In the oral argument for the McDaniel senate election challenge, Justice Coleman’s questions were all directed to a extraordinarily narrow view of appropriate statutory construction, a view that seemed to go to the point of refusing to make sense out of what the legislature had done and applying a restrictive and extremely literal approach. His questions also suggested that he viewed this as essentially constitutionally dictated.
A sentencing opinion today in the Mississippi Supreme Court raises some of these issues.
There is a old and familiar rule in criminal sentencing that, where a statute has two sentencing options for the jury– a life sentence imposed by the jury or a term of greater than x imposed by the judge– and the jury rejects a life sentence, the judge is limited to some extent by the life expectancy of the defendant in the length of sentence, because of the jury’s rejection of the life sentence.
Justice Coleman is having none of it, because he says that it is something the court has written into the statute. Justice King responds that if all statutes were unambiguous and spoke clearly, there would be no need for judges.
In rejecting the rule, Justice Coleman specifically refuses to accept the concept that, where a later legislature readopts the statute without speaking to the construction, the legislature was presumed to have accepted it. He also gives the back of his hand to stare decisis.
Seems to me to speak pretty clearly what is on his mind about issues arising in the McDaniel challenge. Of course that is just one vote of six or possibly seven who are sitting on the case.