If there is a “sleeper” blockbuster case that the United States Supreme Court might decide this term it could be whether Apprendi applies to criminal fines.
This AP report on the oral argument in Southern Union, the Apprendi fines case, reported that “several justices sounded skeptical of the government’s case for upholding the penalty against Texas-based Southern Union Co. over its improper storage of mercury in a building in Pawtucket.” In part, the story said:
Unlike other Supreme Court disputes involving corporations, this case does not appear to divide the justices along ideological lines. In the sentencing cases, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia has been the most forceful advocate for reining in judges and requiring juries to find any facts that could lead to a longer sentence.
Scalia said he sees the Southern Union case as a logical extension of the court’s earlier rulings. He said it would be odd to require a jury to establish facts that lead to even the shortest jail term, yet give judges freedom to decide on fines that “will make a pauper of you.”
But another conservative justice, Samuel Alito, seemed more open to the administration’s argument. Alito, a former prosecutor, has been more supportive of the government’s side in sentencing cases.
Oral arguments can, at times, be misleading, but the argument in this case is posted here at the Supreme Court’s official website.