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Iowa’s high court stops lawsuit over farm runoff pollution
Court Center | 2021/06/18 21:34
A sharply divided Iowa Supreme Court on Friday stopped a lawsuit aimed at reducing the flow of fertilizer and hog farm waste into the state’s river and streams, finding that limiting pollution from farms was a political matter and not one for the courts.

The 4-3 decision handed a significant defeat to environmental groups hoping to get the chance to prove that Iowa should scrap it’s voluntary farm pollution policy, order new mandatory limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and stop construction of new hog barns.

It is the latest court rejection of an attempt to force the nation’s leading corn and pork producing state to clean up farm pollutants from its major rivers that provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of Iowans.

The lawsuit, which was brought by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, contended that unregulated farm pollution is violating the rights of citizens to clean water in the Raccoon River for recreational and drinking water use.

It said a legal concept that precedes Iowa statehood — the public trust doctrine — should apply to this case and require the state to ensure that citizens have a useable Raccoon River untainted by excess pollution caused by farm runoff of fertilizer and animal manure.

A state judge ruled in 2019 that the environmental groups sufficiently demonstrated that they suffered injury because the river’s untreated water is too polluted to enjoy recreationally or aesthetically. The state appealed the ruling and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit.

Four of the court’s conservative justices said the environmental groups didn’t show that the state’s actions had caused a concrete injury the courts could fix. They also said the public trust doctrine historically hasn’t been used to solve a problem as complex as the environmental issues raised, and that the issues at the heart of the case were political questions that would fall to the Legislature to settle.

“There is not enough here to demonstrate that a favorable outcome in this case is likely to redress the plaintiffs’ alleged reduced ability to kayak, swim, or enjoy views of the Raccoon River, or would save them money on drinking water. The plaintiffs’ claims must therefore be dismissed for lack of standing,” Justice Edward Mansfield wrote for the majority.

He said the Des Moines Water Works would have better standing to sue, but he pointed out that the utility already did so and lost a 2017 federal court case that was also dismissed.

The utility filed a brief with the state Supreme Court saying it was pursuing the development of alternate sources of water but that its long-range plans involve the implementation of new treatment technologies that would cost customers tens of millions of dollars.


British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor
Court Center | 2021/06/16 17:59
British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in Wednesday as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, pledging to reach out to nations that are not members of the court in his quest to end impunity for atrocities and to try to hold trials in countries where crimes are committed.

Khan, a 51-year-old English lawyer, has years of experience in international courts as a prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney. He takes over from Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, whose nine-year term ended Tuesday.

“The priority for me, and I believe that’s the principle of the Rome Statute, is not to focus so much on where trials take place, but to ensure that the quest for accountability and inroads on impunity are made,” Khan said, referring to the treaty that founded the court, in his first speech after taking his oath of office.

“The Hague itself should be a city of last resort,” he said. “Wherever possible, we should be trying to have trials in the country or in the region.”

Khan said he wanted to work with countries that are not among the court’s 123 member states to achieve justice. World powers the United States, Russia and China are not members and do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

“My conviction is that we can find common ground in the quest and in the imperative to ensure we eradicate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Khan said.

Most recently, Khan led a United Nations team investigating atrocities in Iraq, telling the Security Council last month that he uncovered “clear and compelling evidence” that Islamic State extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014.

In the past, he has defended clients at international courts including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. ICC prosecutors dropped charges against Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta of involvement in deadly post-election violence in their country.


Justices consider Harvard case on race in college admissions
Court Center | 2021/06/14 17:13
With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions.

The justices could say as soon as Monday whether they will hear an appeal claiming that Harvard discriminates against Asian American applicants, in a case that could have nationwide repercussions. The case would not be argued until the fall or winter.

“It would be a big deal because of the nature of college admissions across the country and because of the stakes of having this issue before the Supreme Court,” said Gregory Garre, who twice defended the University of Texas’ admissions program before the justices.

The presence of three appointees of former President Donald Trump could prompt the court to take up the case, even though it’s only been five years since its last decision in a case about affirmative action in higher education.

In that Texas case, the court reaffirmed in a 4-3 decision that colleges and universities may consider race in admissions decisions. But they must do so in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity, the court said in a decision that rejected the discrimination claims of a white applicant. Schools also bear the burden of showing why their consideration of race is appropriate.

Two members of that four-justice majority are gone from the court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September. Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.


Court: Local Wisconsin heath departments can’t close schools
Court Center | 2021/06/11 17:20
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that local health departments do not have the authority to close schools due to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a win to private and religious schools that challenged a Dane County order.

The conservative majority of the court, in a 4-3 decision, also ruled that a school closure order issued last year by Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

The ruling is another victory for conservatives who challenged state and local orders issued during the pandemic to close businesses and schools, limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other buildings and require masks to be worn. All of those restrictions have either expired or been rescinded by courts.

