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Supreme Court to hear closely watched double jeopardy case
Legal Interview | 2018/12/06 22:02
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments about an exception to the Constitution's ban on being tried for the same offense. The outcome could have a spillover effect on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The justices are taking up an appeal Thursday from federal prison inmate Terance Gamble. He was prosecuted separately by Alabama and the federal government for having a gun after an earlier robbery conviction.

The high court is considering whether to overturn a court-created exception to the Constitution's double-jeopardy bar that allows state and federal prosecutions for the same crime. The court's ruling could be relevant if President Donald Trump were to pardon someone implicated in

Supreme Court lawyer Tom Goldstein joked at a Washington event before the term began in October that the high court case should be called New York v. Manafort, a reference to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Trump has refused to rule out an eventual pardon for Manafort, who has been convicted of federal financial fraud and conspiracy crimes. It's by no means certain that the high court ruling will affect future prosecutions.

But Trump's Justice Department is urging the court not to depart from what it says is an unbroken line of cases reaching back nearly 170 years in favor of allowing prosecutions by state and federal authorities. Thirty-six states that include Republican-led Texas and Democratic-led New York are on the administration's side, as are advocates for Native American women who worry that a decision for Gamble would make it harder to prosecute domestic and sexual violence crimes.



Mexico's high court tosses law on policing by military
Legal Interview | 2018/11/28 05:56
Mexico's Supreme Court invalidated a controversial law signed last year that created a legal framework for the military to work in a policing role in much of the country, ruling Thursday that the measure violated the constitution by trying to normalize the use of the armed forces in public safety.

Deep-rooted corruption and ineffectiveness among local and state police forces has led Mexico to rely heavily on the military to combat drug cartels in parts of the country.

But military commanders have long expressed uneasiness about what was essentially an open-ended policing mission. The armed forces have been implicated in a number of human rights abuse cases.

On Wednesday, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a security plan that would also lean on the military. He proposed forming a National Guard initially made up of elements from the navy and army police as well as federal police.

After drawing a raft of criticism, especially from human rights groups, Lopez Obrador sought on Thursday to distinguish between his plan and his predecessors'. He said congress would seek a constitutional reform to allow it.

"Because I don't want to use the army and the navy like they have been doing for public safety work if they are not authorized to carry out those functions," Lopez Obrador said.

But the international human rights group Amnesty International said the Supreme Court's decision should cause Lopez Obrador to rethink his security plan.


Trump moves to limit asylum; new rules challenged in court
Legal Interview | 2018/11/10 23:13
President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Friday to deny asylum to migrants who enter the country illegally, tightening the border as caravans of Central Americans slowly approach the United States. The plan was immediately challenged in court.

Trump invoked the same powers he used last year to impose a travel ban that was upheld by the Supreme Court. The new regulations are intended to circumvent laws stating that anyone is eligible for asylum no matter how he or she enters the country. About 70,000 people per year who enter the country illegally claim asylum, officials said.

“We need people in our country, but they have to come in legally,” Trump said Friday as he departed for Paris.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other legal groups swiftly sued in federal court in Northern California to block the regulations, arguing the measures were illegal.

“The president is simply trying to run roughshod over Congress’s decision to provide asylum to those in danger regardless of the manner of one’s entry,” said ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt.

The litigation also seeks to put the new rules on hold while the case progresses.

The regulations go into effect Saturday. They would be in place for at least three months but could be extended, and don’t affect people already in the country. The Justice Department said in a statement the regulations were lawful.

Trump’s announcement was the latest push to enforce a hard-line stance on immigration through regulatory changes and presidential orders, bypassing Congress, which has not passed any immigration law reform. But those efforts have been largely thwarted by legal challenges and, in the case of family separations this year, stymied by a global outcry that prompted Trump to retreat.


Court orders some fixes in Texas foster care
Legal Interview | 2018/10/20 18:41
A federal appeals court says Texas must make improvements to abuse investigations within its foster care system and make sure workers have manageable caseloads, but the court also struck down dozens of other measures ordered by a judge.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Thursday in a years-long case focused on children in the state’s long-term care. U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack had ordered sweeping changes earlier this year. Jack’s order followed a December 2015 opinion in which she ruled the system unconstitutionally broken and said children labeled permanent wards of the state “almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.”

