Bench Memos

Supreme Court Ruling on DNA Testing

In District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, the Supreme Court ruled today, by a 5-4 vote, that a prisoner does not have a constitutional right, under the rubric of either procedural due process or substantive due process, to obtain postconviction access to the evidence against him in order to subject it to DNA testing.  On initial review, this ruling strikes me as a welcome exercise of judicial restraint on a matter that state legislatures have the authority to address (and are in fact addressing).

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion that provided additional reasons to reject the prisoner’s claim; Justice Kennedy joined Alito’s opinion in full, and Justice Thomas joined one of its two parts.  Justice Stevens wrote the primary dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and in part by Justice Souter.  Justice Souter wrote his own dissent.

The competing opinions present a very interesting debate about the proper role of the Court.  I will provide excerpts from the opinions in follow-on posts.