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A more skeptical high court to hear redistricting challenge
Legal Watch | 2019/03/22 02:26
Last year, proponents of limiting partisan politics in the creation of electoral districts needed to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy. They couldn’t.

The issue is back before the Supreme Court again, with arguments on Tuesday, and it might be harder than ever to convince the justices to rein in the practice known as partisan gerrymandering, designing districts to benefit one political party.

A new round of redistricting awaits after the 2020 census, and the court’s decision could help shape the makeup of Congress and state legislatures over the next 10 years.

With Kennedy retired, the question is whether federal courts will remain open at all to complaints about political line-drawing.

“The question of what the outcome will be in light of recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court is anybody’s guess,” said Seth Waxman, the former lead high court lawyer in the Clinton administration and a supporter of limits on drawing districts for partisan gain. Justice Brett Kavanaugh is in Kennedy’s seat.

Chief Justice John Roberts is now the court conservative closest to the center and the focus of the arguments for reining in partisan redistricting, said Michael Kimberly, the lawyer for Republican voters who challenged a Democratic congressional district in Maryland.
“The concern now is persuading him,” Kimberly said, acknowledging Roberts’ skepticism about the court’s involvement in the issue during arguments last term.

Critics of partisan manipulation of electoral maps say that when one party controls redistricting, it can exaggerate and entrench its power, even in states that are otherwise closely divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans were the big beneficiaries of the most recent round of redistricting in 2011, following the once-a-decade census, because they scored resounding victories in the 2010 elections.

The court has before it two cases, from Maryland and North Carolina, with strong evidence that elected officials charged with drawing and approving congressional districts acted for maximum partisan advantage. In North Carolina, Republicans ran the process and sought to preserve a 10-3 split in the congressional delegation in favor of the GOP, even as statewide races are usually closely divided. In Maryland, Democrats controlled redistricting and sought to flip one district that had been represented by a Republican for 20 years.

Both plans succeeded and lower courts concluded that the districts violated the Constitution.

Bolstering those court outcomes were the candid appraisals by former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and North Carolina state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican, of the critical role politics played in redistricting.


Court hearing delayed for Loughlin, husband in college scam
Legal Watch | 2019/03/20 16:27
Actress Lori Loughlin (LAWK'-lin) and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston next month in a college admissions bribery case.

A judge on Thursday agreed to move their initial appearance to April 3 on charges that they paid $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California.

Their attorney had asked the judge to delay the hearing until April 15, saying the legal team had scheduling conflicts when the pair were initially scheduled to be in court on March 29.

Loughlin and Giannulli were among dozens of people arrested last week for allegedly participating in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme .

Fellow actress Felicity Huffman is also slated to appear in court in Boston on April 3. Neither Loughlin nor Huffman have commented on the allegations.



Dominion to ask Supreme Court to hear pipeline appeal
Legal Watch | 2019/02/26 17:33
Dominion Energy said Tuesday it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal after a lower court refused to reconsider a ruling tossing out a permit that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

Lead pipeline developer Dominion said it expects the filing of an appeal in the next 90 days. On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a full-court rehearing from Dominion and the U.S. Forest Service.

A three-judge panel ruled in December that the Forest Service lacks the authority to authorize the trail crossing and had "abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources" when it approved the pipeline crossing the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, as well as a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trial.

The 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline would originate in West Virginia and run through North Carolina and Virginia.

The appellate ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. The denial "sends the Atlantic Coast Pipeline back to the drawing board," the law center and Sierra Club said in a joint statement on Monday.


Kenya court postpones ruling on anti-gay laws to May 24
Legal Watch | 2019/02/19 01:40
A Kenyan court Friday postponed a ruling on whether to decriminalize same sex relationships, disappointing many in the country's LGBT community.

The ruling will not be made until May 24 because some judges had been busy, Justice Chaacha Mwita of the High Court said.

Several activists who went to the court for the landmark ruling expressed their dismay.

"To say we are disappointed would be an understatement," the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, which is among the petitioners in the case, said in a tweet.

