SCOTUScast 3-20-07 featuring Erik S. Jaffe

Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp. and Lance v. Coffman

March 20, 2007

Erik S. Jaffe

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 SCOTUScast 3-20-07 featuring Erik S. Jaffe - MP3

Bio for Erik S. Jaffe


 Sinochem Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp.

Justice Ginsburg, speaking for a unanimous Court, described the suit between Malaysian and Chinese companies in federal district court in Pennsylvania as "a textbook case" for forum non conveniens. The issue raised was whether the district court could dismiss the case on that basis before first conclusively answering the fundamental questions of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. The opinion held that a court has discretion to address a party's plea of inconvenient forum and thereby "den[y] audience to a case on the merits" before definitively determining its own jurisdiction over the parties and the case, because "resolving a forum non conveniens motion does not entail any assumption by the Court of law-declaring power."


 Lance V. Coffman

This case arises out of a federal constitutional challenge to the Colorado Supreme Court's decision to enact a judicially constructed congressional redistricting plan in lieu of a plan created by the legislature (called, in Colorado, the "General Assembly"). The federal Constitution's Elections Clause provides that congressional election procedures "shall be prescribed in each state by the Legislatures thereof," and the Colorado Constitution similarly provides that, "[t]he general assembly shall divide the state into as many congressional districts as there are representatives in congress apportioned to this state by the congress of the United States." Interpreting this language, the Colorado Supreme Court held that the term "General Assembly" "broadly encompasses the legislative process, the voter initiative, and judicial redistricting" and therefore concluded that "judicially created districts are no less effective than those created by the General Assembly." In a per curiam opinion, the Court dismissed the action for lack of standing, reasoning that the plaintiffs (four Colorado voters) had shown no more than a "generally available grievance about government" and failed to demonstrate the kind of particularized harm that is necessary to pursue a claim in federal court.


 Whorton v. Bockting (Not discussed in podcast.)

The question presented was whether the Court's prior decision in Crawford v. Washington (2004) (declaring a constitutional right to cross-examine testimonial witnesses) applies retroactively to convictions that were already final on direct review. The circuit courts had split 12-1, with the lone Ninth Circuit answering this question in the affirmative. The Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Alito authored the unanimous decision concluding that, even though Crawford created a "new rule," it did not meet the two-pronged test for establishing "a watershed rule of criminal procedure" that qualifies for retroactive application. First, it was not clear the rule would increase the accuracy of convictions, and, therefore it could not be deemed "necessary to prevent 'an impermissibly large risk' of an inaccurate conviction." Second, it was not the kind of sweeping change (such as declaring the right to counsel for indigent defendants) that "alter[s] our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding."