July 19, 2021
It’s been eight years since two homemade bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. Two years later, Dzhokar Tsarnaev was convicted of some 30 criminal charges, including four counts of murder, and was sentenced to death.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit vacated the death sentences, ruling that the trial court should have asked potential jurors what media coverage they had seen about Tsarnaev’s case, and holding that the court should not have excluded from the sentencing phase evidence that Tsarnaev’s older brother, who placed one of the bombs, was involved in a separate triple murder. The Supreme Court accepted the Department of Justice’s appeal from that decision, and recently announced that oral argument will be held on October 13th.
Even if the Court reverses the 1st Circuit, its decision may be rendered moot, since President Biden is reportedly considering an end to the federal death penalty.
Meanwhile, Court watchers are waiting to see if and when Justice Breyer announces his retirement, giving President Biden an opportunity to appoint a replacement in advance of the 2022 midyear elections. If the balance of power in the Senate shifts by as little as one seat toward the Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it eminently clear that any vacancies on the court will remain unfilled until after the 2024 general election.