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Schumer rallies opposition to Trump anti-abortion court pick
Legal Watch | 2018/07/03 07:48
The Senate's top Democrat tried Monday to rally public opposition to any Supreme Court pick by President Donald Trump who'd oppose abortion rights, issuing a striking campaign season call to action for voters to prevent such a nominee by putting "pressure on the Senate."

With Trump saying he'll pick from a list of 25 potential nominees he's compiled with guidance from conservatives, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said any of them would be "virtually certain" to favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that affirmed women's right to abortion. They would also be "very likely" to back weakening President Barack Obama's 2010 law that expanded health care coverage to millions of Americans, he said.

Schumer said that while Democrats don't control the Senate — Republicans have a 51-49 edge — most senators back abortion rights. In an unusually direct appeal to voters, he said that to block "an ideological nominee," people should "tell your senators" to oppose anyone from Trump's list.

"It will not happen on its own," the New Yorker wrote in an opinion column in Monday's New York Times. "It requires the public's focus on these issues, and its pressure on the Senate."

Trump has said he is focusing on up to seven potential candidates, including two women, to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the nine-member court. He's said he'll announce his pick July 9.

Schumer's column appeared a day after Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would oppose any nominee she believed would overturn Roe v. Wade. Collins said she would only back a judge who would show respect for settled law such as the Roe decision, which has long been anathema to conservatives.



Prosecutor to press court to release church abuse report
Court Center | 2018/07/02 07:49
Pennsylvania's highest court is being pressed to publicly release a major grand jury report on allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will ask the court to swiftly decide lingering legal issues before it, his office said Friday. He expects to make that request Monday.

"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to see the report, know who is attempting to block its release and why, and to hear the voices of the victims of sexual abuse within the Church," Shapiro said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court is blocking the release of the report as the result of legal challenges filed under seal by people apparently named in the report. The court has declined to make those filings or dockets public, or name the people who filed the challenges.

The Supreme Court's chief justice, Thomas Saylor, declined comment through a spokeswoman, and lawyers for the unnamed people challenging the report did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, seven news organizations, including The Associated Press, on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the case in a bid to argue that the court should release the report, contending that it is required by law. If the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges, it could immediately order the report's release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view, lawyers for the news organizations wrote.

The court also should be consistent with practice in other grand jury matters and make public the filings and dockets in the case, with redactions if necessary, the news organizations wrote.

Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive such review by any state. The grand jury spent two years investigating allegations of child sex abuse in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, churches with some 1.7 million members.


Abortion rights supporters decry court ruling
Legal Interview | 2018/07/01 07:50
Abortion-rights supporters say the Supreme Court "turned its back on women" by striking down a California law requiring anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America calls the pregnancy centers "fake women's health centers" because they do not provide details about a full range of services. Critics of the centers say they prey on low-income women.

The group says the court's decision is a step toward dismantling abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is urging the state attorney general and law enforcement officials to "protect the rights of patients from deceptive practices."

Supporters of the court's decision call it a win for free speech and say the law unfairly required the centers to promote abortion.
Abortion-rights supporters say the Supreme Court "turned its back on women" by striking down a California law requiring anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to provide information about abortion services.

NARAL Pro-Choice America calls the pregnancy centers "fake women's health centers" because they do not provide details about a full range of services. Critics of the centers say they prey on low-income women.

The group says the court's decision is a step toward dismantling abortion rights. Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California is urging the state attorney general and law enforcement officials to "protect the rights of patients from deceptive practices."

Supporters of the court's decision call it a win for free speech and say the law unfairly required the centers to promote abortion.
Assemblyman David Chiu, the bill's author, says the court decision shows reproductive rights are more vulnerable than ever.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which brought the lawsuit, is cheering the court for overturning what it called a "coercive law" forcing the centers to provide "free advertising for tax-funded abortions." Abortion rights groups estimate more than 4,000 such pregnancy centers are operating around the nation.



McConnell touts Thapar for Supreme Court seat
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/07/01 07:49
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday he has touted fellow Kentuckian Amul Thapar to fill a looming vacancy on the Supreme Court, but acknowledged he has "no idea" who President Donald Trump will choose.

McConnell told reporters he has encouraged Trump to consider Thapar, and said he hopes the federal appeals court judge is "in the final group" as the president looks for a successor to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Thapar is a former U.S. District Court judge in Kentucky. He has already been nominated once by Trump, for his current seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McConnell has been a longtime supporter of Thapar, stretching back to the judge's tenure as a federal prosecutor.

"I think he's absolutely brilliant, with the right temperament," McConnell said of Thapar. "But others have their favorites. And I have no idea who the president may choose."

Trump has said he will announce his choice on July 9. The president has promised to draw the next justice from a list of 25 prospective candidates that was first established during the 2016 presidential campaign and updated last fall, with advice from conservatives. Thapar's name has come up among possible nominees being eyed.

