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The U.S. Supreme Court granted review in 10 new cases Tuesday, fleshing out its docket with criminal law and federalism cases, but not yet acting on the dispute over the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Court’s actions came following Monday’s “long conference,” at which the justices came back from their summer recess and privately sifted through more than 2,000 cases to find a handful that four or more of them agreed merited the Court’s attention in the upcoming term. Next Monday, the Supreme Court is expected to announce its disposition of most of the rest of the summer list cases — possibly including the Pledge of Allegiance dispute. The trilogy of Pledge-related cases — United States v. Newdow, No. 02-1574, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, No. 02-1624, and Newdow v. United States, No. 03-7 — stem from Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow’s effort to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge, or at least from the version his daughter and other California public school students recite every day. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled mostly in Newdow’s favor last year, triggering tremendous controversy and launching the appeals that dominated the high court’s agenda for the Monday conference. The fact that the Court did not include the Pledge cases among the newly granted additions to its docket could mean the Court is preparing to reverse the 9th Circuit summarily, or it could mean the justices want to discuss it further at future conferences. Outright denial of review is generally viewed as an unlikely option, since it would mean that public school students in the 9th Circuit would be left reciting a different Pledge from students in the rest of the country. Among the cases taken up by the Supreme Court is Iowa v. Tovar, No. 02-1541, which asks whether judges are required by the Sixth Amendment to give extra admonitions to pro se defendants who are pleading guilty. Felipe Tovar was convicted of a third offense of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, which carries enhanced penalties. But Tovar claims his first offense should not be counted, because he represented himself at the first trial and pleaded guilty without knowing the consequences of the plea. The Iowa Supreme Court sided with Tovar, ruling that pro se defendants who are about to plead guilty must be advised in detail of the usefulness of an attorney and the dangers of not having one. Iowa Deputy Attorney General Douglas Marek urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Iowa ruling, noting that 19 other states have ruled that no special warnings are needed for pro se defendants in plea proceedings. Four other states — Alaska, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina — require special warnings at the plea stage. “If left to stand, this decision allows defendants to challenge any guilty plea, prior or current, entered without an attorney,” Iowa’s brief states. Also Tuesday, the Court granted review in Beard v. Banks, No. 02-1603, which could affect dozens of death row sentences in Pennsylvania. It involves the retroactivity of Mills v. Maryland, a 1988 ruling that said jurors do not need to agree unanimously on the mitigating circumstances considered in sentencing. In Smith v. Dretke, No. 02-11309, involving Texas inmate Robert Smith, the Court will examine whether a defendant’s borderline retardation amounts to the kind of severe impairment that the Court has found could bar imposition of a death sentence. In Yarborough v. Alvarado, No. 02-1684, the Supreme Court will examine whether a suspect’s age should be a factor in determining whether he or she is in “custody” for purposes of triggering the requirement for Miranda warnings. The Court also added an important federalism case to its docket: Tennessee Student Assistance Corp. v. Hood, No. 02-1606. The case asks whether the constitutional mandate for Congress to set bankruptcy rules allows it to abrogate state sovereign immunity. Forty-seven states have supported Tennessee in its appeal, which involves efforts by Pamela Hood to discharge her state student loan debt in bankruptcy. The state fought her, claiming sovereign immunity.

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