WASHINGTON – New Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson issued her first Supreme Court opinion Monday, a short dissent in support of a death row inmate from Ohio.
Jackson wrote that she would have thrown out lower court rulings in the case of Ohio inmate Davel Chinn, whose lawyers argued that the state suppressed evidence that might have altered the outcome of his trial.
The two-page opinion came on the same day the high court was hearing cases that are part of a wider dispute over the power of the federal government.
In her dissent, Jackson wrote that she would have ordered a new look at Chinn's case “because his life is on the line and given the substantial likelihood that the suppressed records would have changed the outcome at trial.” The evidence at issue indicated that a key witness against Chinn has an intellectual disability that might have affected his memory and ability to testify accurately, she wrote.
Prosecutors are required to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense. In this case, lower courts determined that the outcome would not have been affected if the witness' records had been provided to Chinn's lawyers.
Chinn's lawyers said in a statement after his case was rejected that: “Ohio must not exacerbate the mistakes of the past by pursuing Mr. Chinn’s execution.”
The only other member of the court to join Jackson's opinion was fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Jackson joined the high court on June 30, following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer.
The court has yet to decide any of the cases argued in October or the first few days of this month. Jackson almost certainly will be writing a majority opinion in one of those cases. Every justice typically writes at least one opinion each time the court sits for a two-week session of hearing arguments.
Also on Monday:
— The court heard arguments in two cases, involving the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, that are part of a sustained attack by business and conservative interests on what they say is government overreach. The two cases before the court have to do with whether challengers can quickly get into federal court or must endure a sometimes yearslong agency process first.
In both cases it seemed that the court dominated 6-3 by conservatives would opt for the shorter route, with Justice Samuel Alito at one point questioning a lawyer for the government on his argument for the more lengthy process: “Isn’t it in your interest to get this decided?”
Fellow conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, meanwhile, noted the string of Supreme Court decisions against the government in recent years saying: “Doesn’t that underscore the need for ... a direct proceeding to raise the constitutional claim rather than waiting however many years before the agency?”
— The justices declined to hear a case out of Arizona in which a man, Ramin Khorrami, challenged his conviction by an eight-member jury. Two conservative justices said the court should have heard Khorrami’s case. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the high court should have done so and overturned a 1970 Supreme Court precedent in which the justices said a 12-member jury is not required. Gorsuch wrote that six states allow smaller jury panels, a practice he said is “difficult to reconcile” with the Constitution. Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed the court should have heard the case. Khorrami was convicted after demanding money from a woman he had an affair with, threatening to reveal the affair to her husband if she didn't comply.
— The justices also declined to hear the case of a Louisiana man who was convicted of sex trafficking and argued there was serious prosecutorial misconduct in his case. Jackson and Sotomayor were also allies in dissent on that case.