“The country wasn’t exactly holding its breath for the Supreme Court’s decision this week that the Constitution requires juror unanimity for a felony conviction in state court. The case promised little change. Unanimity has long been understood as constitutionally required in federal court as a matter of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.
The only outlier among the states was Oregon. Louisiana, where the case originated in an appeal brought by a man convicted of murder in 2016 by a 10-to-2 vote, changed its rule two years later to require unanimity going forward. Six Supreme Court justices agreed this week that contrary to the outcome of a 1972 case, there is not one rule for the federal courts and another for the states: Conviction only by a unanimous jury verdict is now the rule for both.
That sounds almost too straightforward to be very interesting. Even people with more than a passing interest in the Supreme Court may well have thought, “Well, then that’s that,” before moving on to other cases, other concerns.
That would have been a mistake. This decision, Ramos v. Louisiana, is in fact one of the most fascinating Supreme Court products I’ve seen in a long time, and one of the most revealing. Below the surface of its 6-to-3 outcome lies a maelstrom of clashing agendas having little to do with the question ostensibly at hand and a great deal to do with the court’s future. Peek under the hood and see a Supreme Court in crisis.”