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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.



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.


Supreme Court adopts new rules for cell phone tracking
Legal Watch | 2018/06/25 00:02
The Supreme Court says police generally need a search warrant if they want to track criminal suspects’ movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cellphones. The justices’ 5-4 decision Friday is a victory for privacy in the digital age. Police collection of cellphone tower information has become an important tool in criminal investigations.

The outcome marks a big change in how police can obtain phone records. Authorities can go to the phone company and obtain information about the numbers dialed from a home telephone without presenting a warrant. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by the court’s four liberals. Roberts said the court’s decision is limited to cellphone tracking information and does not affect other business records, including those held by banks.

He also wrote that police still can respond to an emergency and obtain records without a warrant. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Kennedy wrote that the court’s “new and uncharted course will inhibit law enforcement” and “keep defendants and judges guessing for years to come.”

The court ruled in the case of Timothy Carpenter, who was sentenced to 116 years in prison for his role in a string of robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Michigan and Ohio. Cell tower records that investigators got without a warrant bolstered the case against Carpenter. Investigators obtained the cell tower records with a court order that requires a lower standard than the “probable cause” needed to obtain a warrant. “Probable cause” requires strong evidence that a person has committed a crime.

The judge at Carpenter’s trial refused to suppress the records, finding no warrant was needed, and a federal appeals court agreed. The Trump administration said the lower court decisions should be upheld. The American Civil Liberties Union, representing Carpenter, said a warrant would provide protection against unjustified government snooping. The administration relied in part on a 1979 Supreme Court decision that treated phone records differently than the conversation in a phone call, for which a warrant generally is required.

In a case involving a single home telephone, the court said then that people had no expectation of privacy in the records of calls made and kept by the phone company. That case came to the court before the digital age, and the law on which prosecutors relied to obtain an order for Carpenter’s records dates from 1986, when few people had cellphones. The Supreme Court in recent years has acknowledged technology’s effects on privacy. In 2014, the court held unanimously that police must generally get a warrant to search the cellphones of people they arrest. Other items people carry with them may be looked at without a warrant, after an arrest.


Court: Compliance reached in education funding case
Legal Watch | 2018/06/12 07:17
A long-running court case over the adequacy of education funding in Washington state has ended, with the state Supreme Court on Thursday lifting its jurisdiction over the case and dropping daily sanctions after the Legislature funneled billions more dollars into public schools.

The court's unanimous order came in response to lawmakers passing a supplemental budget earlier this year that the justices said was the final step needed to reach compliance with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that K-12 school funding was inadequate. Washington's Constitution states that it is the Legislature's "paramount duty" to fully fund the education system. The resolution of the landmark case in Washington state comes as other states like Arizona, Oklahoma and Kentucky are now responding to calls for more money to be allocated to education.

The state had been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on that ruling, and daily sanctions of $100,000 — allocated specifically for education spending— had been accruing since August 2015.

"Reversing decades of underfunding has been among the heaviest lifts we've faced in recent years and required difficult and complex decisions, but I'm incredibly proud and grateful for all those who came together on a bipartisan basis to get this job done," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written statement.

Over the past few years, lawmakers had put significantly more money toward education costs like student transportation and classroom supplies, but the biggest piece they needed to tackle to reach full compliance was figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts had paid a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies, something the court said had to be remedied.

In November, the court said a plan passed by the Legislature last year — which included a statewide property tax increase earmarked for education — satisfied its earlier ruling, but justices took issue with the fact that the teacher salary component of the plan wasn't fully funded until September 2019. This year, lawmakers expedited that timeframe to Sept. 1, 2018.

Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that the court's order was a relief, though he noted that legislative debates over education funding aren't over. Sullivan said there is more work to be done on areas like special education, as well as recruiting and retaining teachers.



Egypt refers 28 to criminal court for forming illegal group
Legal Watch | 2018/06/11 14:16
Egypt's chief prosecutor has referred 28 people to a criminal court on charges including forming an illegal group aiming to topple the government.

Sunday's statement by prosecutor Nabil Sadek says the suspects face an array of additional charges, including inciting violence and disseminating false news.

The statement says the suspects formed an illegal group, "The Egyptian Council for Change," to incite against the state and its institutions.

It says only nine of the 28 suspects are in custody. No date has been set for the trial. Egypt has intensified a long-running crackdown on dissent since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's re-election in March.

The arrests are part of a wider crackdown on dissent since the 2013 military ouster of an elected Islamist president following mass protests against his one-year divisive rule.


Spanish court nixes terrorism accusation in Basque incident
Legal Watch | 2018/06/01 20:56
Spain's National Court has sentenced seven men and a woman to between two and 13 years in prison for beating up two police officers and their girlfriends, but rejected the prosecutors' argument that the defendants should face terror charges.

The call for terror charges caused outrage at the trial because the incident took place two years ago in an area of northern Spain with a strong Basque identity.

The Basque region is trying to put behind it decades of violence at the hands of armed separatist group ETA, which killed more than 800 people, including police, before giving up its armed campaign in 2011.

The court said in sentencing Friday that terrorist intent was not proven and that the accused did not belong to a terrorist organization.



Romania: Court tells president to fire anti-graft prosecutor
Legal Watch | 2018/05/29 06:57
Romania's top court on Wednesday told the country's president to fire the chief anti-corruption prosecutor, widely praised for her efforts to root out high-level graft, but a thorn in the side of some politicians.

The move angered some Romanians. More than 1,500 people gathered in protest in Bucharest, the capital, and hundreds rallied in the western cities of Timisoara and Sibiu calling the court "a slave" of the ruling Social Democratic Party.

The constitutional court ruled in a 6-3 vote that there had been an institutional conflict after President Klaus Iohannis disagreed with the justice minister's assessment that National Anti-Corruption Directorate Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi should be dismissed on grounds of failing to do her job properly.

In his February report calling for her dismissal, the minister, Tudorel Toader, said she was authoritarian, claimed that prosecutors falsified evidence and asserted that the number of acquittals was too high. He also said she had harmed Romania's image in interviews with foreign journalists. Kovesi later refuted his accusations.

Under her leadership, the agency has successfully prosecuted lawmakers, ministers and other top officials for bribery, fraud, abuse of power and other corruption-related offenses.

Kovesi's departure would be a blow to the agency, respected by ordinary Romanians, the European Union and the U.S. The court will explain its ruling later.



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