Scalito? Or Souterlito?

This was unexpected:

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court’s conservatives in a death penalty case on his first day on the court.

Handling his first case, Alito sided with five other justices Wednesday evening in refusing to allow Missouri to execute inmate Michael Taylor.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas supported lifting the an execution stay issued by an appeals court, but Alito sided with the majority in turning down Missouri’s last-minute request to allow a midnight execution.

Earlier in the day, Alito was sworn in for a second time in a White House ceremony, where he was lauded by President Bush as a man of “steady demeanor, careful judgment and complete integrity.”

He was also was given his assignment for handling emergency appeals: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. As a result, Missouri filed with Alito its request for the high court to void a stay and allow Taylor’s execution.

This will certainly be a surprise to those who thought he would be legalizing rape on his first day.






28 replies
  1. 1
    Sam Hutcheson says:

    He wasn’t nominated for his death penalty decisions. He was nominated for his aversion to curtailing executive power.

  2. 2
    Par R says:

    Kerry and Kennedy were right….he shouldn’t be on the Court. Impeach him, now!

  3. 3
    Kav says:

    John, John, John, >sighThis will certainly be a surprise to those who thought he would be legalizing rape on his first day.

    How many time do you have to be told to read the bullet points carefully? The legalization of rape is down for day six, not day one. Come on, get on message!

  4. 4
    Cyrus says:

    Well, I don’t think one decision that limits government power (in this specific case; as I understood it, this would have little or no precedent-setting effect) invalidates everything he had done before, especially when his really offensive rulings had nothing to do with the death penalty… but if “Souterlito” does turn out to be accurate, it would be one of those time I’d be glad to be proved wrong.

  5. 5
    Lines says:

    Linking to Jeff’s horrible attempt at comedy as if it were fact? Jesus John, give it a fucking break.

  6. 6
    Jim says:

    It is a surprise, unlike Roberts’ first decision. I think Alito was stung by the public expectation that he would be another Bush robot, so he voted with the clear majority to establish his independence. I hope I’m wrong. Anyone care to wager that Alito will not vote with the Right Wing Three in over 75% of the cases?

  7. 7
    Peter ve says:

    Impeach Earl Warren!

  8. 8
    DJAnyReason says:

    The difference between Alito and Souter is the length of the paper trail. If Alito starts voting against executive power and in favor of privacy rights I would be absolutely shocked out of my gourd. One vote does not a justice make, obviously.

  9. 9
    srv says:

    More likely, he didn’t want his first act to be frying somebody. This makes him seem more reasonable. I’m sure it won’t last.

  10. 10
    Steve says:

    I know some of these comments are tongue in cheek, but I wonder how many people really think every decision that gets made is some kind of crass political calculation, as if Alito were Hillary Clinton trying to tack to the center. It’s a completely unaccountable lifetime appointment, folks. He’s not going to make a life-or-death decision about someone’s execution just to show the world he’s an independent thinker.

    To the extent this decision was anything other than just his straightforward call on the legal issues, the most likely explanation is that he just got sworn in and wanted more time for himself and his clerks to review the issues. It’s a stay order with no written opinions. You really can’t read anything into it at all.

  11. 11
    John Cole says:

    I know some of these comments are tongue in cheek, but I wonder how many people really think every decision that gets made is some kind of crass political calculation, as if Alito were Hillary Clinton trying to tack to the center. It’s a completely unaccountable lifetime appointment, folks. He’s not going to make a life-or-death decision about someone’s execution just to show the world he’s an independent thinker.

    Thank you for writing this, because you saved me the effort.

    Some of you folks truly surprise me- I understand you may not like Alito’s politics. I don’t like some of his politics, either. But how low of an opinion of someone as a person must you have to state that the only reason he ruled one way in a life or death instance was to provide himself with an aura of reasonableness. Sheesh, people.

  12. 12
    Jorge says:

    It is his first day, he just pressed the wrong lever is all. :)

  13. 13
    fwiffo says:

    So, why has there been zero discussion on the merits of this particular case? Are opinions from the justices available, or will there not be opinions for this kind of ruling? (as they basically voted to allow the lower court’s ruling to stand and not get involved.)

    What grounds did Missouri have for asking the stay be overturned, and what is the counterargument?

    It seems weird that this decision has been talked about so much but there has been so little on the whys and wherefores. If we want to get an understanding of the new Justice’s judicial philosophy and reasoning process, it seems like that would be the part that’s important, much more so than which side he fell on on any particular case, as there are both liberal and conservative reasons for being for or against the death penalty, or a particular death penalty case.

  14. 14

    Why is it unexpected?

    A well known side-effect of the Pro-Life anti-abortion movement is… opposition to the death penalty.

    If he’s being logically consistent, this makes sense. It’s only when your using abortion as a wedge issue, rather than a sincere commitment, that you can be strongly against abortion and strongly for the death penalty.

