In orders and opinions issued this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia resident-only public records law, dismissed an appeal challenging Louisiana’s five-year failure to fund counsel for an indigent defendant, and refused to hear an appeal concerning Alabama’s attempts to revive portions of a state immigration law.
In McBurney v. Young, a unanimous Court ruled that Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, which limits the provision of state public records to Virginia residents, does not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the U.S. Constitution. Several states – Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee — have similar provisions. The Court’s ruling, affirming the decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, settles a split in the circuits. The Third Circuit in 2006 had held that Delaware’s FOIA did violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause. More on the decision can be found here.
In Boyer v. Louisiana, the court dismissed as improvidently granted an appeal concerning an indigent murder defendant’s five-year wait for trial, which had been attributed to Louisiana’s failure to fund his defense counsel. In a concurring opinion, Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas found that the delays in reaching a trial were caused not by funding issues but rather by several defense requests for continuances. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer (who broke his shoulder in a bicycle fall this weekend) and Elena Kagan dissented. Said Sotomayor:
We granted certiorari to decide whether a delay caused by a State’s failure to fund counsel for an indigent’s defense should be weighed against the State in determining whether there was a deprivation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. Rather than dismiss the writ as improvidently granted, I would simply address this question. Our precedents provide a clear answer: Such a delay should weigh against the State. It is important for States to understand that they have an obligation to protect a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.
In Alabama v. United States, the justices (excluding Justice Antonin Scalia) refused to hear an appeal concerning Alabama immigration law, including a section that made it a crime to harbor people who are living in the country illegally. As a result, the ruling of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — that the state lacked the authority to enforce the challenged provisions since immigration law is largely the responsibility of the federal government — remains in place. More on this case can be found here.