According to the October 2007 docket, the United States Supreme Court will hear 76 cases in the docket year (supremecourt. gov, 2008). Though there is an option for the court to hear cases which are filed without filing fees, those called “in forma pauperis”, this year will not be an exception to the longstanding rule that almost none of the Supreme Court cases reach the court that way.
“Empirical analysis of the United States Supreme Court's docket has, in the past, focused almost exclusively on the paid docket to the exclusion of the unpaid petitions, also called in forma pauperis, or IFP petitions-those petitions filed by litigants who assert that they are too indigent to pay the Court's filing fee (Caldeira and Wright, 1988, 1990; Teger and Kosinski, 1980). This is true despite the fact that, between 1948 and 1986, roughly half of the petitions filed with the Supreme Court were filed by indigent petitioners, and since 1986 the proportion of filings by indigent petitioners has skyrocketed.
Indeed, during the 2004-05 Supreme Court Term, 7,496 petitions were filed with the Court, and 5,755 (nearly 77 percent) of those were IFP petitions (Bureau of National Affairs, 2005:3076). ” (Watson, 2006). In fact, none of the cases which the court has agreed to hear this year came before the court in this manner. Most court observers speculate that this is because there are so many valid and important cases which come before the court through other means. “Scholars justify the exclusion of IFP petitions from analysis on the assumption that these petitions are generally frivolous and unimportant (Tanenhaus et al., 1963; Segal and Spaeth, 1993:192).
The categorical dismissal of IFP petitions by academicians reflects a prevailing bias within the legal community as a whole. Even Justice William Brennan, whose liberal ideological stance and activist perception of the Court's role likely would have rendered him particularly receptive to the petitions of indigent petitioners, considered the overwhelming majority of IFP petitions to be unworthy of full Court review (Brown v. Herald Co. (1983) (Brennan, J. , dissenting)). ” (Watson, 2006).
The perception is that many people want to waste the Court’s time with cases that should have more rightly been determined by a lower court. Whether or not this is true, it seems that in recent years the Court has maintained a certain predilection for cases which involve constitutional issues or in which the appellate courts have ruled differently depending on the appellate court handling the case. Cases which represent differing applications of the law by various appellate courts have generally held the most appeal.
In addition, the Court often chooses to address cases where there is a clear Constitutional question. For instance, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, there is a clear issue regarding the Constitutionality of the death penalty when it related to rape cases. According to the Court, the specific questions brought forth in this case are: “1. Whether the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause permits a State to punish the crime of rape of a child with the death penalty. 2.
If so, whether Louisiana’s capital rape statute violates the Eighth Amendment insofar as it fails genuinely to narrow the class of such offenders eligible for the death penalty. ” (supremecourt. gov, 2008). It is logical to argue that one reason the Court may have accepted this case this year is the growing concern nationally regarding the use of the death penalty. Several times in the past the Court has been asked to rule regarding the possibility that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Generally speaking, the Court has chosen not to rule regarding the overall constitutionality of the death penalty, but has narrowly constrained many of its opinions to indicate that some forms of the death might be considered cruel and unusual and that certain people should be excluded from the death penalty including children and the mentally ill. This particular case involves a man convicted of aggrevated rape of a child under 12 years old. The decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana based largely on procedural issues rather than a reviewing of the facts in the case or the applications of the law. That court wrote,
“For the reasons assigned herein, the defendant's conviction and death sentence are affirmed. In this event this judgment becomes final on direct review when either: (1) the defendant fails to petition timely the United States Supreme Court for certiorari; or (2) that Court denies his petition for certiorari; and either (a) the defendant, having filed for and been denied certiorari, fails to petition the United States Supreme Court timely, under its prevailing rules, for rehearing of denial of certiorari; or (b) that Court denies his petition for rehearing, the trial court shall, upon receiving notice from this Court under La.C. Cr. P. art. 923 of finality of direct appeal, and before signing the warrant of execution, as provided by La. R. S. 15:567(B), immediately notify the Louisiana Indigent Defense Assistance Board and provide the Board with reasonable time in which: (1) to enroll counsel to represent the defendant in any State post-conviction proceedings, if appropriate, pursuant to its authority under La. R. S. 15:149. 1; and (2) to litigate expeditiously the claims raised in that application, if filed in the state courts. AFFIRMED. ” (LASC. org, 2008)