Law professor will argue death penalty, bank discrimination cases before Supreme Court

Monday, October 05, 2015

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas law professor will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court twice this week in a pair of cases: one involving the Eighth Amendment and capital punishment, and the other alleged discrimination in banking.

Stephen McAllister, the E.S. & Tom W. Hampton Distinguished Professor of Law, will appear before the court today, Oct. 5, in the case Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore. On Wednesday, Oct. 7, he will appear on behalf of the state of Kansas in Kansas v. Jonathan Carr and Kansas v. Reginald Carr Jr. These arguments will be McAllister’s eighth and ninth appearances before the high court, respectively.

The Carr case is centered on brothers Jonathan and Reginald Carr, who were convicted of capital murder for brutal quadruple murders they committed in Wichita in December 2000. They were sentenced to death, but the Kansas Supreme Court overturned their sentences in 2014, holding both that the jury instructions in the Carrs’ sentencing were inadequate and they should not have been tried jointly in the same proceeding.

“They are arguing the jury instructions were erroneous because they may have misled the jury into believing it could not consider some evidence in favor of imposing a sentence less than death,” McAllister said of representatives of the Carrs. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt will argue for Kansas on what the Supreme Court has labeled the “mitigation instruction” issue.

The second issue in the cases is whether it was constitutional error to determine the Carr brothers’ sentences in a single proceeding, rather than severing those proceedings so that each brother had his own sentencing proceeding. McAllister will be arguing for Kansas on this question, which the Supreme Court has labeled the “severance question.” He argues that the joint proceeding was consistent with the Eighth Amendment, is part of a longstanding tradition in the United States of joint trials and that jury instructions properly informed the jury to determine each brother’s ultimate sentence on an individual basis.

McAllister, who is also Kansas Solicitor General, will have 20 minutes to make his argument in the Carr cases, and Kansas is supported in its argument by the United States, which frequently conducts joint capital proceedings under federal law.

Two days prior to his appearance regarding capital punishment, McAllister will argue on behalf of the bank at the center of Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore. The case is a test of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, designed to prevent discrimination in lending against women based on gender, marital status and other factors. The plaintiffs in the case originally sued because they claimed female spouses were required to sign guaranties for loans to their husbands’ business. The federal statute, however, allows only the “applicant” for  credit to bring a claim against the bank, and lower courts held that the spousal guarantors are not applicants and thus could not bring a claim, although the business itself that received the loan could do so. McAllister is arguing for the bank and defending the holding of the lower courts. Allowing extra parties, who did not receive the credit, to bring suit would “open Pandora’s box” in terms of banking litigation.

“Bottom line, the statute makes clear that it is only the person who applies for the credit and is denied, or who receives credit on discriminatory terms, who has the claim and should be able to bring suit,” McAllister said.

McAllister said that while two appearances before the court in three days may be unusual, it will provide both unique professional experience and invaluable teaching material he can bring to his classes. Both cases involve issues he teaches and writes about, including federal constitutional law.

The cases are both scheduled for argument the first week of the Supreme Court’s term, and decisions may be issued anywhere from a few months to several months after the arguments, although certainly by the end of June 2016.

Editor’s note: McAllister is in Washington, D.C., this week arguing cases before the Supreme Court and not available for interviews. Elizabeth Cateforis, clinical associate professor of law and supervising attorney in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies in the KU School of Law, is available to speak with media about capital punishment, the Carr brothers and Gleason cases and Kansas death penalty statutes. To schedule an interview with McAllister upon his return or with Cateforis, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or

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Host Carmen Russell-Sluchansky spoke with Andrew Torrance, a law professor at the University of Kansas, and Dr. Caleph Wilson, of the Translation Research Unit and the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania, to discuss the story.


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