Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U.S. ___, ___ S. Ct. ___ (Apr. 20, 2020)

The Supreme Court reversed a Louisiana state court and held that the Sixth Amendment gives defendants a right to a unanimous jury verdict that applies to the states. The defendant was convicted of murder in 2016 based on a 10–2 jury verdict, which was a sufficient basis for conviction under then-existing Louisiana state law. (Oregon is the only other state that allows convictions based on nonunanimous verdicts.) Justice Gorsuch wrote a majority opinion joined in full by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and in part by Justices Sotomayor and Kavanaugh, concluding based on the historical context in which the Sixth Amendment was adopted that the entitlement to an impartial jury included the right, applicable in both the federal courts and the state courts, to a unanimous jury to be convicted. The Court disclaimed the precedential value of Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972), a case in which a four-Justice plurality plus a lone Justice resolving the case on other grounds upheld an Oregon conviction that was based on a nonunanimous verdict. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion saying that Apodaca must be overruled, not only because of its dubious reasoning, but also because of the racially discriminatory origins of the Louisiana and Oregon laws the case upheld. Justice Kavanaugh likewise wrote separately to concur and to share more extended thoughts on the application of stare decisis in this case. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, noting his agreement that the requirement for a unanimous jury verdict applies to the states, but under his own view that it applies through the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges or Immunities Clause, not the Due Process Clause. Justice Alito wrote a dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and joined in part by Justice Kagan, arguing that the lower court should have been affirmed under Apodaca.