Short video featuring Gregory S. McNeal

Gregory S. McNeal, Associate Professor of Law and Public Policy at Pepperdine School of Law, discusses some property rights questions that are associated with drone use. Do property owners own the air above their property? Can they destroy a drone that flies onto their property? How should disputes between property owners and drone users be settled?

Civil Rights Practice Group Podcast

In July of 2015, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced its final rule on Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. HUD touts the rule, promulgated under the Fair Housing Act of 1928, as a critical tool to help communities “take significant actions to overcome historic patterns of segregation, achieve truly balanced and integrated living patterns, promote fair housing choice, and foster inclusive communities that are free from discrimination.” Critics charge that the program is a power grab that improperly applies disparate impact analysis and incorrectly views geographic clustering of racial and ethnic minorities as evidence of discrimination and segregation. Our experts discussed the merits of the rule from both law and policy perspectives.


  • Hon. Peter N. Kirsanow, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  • Stanley Kurtz, Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center
SCOTUScast 4-20-16 featuring Cassandra Burke Robertson

On February 29, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Williams v. Pennsylvania. Terrance Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of Amos Norwood. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Williams’ conviction and sentence, and his initial attempts to obtain state postconviction relief failed. His subsequent petition for federal habeas relief also failed.  He again sought post-conviction penalty-related relief in state court and prevailed in the Court of Common Pleas on a claim of unlawful evidence suppression. On appeal, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the grant of relief and lifted the stay of execution (though a temporary reprieve was later granted by the governor for other reasons). The Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Ronald Castille--who had joined the opinion reversing the grant of relief to Williams--had also been the District Attorney for Philadelphia during Williams’ trial, sentencing, and appeal. In that capacity, Castille had authorized his office to seek the death penalty for Williams.  Williams had moved to have Chief Justice Castille recuse himself from hearing the appeal of post-conviction relief, but Castille declined to do so.

The question now before the U.S. Supreme Court is twofold: (1) Whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are violated where a state supreme court justice declines to recuse himself in a capital case in which he had personally approved the decision to pursue capital punishment against the defendant in his prior capacity as an elected prosecutor and continued to head the prosecutor’s office that defended the death verdict on appeal, and where he had publicly expressed strong support for capital punishment during his judicial election campaign; and (2) whether the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist on a multi-member tribunal deciding a capital case, regardless of whether his vote is ultimately decisive.

To discuss the case, we have Cassandra Burke Robertson, who is Professor of Law, Laura B. Chisolm Distinguished Research Scholar, and Director, Center for Professional Ethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

SCOTUScast 4-20-16 featuring Richard E. Myers II

On April 18, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Welch v. United States. Gregory Welch pleaded guilty to the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of federal law. Because Welch had three prior felony convictions, the district court determined that the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) required that he be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. Welch appealed, arguing that his conviction for robbery in Florida state court did not qualify as a predicate offense for the purposes of ACCA because, at the time he was convicted, Florida state law allowed for a robbery conviction with a lower level of force than the federal law required to qualify as a predicate offense. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, however, affirmed the district court’s judgment, concluding that the minimum elements for conviction under the Florida law established a “serious risk of physical injury to another” and therefore qualified it as a predicate offense for purposes of ACCA. Welch’s subsequent attempt to obtain habeas relief from the district court was denied, and the Eleventh Circuit rejected his appeal, but the Supreme Court granted certiorari. 

The two questions before the Supreme Court are: (1) Whether Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015)—which held that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act of 1984 (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. 924(e)(2)(B)(ii), is unconstitutionally vague—announced a new “substantive” rule of constitutional law that is retroactively applicable in an initial motion to vacate a federal prisoner’s ACCA-enhanced sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2255(a); and (2) Whether petitioner’s conviction for robbery under Florida state law qualifies as a violent felony that supports a sentence enhancement under the ACCA. 

By a vote of 7-1, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit and remanded the case. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, holding that Johnson announced a new substantive rule that has retroactive effect in cases on collateral review, including Welch’s. The Court declined to address, however, whether Welch’s conviction for robbery under Florida law qualified as a predicate for purposes of the ACCA enhancement, leaving the matter to the Court of Appeals on remand.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Richard E. Myers II, who is the Henry Brandis Distinguished Professor of Law, University of North Carolina School of Law.

SCOTUScast 4-20-16 featuring Kent S. Scheidegger

On January 20, 2016, the Supreme Court decided three consolidated death penalty cases: Kansas v. Carr, a second Kansas v. Carr, and Kansas v. Gleason.

A Kansas jury sentenced Sidney Gleason to death for killing a co-conspirator and her boyfriend to cover up the robbery of an elderly man. In a joint proceeding, a Kansas jury also sentenced brothers Reginald and Jonathan Carr to death for a crime spree that culminated in the brutal rape, robbery, kidnapping, and execution-style shooting of five young men and women. The Supreme Court of Kansas vacated the death sentences in each case, holding that the sentencing instructions violated the Eighth Amendment by failing “to affirmatively inform the jury that mitigating circumstances need only be proved to the satisfaction of the individual juror in that juror’s sentencing decision and not beyond a reasonable doubt.” It also held that the Carrs’ Eighth Amendment right “to an individualized capital sentencing determination” was violated by the trial court’s failure to sever their sentencing proceedings. 

The two questions before the U.S. Supreme Court were: (1) whether the Constitution required the sentencing courts to instruct the juries that mitigating circumstances “need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt”; and (2) whether the Constitution required severance of the Carrs’ joint sentencing proceedings. 

By a vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court and remanded the cases. Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court, which held that (1) the Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct a jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and (2) the Constitution did not require severance of joint sentencing proceedings because the contention that the admission of mitigating evidence by one defendant could have "so infected" the jury's consideration of the other defendant's sentence as to amount to a denial of due process does not stand in light of all the evidence presented at the guilty and penalty phases relevant to the jury's sentencing determination. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

To discuss the case, we have Kent S. Scheidegger, who is Legal Director & General Counsel at Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.