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The U.S. Supreme Court will decide shortly whether to heed the calls of Congress and the Bush administration last week to resolve confusion in the lower courts over the constitutionality of the federal sentencing guidelines triggered by a high court decision last month. Following a spate of conflicting district and circuit rulings, the Senate passed a concurrent resolution urging the justices to act “expeditiously” to end inconsistency in the sentencing system triggered by their ruling in Blakely v. Washington, 124 S. Ct. 2531. On the same day, the Justice Department formalized that request by filing two petitions for certiorari: U.S. v. Booker, No. 03-4225, out of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. v. Fanfan, No. 03-47, from the federal district court in Portland, Maine. The high court responded quickly by directing lawyers for the defendants to file their answers to the petitions by Wednesday. Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement also asked the justices, if they agree to hear the two cases, to accelerate the briefing schedule so that arguments could be heard as early as Sept. 13 — about three weeks before the new term opens. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who spoke at the 9th Circuit’s annual conference last week — and wrote the dissenting opinion in Blakely — said the case “looks like a No. 10 earthquake to me.” She added that she was “disgusted in how we dealt with it.” In Blakely, a 5-4 high court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires a jury, not a judge, to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, any aggravating facts, other than a prior conviction, that support the imposition of a higher sentence than authorized by the state’s sentencing law. The ruling invalidated Washington’s sentencing scheme, which had permitted the sentencing judge to find aggravating facts. Clement told the court in his petitions that Blakely had cast “a long shadow” over the federal sentencing guidelines, which for the last 15 years have allowed sentencing judges to find the facts necessary to arrive at a sentencing range for each defendant. The government’s petitions ask the justices to answer two questions: whether Blakely applies to the federal sentencing guidelines, and if it does, whether the guidelines as a whole are inapplicable. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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