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In a rare move, the Fifth Circuit Court on Thursday sent to the Supreme Court, with a plea for an answer, a legal question on the time allowed for federal prosecution of an old kidnapping case. The answer, the Circuit Court said, could shut down federal prosecutions of perhaps two dozen old “cold cases” involving civil rights violations.(SCOTUS blog). It could be one of the first issues Judge Sotomayor may deal with in her new role as Justice Sotomayer.
Because the Circuit Court, sitting en banc, had divided 9-9 on the issue, it could not itself give a definitive answer. Thus, the full Circuit Court, by a 12-6 vote, opted to “certify” the question to the Supreme Court directly — a procedure that is allowed by federal law and Supreme Court Rules, but seldom is used.