Supreme Court to review Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' policy
Attorney News | 2020/10/19 16:00
The Supreme Court is agreeing to review a Trump administration policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings.

As is typical, the court did not comment Monday in announcing it would hear the case. Because the court's calendar is already full through the end of the year, the justices will not hear the case until 2021. If Joe Biden were to win the presidential election and rescind the policy, the case would become largely moot.

Trump's “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy, known informally as “Remain in Mexico,” was introduced in January 2019. It became a key pillar of the administration’s response to an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families at the border, drawing criticism for having people wait in highly dangerous Mexican cities.

Lower courts found that the policy is probably illegal. But earlier this year the Supreme Court stepped in to allow the policy to remain in effect while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy. The Justice Department estimated in late February that there were 25,000 people still waiting in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. Those hearings were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.



Senate Judiciary sets vote on Barrett, Dems decry ‘sham’
Court Watch | 2020/10/15 16:31
The Senate Judiciary Committee set Oct. 22 for its vote to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court on Thursday as Democrats threw pointed objections but were unable to stop the Republicans’ drive to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick before the Nov. 3 election. The panel’s action clears a key hurdle to recommend Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate for a final vote by month’s end.

“A sham,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “Power grab,” decried Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Not normal,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “You don’t convene a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in the middle of a pandemic, when the Senate’s on recess, when voting has already started in the presidential election in a majority of states,” declared Sen. Chris Coon, D-Del.

But Republicans countered that Trump is well within bounds as president to fill the court vacancy, and the GOP-held Senate has the votes to push Trump’s nominee to confirmation. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he understands Democrats’ “disappointment, but I think their loss is the American people’s gain.” Barrett’s confirmation to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  is on track to lock a conservative majority on the court for years to come. The shift would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court and would be the most pronounced ideological change in 30 years, from the liberal icon to the conservative appeals court judge.

The committee’s session Thursday was without Barrett after two long days of public testimony in which she stressed that she would be her own judge and sought to create distance between herself and past positions critical of abortion, the Affordable Care Act and other issues.  Facing almost 20 hours of questions from senators, the 48-year-old judge was careful not to take on the president who nominated her. She skipped past Democrats’ pressing questions about ensuring the date of next month’s election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

She also refused to express her view on whether the president can pardon himself. “It’s not one that I can offer a view,” she said in response to a question Wednesday from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. When it came to major issues that are likely to come before the court, including abortion and health care, Barrett repeatedly promised to keep an open mind and said neither Trump nor anyone else in the White House had tried to influence her views.

“No one has elicited from me any commitment in a case,” she said. Nominees typically resist offering any more information than they have to, especially when the president’s party controls the Senate, as it does now. But Barrett wouldn’t engage on topics that seemed easy to swat away, including that only Congress can change the date that the election takes place.

She said she was not on a “mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” though she has been critical of the two Supreme Court decisions that preserved key parts of the Obama-era health care law. She could be on the court when it hears the latest Republican-led challenge on Nov. 10. Barrett is the most open opponent of abortion nominated to the Supreme Court in decades, and Democrats fear that her ascension could be a tipping point that threatens abortion rights.

There was no hiding her views in at least three letters and ads she signed over 15 years and her membership in Notre Dame’s Faculty for Life. So Republican senators embraced her stance, proudly stating that she was, in Graham’s words, an “unashamedly pro-life” conservative who is making history as a role model for other women.



Supreme Court pick Barrett draws on faith, family for Senate
Areas of Focus | 2020/10/11 17:32
Supreme Court  nominee Amy Coney Barrett vows to be a justice “fearless of criticism” as the split Senate charges ahead with confirmation hearings on President Donald Trump’s pick to cement a conservative court majority before Election Day.

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, draws on faith and family in her prepared opening remarks for the hearings, which begin Monday as the country is in the grips of the coronavirus  pandemic. She says courts “should not try” to make policy, but leave those decisions to the government’s political branches. She believes she would bring “a few new perspectives” as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.

Trump chose the 48-year-old judge after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon. “I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Barrett says in her remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press obtained a copy of her statement on Sunday.

Barrett says she has resolved to maintain the same perspective as her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was “devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism.” Republicans who control the Senate are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election, in time to hear a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act and any election-related challenges that may follow the voting.

