April 3rd, 2017
This morning the justices added two new cases to their merits docket for next term, but once again they did not act on perhaps the most closely watched case on their cert docket – a challenge by a Colorado man who objects to having to create cakes for same-sex weddings.
Today’s two grants involve very different issues: whether corporations can be sued by noncitizens in U.S. courts for violations of international law and the standard for receiving federal funds to assist a death-row inmate in his federal post-conviction proceedings.
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The second case granted today was filed by Carlos Manuel Ayestas, who was sentenced to death in Texas in 1997. After his efforts to overturn his sentence in state court were unsuccessful, Ayestas went to federal court, where he argued that his earlier lawyers had not provided him with the adequate representation that the Constitution guarantees. He filed a motion seeking funds to hire a specialist to conduct the investigation that, he said, his prior lawyers should have conducted as part of their efforts to secure a life sentence in place of the death penalty.
The lower courts turned Ayestas down. The federal law governing the grant of such funds requires the trial court to find that the services the defendant seeks are “reasonably necessary for the representation of the defendant.” That, the lower courts ruled, requires a defendant to show “a substantial need,” which – Ayestas says – in turn essentially requires him to demonstrate that he could prevail even though he hasn’t yet had a full opportunity to develop the facts sufficiently to make that showing. Ayestas characterizes the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s rule as imposing a “logical circularity” that “starves meritorious” claims of the resources that defendants need.