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Trump's legal team cried vote fraud, but courts found none
Court Center | 2020/11/23 08:53
As they frantically searched for ways to salvage President Donald Trump's failed reelection bid, his campaign pursued a dizzying game of legal hopscotch across six states that centered on the biggest prize of all: Pennsylvania.

The strategy may have played well in front of television cameras and on talk radio. But it has proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly rejected their claims of vote fraud and found the campaign's legal work amateurish.

In a ruling late Saturday, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann ? a Republican and Federalist Society member in central Pennsylvania ? compared the campaign's legal arguments to “Frankenstein's Monster,” concluding that Trump's team offered only “speculative accusations," not proof of rampant corruption.

Now, as the legal doors close on Trump's attempts to have courts do what voters would not do on Election Day and deliver him a second term, his efforts in Pennsylvania show how far he is willing to push baseless theories of widespread voter fraud.

It was led by Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, who descended on the state the Saturday after the Nov. 3 election as the count dragged on and the president played golf. Summoning reporters to a scruffy, far-flung corner of Philadelphia on Nov. 7, he held forth at a site that would soon become legendary: Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Just heating up was Trump’s plan to subvert the election through litigation and howls of fraud ? the same tactic he had used to stave off losses in the business world. And it would soon spread far beyond Pennsylvania.

“Some of the ballots looked suspicious,” Giuliani, 76, said of the vote count in Philadelphia as he stood behind a chain link fence, next to a sex shop. He maligned the city as being run by a “decrepit Democratic machine.”

“Those mail-in ballots could have been written the day before, by the Democratic Party hacks that were all over the convention center,” Giuliani said. He promised to file a new round of lawsuits. He rambled.

“This is a very, very strong case,” he asserted. Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in election law, called the Trump lawsuits dangerous.

“It is a sideshow, but it’s a harmful sideshow," Levitt said. “It’s a toxic sideshow. The continuing baseless, evidence-free claims of alternative facts are actually having an effect on a substantial number of Americans. They are creating the conditions for elections not to work in the future.”


Supreme Court to hear case about juvenile life sentences
Court Center | 2020/11/03 16:50
The Supreme Court is to hear arguments in a case that could put the brakes on what has been a gradual move toward more leniency for children who are convicted of murder. The court has concluded over the last two decades that children should be treated differently from adults, in part because of their lack of maturity. But a court that is even more conservative, particularly following the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, could move in the other direction.

Barrett is expected to participate in arguments Tuesday, the second day she is hearing arguments following her confirmation last week. The case before the justices, who are continuing to hear arguments by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, has to do with what courts must conclude before sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The question stems from the court’s previous rulings on juvenile offenders. In 2005, the court eliminated the death penalty for offenders who were under 18 when they committed crimes. And in 2010 the court eliminated life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, except in cases where a juvenile has killed someone.

Then, in 2012, the justices in a 5-4 decision said juveniles who killed couldn’t automatically get life sentences with no chance of parole. And four years later, the justices said those sentences should be reserved “for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.”

The justices are now being asked whether a juvenile has to be found to be “permanently incorrigible” before being sentenced to life without parole. No longer on the court are Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, who were key to the 2012 decision limiting the use of life sentences. More conservative justices have replaced them.

The specific case before the justices involves Mississippi inmate Brett Jones, who was 15 and living with his grandparents when he fatally stabbed his grandfather. The two had a fight in the home’s kitchen after Bertis Jones found his grandson’s girlfriend in his grandson’s bedroom. Brett Jones, who was using a knife to make a sandwich before the fight, stabbed his grandfather first with that knife and then, when it broke, with a different knife.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is now 31.

The Supreme Court last year heard arguments in a different case about juvenile life sentences. That case involved Lee Boyd Malvo, who is serving life in prison for his role in the 2002 sniper spree that terrorized the Washington, D.C., area. But the case was dropped after Virginia passed legislation that gives those who were under 18 when they committed their crime an opportunity to seek parole after serving 20 years. Malvo, who was 17 when he committed his crimes, will be eligible for parole in 2024.


High court won’t extend Wisconsin’s absentee ballot deadline
Court Center | 2020/10/27 23:40
The Supreme Court is siding with Republicans to prevent Wisconsin from counting mailed ballots that are received after Election Day.  In a 5-3 order, the justices on Monday refused to reinstate a lower court order that called for mailed ballots to be counted if they are received up to six days after the Nov. 3 election. A federal appeals court had already put that order on hold.

The three liberal justices dissented from the order that the court issued just before the Senate started voting on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Chief Justice John Roberts last week joined the liberals to preserve a Pennsylvania state court order extending the absentee ballot deadline but voted the other way in the Wisconsin case, which has moved through federal courts.

“Different bodies of law and different precedents govern these two situations and require, in these particular circumstances, that we allow the modification of election rules in Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin,” Roberts wrote. Democrats argued that the flood of absentee ballots and other challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic makes it necessary to extend the period in which ballots can be counted. Wisconsin is one of the nation’s hot spots for COVID-19, with hospitals treating a record high number of patients with the disease.

