Court appoints lawyer in Oklahoma death penalty case

The Supreme Court on Friday morning appointed a former clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts to defend a ruling by an Oklahoma court leaving in place the conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip – even after the state’s attorney general agreed that they should be set aside.

The justices agreed to hear Glossip’s case on Monday, after considering the case at 11 consecutive conferences since late September 2023. Glossip was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 murder for hire of the owner of the Oklahoma City motel where he worked as a manager. The key evidence connecting Glossip to the murder was the testimony of a handyman at the hotel, who told jurors that Glossip had paid him $10,000 to kill the man.

Glossip came to the Supreme Court last year, asking the justices to decide whether the state violated his constitutional rights when prosecutors suppressed evidence that their star witness was under a psychiatrist’s care. The state’s attorney general, Gentner Drummond, supported Glossip’s petition for review, which the justices granted on Jan. 22.

The justices also instructed Glossip and the state to address whether the ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals denying Glossip’s request to set aside his conviction and sentence rested on an “adequate and independent state-law” ground, which the Supreme Court would lack the power to review.

Because Oklahoma is not defending the ruling by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the Supreme Court appointed Christopher Michel, a partner at the law firm of Quinn Emanuel, as a “friend of the court” to defend the state court’s decision. In 2016, law professor Katherine Shaw analyzed the court’s practice of making such appointments, noting that they generally occur once or twice per term and often go to lawyers who once clerked for the justices. Indeed, Michel is well known to the justices, having served not only as a law clerk to Roberts but also as a clerk to then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He has also served as an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, arguing 10 cases before the court.

Glossip’s case is likely to be argued sometime in the fall, with a decision to follow by summer 2025.

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