A case so important should have been should have been given the time it deserves, said activist Grace Mbijiwa outside the courtroom.

"However we are looking forward because we have a date in May 2019," said Mbijiwa. "We are looking forward and hoping for the best, looking forward for LGBT being legalized."

Activists argue that the colonial-era law which criminalizes same consensual sex-relations between adults is in breach of the constitution because it denies basic rights.


Ex-West Virginia Supreme Court justice set for sentencing
Legal Watch | 2019/02/13 10:17
A former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his office and was at the center of an impeachment scandal is due in federal court for sentencing for using his job for his own benefit.

Allen Loughry is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Loughry was found guilty of 11 of the 22 charges at his October trial. Most of the charges involved mail and wire fraud involving his personal use of state cars and fuel cards. The judge last month threw out a witness tampering conviction.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range of 15 to 21 months along with a fine between $7,500 and $75,000.

In a memorandum Monday, prosecutors said Loughry had an "unbridled arrogance" as a Supreme Court justice. They said Loughry's testimony exposed him as a liar and he has shown no remorse for his conduct.

"Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public's confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law," the memorandum said.

Loughry, who wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state, was removed as chief justice last February. He was then suspended from the bench in June and resigned in November.

At trial, Loughry denied he benefited personally from trips he took when he became a justice in 2013. He said he used state-owned vehicles made available to the justices for what he said was a variety of reasons, including public outreach.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said records showed Loughry took a government car to a wedding, four signings for his book, and "loads it up with Christmas presents" to visit relatives. A neighbor testified she saw Loughry pack presents in a car with a state government license plate around the holidays.

Loughry also was convicted of lying to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of a $42,000 state-owned desk that he had transferred to his home. He returned the desk and a green leather couch owned by the state after media reports about it.


Court case to tackle jails' medication-assisted treatment
Legal Watch | 2019/02/12 18:17
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine started making its case in federal court on Monday against the ban on medication-assisted treatment in county jail amid the opioid crisis.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills recently lifted the Maine Department of Corrections' ban on medication-assisted treatment. The ACLU's lawsuit filed in September argued that it's unconstitutional and harmful for Maine jails to prohibit such treatment.

Madawaska resident Brenda Smith sued, asking to continue using medication-assisted treatment to keep her opioid use disorder in remission. Smith, who is expected to report to Aroostook County Jail this year, testified Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland during a court case that is expected to last all week.

Smith wept on the stand while describing how access to the medicine is critical to stabilizing her life. ACLU lawyers said they will spend the week making the case that such access is a constitutional issue, as well as a protected right under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It makes me feel normal, like I'm a normal human being," Smith said.

Smith's lawsuit against the jail comes at a time when jails and prisons across the country are starting to provide addiction medications to inmates, as resistance from long-skeptical corrections officials appears to be loosening amid the national drug epidemic.

Attorneys for the jail have pushed back at the idea that a ban on medically assisted treatment is a violation of a prisoner's rights. Attorney Peter Marchesi, an attorney representing the jail Monday, has previously said medical staff members at the jail have the ability to manage prisoners' withdrawal symptoms.

Monday's court action also included an expert witness, Dr. Ross MacDonald, who has overseen medical care for New York City's jail system. The medical literature supports medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder, and it's important to have that option available to prisoners, he said.



Appellate judge announces run for Supreme Court seat
Legal Watch | 2019/02/06 03:16
An appellate judge has announced he will run for a spot on the Kentucky Supreme Court days after Justice Bill Cunningham retired.

Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Christopher "Shea" Nickell told The Paducah Sun that he is running in November's election for the vacant seat, which represents the First Supreme Court District encompassing 24 counties in western Kentucky. The winner of the general election will serve the rest of Cunningham's current term ending in 2022.

Gov. Matt Bevin will appoint a temporary justice to the seat until November, but Nickell did not submit his name for consideration. He says that would have required him to step down from the appeals court.

Nickell practiced law for 22 years before he became an appellate judge.


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