Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Federal appeals court rulings, assuming they are based on a reasoned interpretation of the law and the Constitution, should usually by upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Or, at least, reversals shouldn't be unanimous decisions.
Yet, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is tilted so far to the political left its rulings too often defy reason. So it's hardly a shock the court was overturned unanimously Monday for the third time in just a week.
Last week the 9th Circuit ordering the parole of several California inmates who had been convicted of murder or attempted murder. The ruling was made on the grounds inmates have a right to parole.
On Monday, the nation's high court wisely called that ruling nonsense. Allowing an inmate to be paroled -- freed from prison before the sentence is served -- is clearly a judgment call for state officials.
The high court said the 9th Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhard, was wrong to second-guess the California parole board and the state courts for denying parole to Damon Cooke of Los Angeles, who was convicted of the attempted murder of a friend in Berkeley in 1991. Cooke was given a term of up to life in prison, and the parole board said he "would pose an unreasonable risk to society if released from prison."
Cooke appealed and lost in the state courts, but last year Reinhardt and the 9th Circuit said parole officials did not have enough evidence to justify denying parole to Cooke, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The high court disagreed.
"There is no right under the federal Constitution to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence, and the states are under no duty to offer parole to their prisoners," the justices said. "That should have been the beginning and the end" of the matter in the federal courts, they added.
This is exactly right.
Yet, in the wake of the 9th Circuit's Cooke ruling several federal judges had granted parole to inmates and several hundred appeals were pending.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who speaking for the court, voiced irritation at the way the 9th Circuit usurped the authority of state courts in these criminal matters. Again, the high court is on the mark.
The judges sitting on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court Appeals need to stop writing new law and do their jobs -- rule on the constitutionality of laws based on a reasoned reading of the Constitution.