There has been a remarkable outbreak of harmony at the Supreme Court. Of the seven decisions issued in the last two weeks, six were unanimous.The end of the unanimity began yesterday with two 5-4 opinions. From ScotusBlog:
There have been no dissents in more than 60 percent of the 46 cases decided so far this term. At this point last year, the justices were unanimous just 48 percent of the time, according to statistics compiled by Scotusblog. In the two terms before that, 52 percent of the cases decided by now were unanimous.The harmony will dissipate in the final weeks of the term, which will probably conclude in late June. It is the divisive and hard-fought decisions that take the longest to produce, as the justices exchange draft opinions and respond to one other in evolving majority opinions, concurrences and dissents.The marquee decisions of the term — on affirmative action, voting rights and same-sex marriage — will almost certainly be closely divided on the core issues. But the overall percentage of unanimous decisions is unlikely to drop to 40 percent, the average rate for full terms in recent years.For now, consensus reigns. That is partly because some of the recent decisions were decidedly minor. One, concerning a towed car, would not have been out of place in small claims court or before Judge Judy. Another, about the meaning of the word “defalcation” in the Bankruptcy Code, must have made Justice Stephen G. Breyer, its author, wonder what he had done to deserve the assignment.
In Trevino v. Thaler, in an opinion by Justice Breyer (but announced by Justice Kennedy, because Justice Breyer was absent), the Court held by a vote of five to four that when a state’s procedural framework, by reason of its design and operation, makes it highly unlikely in a typical case that a defendant will have a meaningful opportunity to raise on direct appeal a claim that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, the good cause exception recognized in Martinez v. Ryan applies.
In McQuiggin v. Perkins, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held by a vote of five to four that actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a habeas petitioner may pass whether the impediment to consideration of the merits of a constitutional claim is a procedural bar, as it was in Schlup v. Delo and House v. Bell, or expiration of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act statute of limitations, as in this case.