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Supreme Court Wraps Up with Flurry of Decisions

: WEEKEND EDITION Legal Advisor and University of Colorado Law Professor Mimi Wesson keeps a close watch on the Court. And she joins us now from the studios of KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. Mimi, welcome back to the program.

MIMI WESSON: Thanks, good to be here.

: Let's start with the big case, that of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a prisoner at the Guantanamo Detention Center in Cuba. This is being seen as a substantial rebuke of a key aspect of how the Bush Administration has been dealing with suspects in the war on terrorism. What's your impression?

WESSON: But there were many other points that were not addressed by the Court here. It was a rather narrow holding. And of course it was the decision that was effectively 5-4. We know how Roberts would have voted if he had voted. And so it's perhaps not an altogether stable decision. Like the other decisions in this trilogy, it leaves many questions unanswered and does not paint with a broad brush.

: What about what the President said when he said he would ask Congress to resolve some of the statutory issues addressed by some of the justices. Will that settle the matter and then perhaps the administration will be able to move forward with its military tribunals?

WESSON: The Court held that that did apply to detainees like Mr. Hamdan, who were about to be tried for war crimes. And that convention has certain provisions in it that say that the proceedings cannot be too abbreviated, cannot be too stripped down, even if Congress were to acquiesce in that. So Congress' authorization of the President would answer one of the questions that was raised by the court, but not necessarily both of them.

: Let's move on to some of the cases that dealt with aspects of criminal law, including some on the death penalty, how evidence is gathered. Take the procedural cases first. First of all, tell us briefly about them and then what the Court decided.

WESSON: So I would say the law about the admissibility of a victim's out-of-court statement when the victim later doesn't show up to testify is pretty much unsettled here because the Court made such fine distinctions between the two cases.

: Mimi, you pay particular attention to death penalty cases, and there were several on the court's docket during the past term. Has a lot changed in how the death penalty is to be dealt with in the courts?

WESSON: In particular, in whether certain methods of execution, like lethal injection, are unnecessarily painful and cruel. And in what the role of a plausible claim of innocence should be in the appeals of someone who has been convicted and sentenced to death.

: Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito are two new faces on the Court. They were named by President Bush, the only ones to be named by the President. What have you learned from them, about the decisions that have been handed down this term?

WESSON: Despite the fact that he was widely predicted during his confirmation to be sort of a clone of Justice Scalia, as a matter of fact, he has agreed most often with Justice Kennedy, who has proved himself, by the way - now that Justice O'Connor has left the Court - Kennedy has proved himself to be a reliable centrist. In other words, he seems to have stepped into O'Connor's role on the Court. He voted with the liberal majority in the Hamdan case.

: WEEKEND EDITION Legal Advisor Mimi Wesson teaches at the University of Colorado School of Law. She's also a mystery writer. Her most recent novel is Chilling Effect. She joined us from the studios of KGNU in Boulder. Mimi, thank you.

WESSON: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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