In a speech Saturday to a GOP gathering in Louisville, McConnell said the goal is to have a new justice in place in time for the start of the Supreme Court's next term in October. As majority leader, McConnell sets the schedule in the narrowly divided Senate.

"There's not any doubt in my mind that we'll be able to get this new nominee confirmed, and I'm confident the president is going to send up an all-star, somebody of very high quality," McConnell told reporters later.

McConnell predicted the nominee will be similar to Trump's first Supreme Court selection, Neil Gorsuch, in terms of background and philosophy on the judiciary's role.


For new Supreme Court justice, a host of big issues awaits
Legal Interview | 2018/06/30 07:49
Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor will have a chance over a likely decades-long career to tackle a host of big issues in the law and have a role in shaping the answers to them.

Most court-watchers and interest groups are focused on abortion and whether a more conservative justice may mean more restrictions on abortions get upheld or even whether the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision affirming a woman's right to abortion might someday be overturned.

But Kennedy's replacement will quickly confront a host of issues, some prominent and others not. Whomever President Donald Trump chooses, the person is expected to move the court to the right. Conservative groups, seeing a court friendlier to their views, might look at the new court and think it's time to bring challenges to liberal laws currently on the books. And conservative state lawmakers may also attempt to pass legislation testing boundaries they wouldn't have while Kennedy was on the court.

The Supreme Court in the term that ended Wednesday had two cases before it dealing with whether electoral maps can give an unfair advantage to a political party. The justices ducked that question, sending cases from Wisconsin and Maryland back to lower courts for further review. Kennedy had been the justice who left the door open to court challenges to extreme partisan redistricting, but he never found a way to measure it that satisfied him. A case involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional districting map now in a lower court could provide an opportunity for the justices to revisit the issue as soon as next term.

Another unresolved issue recently before the court is whether a business can cite religious objections in order to refuse service to gay and lesbian people. The court could have tackled that issue in a case argued this term about a Colorado baker who wouldn't make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Instead, the justices found that a member of the Colorado commission that looked at the case displayed an anti-religious bias against the baker but left for another day the broader question.

The justices could have added another case on the issue to the list of cases they'll begin hearing arguments in this fall, a case that involved a flower shop owner who cited her religious beliefs in declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. For now they've sent that case back to a lower court. That same case or another one like it could quickly be in front of the court again.


Court: S.Korea must allow alternative for military objectors
Headline News | 2018/06/28 07:50
South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that the country must allow alternative social service for people who conscientiously object to military service, which is currently mandatory for able-bodied males.

The ruling requires the government to introduce alternative service by the end of 2019. It was hailed by activists as a breakthrough that advances individual rights and freedom of thought.

It is also likely to trigger a heated debate in a country which maintains a huge military to counter North Korea threats, and where many have accused conscientious objectors of attempting to evade the draft.

Hundreds of conscientious objectors are imprisoned in South Korea each year, serving terms of 18 months or longer. Most are Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to serve in the military on religious grounds.

"Too many people have been forced to choose between prison and the military, and when they choose prison, a term of 1 1/2 years has been almost automatic," said Lim Jae-sung, a human rights lawyer who has represented contentious objectors. "This is great news for those who are currently on trial or will conscientiously object to military service in the future as we probably won't be marching them straight to jail."

The court said the current law, which does not permit alternative service, is unconstitutional because it infringes excessively on individual rights.

The court acknowledged that conscientious objectors experience "enormous disadvantages" in addition to their prison terms, including restrictions in public sector employment, maintaining business licenses and social stigma.


Court deals major financial blow to nation's public employee unions
Legal Watch | 2018/06/27 07:51
A deeply divided Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the nation's public employee unions Wednesday that likely will result in a loss of money, members and political muscle.

After three efforts in 2012, 2014 and 2016 fell short, the court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that unions cannot collect fees from non-members to help defray the costs of collective bargaining. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the decision, announced on the final day of the court's term, with dissents from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

About 5 million workers could be affected by the decision overruling the court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education — those who pay dues or "fair-share" fees to unions in 22 states where public employees can be forced to contribute. Workers in 28 states already cannot be forced to join or pay unions.

"We recognize that the loss of payments from nonmembers may cause unions to experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term and may require unions to make adjustments in order to attract and retain members," Alito wrote. "But we must weigh these disadvantages against the considerable windfall that unions have received under Abood for the past 41 years."

From the bench, he noted that Illinois, whose Republican governor initiated the challenge, "has serious financial problems" that are exacerbated by costly union contracts. Gov. Bruce Rauner has sought to renegotiate public employee contracts.

Kagan's main dissent for the four liberal justices accused the court of "weaponizing the First Amendment in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy."

"It wanted to pick the winning side in what should be -- and until now has been -- an energetic policy debate," she wrote. "Today, that healthy -- that democratic -- debate ends. The majority has adjudged who should prevail."

Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote against what conservative opponents have labeled a form of compelled speech. The money helps labor unions maintain political power in some of the nation's most populous states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


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