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Massachusetts governor signs bill protecting abortion access
Legal Watch | 2022/07/29 19:16
A sweeping abortion bill designed to protect access to the procedure in Massachusetts at a time when many other states are restricting or outlawing abortions was signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

The new law attempts in part to build a firewall around abortion services in the state after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe v. Wade last month.

The law protects abortion providers and people seeking abortions from actions taken by other states, including blocking the governor from extraditing anyone charged in another state unless the acts for which extradition is sought would be punishable by Massachusetts law.

The bill also states that access to reproductive and gender-affirming health care services is a right protected by the Massachusetts Constitution; requires the state’s Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, to cover abortions; allows over-the-counter emergency contraception to be sold in vending machines; and requires public colleges and universities to create medication abortion readiness plans for students.

A unique Texas law banning most abortions after about six weeks is enforceable through lawsuits filed by private citizens against doctors or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.


Louisiana Supreme Court’s chief justice reelected
Court Center | 2022/07/25 19:04
The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court has won re-election to another 10-year term.

Chief Justice John Weimer was automatically reelected when nobody signed up to challenge him by Friday’s qualifying deadline for the Nov. 8 ballot, The Advocate reported.

Weimer, 67, a former professor at Nicholls State University, first won election to the state’s high court in 2001. He won reelection in 2002 and 2012. In the latter race, he ran unopposed and returned campaign checks to contributors to his campaign.

On Wednesday, he was one of the first candidates to pay the qualifying fees and file the paperwork for the fall election. Weimer’s current term ends Dec. 31.

U.S. District Judge John deGravelles of Baton Rouge lifted a stay July 13 that had blocked the November election for the state Supreme Court’s 6th District, which Weimer represents. The stay arose out of a lawsuit filed in 2019 by the NAACP.

The lawsuit contends that two of the seven Supreme Court districts should have a Black majority in a state where about one-third of the state’s residents are African American. Only one Supreme Court district currently has a Black majority, the one represented by Justice Piper Griffin in New Orleans.

The 6th District, with about 600,000 residents, consists of 12 coastal parishes: Assumption, Iberia, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin, St. Mary, Terrebonne, and a portion of the west bank of Jefferson.

The federal court had stopped all Supreme Court races in May. Only Weimer was up for reelection this year. Justices run in staggered terms every two years. The next justice is not on the ballot until 2024.


Abortion clinic goes before judge to challenge WVa ban
Lawyer Blogs | 2022/07/18 20:00
West Virginia’s only abortion clinic was going before a county judge on Monday to ask that an 1800s-era law be thrown out so the facility can immediately resume abortions.

The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia suspended abortion services on June 24, the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The state has an abortion ban on the books dating back 150 years that makes performing or obtaining an abortion a felony, punishable by up to a decade in prison. There is an exception for cases in which a pregnant person’s life is at risk.

The ACLU of West Virginia has argued on the clinic’s behalf that the old law is void because it hasn’t been enforced in more than 50 years and has been superseded by a slew of modern laws regulating abortion that acknowledge a woman’s right to the procedure. One example is West Virginia’s 2015 law, which allows abortions until 20 weeks.

In motions before Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Tera L. Salango in Charleston, the Women’s Health Center’s attorneys said abortion services are essential health care, and the state’s most vulnerable residents are put at risk every day they don’t have access to that care.

Staffers have canceled dozens of abortion appointments, fearing they or their patients could be prosecuted under the old statute. “When it was in effect, the statute was used to criminalize both people who seek and provide abortion care,” the ACLU said.


Court reinstates ban on lobster gear to protect right whales
Headline News | 2022/07/13 19:14
A federal circuit court has reinstated a ban on lobster fishing gear in a nearly 1,000-square-mile area off New England to try to protect endangered whales.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued new regulations last year that prohibited lobster fishing with vertical buoy lines in part of the fall and winter in the area, which is in federal waters off Maine’s coast. The ruling was intended to prevent North Atlantic right whales, which number less than 340, from becoming entangled in the lines.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine issued a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the rules. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston vacated that ruling Tuesday.

The circuit court sent the case back to the district court level, but noted in its ruling that it does not think the lobster fishing groups that sued to stop the regulations are likely to succeed because Congress has clearly instructed the fisheries service to protect the whales.

“Although this does not mean the balance will always come out on the side of an endangered marine mammal, it does leave plaintiffs beating against the tide, with no more success than they had before,” the court ruled.

