I’m amused when people ask me about the Supreme Court.  It’s usually non-lawyers.  For some reason, when those crusty old people in black dresses make mainstream news, non-lawyers care.   There were some well-publicized cases argued the last couple of weeks.  I’m supposed to care.

I probably don’t care.

That’s not quite true.  Sometimes I care.  If they’ve already come out with a decision AND it’s criminal-law related AND it goes the way of protecting the rights of the accused, THEN I care.  Otherwise, it’s just business-as-usual out of that court.  Business as usual typically either doesn’t affect my people, or doesn’t help my people.  I don’t care about that.

Shocking, that I don’t care about the Supreme Court, right?  Other people care.  I used to care. Those kids in law school get all spun up about the Supremes.  I did then, too.  There’s also a whole cult of dorks who never get inside a courtroom but blog about every potential thing the Supreme Court might do- they care, too.  Dan Abrams cares.  He’s a stooge, though.

If you’re a criminal defense lawyer, falling in the love with the Supreme Court is a guaranteed path to misery.  That court will start breaking your heart early, and won’t stop until you’re so jaded that you just don’t care.  They burned me.  Not once.  They kept burning me until I stopped caring.  I’ve put all of those pictures of me and them in a box on the shelf in the garage, and I’m never going to look at them again.  It hurts to even talk about it.  I can be strong, though. I can talk about it.

Remember back when I railed on about legal technicalities that really screw up criminal cases?  You know, the technicalities prosecutors keep using to get people locked up?  That Herrera v. Collins thing should have been the first sign that my love for the Supreme Court was one-way.  I should have seen the signs.  I wish I would have listened when people warned me- they were just trying to keep me from getting hurt.

Herrera v. Collins is the worst decision that court has ever made.  If you’re unfamiliar, it’s the decision where Justice Rehnquist decided a case that asked two very simple questions:

  1. Does the Constitution prohibit the execution of a innocent person?
  2. What post-conviction (after trial and appeal) process can a person go through if they’ve been found guilty but are actually innocent (and have new proof to show it).

Both no-brainers, right?  Of course it’s not ok to execute an innocent person.  Of course an innocent person can petition the federal government for help if he is actually innocent.  If the bill of rights stands for anything, it’s for the idea that innocent people shouldn’t be caged up and executed.  You would think.

You’re so silly with your thoughts of justice and fairness and other such nonsense.  You’re also silly to think that, according to the Supreme Court, the Constitution cares about your fairness or justice.  And, I thought I knew you.

Rehnquist ruled that, of course you cannot go to the federal courts if all you’ve got is a pesky claim of your actual innocence.  ”Claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence have never been held to state a ground for federal habeas relief…” he says on page 400.  You know what that means?  That means that when you’re actually innocent, as it pertains to the United States Constitution, you’re S.O.L.  Good thing, too.  Can you think of all the additional work those poor Federal judges would have to do if innocent people could ask to not be executed?  It’s hard enough for Federal judges to get by on their $174,000 starting salary.  How dare you suggest they do extra-credit work.


Wait.  Does that mean it’s ok to execute an innocent person?  If somebody who’s actually innocent (but can’t ask the Federal Courts for help) is going to get ignored, there’s nothing in the Constitution to keep that innocent person from being executed, right?  Rehnquist didn’t say that’s true.

He damn sure didn’t say that’s false, either.  He didn’t really say at all.  And, this case would probably have been the place to say, if you ever had enough spine to say.  Rehnquist is hoping your state courts or state governor really get things right and take care of that themselves.  Then he won’t have your executed corpse on his mind.  He hopes.

Some of the other Justices did care, though.  That was in either concurring or dissenting opinions. Rehnquist was writing the “opinion of the court”.    The shameful opinion of the court.

So, what do I think the Supreme Court will do with same-sex marriage?  Or with abortion?  Or with price of tea in China?

I don’t care.  Until they put on their little dresses and parade themselves to that goofy little courtroom and announce that the Bill of Rights will care if I’m actually innocent and will care if an actually innocent person is executed, I’m not much interested in what they do.  That’s not to say that I don’t love them anymore- I’ll always love them.  It’s just that I’ve moved on.  It was the right thing to do, and I’m better for it.

Matt Haiduk is a Criminal Defense Lawyer who either cares or doesn’t care.  He has offices in Geneva and Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Feel free to add him on Google+.