Law School Faculty Preview Key Cases from Upcoming Supreme Court Docket

Lexington, VA Thursday, September 28, 2006

Professors from the Washington and Lee University School of Law will preview several key cases to be argued before the Supreme Court during the Court's 2006-2007 session. Faculty will frame the important issues of the case, discuss case facts, and explain the routes the cases took through the lower courts before being accepted by the Supreme Court. Scheduled to coincide with the opening of the Court's session, this event is set for Wednesday, October 4 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm in the Stackhouse Theater, Elrod Commons. All are welcome to attend.

"We intend the preview to be spring-board for discussion for the remainder of the year as the individual cases are decided," said Brian Murchison, acting dean of the School of Law. "I want to thank the faculty, Associate Dean Sidney Evans, law librarian John Jacobs, and the many student organizations co-sponsoring the event for helping plan what I know will be a very interesting night of analysis and discussion."

Organizations sponsoring the event are: the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), the Black Law Students Association (BLSA), the Journal for Civil Rights and Social Justice (JCRSJ), the Student Bar Association (SBA), Students for and Innocence Project (SFIP), the Virginia Bar Association, and the Women's Law Student Organization (WSLO).

Below are some of the faculty and cases that will be previewed:

Professor Ann Massie will preview Gonzales, Alberto (Atty Gen) v. Carhart, Leroy, et al, which centers on the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003. Several physicians who perform late term abortions brought suit against the Attorney General to stop enforcement of the Act on the grounds that it does not provide a health exception when the procedure would alleviate pain and suffering for mother whose life is not a risk. At issue as well is whether the Act is unconstitutional on its face. Lower court decisions in this case have favored the physicians' position on the Act and the inclusion of a health exception.

Professor David Bruck will preview two capital cases. At issue in Ayers v. Belmontes is whether the jury instruction used in California death penalty sentencing hearings unconstitutionally limit the jury's ability to consider the defendant's likely good behavior in prison as a reason to spare his life. Lawrence v. Florida focuses on the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which Congress passed in 1996, shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, to reduce the power of federal courts to correct constitutional errors in state court criminal trials. At issue in this case is whether a death row inmate miscalculated the date by which he was required to file his request for federal court review under a newly-enacted one-year statute of limitations, and if he did, whether the federal courts have any flexibility to consider his petition anyway.  

Professor Ron Krotoszynski will preview two cases involving racial discrimination and equal protection in public high schools, Meredith, Crystal (next friend for McDonald, Joshua) v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education, et al and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District #1, et al. Both decisions permit the use of race-based tie breakers in making assignments to particular public schools within a single public school district.  The Court will decide whether the Louisville, Kentucky and/or the Seattle, Washington, affirmative action plans to advance racial integration of the public schools comply with the Court's 2003 rulings in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, which involved affirmative action programs at the University of Michigan School of Law and the University of Michigan College of Arts and Sciences, respectively. The Court's decisions in Grutter, which upheld the admissions policy used at the Law School, and Gratz, which struck down the policy used by the undergraduate school, both upheld the consideration of race in admissions but also set boundaries for its use.

Professor David Zaring will preview Environmental Defense, et al. v. Duke Energy Corp., which addresses the conditions under which power plants and other pollutant producing industries are required to apply for permits with the Environmental Protection Agency in order to make modifications to aging plants. At issue as well is which court has jurisdiction over disputes in this area. Environmental Defense argues that Duke Energy, in making modifications that significantly increased the daily output of pollutants from old power plants originally not affected by the Clean Air Act, should have gone through the EPA's permitting process. Duke Energy has argued successfully in the lower courts that the upgrades to their power plants did not meet the EPA's definition of "major modifications" requiring a permit and subsequent EPA oversight. Sean Donahue, Visiting Professor of Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law will be arguing the case before the Court for Environmental Defense.

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