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High court worries about abandoning online sales tax rule
Top Legal News | 2018/04/15 03:04
The Supreme Court sounded concerned Tuesday about doing away with a rule that has meant shoppers don't always get charged sales tax when they hit "checkout" online.

The justices were hearing arguments in a case that deals with how businesses collect sales tax on online purchases at sites from Amazon.com to Zappos. Right now, under a decades-old Supreme Court rule, if a business is shipping a product to a state where it doesn't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn't have to collect the state's sales tax. Customers are generally supposed to pay the tax to the state themselves if they don't get charged it, but the vast majority don't.

More than 40 states have asked the Supreme Court to abandon its current sales tax collection rule , saying that as a result of it and the growth of internet shopping, they're losing billions of dollars in tax revenue every year.

But several Supreme Court justices suggested during arguments Tuesday that they had concerns about reversing course.

"I'm concerned about the many unanswered questions that overturning precedents will create a massive amount of lawsuits about," Justice Sonia Sotomayor told South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who was arguing for the court to do away with its current rule.

Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to briefs suggesting the problem of sales tax collection "has peaked" and may be "diminishing rather than expanding." ''Why doesn't that suggest that there are greater significance to the arguments" that the court should leave its current rule in place, he asked.

The fact that Congress could have addressed the issue and has so far hasn't, Justice Elena Kagan said, "gives us reason to pause." Congress can deal with the issue in a more nuanced way than the court, she said, saying Congress is "capable of crafting compromises and trying to figure out how to balance the wide range of interests involved here."

Large retailers such as Apple, Macy's, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally collect sales tax from their customers who buy online.


Brazil's top court: Lula can be jailed for upheld conviction
Top Legal News | 2018/04/05 02:36
A sharply divided top court voted early Thursday to reject an attempt by former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva to stay out of jail while he appeals a corruption conviction, delivering a hard blow to the front-running candidate in this year's presidential election in Latin America's largest nation.

After nearly 11 hours of often heated debate, the Supreme Federal Tribunal voted 6-5 to deny da Silva's request to stave off a 12-year prison sentence while he fights a conviction that he has always argued was nothing more than a ploy to keep him off of the October ballot.

Despite the conviction and several other corruption charges against him, da Silva leads all preference polls for the election.

The decision means that da Silva will likely be jailed soon, though probably not until at least next week thanks to various technicalities.

Chief Justice Carmen Lucia, who was sharply criticized during the session by various colleagues, cast the deciding vote after the court was tied at 5 to 5.

"The constitution secures individual rights, which are fundamental to democracy, but it also assures the exercise of criminal law," she said.

The debate at the Supreme Federal Tribunal underscored how fraught the matter is at a time of high tension and angst in Brazil.

Justice Gilmar Mendes, traditionally a critic of da Silva, voted in favor of da Silva's petition to stay out of jail, challenging his colleagues to buck pressure from society.

"If a court bows (to pressure), it might as well not exist," said Mendes.

Justice Luis Roberto Barroso argued that the integrity of the justice system was at stake.

"A penal system that doesn't work with minimal effectiveness leads to an instinct for taking justice into one's own hands," Barroso said in voting against da Silva.



Liberal Dallet easily takes Wisconsin Supreme Court race
Top Legal News | 2018/04/04 02:35
Rebecca Dallet, a liberal Milwaukee judge, easily defeated conservative Michael Screnock on Tuesday in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, fueling optimism among Democrats for more victories in the fall midterms.

The win in the first statewide general election in the country this year forced Gov. Scott Walker, who endorsed Screnock, to warn his fellow Republicans.

"Tonight's results show we are at risk of a #BlueWave in WI," Walker, who is up for re-election in November, tweeted. "Big government special interests flooded Wisconsin with distorted facts & misinformation. Next, they'll target me and work to undo our bold reforms."

Although the race was viewed by some as a bellwether, results of past Supreme Court elections have not consistently proven to be predictive of what will happen in November. President Donald Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, while Dallet thumped Screnock by double digits.

She won by a nearly 12-point margin with 87 percent of precincts reporting, based on unofficial results.

The race for a 10-year seat was nonpartisan in name only, with millions in ad spending and public endorsements from the likes of Joe Biden, Eric Holder and the National Rifle Association.

Dallet said her victory, which Democrats quickly seized on as another sign of momentum, was a rejection of special interest influence on Wisconsin's Supreme Court.

"The candidate with the most experience in our courts and standing up for the fairness of our courts won," she said. "I think people are tired of what's been going on in our state in terms of the money coming in to buy these elections and people spoke out tonight."

Screnock said he was proud of his campaign, in the face of "tremendous outside influence from liberal special interest groups that were willing to say and spend anything to elect their preferred candidate to the bench."

