So far this term the USSC has posted four slip opinions on its official website. What do these four cases have in common? They are all per curiam opinions involving death penalty cases. And, all three of the latest back-to-back opinions concern the ineffective assistance of counsel. So, what's going on?
BNA has an interesting article detailing possible reasons for the Court's recent activity in this area. You can see it here if you are a member of the UConn law community. (If you are not, don't worry, there's more below.) BNA's article offers a series of alternatives about viewing these cases:
1. By their very nature, the "high stakes" of the cases forces the Court to consider them quickly. Jeffrey Fisher, co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School says that these cases being handled this way is "...perhaps a signal that the Court sees these cases as a strain on its docket and resources, and yet remains untilling to let them pass."
2. Others see this as a "quick" way to resolve clear mistakes. Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center speculates that "A per curiam decision can quickly reverse the mistake and set the lower courts on the correct path."
3. Meanwhile, Stephen Saltzburg Georgetown professor and spokesman for the ABA, poses two possibilities for the Court's opinions. First, the court may "...perceive that some federal habeas courts are skeptical about capital punishment and are using ineffective assistance of counsel as a way to strike down death sentences that were obtained in conformity with the Constitution." Second, he thinks that "...the Court is generally concerned about the total failure of counsel in capital cases to investigate and present mitigating evidence."