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With scant record, Supreme Court nominee elusive on abortion
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/08/03 04:26
Twice in the past year, Brett Kavanaugh offered glimpses of his position on abortion that strongly suggest he would vote to support restrictions if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

One was in a dissent in the case of a 17-year-old migrant seeking to terminate her pregnancy. The other was a speech before a conservative group in which he spoke admiringly of Justice William Rehnquist's dissent in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that established a woman's right to abortion.

Yet the big question about Kavanaugh's view on abortion remains unanswered: whether he would vote to overturn Roe. He'll almost certainly decline to answer when he is asked directly at his confirmation hearing. Decades of Kavanaugh's writings, speeches and judicial opinions, reviewed by The Associated Press, reveal a sparse record on abortion.

That leaves the migrant case, known as Garza v. Hargan, and the Rehnquist speech as focal points for anti-abortion activists who back President Donald Trump's nominee and for abortion rights advocates who say Kavanaugh has provided ample clues to justify their worst fears.

"This is the rhetoric from the anti-abortion groups being used by a potential Supreme Court justice, and that really gives us pause," said Jacqueline Ayers, the national director of legislative affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Democrats have been casting Kavanaugh as a threat to abortion rights as they face the difficult task of blocking his nomination in a Senate where Republicans hold a narrow majority. Kavanaugh's views on other issues, such as the reach of presidential powers, will also be part of a confirmation fight. But abortion is perpetually a contentious issue for court nominees, and the stakes are particularly high this time since Kavanaugh would be replacing the moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has voted to uphold abortion rights.


Hawaii Supreme Court sides with lesbian couple in B&B case
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/07/09 09:36
A Hawaii appeals court ruling that a bed and breakfast discriminated by denying a room to two women because they're gay will stand after the state's high court declined to take up the case.

Aloha Bed & Breakfast owner Phyllis Young had argued she should be allowed to turn away gay couples because of her religious beliefs.

But the Hawaii Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected Young's appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered her to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.

Young is considering her options for appeal, said Jim Campbell, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm that is representing her. He said Young might not be able to pay her mortgage and could lose her home if she's not able to rent rooms.

"Everyone should be free to live and work according to their religious convictions - especially when determining the living arrangements in their own home," Campbell said in an emailed statement.

Peter Renn, who represents the couple, said the Hawaii high court's order indicates the law hasn't changed even after the U.S. Supreme Court last month, in a limited decision, sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He said "there still is no license to discriminate."

"The government continues to have the power to protect people from the harms of discrimination, including when it's motivated by religion," said Renn, who is a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, an organization that defends LGBTQ rights.

Diane Cervelli and Taeko Bufford of Long Beach, California, tried to book a room at Aloha Bed & Breakfast in 2007 because they were visiting a friend nearby. When they specified they would need just one bed, Young told them she was uncomfortable reserving a room for lesbians and canceled the reservation.



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.


Supreme Court upholds Trump administration travel ban
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/06/26 07:50
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries, rejecting a challenge that it discriminated against Muslims or exceeded his authority. The 5-4 decision Tuesday is the court’s first substantive ruling on a Trump administration policy. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by his four conservative colleagues. Roberts wrote that presidents have substantial power to regulate immigration. He also rejected the challengers’ claim of anti-Muslim bias.

But he was careful not to endorse either Trump’s provocative statements about immigration in general and Muslims in particular. “We express no view on the soundness of the policy,” Roberts wrote. The travel ban has been fully in place since the court declined to block it in December. The justices allowed the policy to take full effect even as the court fight continued and lower courts had ruled it out of bounds.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent that based on the evidence in the case “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.” She said her colleagues arrived at the opposite result by “ignoring the facts, misconstruing our legal precedent, and turning a blind eye to the pain and suffering the Proclamation inflicts upon countless families and individuals, many of whom are United States citizens.”

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan also dissented. The policy applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries: blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. A sixth majority Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list in April after improving “its identity-management and information sharing practices,” Trump said in a proclamation.

