June Tune: Another Manic Monday on the Law Beat

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Courts will see a rush of action before adjourning for the summer

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We are now in the thick of what I like to call "magic-time" on the law beat: the crowded hours when the law's major actors scramble to complete their chores and assignments before heading off for vacation, or for their book tours, or for whatever else they may have planned for their summer breaks. It's the storm of June before the calm of August, you might say, and it was surely on display Monday from coast to coast.

At the United States Supreme Court, for example, the justices issued four opinions on their way to closing out another term. That's the good news. The bad news is that the Court has no fewer than 27 more decisions to announce before wrapping up, including decisions in three major cases involving class-action lawsuits, global warming, and state regulations on violent video games. Why do the justices often leave the toughest cases for last? Because they can. And because they are like the rest of us when it comes to procrastinating.

At the Court, perhaps the most interesting story Monday was a case the justices decided not to hear. Just ten days after the justices upheld Arizona's right to enforce a licensing law designed to crack down on employers who hire unlawful immigrations, the justices refused to get involved in a challenge to a California law that gives resident tuition rates to unlawful immigrants. Many of the same folks who were pushing the "states' rights" argument in Arizona were pushing the federal preemption argument in California. What a country!

And what a country America must seem like to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund, who pleaded not guilty Monday to the sexual assault charges brought against him by a Manhattan hotel employee. (By the way, doesn't he look remarkably like Bernard Madoff in this photo?) Strauss-Kahn made his plea in a "strong voice" (the wires reported) and "in a heavy French accent" (said the Times) and the whole arraignment took four minutes. Afterward, the trial judge promptly set the next hearing for July 18th, which means, among other things, that we will likely not see a trial until 2012.

What will be decided before the end of the year is the fate of Wisconsin's controversial collective bargaining law. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard oral argument on the matter Monday, and I will bet you tickets to a Milwaukee Brewers' game that the justices there issue their ruling before July 4th. They want to clean their desks off heading toward high summer, and the most convenient place to put the case would be back before legislators, the same ones who may have violated Wisconsin's open-meetings law by rushing to enact the legislation this spring.

No one will ever claim, on the other hand, that prosecutors rushed into indicting John Edwards on campaign finance charges. This weekend, immediately following his Friday indictment, we learned that prosecutors and the defense were close to hammering out a deal that would have ended the matter. The Raleigh News and Observer reported that Edwards refused a deal that would have seen him plead guilty to three misdemeanors (which makes sense) but which also would have required him to serve six months in prison (Martha Stewart-like). Short of this alleged deal being resurrected, I'll double-down on those Brewers' tickets that nothing major happens before Labor Day in United States v. Edwards.

Last week witnessed oral argument over the Affordable Care Act before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On Wednesday, another federal appeals court, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, will hear argument on the controversial health care law and its "individual mandate." That'll give all those Article III judges a few weeks, at least, to get their law clerks cracking on the opinions before the dog days come. On the law beat, June's tune is all about clearing off the desk, emptying out the in-box, and keeping the summer schedule as free as practicable from courtroom intrusions. With three weeks to go, school's almost out for summer.

Image credit: Reuters

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, 60 Minutes' first-ever legal analyst, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. He is also chief analyst for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal journalists. More

Cohen is the winner of the American Bar Association’s 2012 Silver Gavel Award for his Atlantic commentary about the death penalty in America and the winner of the Humane Society’s 2012 Genesis Award for his coverage of the plight of America’s wild horses. A racehorse owner and breeder, Cohen also is a two-time winner of both the John Hervey and O’Brien Awards for distinguished commentary about horse racing.

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