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairwoman Martha Laning said the win was a warning shot to Walker, calling it a "huge loss" for him because his "endorsement, philosophy and politics were on the ballot."

One of the Democratic challengers to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, immediately tried to raise money off the Dallet win. Randy Bryce called the Dallet win "a rallying cry for working folks."

Screnock, a Sauk C


Maryland redistricting case comes before Supreme Court
Top Legal News | 2018/03/25 02:33
The Supreme Court is taking up its second big partisan redistricting case of the term amid signs the justices could place limits on drawing maps for political gain.

The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday in an appeal filed by Republicans in Maryland. They complain that Democrats who controlled the state government in 2011 drew a congressional district for the express purpose of ousting the Republican incumbent and replacing him with a Democrat.

In Wisconsin, Democrats are challenging legislative districts drawn by Republicans statewide. Those districts gave Republicans a huge majority in a state that otherwise is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never struck down districts for being too partisan.

A decision in favor of opponents of partisan gerrymandering could cut into the political power of the dominant party in states in which one party controls the state government.

The court is expected to issue decisions in both cases by late June.

Maryland's 6th Congressional District had been centered in rural, Republican-leaning northwestern Maryland and had elected a Republican to Congress for 20 years. Incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett won re-election in 2010 by 28 percentage points.

But in the 2011 redistricting, Democrats altered the district to take in some Democratic suburbs of Washington, D.C. The new district had 62,000 fewer Republicans and 33,000 more Democrats. Bartlett lost the 2012 election by 21 percentage points.

Republican voters who sued over the changes said the state violated their First Amendment rights.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is defending the district as competitive for both parties. Frosh said the district has elected a moderate Democrat, and in 2014, a friendlier year for Republican candidates, the victory margin of Democratic Rep. John Delaney dropped to less than 2 percentage points, though it rose again in 2016.



Randle, an enforcer on the court, is a gentle giant elsewhere
Top Legal News | 2018/03/17 16:32
Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson were not scheduled to speak at Julius Randle’s wedding. It was an elegant affair, bathed in white roses to celebrate a love that began almost instantly when Randle met Kendra Shaw at a friend’s party in college.

The friend who introduced them spoke at the reception. A coach who grew to be like a brother to Randle spoke. So did some childhood friends.

Then Young and Clarkson, lubricated by wedding wine and the firm belief that the wedding guests expected their shenanigans, got an idea. They loved Randle. The people needed to hear them, they presumed. Together, they took the microphone.

Clarkson, then Randle’s teammate with the Lakers, declared he couldn’t stand Randle when they first met. Randle’s punishing style of play in high school irked Clarkson’s friends who played against him back in Texas. Just as Randle’s mother reared up to protect her sweet baby boy, Clarkson finished, saying as he got to know Randle as part of the same Lakers rookie class in 2014, he learned Randle would do anything for his friends and loved ones.


Appeals court weighs resuming pipeline project in Louisiana
Top Legal News | 2018/03/11 11:30
A company building a crude oil pipeline in Louisiana is asking a federal appeals court to allow it to resume construction work in an environmentally fragile swamp.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's request. The company is seeking an "emergency stay" that would lift a court-ordered halt in pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin.

On Feb. 23, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick sided with environmental groups and issued a preliminary injunction that suspended work in the basin until the groups' lawsuit is resolved. The judge concluded the project's irreversible environmental damage outweighs the economic harm that a delay brings to the company. And on Thursday, she refused to suspend her own ruling while the company appeals it.

In court filings, company attorneys claim Dick's ruling "fails the basic requirements" for issuing such an order. The basin accounts for approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) of the pipeline's 162-mile-long (261-kilometer) path from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.

Dick's order only applies to the basin and doesn't prevent the company from working elsewhere along the route. The company said the work stoppage is costing it up to $500,000 per day in labor expenses and $6 million per month in lost revenue. The judge said the company's estimated losses aren't supported by the "underlying data."

Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.



Former Trump campaign aide Nunberg at court for grand jury
Top Legal News | 2018/03/10 12:31
A former Trump campaign aide appeared for hours before a federal grand jury Friday, after he defiantly insisted in a series of news interviews just days earlier that he intended to defy a subpoena in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Sam Nunberg spent more than six hours inside the federal courthouse in Washington. He declined to speak with journalists on the way in or out of the building, and it was not immediately clear what testimony he offered to the grand jury or what documents he provided.

His appearance marked a turnabout from extraordinary public statements Monday when Nunberg, in multiple interviews, balked at complying with a subpoena that sought his appearance before the grand jury as well as correspondence with other campaign officials. In doing so, he became the first witness in the Mueller probe to openly threaten to defy a subpoena.

Nunberg said he worked for hours to produce the thousands of emails and other communications requested by Mueller, who is investigating whether Donald Trump's campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers are currently negotiating the terms and scope of a possible interview with Mueller's office.



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