Erin Louise Palmer

  • June 14, 2010
    Guest Post

    By Erin Louise Palmer, Professorial Lecturer, American University Washington College of Law

    In a 1995 book review, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan stated that confirmation hearings are a "vapid and hollow charade, in which repetition of platitudes has replaced discussion of viewpoints and personal anecdotes have supplanted legal analysis." She urged senators to engage in a substantive discussion with Supreme Court nominees. Even though Kagan has retreated from this view, commentators continue to urge senators to "let it be known that they will no longer confirm any Supreme Court nominee who refuses to give substantive answers to relevant questions."

    Senators will have the opportunity to engage in substantive discussion with Kagan during her nominations hearings, which are scheduled to begin on June 28, and Republicans have vowed that the constitutionality of health care reform will be a central issue at those hearings. Senators will have the opportunity to frame the debate over the constitutionality of health care reform broadly. As Republican Senator John Barrasso stated on Fox News, "[W]here do states' rights come in, where is the role of the federal government, what can they mandate to the American people, and I'm going to want to hear answers on that." Kagan's answers to these questions will shed light on how she would eventually rule on a case involving the constitutionality of health care reform, as well as the larger issues of states' rights and the role of the federal government.

    Commentators generally believe that Kagan would strike down an attack on the constitutionality of health care reform. For example, one commentator analyzed the views of legal scholars across the political spectrum and concluded that Kagan is unlikely to alter the current composition of the Court. As noted by Randy Barnett, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown Law Center who believes there is a valid constitutional challenge to health care reform under the Constitution's commerce clause, "She's as likely to vote to uphold the law as Stevens would have been."

  • October 5, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Erin Louise Palmer, Professorial Lecturer, American University Washington College of the Law

    On October 5, 2009, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Maryland v. Shatzer to decide whether the Edwards v. Arizona prohibition against interrogation of a suspect who has invoked his or her Fifth Amendment right to counsel is applicable where there is a substantial lapse in time or a break in custody before re-interrogating the suspect.

    In August 2003, a detective questioned Michael Blain Shatzer, Sr. regarding his alleged sexual abuse of his three-year-old son. Shatzer invoked his right to counsel, and the investigation was subsequently closed. In February 2006, the case was reopened and a different detective questioned Shatzer, not knowing that he had previously invoked his right to counsel. Shatzer at no time requested an attorney and ultimately confessed to the crime. Shatzer was in prison on an unrelated offense during the entire period between the interrogations.

    The trial court denied Shatzer's motion to suppress his 2006 statements, holding that his continuous incarceration on an unrelated offense constituted a break in custody that limited Shatzer's right to counsel absent another invocation of that right, and found him guilty of sexual abuse. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in failing to suppress Shatzer's statements because "the passage of time alone is insufficient to expire the protections afforded under Edwards." The Maryland Court of Appeals further held that Shatzer's continuous imprisonment between the first and second interrogation did not constitute a break in custody that would limit Shatzer's right to counsel.

    The issue before the Supreme Court is whether the bright-line rule in Edwards that "when an accused has invoked his right to have counsel present during custodial interrogation, a valid waiver of that right cannot be established by showing only that he responded to further police-initiated custodial interrogation even if he has been advised of his rights" is applicable when there is a substantial lapse in time or a break in custody before commencing a subsequent interrogation. Edwards was distinct factually: the case involved a mere one-day delay between interrogations, and the suspect in Edwards was in continuous police custody between the first and second interrogation.

  • August 5, 2009
    Guest Post

    By Erin Louise Palmer, Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals & 2009 ACS Public Interest Fellow

    Few individuals are familiar with the story of the U.S. and U.K. expulsion of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands: "between 1968 and 1973, in a plot carefully hidden from the world, the United States and Great Britain exiled all 1,500-2,000 islanders to create a major U.S. military base on the Chagossians' island Diego Garcia." In Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, David Vine provides historical insight into collusive U.S. and U.K. actions to establish the Diego Garcia military base, details the devastating consequences for the Chagossians that resulted from their removal, and pleads urgently for the Chagossians' right to return.

    Island of Shame reveals U.S. motivations to establish a military base on Diego Garcia. Vine notes that "by the late 1950s ... the power of the United States had diminished relative to that of its Cold War opponents." It is within this Cold War context that Stuart Barber, a civilian naval planner, devised the Strategic Island Concept. "The premise of the plan was [Barber's] recognition that in the age of decolonization, local peoples and the governments of newly independent nations were increasingly endangering the viability of many of the Navy's overseas bases." Establishing military bases on minimally populated and isolated islands was the heart of Barber's Strategic Island Concept.