Case: United States v. Navajo Nation

Date: Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

Issue: Whether an appeal court ruling that the United States broke the law in connection with Navajo coal lease amendments is foreclosed by a 2003 Supreme Court ruling on the same matter?

Background: This is the second time this case about mineral leases on Navajo lands has come before the Supreme Court. In 2003, a 6-3 decision concluded the government was not liable for $600 million in damages for supposedly not looking after the tribe's best interests in a dispute over royalties with a private coal company. But under further review in the lower courts the tribe was able to revive the case essentially making the same claims against the government citing different laws. The government contends the 2003 High Court ruling is controlling and that the tribe's claims should again be denied.

Case: Rivera v. Illinois

Date: Monday, Feb. 23, 2009

Issue: Does the erroneous denial of a criminal defendant's peremptory challenge that resulted in the challenged juror being seated require automatic reversal of a conviction?

Background: In 2000, a Chicago jury convicted Michael Rivera of first degree murder. During jury selection, Rivera's attorney tried to prevent the seating of a juror who would become the jury foreman. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court concluded the judge should not have allowed that juror to take part in the trial. Nonetheless, it determined the error was not significant enough to warrant a new trial. Rivera claims the seating of the juror over his objection is a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. He says the error in his case was not "harmless" but rather "structural" in nature and therefore a new trial is warranted.