Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Judge Sid Thomas, Recent Opinions, Part I

Per the Ninth Circuit website, the three most recently published opinions authored by Judge Sid Thomas, the dark horse on Obama's short list for the Supreme Court vacancy, happen to be a majority, a concurrence, and a dissent, the latter two issued in en banc cases. The majority and short concurrence both upheld criminal sentences, one a death sentence. The dissent, profiled first below because it may have significance beyond the Supreme Court nomination, involved a blanket strip search policy instituted in the San Francisco jail system. Thomas wrote the original lead opinion.

Thomas opened the en banc dissent with five paragraphs, repeating the following parallel scenario: X (a named person) was strip searched after being charged with Y (generally a minor offense). One of the named persons was a nun, arrested for trespassing in connection with an anti-war protest, and almost all were women. In several instances, the person was allegedly subjected to additional indignities, such as being forced to remain undressed for hours. On these facts, Thomas found the blanket search policy unconstitutional as an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

The en banc majority disagreed, noting the serious problem of contraband smuggling into the jail system and finding Thomas' individual portraits irrelevant, as the case involved only a facial challenge and not individual violations.

Even if Judge Thomas is not given the Supreme Court nod, this case may be of future interest. According to his dissent, the en banc majority is contrary to other circuits' holdings and thus, represents a circuit split that the Supreme Court may choose to address at some point.