Another reason for moving quickly: It’s unclear whether the election results would make it harder to confirm Barrett before the end of the year if Democrat Joe Biden were to win the White House and Democrats were to gain seats in the Senate. The hearings are taking place less than a month after the death of Ginsburg gave Trump the chance to entrench a conservative majority on the court with his third justice.

Democrats have pressed in vain to delay the hearings, first because of the proximity to the election and now the virus threat. No Supreme Court has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election. The country will get an extended look at Barrett over three days, beginning with her opening statement late Monday and hours of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday.



High court nominee served as ‘handmaid’ in religious group
Court News | 2020/10/09 03:22
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett served as a “handmaid,” the term then used for high-ranking female leaders in the People of Praise religious community, an old directory for the group’s members shows.

Barrett has thus far refused to discuss her membership in the Christian organization, which opposes abortion and, according to former members, holds that men are divinely ordained as the “head” of both the family and faith, while it is the duty of wives to submit to them.

Portions of two People of Praise directory pages for the South Bend, Indiana, branch were shared with The Associated Press by a former member of the community on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because this person still has family members in People of Praise. A second former member, Gene Stowe, who left the South Bend branch on good terms several years ago, confirmed the authenticity of the directory pages. He said he could not say precisely what year the directory was from, but that it had to be 2013 or earlier because one of the people listed had by then moved to another state.

All the top leaders within People of Praise are male, but in each of the group’s 22 regional branches a select group of women is entrusted with mentoring and offering spiritual guidance to other female members. Until recently, these female leaders were called “handmaids,” a reference to Jesus’ mother Mary, who according to the Bible called herself “the handmaid of the Lord.” The organization recently changed the terminology to “woman leader” because it had newly negative connotations after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” was turned into a popular television show.

The leaders run weekly men’s or women’s groups of about half a dozen people where they pray and talk together, and where the leaders offer advice and guidance. They will also organize to help others in the community, such as providing meals when someone gets sick. Under the organization’s rules, no female leader can provide pastoral supervision to a man, former members said.

The White House on Wednesday defended Barrett. “These allegations are offensive and driven by anti-religious bigotry. Judge Barrett is an independent jurist with an exceptional record,” spokesman Judd Deere said. People of Praise’s belief system is rooted in the Catholic Pentecostal movement, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit. As practiced by People of Praise, that can include praying in tongues to receive divine prophecies, heal the sick and cast out evil spirits, according to documents and former members.

Founded in 1971, the nonprofit organization has 22 branches across North America. It is not a church, but a faith community that includes people from several Christian denominations, though most of its roughly 1,800 adult members are Roman Catholic.

The existence of the directory listing Barrett’s name as a handmaid was first reported by The Washington Post late Tuesday. The AP reported last week that a 2006 issue of the group’s internal magazine, Vine & Branches, included a photograph showing that Barrett had attend a national conference reserved for top female leaders in People of Praise.


Greek court rules Golden Dawn party criminal organization
Court Watch | 2020/10/07 10:22
A Greek court ruled on Wednesday that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organization, delivering landmark guilty verdicts following a politically charged five-year trial against dozens of defendants.  The court ruled that seven of the 18 former lawmakers, including Nikos Michaloliakos, the head of the party which had become Greece’s third largest during the country’s financial crisis, were guilty of leading a criminal organization. The others were found guilty of participating in a criminal organization.

As news of the guilty verdicts broke, cheers and celebrations erupted among the crowd of at least 20,000 people gathered in an anti-fascist rally outside the Athens courthouse. A small group threw Molotovs and stones, with police responding with tear gas and water cannon. The marathon trial had been assessing four cases rolled into one: the 2013 fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, physical attacks on Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and on left-wing activists in 2013, and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.

The 68 defendants included the 18 former lawmakers from the party that was founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization and rose in prominence during the country’s decade-long financial crisis. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the verdict “ends a traumatic cycle” in the country’s public life.  “Its political dimension has, fortunately, been judged by the victory of democracy, which expelled the Nazi formation from Parliament (in elections),” he said. “Now, the independent judiciary is giving its own answer.”

The three-member panel of judges also found Giorgos Roupakias guilty of the murder of Fyssas, prompting applause inside the courtroom and among the crowd outside. Roupakias had been accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas. Another 15 defendants ? none of them former lawmakers ? were convicted as accomplices. Leaving the courthouse, Fyssas’ mother Magda Fyssa, who had attended nearly every court session over the last five years, raised her arms and shouted: “Pavlos did it. My son!”