  15. 15
    Al Maviva says:

    I don’t know that being anti abortion and pro death penalty are completely illogical. If one starts from the premise that all life is to be respected, and no life should be wrongly taken, then the question becomes one of appropriate punishment for the wrongful taking of life. It seems to me that if you were weighing wrongs on a scale, the more grievous the taking of life, the greater the punishment should be; and a lenient punishment for the wrongful taking of life could be thought to improperly devalue the life taken.

    It wouldn’t follow necessarily that the death penalty is always and everywhere the right thing to do, just that in a retributionist penal system, it might at times be the right thing to do; and in some cases anything less might be a horrible sellout on the first principle that all life is valuable. For example, anything less than the death penalty for the architects of the holocaust or Stalin’s gulags, is a grotesque devaluing of the lives of the millions of people killed in those two mechanisms of mass murder.

  16. 16
    Kimmitt says:

    For some reason Judge Alito’s apparently cavalier attitude toward restraining state authority does seem to get tempered by death penalty cases.

    Anyways, I don’t know anything about the merits of the case. I do know that Alito’s pretty seriously into the letter of process, even if the results of the process are perverse.

  17. 17
    ppGaz says:

    The track record on trying to predict the judicial posture of SCOTUS justices hasn’t been all that good.

    What made people think that it would suddenly get good in the case of Roberts or Alito? I think it will be quite a while before we know what their effect on the court turns out to be.

    This story today is the equivalent of trying to predict the next couple months’ weather based on whether a groundhog sees its shadow.

    All due respect and apologies to Punxatawney Phil.

  18. 18
    Brandon says:

    A well known side-effect of the Pro-Life anti-abortion movement is… opposition to the death penalty.

    If he’s being logically consistent, this makes sense.

    In other words,

    The life of an unborn child = a convicted murdered.

    I think I get it now.

  19. 19
    Brandon says:

    That should read:

    life of an unborn child = the life of a convicted murderer.

    Preview’s my friend.

  20. 20
    demimondian says:

    Are opinions from the justices available, or will there not be opinions for this kind of ruling?

    No. This is a purely procedural decision, with no precedental value. More than that, since the court had just blocked a different execution on the basis of a virtually identical argument a few days ago, it’s hard to see how anyone with an interest in due process could have voted any other way.

  21. 21

    I don’t know that being anti abortion and pro death penalty are completely illogical.

    You’re right. It isn’t.

    What it is, is hypocritical.

  22. 22
    Brandon says:

    I guess on the flip side, everyone who favors the abortion of children as a means of birth control should also be in favor of the death penalty, right?

  23. 23
    Kimmitt says:

    it’s hard to see how anyone with an interest in due process could have voted any other way.

    Hence Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia’s decision. Man, we’ve got a bunch of pieces of work in charge of things up there.

  24. 24

    Well if they honestly think it should be used at birth control then yea. But I don’t really know of any of those people. It’s usually a silly meme spouted by the same people who talk about “abortion on demand”.

    Now you can be pro-choice and anti-DP. I am. There are several reasons as to why it is not hypocritical, the first being that it’s the mother’s body, the mother’s baby, and noone of my business. Second would be the scientific fact that fetus is not sentient until at least 22 weeks, thus the fetus is dependant on the mother and not an individual of itself yet. Then again, if you’re strongly religious you probably don’t like sciencitfic facts, so you would disregard this argument.

    The same goes for volutary euthanasia. You can’t even make the argument that you must be anti-euthanasia if you’re anti-DP. I let people make their own decisions about their own bodies. It’s that simple.

  25. 25
    Steve says:

    More than that, since the court had just blocked a different execution on the basis of a virtually identical argument a few days ago, it’s hard to see how anyone with an interest in due process could have voted any other way.

    Assuming the conservative wing objected to blocking the other execution as well, then I don’t see anything wrong with them voting the same way when this case comes up. I actually had a debate with someone on this issue a little while back, but in my book the concept of precedent doesn’t work like that.

    An analogy would be the fact that some of the liberal justices dissent from every death penalty order, over and over again, on the basis that they think the death penalty is unconstitutional. If what you say is correct, they’d have to stop making that argument after the first time they lost.

  26. 26
    demimondian says:

    Assuming the conservative wing objected to blocking the other execution as well, then I don’t see anything wrong with them voting the same way when this case comes up.

    I would buy that argument, although it troubles me. I think one can make an equally strong argument that the justices should have all voted for a stay, unless there was something qualitatively different about this case from the other. I’d argue that based on the case that there’s a peculiar intensity to equal protection issues during last minute appeals.

    Of course, since there aren’t any opinions here, they might have felt that there was something different about this one than about the other.

  27. 27

    The life of an unborn child = a convicted murdered.

    I see you have no intention of taking my point seriously.

    And you wonder why we make fun of you moonbats?

  28. 28
    Brandon says:

    I see you have no intention of taking my point seriously.

    With such a ridiculous comparison, why should I?

    And you wonder why we make fun of you moonbats?

    Rightwing extremists (which I’m not) are called Wingnuts.

    Leftwing extremists are called Moonbats.

    Get it right.

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