Supreme Court issued orders today. There was a grant in a capital habeas case. But it was more of the summary-reversal variety.
The case has the great name of Bobby v. Mitts. Sounds like the title of a Brady Bunch episode (of course, Marcia v. Football would have been much better).
And, although it's a habeas loss, it's pretty interesting. It's a case out of Ohio. Ohio uses a certain instruction at its capital sentencing phase that was upheld last year in Smith v. Spisak. In Smith, Justice Stevens concurred, arguing that the instruction was unconstitutional under a Supreme Court decision in Beck.
In response to the decision in Spisak, and obviously heeding the call of Justice Stevens, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the instruction was unconstitutional under Beck.
In today's summary reversal, the Court rejected the Sixth Circuit's conclusion. The Court pointed out that Beck concerned an instruction at the guilt phase of a death penalty case and that the Court had previously held that the logic of Beck is not directly applicable to the sentencing phase. The Court also stated that it had already all but decided this question in Spisak itself. Although Beck was not mentioned, the Court rejected a claim that was essentially the same as the Beck claim, finding that there was no clearly established law on the issue.
It all seems so straightforward, but today's decision does show, in stark relief, the difference a post-Stevens court looks like in habeasland. Last year, at least Stevens was willing to express concern over these charges. Now there is a unanimous summary reversal, rejecting on all fours Stevens' concern over these charges. I have been meaning to write more about this, but there is no doubt that the Court has shifted pretty dramatically rightward in habeas cases this year (I am looking directly at you, Richter and Pinholster). I know you may be asking yourself whether that was even possible. I wouldn't have believed it either, but it certainly has happened.