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Despite title, Supreme Court not always last word

November 14, 2011 • National News


FILE – In this July 1, 2005 file photo Judge Stephen Reinhardt is seen in Los Angeles. Judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the San Francisco-based court involved in the shaken baby case, have to some extent grown accustomed to Supreme Court criticism. Last term alone, the high court unanimously reversed Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit three times. But Reinhardt contends that it is the high court that is changing the rules, especially in the second round of appeals that criminal defendants are allowed in order to pursue alleged violations of their constitutional rights. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nothing about the Supreme Court — not its magnificent building atop Capitol Hill nor its very title — suggests that its word is anything other than final. Yet federal appellate judges and even state court judges sometimes find ways to insist on an outcome the Supreme Court has rejected.

Just last week, the justices rebuked judges on the federal appeals court in San Francisco in the tragic case of a Los Angeles-area grandmother who was convicted of shaking her 7-week-old grandson to death. The appeals court overturned the conviction three times and twice, the justices ordered the appellate judges to try again. The third time around, the justices ended the case, pointedly upholding the conviction.

“Each time, the panel persisted in its course, reinstating its judgment without seriously confronting the significance of the cases called to its attention,” the high court said in an unsigned opinion. “Its refusal to do so necessitates this court’s action today.”

But the nation’s court of last resort does not always get the last word.

The appeals court in Washington where four Supreme Court justices trained, the Oregon Supreme Court, and occasionally even the San Francisco-based federal appeals court given its come-uppance last week, have in recent years won battles with the justices. The lower court judges have managed to limit the rights of terrorism suspects detained at Guantanamo, uphold awards of large punitive damages against Login to read more

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