Friday’s ruling will have no immediate impact because the 2020-21 school year has ended, but it will limit the powers of health departments in the future by preventing them from ordering school closures.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the court’s decision provides a critical correction that ought to prevent future abuses of power in an emergency,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group brought the lawsuit on behalf of five private schools and eight families in Dane County, School Choice Wisconsin Action and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the ruling “hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”

The lawsuit targeted an order issued in August by the county health department prohibiting in-person instruction for grades 3-12 at any public or private school. The Supreme Court in early September put that order on hold while it considered the case.

While many private and public schools in the county resumed in-person classes, Madison’s school district remained entirely virtual until March. Its school year ended this week.

The law in question allows local health departments to do what is “reasonable and necessary” to suppress a disease outbreak. It does not specifically grant authority to close schools. There is a law giving that power to the state Department of Health Services secretary.


Court nixes South Carolina’s lifelong sex offender registry
Court Center | 2021/06/09 17:35
South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life, without prior judicial review, is unconstitutional.

In a unanimous ruling, justices wrote that “requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.”

Justices set a 12-month timeline to implement the ruling, to give state lawmakers time to “correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.”

The case stems from a lawsuit originally brought by Dennis Powell, who was arrested in 2008 for criminal solicitation of a minor after authorities said he had graphic online conversations with someone he thought was a 12-year-old girl, but who was actually an undercover officer.

After pleading guilty, Powell was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender, which South Carolina’s statute mandates as a lifelong situation.

South Carolina’s sex offender statute requires biannual registration, in-person at a sheriff’s office, but provides for no periodic review by a judge, a situation the Supreme Court called “the most stringent in the country.”

“The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” justices wrote. “There is no evidence in the record that current statistics indicate all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”

The court ruled that Powell should be immediately removed from the state’s sex offender registry. Powell had also challenged a portion of the statute that permits the registry to be published online, which the court upheld.

Attorneys for both Powell and the State Law Enforcement Division did not immediately return text messages seeking comment on the ruling.


Schumer recommending 2 voting rights lawyers to be judges
Court Center | 2021/06/07 17:45
The Senate’s top Democrat is recommending President Joe Biden nominate two prominent voting rights attorneys to serve as judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on the federal bench in Manhattan.

Sen. Chuck Schumer has recommended the president nominate Myrna Perez, who serves as the director of voting rights and election programs at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, for the appeals court post, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Monday.

He is also recommending Biden nominate Dale Ho, who leads the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, the person said. The person could not discuss the matter publicly ahead of a formal announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

If confirmed, Perez would be the only Latina on the court — one of the most prominent judicial posts in the country. Perez would also be the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court since Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor served on the panel. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the federal courts in New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Schumer’s recommendation that Biden nominate highly experienced litigators in voting and election law is also a calculated political move for Democrats, who have made voting rights one of their biggest priorities.

Days ago, Biden reemphasized a plea for sweeping legislation in Congress to protect the right to vote as Republican-led lawmaking bodies in Texas and other states pass new restrictions making it tougher to cast ballots.

As majority leader, Schumer has been pushing to keep with the president’s pledge to bring on a diverse group of judicial nominees to represent the demographic diversity of the nation.

Democrats, narrowly controlling the Senate for the first time in six years, are eager to turn the page from the Trump administration, especially when it comes to judges. President Donald Trump appointed mostly white men to fill the jobs, and now more than one-quarter of the federal judiciary is made up of his appointees. Trump, a Republican, also nominated three members of the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.


Appeals court upholds guilty verdicts in NCAA bribes case
Court Center | 2021/06/04 18:00
The convictions of a sports business manager and an amateur basketball coach in a conspiracy to bribe top college coaches to get them to steer NBA-bound athletes to favored handlers were upheld Friday by an appeals court.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan affirmed the 2019 convictions of Christian Dawkins and youth basketball coach Merl Code on a single conspiracy count. Dawkins was also convicted of bribery. They were acquitted of some other charges.

The prosecution resulted from a criminal probe that exposed how financial advisers and business managers paid tens of thousands of dollars to college coaches and athletes’ families to steer highly regarded high school players to big-program colleges, sometimes with the help of apparel makers who signed sponsorship deals with schools.

During the trial, universities were portrayed by prosecutors as victims of greedy financial advisers and coaches while defense lawyers asserted that schools were complicit in any corruption that occurred in 2016 and 2017.

Circuit Judge William J. Nardini, writing for a three-judge panel, said the judges rejected arguments that the law used to convict the men was unconstitutionally applied and that various rulings about evidence and other matters by the trial judge were erroneous.

“We are unpersuaded by these arguments,” Nardini wrote, saying the judges did not agree with arguments that the federal law used to convict the men should be limited as it pertains to the universe of “agents” to be influenced or the business of the federally funded organizations involved.


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