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Decanting a controversy that could upset the tight state regulation of wine and alcoholic beverage sales nationwide, the Supreme Court on May 24 agreed to consider the constitutionality of state laws that restrict interstate shipment of wine to consumers. The court granted review in a trio of cases that present conflicting lower court decisions involving restrictive laws from Michigan and New York. Swedenburg v. Kelly, No. 03-1274, consolidated with Michigan’s Granholm v. Heald, No. 03-1116, and Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association v. Heald, No. 03-1120. The wine dispute pits the Constitution’s commerce clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, against the 21st Amendment. That amendment ended Prohibition in 1933 and gave states considerable power to regulate the transport of alcoholic beverages. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW In Nelson v. Campbell , No. 03-6821, the court unanimously held that death row inmates may, in limited circumstances, file � 1983 civil rights lawsuits challenging the conditions of their confinement without violating federal laws that restrict repetitive habeas petitions. Alabama death row inmate David Nelson challenged a special “cutdown” procedure the state planned to use to gain access to his veins for the lethal injection that would kill him. Because years of drug abuse compromised his veins, the state planned to make a two-inch incision in his arm or leg. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that Nelson should be permitted to make an Eighth Amendment claim, but added that the ruling is “extremely limited” and should not be read to allow for broad challenges to execution methods. CRIMINAL PRACTICE In a 7-2 decision, the justices ruled that police can search the inside of a car in the course of arresting a suspect who is standing outside the car. Thornton v. U.S. , No. 03-5165. Marcus Thornton challenged the search by a Norfolk, Va., police officer that led to his arrest on drug and firearm possession charges. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the majority, said such a search is permitted under the court’s 1981 ruling in Belton v. New York, 453 U.S. 454. Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter dissented, arguing that the majority had gone beyond the Beltonrule and given short shrift to “the citizen’s constitutionally protected interest in privacy.” [See story, Page 1.] CONSTITUTIONAL LAW On May 24, the high court also agreed to hear a challenge to the 1985 Beef Promotion and Research Act, and the Beef Promotion and Research Order issued under the act’s authority. Veneman v. Livestock Marketing, No. 03-1164, consolidated with Nebraska Cattlemen v. Livestock Marketing, No. 03-1165. A group of Midwestern cattle owners argued that the act and order violate the First Amendment because the measures require cattle producers to pay assessments to fund generic advertising that they disagree with. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court injunction against enforcement of the “check off” assessment, ruling that the government’s interest in protecting the welfare of the beef industry is not substantial enough to justify the infringement on the cattlemen’s free speech rights. DEATH PENALTY The high court will review a death penalty case that originated in California. That state’s Supreme Court rejected convicted killer William Payton’s appeal that argued California’s “catch all” mitigation instruction was unconstitutional as applied to post-crime evidence of mitigation. Goughnour v. Payton, No. 03-1039. In his petition for federal habeas relief, Payton contended that his jailhouse religious conversion should have been considered. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ruled that the California court’s determination was “objectively unreasonable.”

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