Montejo v. Louisiana
556 U.S. ___ (2009)

Annotate this Case

ALITO, J., CONCURRING
MONTEJO V. LOUISIANA
556 U. S. ____ (2009)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
NO. 07-1529

JESSE JAY MONTEJO, PETITIONER v. LOUISIANA

on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of louisiana

[May 26, 2009]

   Justice Alito, with whom Justice Kennedy joins, concurring.

   Earlier this Term, in Arizona v. Gant, 556 U. S. ___ (2009), the Court overruled New York v. Belton, 453 U. S. 454 (1981), even though that case had been on the books for 28 years, had not been undermined by subsequent decisions, had been recently reaffirmed and extended, had proven to be eminently workable (indeed, had been adopted for precisely that reason), and had engendered substantial law enforcement reliance. See Gant, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 4) (Alito, J., dissenting). The Court took this step even though we were not asked to overrule Belton and this new rule is almost certain to lead to a host of problems. See Gant, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 10) (Alito, J., dissenting); Megginson v. United States, post, p. ___; Grooms v. United States, post, p. ___.

   Justice Scalia, who cast the deciding vote to overrule Belton, dismissed stare decisis concerns with the following observation: “[I]t seems to me ample reason that the precedent was badly reasoned and produces erroneous … results.” Gant, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 3) (concurring opinion). This narrow view of stare decisis provides the only principle on which the decision in Gant can be justified.

   In light of Gant, the discussion of stare decisis in today’s dissent* is surprising. The dissent in the case at hand criticizes the Court for “[a]cting on its own” in reconsidering Michigan v. Jackson,475 U. S. 625 (1986). Post, at 4 (opinion of Stevens, J.). But the same was true in Gant, and in this case, the Court gave the parties and interested amici the opportunity to submit supplemental briefs on the issue, a step not taken in Gant.

   The dissent faults the Court for “cast[ing] aside the reliance interests of law enforcement,” post, at 8–9, but in Gant, there were real and important law enforcement interests at stake. See 556 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 5–6) (Alito, J., dissenting). Even the Court conceded that the Belton rule had “been widely taught in police academies and that law enforcement officers ha[d] relied on the rule in conducting vehicle searches during the past 28 years.” 556 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 16). And whatever else might be said about Belton, it surely provided a bright-line rule.

   A month ago, none of this counted for much, but today the dissent writes:

Jackson’s bright-line rule has provided law enforcement officers with clear guidance, allowed prosecutors to quickly and easily assess whether confessions will be admissible in court, and assisted judges in determining whether a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights have been violated by police interrogation.” Post, at 8.

   It is striking that precisely the same points were true in Gant:

“[Belton’s] bright-line rule ha[d] provided law enforcement officers with clear guidance, allowed prosecutors to quickly and easily assess whether [evidence obtained in a vehicle search] w[ould] be admissible in court, and assisted judges in determining whether a defendant’s [Fourth] Amendment rights ha[d] been violated by police interrogation.” Post, at 8.

   The dissent, finally, invokes Jackson’s antiquity, stating that “the 23-year existence of a simple bright-line rule” should weigh in favor of its retention. Post, at 9. But in Gant, the Court had no compunction about casting aside a 28-year-old bright-line rule. I can only assume that the dissent thinks that our constitutional precedents are like certain wines, which are most treasured when they are neither too young nor too old, and that Jackson, at 23, is in its prime, whereas Belton, at 28, had turned brownish and vinegary.

   I agree with the dissent that stare decisis should promote “ ‘the evenhanded … development of legal principles,’ ” post, at 6 (quoting Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U. S. 808, 827–828 (1991)). The treatment of stare decisis in Gant fully supports the decision in the present case.

* One of the dissenters in the present case, Justice Breyer, also dissented in Gant and would have followed Belton on stare decisis grounds. See 556 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). Thus, he would not overrule either Belton or Michigan v. Jackson,475 U. S. 625 (1986).

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