Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection and Improper Closing Arguments

The Seventh Circuit had three new opinions in criminal cases last week.  The most interesting was United States v. McMath (No. 08-2316), which featured the Seventh Circuit’s most extended discussion to date of Snyder v. Louisana, 128 S. Ct. 1203 (2008).  In my view, the Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder represented a real break-through in the Court’s on-again/off-again efforts to eliminate racial bias from the jury-selection process.  In McMath (which was, coincidentally, decided on the exact one-year anniversary of Snyder), the Seventh Circuit seemed to recognize the significance of Snyder and awarded the defendant a remand for further consideration of the racial bias issue in the district court.  McMath also included an interesting discussion of questionable closing arguments made by the prosecutor.

McMath’s jury-selection claim centered on alleged racial bias in the prosecutor’s use of peremptory strikes.  In Batson v. Kentucky, of course, the Supreme Court made clear that prosecutors are prohibited from removing potential jurors from a case on account of their race.  Here are the relevant facts from McMath:

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Law Professor Amicus Brief Filed in 7th Circuit ERISA Case

Today, as part of a group of law professors around the country with interests in the mutual funds and employee benefits area, I helped to draft and signed on to an amicus brief which asked for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to grant rehearing en banc in the ERISA case of Hecker v. Deere & Company.  The case concerns an issue of tremendous importance for American workers’ retirements: the appropriate scope of a fiduciary duty under ERISA in the context of personal savings and mutual fund fees.

In Hecker, a 7th Circuit panel affirmed the decision of the district court of the Western District of Wisconsin, which found a group of employee-plaintiffs did not state a claim for relief under ERISA when their employer, Deere, allegedly did not provide a sufficient menu of mutual fund options for their 401(k) retirement plan accounts.  Although the brief argued in part that the panel inappropriately adopted a remarkably narrow interpretation of fiduciary duty that relied crucially upon an assumption that the underlying market for mutual funds is vibrant and competitive, my part of the brief involved the proper fiduciary standard for employers who run 401(k) accounts under so-called 404(c) plans.

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Obama to Make Seventh Circuit Nomination

The New York Times reports today that President Obama is set to nominate David Hamiliton, a federal district court judge in Indiana, to an open seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  Judge Hamilton is said to be a moderate who has the support of both of Indiana’s senators, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar.  This will be Obama’s first judicial nomination, so it will no doubt be watched especially carefully for indications of what is to come as other openings are filled.

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