The ruling was the second by a federal court in favor of right whale protection in the past week. A U.S. District judge ruled last week that the federal government hasn’t done enough to protect the whales from entanglement in lobster fishing gear, which can be lethal, and new rules are needed to protect the species from extinction.


Wisconsin Supreme Court disallows absentee ballot drop boxes
Attorneys News | 2022/07/07 00:05
Wisconsin’s conservative-controlled Supreme Court ruled Friday that absentee ballot drop boxes may be placed only in election offices and that no one other than the voter can return a ballot in person, dealing a defeat to Democrats who said the decision would make it harder to vote in the battleground state.

However, the court didn’t address whether anyone other than the voter can return his or her own ballot by mail. That means that anyone could still collect multiple ballots for voters and, instead of using a drop box, put them in the mail.

Republicans have argued that practice, known as ballot harvesting, is ripe with fraud although there has been no evidence of that happening in Wisconsin. Democrats and others argue that many voters, particularly the elderly and disabled, have difficulty returning their ballots without the assistance of others.

Supporters argue drop boxes are a better option than mailing ballots because they go directly to the clerks and can’t be lost or delayed in transit.

The decision sets absentee ballot rules for the Aug. 9 primary and the fall election; Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are seeking reelection in key races.

Johnson and other Republicans hailed it as a win for voter integrity.

“This decision is a big step in the right direction,” Johnson said.

Evers and other Democrats said the ruling will make it more difficult for people to vote.

“It’s a slap in the face of democracy itself,” said Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler.

The court’s 4-3 ruling also has critical implications in the 2024 presidential race, in which Wisconsin will again be among a handful of battleground states. President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in 2020 by just under 21,000 votes, four years after Trump narrowly won the state by a similar margin.


Court denies request for emergency halt to Ohio abortion ban
Court Center | 2022/07/01 17:32
An emergency stay of Ohio’s newly imposed state ban on abortions at the first detectable “fetal heartbeat” was rejected Friday by the state Supreme Court.

At issue was a request by Ohio abortion providers for the interim delay while the court reviews the question of whether the ban should be overturned. The providers argue the law violates the Ohio Constitution’s broad protections of individual liberty.

Their lawsuit followed imposition of the Ohio ban June 24, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court found the U.S. Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to an abortion. A federal judge lifted his stay on Ohio’s abortion restriction later that night.

The Ohio law prohibits abortions after what it terms a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks’ gestation, or before many women know they are pregnant. It makes exceptions for the life of the mother and certain severe health risks.

The office of Attorney General Dave Yost, defending the new law, opposed the emergency stay, saying the Ohio Constitution does not recognize the right to an abortion.


States brace for fight over gun laws after high court ruling
Attorneys News | 2022/06/24 23:46
The Supreme Court’s decision overturning a gun-permitting law in New York has states with robust firearms restrictions scrambling to respond on two fronts — to figure out what concealed-carry measures they might be allowed to impose while also preparing to defend a wide range of other gun control policies.

The language in the court’s majority opinion heightened concern that other state laws, from setting an age limit on gun purchases to banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, may now be in jeopardy.

“The court has basically invited open season on our gun laws, and so I expect litigation across the board,” said New Jersey acting Attorney General Matt Platkin, a Democrat. “We’re going to defend our gun laws tooth-and-nail because these gun laws save lives.”

The court ruling issued Thursday specifically overturned a New York law that had been in place since 1913 and required that people applying for a concealed carry permit demonstrate a specific need to have a gun in public, such as showing an imminent threat to their safety. The court’s conservative majority said that violated the Second Amendment, which they interpreted as protecting people’s right to carry a gun for self-defense outside the home.

While the ruling does not address any other laws, the majority opinion opens the door for gun rights advocates to challenge them in the future, said Alex McCourt, the director of legal research for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.

Pro-firearms groups in several states said they plan to do just that.

Attorney Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said the group is preparing to expand its legal challenges based on the high court changing the legal standard used to assess whether gun control laws are constitutional.

Courts must now consider only whether a gun control regulation is consistent with the Second Amendment’s actual text and its historical understanding, according to Thursday’s ruling. Before that, judges also could consider a state’s social justification for passing a gun control law.

Michel said the standard will affect three prominent California laws. Legal challenges to the state’s limits on assault weapons, its requirement for background checks for buying ammunition and its ban on online ammunition sales are pending before a federal appellate court.


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