimes? They seem to operate in another world entirely and I often feel like nothing that happens “up there” really affects how we do things down here. The bulk of law that governs our daily practice will never change.

    I get the malaise.

  9. SHG

    So you speak the same foreign language I do?

    It’s comments like these that makes me wonder why I bother.

  10. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    I think you’re on to something here that is deep-seated in human behaviour – we like to do things that make us feel important and appear important, irrespective of whether such things are fundamentally important or not. Fawning over every flex of the U.S. Supreme Court’s butt cheek seems important to many, but alas, I believe you are right, it really isn’t that important in the overall scheme of the universe . . .

    Here’s the crazy thing about life in general, at least to me – hardly anything is really important, save the love for and relationships you have with your family, friends, and others who cross your path. The rest is mostly window dressing; all dolled up for reasons G-d only knows, as we wait for next year’s Black Friday sale to buy something we really don’t need . . .

  11. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Are you referring to the police?? . . . hehehe . . . I guess they are important, the thin blue line thing and all . . .

  12. Gideon

    This CAPTCHA is horrible. Seriously.

    I’m back to writing for myself. If people comment, they comment. It helps me stay on top of “developments in the law” or maybe just stroke my own ego. I don’t know anymore. It is pretty disheartening. All of it. We’ll be gone soon enough and who knows what’ll happen to the country and what people will want and care about. Are we even making a difference in our professional lives? The answer varies day to day.

    Time to win the lottery, methinks and go buy an island somewhere isolated.

  13. SHG

    Enough with the captcha. I complained about it again yesterday. I hate it too. I’m trying to get them to change it, but for now, I’m stuck with it.

    Yes, I know you’re back to writing. And doing a fine job of it, other than today’s link dump (which was awful).  Then again, I note  Radley’s link dump today included a boing boing post about tin foil hats that I posted 6 weeks ago. Nice to see he’s right on top of things. I even let him know about it, but he didn’t care. Makes yours look less awful.

  14. Gideon

    Thanks? My purpose in link dumping is getting rid of things I’ve been sitting on for a bit that I couldn’t bring myself to write full-length posts about. Better than tweeting those links.

  15. SHG

    My take is that you are saying these are posts you think other people should read. I read them because of your endorsement. Now I want those minutes of my life back (especially for Max’s post, which was long but utter crap). If you can’t be bothered to write about them, why would you suggest others read them?

  16. Nashville Criminal Law Report

    Is It Just Another October ?

    I read a blog post today at Simple Justice. Scott Greenfield wrote about whether we put too much into what the Supreme Court rules. Does their rulings affect the criminal defense lawyers in the trenches ? I do agree with…

  17. Gideon

    I don’t not write about them because they’re crap, but because I have nothing to add. They’re things I think other people might find interesting, that’s all. You don’t have to like it.

  18. SHG

    That’s what I thought. That’s why I wrote it was awful, because I didn’t like it. Your real posts, on the other hand, have been terrific.

  19. Kathleen Casey

    I had in mind to make this comment to Gid and I hope he sees it, about “We’ll be gone soon enough” and “Are we even making a difference in our professional lives?”

    Keep writing Gideon! Love is the only thing that matters. Love is the only thing that lasts. Love and forgive a bitter spouse. Love and forgive a disloyal friend, brother, sister, or child. Love and forgive an ungrateful client. That does not mean you must trust, not before they earn it, if they even want to. Love and forgive. It will make a difference in our fallen world. And eventually they may want to earn your trust again.

  20. Jeff Gamso

    Hey, I’ve been working all day at trying to find something witty and ironic to write about Bernice Telian’s effort to get a pardon for her great, great, etc., and the rest of the coven, Professor Kirkpatrick’s realization that the evidence they were really witches was “flimsy.” Ya think?

  21. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Great post!

    First, force Nino and Thomas to retire.

    Second, prohibit law clerks from ghostwriting judicial opinions. What the hell do they know, anyway? So they got top marks in law school. All they should do is copy edit and get coffee and donuts.

    Third, impose a moratorium on law professors or former prosecutors from judicial qualification, or require equal representation among the CDL/plaintiffs’ bar. I know, I know, it’s not the “most qualified”, but merely “qualified”.

    I don’t know if SCOTUS will ever make a difference in lawyer’s practices and daily lives. Whenever the Supreme Court of Canada renders a judgment, I often lol or smh.

  22. Miranda

    I don’t follow the Supreme Court. I have a much smarter friend who does and he will post anything earth-shattering online. It’s mostly laziness, but also because of what you said in the post. What do I care? How much of this is going to make a big difference in my life? The last time I remember feeling like a SCOTUS decision really affected me was Roper, and that’s because I was doing innocence work and was heavily invested in any step towards abolition. One of my group’s innocence clients was taken off death row. That was a pretty big deal.

  23. SHG

    Thanks, Miranda. I pay attention, and when I look back a year later and ponder how meaningless the decision has been in the interim, I wonder why I bother. And yet I keep bothering. I’m a glutton for uselessness.

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