The article said that the Supreme Court had decided in a 2006 case that Paul Gregory House, convicted of murder in Tennessee, should receive a new trial. The court ruled that House should have a new hearing in federal court, and a federal judge later decided that he should be released pending a new trial.
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Ideological Warfare Rages on Federal Appeals Courts Dominated by Republican Appointees
"We cannot overturn the jury's decision merely because it had to draw reasonable inferences" rather than rely on direct proof, Sutton said.
But Moore, a former law professor who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, wrote an impassioned dissent that was joined by three other Democratic appointees. They concluded that the jury had an absolute right to know that the daughter withdrew her accusation and that, as a result, Arnold should have been acquitted.
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About two weeks before the presidential election, the majority of the full 6th Circuit ruled that states are obligated under a relatively new federal law to check voter registration lists against driver's license databases and supply lists of mismatches to county workers. The decision was overturned four days later by the Supreme Court, but it typified the mostly party-line voting that has made the proceedings here among the most rancorous in the country.
Nine judges, including six named by Bush and three picked by other Republicans, prevailed over five appointed by Democratic presidents and one named by Bush at Democrats' insistence. Their decision overturned a contrary ruling by two judges named by Democrats.
Moore said in the minority dissent that the state Republican Party had sought an en banc hearing simply "to get a different result by having a different forum within the Sixth Circuit," adding that her colleagues had rashly accepted the "baseless" request in violation of federal court procedures.
Sutton responded that it was "not a normal case" because of the imminence of the election and the significance of potential voter fraud in Ohio.
The ruling was among a very few 6th Circuit decisions to have been overturned by the Supreme Court since the circuit shifted to Republican-appointee control. The other notable exception occurred in 2006, when five members of the Supreme Court decided that the treatment of Paul Gregory House -- a man sentenced to death in 1985 by a Tennessee court -- was so unjust that House should get a new trial.
House was convicted of aggravated murder at age 23 in a trial marred by sloppy police work. Years later, witnesses came forward with claims that the victim's husband had confessed to the killing; new forensic testing suggested that bloodstains found by the FBI on House's trousers came from a lab spill; and DNA technology showed that semen found on the victim's nightgown was not from House.
Four of Bush's appointees on the 6th Circuit joined four other Republican picks in a 2004 ruling that the new evidence was not powerful enough to keep a reasonable juror from convicting House in a new trial -- and the case thus did not meet a key legal threshold for reversal. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and four others on the Supreme Court disagreed, saying House's attorneys had presented enough new information to suggest the "actual innocence" of a death row inmate.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and two other Republican appointees concluded in their dissent that, despite the new data, the guilty verdict was just. The state of Tennessee plans to retry House -- who has been on death row for 22 years and now uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis -- in March.
As Jonathan Adler, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, describes the 6th Circuit's divide: "There are several judges who believe their colleagues will do anything they can to prevent an execution, and, on other side, there are judges who believe their colleagues will do anything to grease the skids." One side, now in the minority, "thinks the other has closed its eyes to the faults within the criminal justice system," while their opponents in the majority complain that the first camp is unwilling to let anyone be rigorously punished.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.