Republicans opposed the extension, saying that voters have plenty of opportunities to cast their ballots by the close of polls on Election Day and that the rules should not be changed so close to the election. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler responded to the ruling by pledging Democrats would be “dialing up a huge voter education campaign” to prod roughly 360,000 people who hadn’t yet returned absentee ballots to hand-deliver them by 8 p.m. on Election Day, or to vote in person.

State Republican Party Chairman Andrew Hitt praised the ruling. “Absentee voting in Wisconsin is extremely easy and hundreds of thousands of people have done it already- last-minute attempts to change election laws only cause more voter confusion and erode the integrity of our elections,” he said in a statement.

The justices often say nothing, or very little, about the reasons for their votes in these emergency cases, but on Monday, four justices wrote opinions totaling 35 pages to lay out their competing rationales.



Texas AG taps investigator tied to donor’s defense attorney
Court Center | 2020/10/12 16:33
When Texas’ attorney general needed someone to probe a claim by one of his wealthy political donors alleging crimes by the FBI, he turned to a junior Houston lawyer with no prosecutorial experience, a modest criminal defense practice and ties to the donor’s defense attorney.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his own staff had been working to “impede the investigation” into real estate developer Nate Paul’s allegations against federal law enforcement. He explained that’s why he brought in an “outside independent prosecutor” to look into the case.

The move led Paxton’s top deputies last week to accuse him of bribery and abuse of office.  It’s unclear what underlies these allegations, and what would have recommended Brandon Cammack to handle the fraught investigation.

But Cammack’s contract shows he’s not independent of Paxton. And social media posts show Cammack and Paul’s defense attorney, Michael Wynne, are connected on Facebook and are both part of a Houston civics organization. The lawyers didn’t respond to questions about their connections.

Paxton’s choice of outside counsel raises further questions about a decision that has deepened political, and possibly legal, trouble for the attorney general. Paxton rose to national prominence during his time in office but also has spent most of it maintaining his innocence in the face of a felony indictment.

Cammack told Paxton’s staff in an early September email that “my firm does not have any conflicts of interest with regards to this investigation.” Paxton office did not respond to questions about the lawyer’s selection. The attorney general has resisted calls for his resignation and cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.”

Cammack’s father said he thinks his son is being set up as a “scapegoat.”

“I think Paxton was looking for someone that could get beat up on. I think he might have been looking for an easy mark,” Samuel Cammack III said. “Brandon doesn’t even have the ability to do what Paxton was asking him to do.”

A 2015 University of Houston Law Center graduate, Cammack is being paid $300 an hour to look into the complaint from Paul, who gave Paxton a $25,000 campaign contribution in 2018. It’s unclear what the developer has alleged, but his claims came to light a year after the FBI searched his home and office.




Wisconsin Supreme Court halts Dane County school order
Court Center | 2020/09/12 17:32
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has temporarily blocked an order that prevented most students in Dane County from attending school in person, restrictions issued by health leaders to help control the spread of the coronavirus.

The court, a 4-3 vote, agreed Thursday night to hear a lawsuit challenging the Public Health Madison and Dane County order.

The court's conservative justices were in favor of hearing the case, while more liberal justices opposed. The county's order issued Aug. 21 required students in grades 3-12 be taught online.

The court issued a temporary injunction on the county's order, which means schools across the county can open immediately.



Democrats appeal Green Party case to Pennsylvania high court
Court Center | 2020/09/12 00:32
Democrats on Thursday signaled their intent to appeal a lower court decision ordering election officials to put the Green Party’s candidate for president on the ballot in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

They filed an intent to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, where the Democratic majority-panel will could decide the last remaining legal hangup before ballots can be mailed out to voters who applied for one.

The Democrats’ protest targets what they say are disqualifying irregularities in how the Green Party candidates for president and vice president filed affidavits that accompany paperwork to get them on the ballot.

The lower court judge, a Republican, dismissed arguments that the presidential nominee, Howie Hawkins, should be barred from the ballot, but agreed that the Green Party’s vice presidential nominee should be barred.

In 2016, Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes in Pennsylvania, helping him win the White House. The Green Party’s nominee that year, Jill Stein, drew slightly more votes than that, 49,941.

Democrats have already dropped their challenges to Green Party candidates for three statewide offices, attorney general, treasurer and auditor general.


France calls on US to withdraw sanctions on world court
Court Center | 2020/09/03 23:17
France called on the United States on Thursday to withdraw sanctions levelled on top officials of the International Criminal Court, saying they are a “grave attack” on the court and put into question the independence of justice.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions on Wednesday against the chief prosecutor of the court, based in The Hague, and a top aide, for investigations into the United States and its allies. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the U.S. or subject to U.S. law and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.

The court is, notably, investigating allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.

The United States has never been party to the court, and Pompeo said the U.S. would not tolerate “its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the sanctions are “a grave attack against the court … and beyond that a questioning of multi-lateralism and the independence of the judiciary. France calls on the United States to withdraw the announced measures.”



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