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Italian court rules wrong Eritrean accused of trafficking
Legal Watch | 2019/07/12 02:48
A court in Palermo, Sicily, ruled on Friday that the wrong Eritrean man was arrested and tried as a migrant smuggling kingpin and ordered him released from jail, to the jubilation of international supporters who had championed for years the defendant's claim of mistaken identity.

Defense lawyer Michele Calantropo told The Associated Press that his client, Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre, "cried for joy" when he heard the court order him released from jail, three years after he had been extradited to Italy from Sudan on a charge of human trafficking.

But while the court exonerated him of the trafficking charge, it convicted him of a lesser charge - aiding illegal immigration - for helping two cousins reach Italy, based on investigations conducted after Behre was extradited to Italy, Calantropo said.

The court sentenced him on that charge to five years in prison. But since Behre already spent three years behind bars under a warrant for the wrong man, it was likely under Italy's justice system, that, as a first offender, he won't have to do any more time in jail.

Prosecutors had argued the defendant was Medhane Yehdego Mered, an alleged human trafficking kingpin who profited as thousands of migrants were smuggled to Italy on unseaworthy boats launched from Libyan shores. They had asked the court to convict him and give a 14-year prison term.

They didn't immediately react to the ruling.

Even as the suspect set foot in Italy in 2016, escorted by Italian police, a chorus of doubts rose up about whether prosecutors actually had the man they claimed.

One of the defendant's sisters, who lives in Norway, said her brother was living a "normal" life in Sudan and had nothing to do with human smuggling. She said she recognized her brother in the images of the man being extradited to Italy.


Court to Trump: Blocking Twitter critics is unconstitutional
Headline News | 2019/07/10 02:50
President Donald Trump lost a major Twitter fight Tuesday when a federal appeals court said that his daily musings and pronouncements were overwhelmingly official in nature and that he violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint.

The effect of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is likely to reverberate throughout politics after the Manhattan court warned that any elected official using a social media account “for all manner of official purposes” and then excluding critics violates free speech.

“The government is not permitted to ‘amplify’ favored speech by banning or burdening viewpoints with which it disagrees,” the appeals court said.

Because it involved Trump, the ruling is getting more attention than a January decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found a Virginia politician violated the First Amendment rights of one of her constituents by blocking him from a Facebook page.

Still, the appeals court in New York acknowledged, not every social media account operated by a public official is a government account, and First Amendment violations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate,” Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The debate generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” the court’s decision read.

“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the 2nd Circuit added. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The Department of Justice is disappointed by the ruling and is exploring possible next steps, agency spokesperson Kelly Laco said.

“As we argued, President Trump’s decision to block users from his personal twitter account does not violate the First Amendment,” Laco said in an emailed statement.

Appeal options include asking the panel to reconsider, or seeking a reversal from the full 2nd Circuit or from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision came in a case brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. It had sued on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.


US appeals court sides with Trump in lawsuit involving hotel
Top Legal News | 2019/07/09 02:52
A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward.

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel. The case is one of three that argue the president is violating the provision, which prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

In the case before the 4th Circuit, the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, "Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt." Trump tweeted that he doesn't make money but loses "a fortune" by serving as president.



High court keeps citizenship question off census for now
Legal Interview | 2019/07/04 02:55
In a surprising move, the Supreme Court on Thursday kept the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now, and the question’s opponents say there’s no time to revisit the issue before next week’s scheduled start to the printing of census forms.

But President Donald Trump said on Twitter after the decision that he’s asked lawyers if they can “delay the Census, no matter how long” until the “United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision” on the issue. Under federal law the census must begin on April 1, 2020. A former director of the Census Bureau said he believed Congress would have to change the law for the count to be delayed.

The issue of whether to add the citizenship question to the census is a politically charged one. Democratic cities and states who oppose adding it argue that they’d get less federal money and fewer representatives in Congress if the question is asked because it would discourage the participation of minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.

During arguments in the case at the Supreme Court in April it seemed as though the Trump administration would win because Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives appointed by Republican presidents did not appear to see anything wrong with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the question. Ultimately, however, Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But the Justice Department had never previously sought a citizenship question in the 54-year history of the landmark voting rights law.


High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Court Center | 2019/06/25 18:15
The Supreme Court struck down a section of federal law Monday that prevented businesses from registering trademarks seen as scandalous or immoral, handing a victory to California fashion brand FUCT.

The high court ruled that the century-old provision is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. Between 2005 and 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ultimately refused about 150 trademark applications a year as a result of the provision. Those who were turned away could still use the words they were seeking to register, but they didn’t get the benefits that come with trademark registration. Going after counterfeiters was also difficult as a result.

The Trump administration had defended the provision, arguing that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.

The high court’s ruling means that the people and companies behind applications that previously failed as a result of the scandalous or immoral provision can re-submit them for approval. And new trademark applications cannot be refused on the grounds they are scandalous or immoral.

Justice Elena Kagan said in reading her majority opinion that the most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints they convey. She said Lanham Act’s ban on “immoral or scandalous” trademarks does just that.


Census, redistricting top remaining Supreme Court cases
Headline News | 2019/06/24 01:16
The Supreme Court enters its final week of decisions with two politically charged issues unresolved, whether to rein in political line-drawing for partisan gain and allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Both decisions could affect the distribution of political power for the next decade, and both also may test Chief Justice John Roberts’ professed desire to keep his court of five conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and four liberals appointed by Democrats from looking like the other, elected branches of government. Decisions that break along the court’s political and ideological divide are more likely to generate criticism of the court as yet another political institution.

In addition, the justices could say as early as Monday whether they will add to their election-year calendar a test of President Donald Trump’s effort to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation. The court’s new term begins in October.

Twelve cases that were argued between November and April remain to be decided. They include disputes over: a trademark sought by the FUCT clothing line, control of a large swatch of eastern Oklahoma that once belonged to Indian tribes and when courts should defer to decisions made by executive branch agencies.

But the biggest cases by far involve the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the census and two cases in which lower courts found that Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland went too far in drawing congressional districts to benefit their party at the expense of the other party’s voters.

The Supreme Court has never invalidated districts on partisan grounds, but the court has kept the door open to these claims. The court has struck down districts predominantly based on race.


EU court says Poland's Supreme Court reforms unlawful
Legal Watch | 2019/06/22 01:18
The European Union's top court ruled Monday that a Polish law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law, a setback for Poland's right-wing government but a move welcomed by critics who worried the measure would cause a serious erosion of democratic standards.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said the measures breach judicial independence. An interim decision from the Luxembourg-based court in November ordered the Polish government to reinstate judges who were forced to retire early and to amend the law to remove the provisions that took about one-third of the court off the bench.

The court said the law "undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence."

There was no immediate reaction from Poland's government, but the decision is a blow to the ruling authorities, who since winning power in 2015 have increasingly taken control of the judicial system.

The government and president have said they wanted to force the early retirement of the Supreme Court judges as part of a larger effort to purge communist-era judges.

But legal experts say that argument holds no water because most communist-era judges are long gone from the judicial system 30 years after the fall of communism. Many critics believe the true aim is to destroy the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The biggest fear is that the judiciary could become so politicized that those not favored by the ruling authorities could be unfairly charged with crimes and sentenced, essentially deprived of fair hearings. Though a separate court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other bodies are already under the ruling party's control, many judges have continued to show independence, ruling against the authorities, even the justice minister, in recent cases.


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