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Senate panel advances McConnell ally for DC appeals court
Legal Watch | 2020/06/05 16:15
The Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced the nomination of a 38-year-old judge and ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to serve on a federal appeals court, despite Democrats’ objections that he’s inexperienced and biased against the Obama health care law.

The panel's 12-10, party-line vote Thursday sets the stage for Justin Walker’s likely confirmation in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Walker, a protege of both McConnell and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, told senators last month that he will have an open mind on the Affordable Care Act, adding that he was writing as an academic and commentator when he criticized as “indefensible” a Supreme Court ruling upholding the law.

Walker, who was confirmed as a federal judge last fall, declined a request by Senate Democrats to recuse himself on matters related to the health care law if he’s confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court is widely considered the second-most powerful in the nation and frequently serves as a launching pad for a seat on the Supreme Court. Four current justices, including Kavanaugh, served on the D.C. circuit.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called Walker's nomination a travesty and an affront to other, more qualified conservative judges.


Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees to hear voter purge case
Court Center | 2020/06/02 23:12
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case seeking to purge about 129,000 voter registrations from the rolls ahead of the November presidential election after previously deadlocking on whether to get involved.

Democrats oppose the voter purge, arguing it is intended to make it more difficult for their voters to cast ballots. Conservatives who brought the lawsuit argue that the integrity of the vote is at stake, saying that when records indicate voters may have moved, their registrations should be deactivated.

The case is closely watched in battleground Wisconsin, a state President Donald Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. Winning Wisconsin is a key part of the strategy for both Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

he voter purge case was brought on behalf of three voters by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative law firm. It won in Ozaukee County, with a judge ordering in January that the purge take place immediately. The Supreme Court deadlocked then when asked to immediately take the case. In February, a state appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling, stopped the purge and dismissed the case.

That set up the latest request made in March for the Supreme Court to hear the case, which it agreed to do on Monday. It is likely to hear arguments this summer or early fall and could issue a ruling before the November election.



Supreme Court rejects challenge to limits on church services
Court Center | 2020/05/30 18:48
A divided Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged state limits on attendance at worship services that have been imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the dissent of the four more conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in turning away a request from the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area.

The church argued that limits on how many people can attend their services violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and had been seeking an order in time for services on Sunday. The church said it has crowds of 200 to 300 people for its services.

Roberts wrote in brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, “appear consistent" with the First Amendment. Roberts said similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.” Kavanaugh pointed to supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries and other businesses that are not subject to the same restrictions. Lower courts in California had previously turned down the churches' requests.
 
The court also rejected an appeal from two churches in the Chicago area that objected to Gov. Jay Pritzker’s limit of 10 worshipers at religious services. Before the court acted, Pritzker modified the restrictions to allow for up to 100 people at a time. There were no recorded dissents.


Texas court: Virus fear alone not enough for mail balloting
Top Legal News | 2020/05/28 01:48
Texas officials fighting to block widespread mail-in voting during the pandemic claimed victory after the state's highest court ruled Wednesday that a lack of immunity to the coronavirus doesn't qualify someone to cast a ballot by mail.

The decision was unanimous by the Texas Supreme Court, which is stocked with nine Republican justices, including one who revealed last week that she had tested positive for COVID-19. Texas generally limits mail balloting only to voters who are over 65 years old or have a disability.

Justice Eva Guzman wrote the court was unified in the conclusion that “fear of contracting a disease is not a physical condition."

The Texas Democratic Party blasted the decision, and moved its hopes to a similar challenge playing out in federal court. But not all saw the decision as a total loss: the top elections lawyer in Houston, Harris County attorney Douglas Ray, said he believed the ruling leaves room for each voter to decide themselves whether they qualify, and gives clerks basically no ability to second-guess the reasoning.

In Texas, voters do not have to describe their disability when requesting a mail-in ballot.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who earlier this month lost lower court decisions that would have expanded mail-in ballots to all of the state's 16 million registered voters, has argued that fear of getting the virus alone doesn't qualify as a disability. He applauded the court for keeping the status quo with just weeks until the state is set to hold primary runoff elections in July.




Court upholds ban on in-person church services in California
Court Center | 2020/05/24 19:33
An appeals court has upheld California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on in-person church services amid the coronavirus pandemic, in a split ruling that found that government’s emergency powers override what in normal times would be fundamental constitutional rights.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in San Diego cannot reopen immediately, the Los Angeles Times reported. In this case “constitutional standards that would normally govern our review of a Free Exercise claim should not be applied,” the two judges in the majority wrote in their order.

“We’re dealing here with a highly contagious and often fatal disease for which there presently is no known cure. In the words of Justice Robert Jackson, if a ‘(c)ourt does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact,’” they wrote.

The decision is likely to further anger opponents who claim that California’s rules to stop the spread of the virus violate religious freedoms.




Netanyahu heads to court as 1st sitting Israeli PM on trial
Court Center | 2020/05/22 02:34
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lashing out at Israel’s justice system, saying his trial on corruption charges is an attempt to “depose” him.

Prime Minister Benjamin spoke Sunday as he arrived at a Jerusalem courthouse for the start of his trial. Netanyahu is set to appear at the opening hearing at a Jerusalem district court, after his request to have his lawyers represent him instead was rejected. The courthouse was drawing crowds of supporters, protesters and media hoping to witness Netanyahu enter the building, where he will hear the arraignment against him.

The dramatic scene comes just days after the long-serving leader swore in his new government, breaking more than a year of political stalemate following three inconclusive elections.

Netanyahu held his first Cabinet meeting with the new government just hours before heading to court. Neither he nor any of his ministers addressed the looming trial but the country's outgoing religious affairs minister wished Netanyahu that “God will bring the truth out” at his trial.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes in a series of corruption cases stemming from ties to wealthy friends. He is accused of accepting lavish gifts and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. He denies the charges and has lashed out at the media, police, prosecution and courts of forging a conspiracy to oust him. It comes after years of scandals swirling around the family.



Supreme Court blocks House from Mueller grand jury material
Headline News | 2020/05/19 18:35
The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily prevented the House of Representatives from obtaining secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The court’s unsigned order granted the Trump administration’s request to keep previously undisclosed details from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election out of the hands of Democratic lawmakers, at least until early summer.

The court will decide then whether to extend its hold and schedule the case for arguments in the fall. If it does, it’s likely the administration will be able to put off the release of any materials until after Election Day. Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give President Donald Trump a second term.

For justices eager to avoid a definitive ruling, the delay could mean never having to decide the case, if either Trump loses or Republicans regain control of the House next year. It’s hard to imagine the Biden administration would object to turning over the Mueller documents or House Republicans would continue to press for them.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objected to the high court’s decision in a statement Wednesday evening. “The House’s long-standing right to obtain grand jury information pursuant to the House’s impeachment power has now been upheld by the lower courts twice,” Pelosi said. “These rulings are supported by decades of precedent and should be permitted to proceed.”

The federal appeals court in Washington ruled in March that the documents should be turned over because the House Judiciary Committee’s need for the material in its investigation of Trump outweighed the Justice Department’s interests in keeping the testimony secret.



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