The appeals court judges said they understood Jack’s frustration with the state failing to fix problems and agreed that “remedial action is appropriate.”

But the judges said her order went “well beyond” what’s necessary for constitutional compliance.

So while the appeals court said Texas was “deliberately indifferent” to the risk of harm posed by high caseloads and ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to come up with guidelines for manageable caseloads, the judges nixed Jack’s instruction for all sexualized children — either aggressor or victim — to be placed in a single-child home.



EU court orders Poland to reinstate Supreme Court judges
Legal Interview | 2018/10/18 04:40
The European Union's top court ordered Poland on Friday to immediately stop applying a law that lowered the retirement age for Supreme Court judges, forcing some 20 off the bench.

The interim injunction from the European Court of Justice also obliges EU member Poland to reinstate the judges who had to retire early after the law took effect in July. It lowered the age limit for Supreme Court service from 70 to 65.

The powerful leader of Poland's conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said Poland would observe EU law, but not whether the government would comply with the order. He also said the government would do all it could to "defend our state interest."

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, asked for the injunction while the Court of Justice considers its challenge to the age cap as a violation of EU laws on judicial independence and the right to a fair trial. A ruling in the main proceedings is expected later.

Supreme Court judges, arguing the forced retirements are an infringement of Poland's Constitution, also have sought the European court's opinion.

Kaczynski's Law and Justice party has made overhauling the judicial system a key focus since it came to power in 2015. The government maintains that removing justices who were active during Poland's communist era will make the courts more efficient and fairer.

Among the evidence Court of Justice Vice President Rosario Silva de Lapuerta cited in the order was "a profound and immediate change in the composition of the Supreme Court" since the disputed law went into force. Along with the retirements, an increase in court seats from 93 to 120 created more than 44 vacancies, and President Andrzej Duda has filled at least 27 of them, Lapuerta said.



Georgia high court won't stop vote on creation of new city
Legal Interview | 2018/10/17 04:41
Georgia's highest court on Monday declined to stop voting in a referendum on whether a new city of Eagle's Landing should be created from part of the existing city of Stockbridge.

The General Assembly passed two acts that were signed by the governor earlier this year to create Eagle's Landing from land that is currently part of Stockbridge combined with unincorporated parts of Henry County. The proposed city's creation must be approved by local voters, but Stockbridge residents who live outside the boundaries of the proposed city won't get a say.

Opponents, including the Stockbridge mayor, say creation of a new city would take a significant amount of city's land and tax revenue and harm the Stockbridge's ability to pay municipal bond obligations.

Proponents of a new city say they want to secure better city services, increase property values and attract high-end businesses. But opponents say race is a factor. About 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Atlanta, Stockbridge is predominantly black, while the city of Eagle's Landing would have a higher proportion of white residents.

Stockbridge sued the Henry County elections director and members of the county commission and asked a judge to declare that the acts setting up the referendum violated the state Constitution. The judge declined, and the city appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case last week.



Colorado Supreme Court hears high-stakes oil and gas lawsuit
Legal Interview | 2018/10/14 04:41
An attorney for six young people who want the state to impose tougher safeguards on the energy industry told the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday that the law requires regulators to protect public health from the hazards of drilling.

A lawyer for the state countered that regulators acted properly when they rejected a request for stronger health protections on the grounds that they did not have the authority to impose them.

The justices heard oral arguments in the high-stakes case but did not say when they would rule.

The case revolves around how much weight energy regulators should give public health and the environment — a contentious issue in Colorado, where cities often overlap lucrative oil and gas fields and drilling rigs sit within sight of homes and schools.

The six young plaintiffs in the case asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates the industry, to enact a rule that would require energy companies to show they would not harm human health or the environment before regulators issued a drilling permit.

The commission responded that it did not have that authority. Commission members said Colorado law required them to balance public safety with responsible oil and gas production.

Colorado Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger, representing the attorney general's office, told the Supreme Court that the commission correctly interpreted state law to mean it must consider other factors in addition to public health.


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