SCOTUS – Jurors cannot agree to disagree


NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 21st of April, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. The U.S. Supreme Court handed down three opinions yesterday.

First, a landmark decision that a unanimous verdict is required to convict a defendant of a serious criminal offense. 

Only two states didn’t require that, Louisiana and Oregon. So when Louisiana’s Evangelisto Ramos received life in prison after only 10 out of 12 jurors convicted him, he challenged it. 

You can hear the eventual ruling in Justice Neil Gorsuch’s question from oral argument in October:

GORSUCH: Should we forever ensconce an incorrect view of the United States Constitution for perpetuity, for all states and all people, denying them a right that we believe was originally given to them…

The answer is no, and Ramos’ conviction is now reversed.

EICHER: A second ruling says the Patent Trial and Appeal Board will continue to decide disputes over how timely patent filings have to be. One side wanted the courts to review those matters, but a 7-2 vote declined to make any change. This is a technical issue and the case is remanded to lower court for further proceedings.

REICHARD: The third ruling is a blow to landowners who wanted to clean up their own backyards of toxic waste. 

A long-closed copper smelter site in Opportunity, Montana, left 300 square miles contaminated. The Environmental Protection Agency and the company owner have worked to decontaminate the area for decades, but landowners argue it’s not enough. They sued the smelter site owner for money to do more clean up. 

But it wasn’t to be. Chief Justice John Roberts during argument in December hinted at the ruling the court arrived at yesterday:

ROBERTS: I mean, yes, you want to just do things on your land, but you can’t overlook the fact that that is going to have harmful effects on everybody else around you.

A majority 7 justices say the landowners must work with EPA to pursue further claims. For now, the company is off the hook for additional cleanup. 

But other, similar cases are not foreclosed. The decision keeps alive potential lawsuits under state law in state courts as they relate to cleanup in the future. The case is remanded for further proceedings.


(AP Photo/Susan Walsh) In this Nov. 11, 2019 file photo, a view of the Supreme Court in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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