All five people accused of attempted murder against the fishermen were also found guilty, while the four accused of attempted murder in the attacks against left-wing activists were found guilty of the lesser charge of causing bodily harm. Only 11 of the 68 defendants were present, with the rest represented by their lawyers. None of the former Golden Dawn lawmakers were in court.


2 justices slam court’s 2015 decision in gay marriage case
Court News | 2020/10/06 10:22
The Supreme Court, already poised to take a significant turn to the right, opened its new term Monday with a jolt from two conservative justices who raised new criticism of the court’s embrace of same-sex marriage.

The justices returned from their summer break on a somber note, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hearing arguments by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic and bracing for the possibility of post-election court challenges.

The court paused briefly to remember Ginsburg, the court’s second woman. But a statement from Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, underscored conservatives’ excitement and liberals’ fears about the direction the court could take if the Senate confirms President Donald Trump’s nominee for Ginsburg’s seat, Amy Coney Barrett.

Commenting on an appeal from a former county clerk in Kentucky who objected to issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Thomas wrote that the 5-4 majority in a 2015 case had “read a right to same-sex marriage” into the Constitution, “even though that right is found nowhere in the text.” And he said that the decision “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots.”

Thomas suggested the court needs to revisit the issue because it has “created a problem that only it can fix.” Until then, he said, the case will continue to have “ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

The court turned away the appeal of the former clerk, Kim Davis, among hundreds of rejected cases Monday. Thomas’ four-page statement prompted outrage from LGBTQ rights groups and others. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Thomas and Alito had “renewed their war on LGBTQ rights and marriage equality” as the direction of the court “hangs in the balance.”

With Ginsburg’s death and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, only three members of the majority in the gay marriage case remain: Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Reversing the court’s decision in the gay marriage case would seem a tall order, but Thomas’ statement underscored liberals’ fears that the court could roll back some of their hardest-fought gains.

The cases the justices spent about two and a half hours discussing Monday, however, were far less prominent: a water dispute between Texas and New Mexico and a case involving a provision of the Delaware constitution that keeps the number of state judges affiliated with the two major political parties fairly even. The justices seemed prepared to uphold Delaware’s political party provision, and the argument passed without any comment about the partisan fighting over the Supreme Court’s makeup.

The justices will hear a total of 10 arguments this week and next, but the term is so far short on high-profile cases. That could change quickly because of the prospect of court involvement in lawsuits related to the election. Perhaps the biggest case currently on the justices’ docket is post-Election Day arguments in the latest Republican bid to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance.

The justices last heard argument in their courtroom in February and skipped planned arguments in March and April before hearing cases by phone in May. On Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts began the hearing by noting what the public has only seen in pictures: that the door to the justices’ courtroom and the section of the court’s bench in front of Ginsburg’s chair have been draped with black fabric.


Virus spreads on panel handling Supreme Court nomination
Attorney News | 2020/10/04 17:03
Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the timing of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and whether additional senators may have been exposed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the confirmation process was going “full steam ahead.”

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both said Friday that they had tested positive for the virus. Both had attended a ceremony for Barrett at the White House on Sept. 25 with President Donald Trump, who announced Friday that he had tested positive and was later hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Lee, who did not wear a mask at the White House event, said he had “symptoms consistent with longtime allergies.” Tillis, who did wear a mask during the public portion of the event, said he had “mild symptoms.” Both said they would quarantine for 10 days — ending just before Barrett’s confirmation hearings begin on Oct. 12.

The positive tests come as Senate Republicans are pushing to quickly confirm Barrett in the few weeks they have before the Nov. 3 election. There is little cushion in the schedule set out by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and McConnell, who want to put a third Trump nominee on the court immediately in case they lose any of their power in the election.

Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Barrett, seized on the virus announcements to call for a delay in the hearings.

“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”

Several other members of the Judiciary panel attended the White House ceremony, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Blackburn said she tested negative after the event. Crapo said he “recently” had a negative test and a spokeswoman said he would be getting another one as soon as it could be arranged. A spokeswoman for Hawley said he was being tested Saturday, and the senator tweeted later that his coronavirus test came back negative.

Sasse tested negative, but said in a statement that he would work remotely from his home state and undergo further testing due to his “close interaction with multiple infected individuals,” his office said. He said he planned to to return to Washington in time for the confirmation hearing.


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