Foster v Chatman

Foster challenged his death sentence arguing Georgia violated his Batson rights by excluding all black members of the jury pool. The state trail court denied post-conviction relief and the Georgia Supreme Court denied review. The Court, 7 (6 justice majority plus Alito concurring in judgment)-1 reversed and remanded for further proceedings. It first held that there was jurisdiction to review the case as the state trial court based its decision on the federal Batson issue and the Georgia Supreme Court provided no analysis or reasoning and thus there was no independent state ground precluding review. It held the state court clearly erred as to one juror as Georgia prosecutors falsely stated the decision to strike her was a last minute decision when in fact the office made a list of jurors to strike and the juror in question appeared on the list and the prosecutors also gave factually false grounds to support their decision in their trial court brief as well as relied on grounds that were also present with white jurors. As to the second potential juror, the majority held there was clear error as well because the main grounds given in support of the strike were either also present as to white jurors who were seated or were contradicted by the voir dire questioning which supports a finding of pretext. These facts, coupled with identification of potential jurors as black on jury lists and other documents stating that no members of black churches should be chosen and identifying one potential juror as the only acceptable black juror all support the conclusion there were Batson violations here. Alito concurred in judgment arguing that Georgia’s res judicata law as applied in this case appeared to be based in part on federal law and thus answering the federal issue here and remanding for further proceedings on remaining state law issues was the correct course. He noted the tend to grant review in state post-conviction cases and emphasized the need to respect state decisions on post-conviction review mechanisms and res judicata and similar rules. Thomas dissented arguing the Georgia Supreme Court decision was likely based on state procedural law and if there is doubt the Court should vacate and remand for clarification rather than act as it did here and impose opinion writing obligations on state courts to avoid federal review down the line. He also argued that the majority undermined the deference that should be afforded trial courts making Batson rulings and the decision today will encourage state convicts to start seeking case field to try and find new things to challenge their convictions.

Green v Brennen

Green sought review of the 10th Circuit decision holding the 45 day limitations period to file a constructive discharge Title VII claim runs from the date of the acts alleged to be discriminatory not the date of resignation. Resolving a circuit split on eh issue, the Court, 7 (6 justice majority plus Alito concurring in judgment)-1 reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The majority held the regulation at issue does not resolve the case as it could be interpreted as covering resignations or only discriminatory conduct. Applying cannons of construction, the majority held the limitation period runs from resignation as the resignation is part of the factual predicate for the cause of action to be complete and present, there is no indication in the regulation the standard rule of starting a limitations period when the cause of action is complete and present and this approach is serves the [practical need to prevent the need to sue before resignation and puts the layman on notice when the limitation period runs. It also held that the date of resignation for purposes of the limitations period trigger is the date when the employee gives notice of his or her intent to resign not the date employment ceases. The case was remanded to determine when Green resigned. Alito concurred in judgment arguing that constructive discharge cases fall into two types one where the employer intends to cause the resignation and those without such intent. He argued that when there is no intent to discharge, the discriminatory acts trigger the period as the later resignation is merely a delayed consequence while the intended resignation is itself a discriminatory act. He argued this approach protects employees form having potential claims rejected as objectively unreasonable while having other viable claims time barred because of the lack of a properly field administrative claim. He also argued Green alleged intentional constructive discharge here pointing to the choice of retirement or transfer to a lower paying job hundreds of miles away. Thomas dissented arguing that discriminatory acts by an employer are the only “matter alleged to be discriminatory” in constructive discharge claims as the decision to resign is an act of the employee not the employer and historically constructive discharge is a counterdefense to a  claim of voluntary quitting not an independent claim in itself.

Whitman v Personhuballah

Whitman and two other members of Congress appealed the decision of three judge panel that Virginia’s congressional redistricting was unconstitutional. The Court dismissed for lack of standing holding Whitman and one other member did not identify any evidence that their reelection chances will decrease under the court approved plan and the remaining member will run in the same district whatever plan is adopted.