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Context of 'June 5, 2000: Supreme Court Overturns Davidian Jail Sentences'

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Without comment, the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeals of six Branch Davidians convicted of an array of crimes (see January-February 1994) surrounding the February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the subsequent assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). An appeals court ordered that four Davidians given 30-year sentences for the use of firearms during a violent crime, and a fifth given a 10-year sentence, must be set aside and new sentences given; the appeals court said those sentences could only be reinstated if the lower court found that the four not only had the guns but “actively employed” them during the February 1993 raid. Lawyer Steven Rosen, who represents defendant Kevin A. Whitecliff, says he expects the sentences to be reinstated and the appeals process to start over again. [Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] In 2000, the Court will overturn the sentences (see June 5, 2000).

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Supreme Court unanimously overturns the lengthy prison sentences given to five Branch Davidians for using machine guns during a February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and January-February 1994). Writing for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer says a Texas federal judge should not have used a federal firearm law to increase the convicted Davidians’ sentences, but instead let the jury make that decision. The ruling sends the case back to the judge for a new sentencing. [Reuters, 6/5/2000] A judge will reduce the 40-year sentences to 15 years. [Associated Press, 4/19/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Stephen Breyer

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Supreme Court rules in the case of Cheney v. US District Court for the District of Columbia (03-0475), in which two organizations, Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, are attempting to force the White House to reveal information about the secret deliberations of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force (see April 27, 2004). Neither side gets what it asks for in the 7-2 ruling, as the Court sends the case back to the US Court of Appeals for further adjudication, with an order for that court to take a second look at its ruling that Cheney must allow a judge to review the task force documents (see August 2, 2002). Five justices—Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and John Paul Stevens—vote to send the case back to the appeals court. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, vote to send the case all the way back to the original trial court, concurring with the majority. The Court’s two most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote to resolve the matter entirely in Cheney’s favor. Judge Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, instructs the appeals court—and all other courts who might subsequently hear such a case—to use a legal standard far more aligned with the executive branch’s claim of immunity from disclosure. Courts must afford “presidential confidentiality the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice,” Kennedy writes, to protect the executive branch from being sued. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will later write that the Court may have avoided making a firm ruling because it did not want to wrangle with the issue of separation of powers, and the privilege of executive branch secrecy, in an election year. While most media and court observers call the decision a “punt” of little import, at least one, former Justice Department official Shannen Coffin, sees it differently. In a column for the National Review, Coffin celebrates the ruling, writing that due to “the vice president’s resolute assertion that he and the president should have the right to receive in confidence the advice necessary to the performance of their duties,” the White House has won a “major victory” in expanding its power to keep its procedures secret, regardless of the appeals court’s eventual ruling (see May 10, 2005). [National Review, 6/25/2004; FindLaw, 7/2/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 167-168] The appeals court will agree with Thomas and Scalia, and rule in Cheney’s favor (see May 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Sierra Club, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, National Energy Policy Development Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Judicial Watch, Antonin Scalia, David Souter

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties

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