The administration had pointed to the Chad decision to show that the restrictions are premised only on national security concerns. The challengers, though, argued that the court could just ignore all that has happened, beginning with Trump’s campaign tweets to prevent the entry of Muslims into the United States.

Just a week after he took office in January 2017, Trump announced his first travel ban aimed at seven countries. That triggered chaos and protests across the U.S. as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. Trump tweaked the order after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to reinstate the ban.



Court upholds Phoenix law over same-sex wedding invitations
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/06/08 06:54
An Arizona appeals court on Thursday upheld a Phoenix anti-discrimination law that makes it illegal for businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples because of religion.

The ruling comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The high court found Monday that a Colorado civil rights commission showed anti-religious bias when it ruled against Jack Phillips for refusing to make the cake at his Masterpiece Cakeshop.

The decision, however, did not address the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.

In the Arizona case, the state Court of Appeals sided with the city in a lawsuit first brought in 2016 by a wedding invitation business, saying the ordinance is constitutional and does not violate freedom of religion or speech.

"We have previously found that eliminating discrimination constitutes a compelling interest," Judge Lawrence Winthrop wrote, adding that "antidiscrimination ordinances are not aimed at the suppression of speech, but at the elimination of discriminatory conduct."

The court said if Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, owners of Brush & Nib Studio, "want to operate their for-profit business as a public accommodation, they cannot discriminate against potential patrons based on sexual orientation."

Attorney Jonathan Scruggs of Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented the women, said they intend to appeal the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court.


Top Texas court says condemned inmate not mentally disabled
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/06/05 06:55
Texas' highest criminal court narrowly ruled Wednesday that a death row inmate is mentally capable enough to execute, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that his intellectual capacity had been improperly assessed and agreement by his lawyer and prosecutors that he shouldn't qualify for the death penalty.

In a 5-3 ruling with one judge not participating, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it reviewed the case of convicted killer Bobby James Moore under guidance from the Supreme Court's March 2017 decision and determined that Moore isn't intellectually disabled based on updated standards from the American Psychiatric Association.

"It remains true under our newly adopted framework that a vast array of evidence in this record is inconsistent with a finding of intellectual disability," the Texas court's majority wrote. "We conclude that he has failed to demonstrate adaptive deficits sufficient to support a diagnosis of intellectual disability."

The Supreme Court last year said the state court used outdated standards to reach its earlier decision on Moore. In a lengthy dissent joined by judges Bert Richardson and Scott Walker, Judge Elsa Alcala wrote that the majority got it wrong. "The majority opinion's assessment of the evidence in this record is wholly divorced from the diagnostic criteria that it claims to adhere to," she wrote.

The ruling came despite Harris County prosecutors telling the court they believed Moore is mentally disabled and shouldn't be found eligible for the death penalty. Cliff Sloan, who argued Moore's case before the Supreme Court, said Wednesday's ruling was "inconsistent" with the high court's decision.



Czech top court delays alleged Russian hacker extradition
Lawyer Blogs | 2018/03/14 11:30
The Czech Republic's top court said Tuesday it has delayed the extradition of an alleged Russian hacker until it deals with a last-ditch complaint filed by him.

It means that the justice minister can't finalize Yevgeniy Nikulin's extradition until the Constitutional Court rules on the matter.

Nikulin has exhausted all appeals, but his lawyers presented a final complaint to the court in a bid to postpone his extradition to either the U.S. or Russia. The contents of the complaint weren't made public, but Nikulin's defense has previously said that appeals court judges were biased.

Czech authorities arrested Nikulin in Prague in cooperation with the FBI in October 2016. He is accused by U.S. prosecutors of hacking computers at Silicon Valley firms including LinkedIn and Dropbox in 2012 and the U.S. wanted him extradited to face a trial there.

Moscow also wants him extradited on a separate charge of internet theft in 2009.

Both countries submitted their extradition requests on the same date.

Nikulin denies he's a hacker. His defense attorney claimed his case was politically motivated in the U.S.

Czech courts ruled that both extradition requests meet the necessary legal conditions, leaving the final decision to Justice Minister Robert Pelikan.



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