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The working owner of a business may qualify as a participant in that business’s ERISA-protected pension plan, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously said on March 2. Raymond B. Yates M.D. P.C. Profit Sharing Plan v. Hendon, No. 02-458. Reversing a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the justices said that they were rejecting that court’s notion that a working owner may rank only as an employer and not as an employee. The justices said that such a working owner qualifies for the protections that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act affords to plan participants, provided that the plan covers one or more employees other than the owner and his or her spouse. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the court’s decision. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas each filed a concurrence. CRIMINAL PRACTICE In an 8-1 decision, the high court reversed a 9th Circuit habeas ruling and concluded that a state prisoner cannot be said to have “fairly presented” his federal claim in state court if that court had to read beyond the prisoner’s papers to ascertain the presence of that claim. Baldwin v. Reese, No. 02-964. Exhaustion of state remedies is a prerequisite of habeas relief. Because the state must have the opportunity to correct alleged federal violations, those claims must be presented to the state court and rejected prior to the filing of a habeas petition. The 9th Circuit had said that habeas petitioner George Baldwin met the presentment requirement because the Oregon Supreme Court justices who declined to review his claims had the chance to read the lower state court rulings and could have realized that Baldwin’s claim rested on federal law. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the majority opinion. Justice John Paul Stevens filed the lone dissent. On March 1, the court agreed to hear arguments in these two cases: CRIMINAL PRACTICE The justices agreed to review the California prison system’s practice of segregating new inmates by race when assigning them an initial cellmate. Johnson v. California, No. 03-636. California said that its decades-old practice lessens the chance of racial tensions, even though the prison common areas are not segregated. The 9th Circuit upheld the policy, saying that it was a reasonable means of facilitating orderly prison administration. Appellant Garrison Johnson, an African-American prisoner, argues that the lower courts should have examined the policy under a strict scrutiny standard. The court also agreed to hear a capital murder defendant’s challenge to the effectiveness of his trial counsel. Florida v. Nixon, No. 03-931. Joe Elton Nixon’s lawyer did not contest Nixon’s guilt, but instead focused only on the sentence. A per curiam Florida Supreme Court opinion, which yielded three additional concurring and dissenting opinions, ruled that Nixon’s counsel was per se ineffective. Even though the attorney told Nixon of his strategy, Nixon’s “silent acquiescence to counsel’s strategy is not sufficient.” IMMIGRATION LAW The high court also agreed to hear the consolidated appeal of two Cubans who were paroled into the U.S. during the Mariel boat lift in 1980 and whose parole was later revoked after multiple criminal convictions. Crawford v. Martinez, No. 03-878, consolidated with Benitez v. Wallis, No. 03-7434. The 11th Circuit ruled that Daniel Benitez could be held indefinitely, until removal to Cuba was possible, after a district court upheld an INS determination that he posed a danger to the community and was likely to engage in further violent behavior. In contrast, the 9th Circuit�relying on the Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis�concluded that Sergio Martinez must be released.

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