Supreme Court hears arbitration, death penalty cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [text], which provides for judicial facilitation of private dispute resolution through arbitration when the transaction involves interstate commerce, preempts states from enforcing alternate solutions when arbitration clauses are considered unconscionable. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the FAA does not preempt a California unconscionability law, which allowed a class action against AT&T mobile despite a contractual clause prohibiting such proceedings. Counsel for AT&T argued that the Ninth Circuit's "interpretation of section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act would permit a State to oppose in arbitration any procedure employed in court and thereby require arbitration to be a carbon copy of litigation, precisely what the Act was designed to prevent." Counsel for the respondents argued:

The State law at issue here is not preemptive, for three reasons. First, it is consistent with the equal footing principle or nondiscrimination principle that this Court has consistently recognized is embodied in section 2. Second, it's consistent with two key purposes that the savings clause fulfills under the FAA: ensuring that arbitration is a matter of consent and not coercion; and that it represents merely a choice of forum, but not an exemption from the law. And third, the State law at issue is a correct and legitimate application of the State's common law to which this Court should defer.
In Cullen v. Pinholster [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether to reinstate the death penalty against defendant Scott Pinholster. Pinholster was convicted of the 1984 killing of two men during a burglary in Los Angeles. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned Pinholster's death sentence, finding that his lawyer failed to disclose evidence of mental illness to the jury. Counsel for the petitioner argued that:
because the California Supreme Court rejected Mr. Pinholster's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel on its merits, Federal habeas corpus relief is unavailable under 28 U.S.C. section 2254(d)(1) unless Mr. Pinholster first met his burden of demonstrating that the State court rejection of his claim was unreasonable. He did not do that in this case, and thus the lower courts erred in granting him habeas corpus relief.
Counsel for Pinholster argued that the Ninth Circuit's ruling should be upheld because the court applied the correct standard.

 

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