Court to Trump: Blocking Twitter critics is unconstitutional
Attorney News | 2019/07/11 17:31
President Donald Trump lost a major Twitter fight Tuesday when a federal appeals court said that his daily musings and pronouncements were overwhelmingly official in nature and that he violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint.

The effect of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision is likely to reverberate throughout politics after the Manhattan court warned that any elected official using a social media account “for all manner of official purposes” and then excluding critics violates free speech.

“The government is not permitted to ‘amplify’ favored speech by banning or burdening viewpoints with which it disagrees,” the appeals court said.

Because it involved Trump, the ruling is getting more attention than a January decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that found a Virginia politician violated the First Amendment rights of one of her constituents by blocking him from a Facebook page.

Still, the appeals court in New York acknowledged, not every social media account operated by a public official is a government account, and First Amendment violations must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate,” Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The debate generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” the court’s decision read.

“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the 2nd Circuit added. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The Department of Justice is disappointed by the ruling and is exploring possible next steps, agency spokesperson Kelly Laco said.

“As we argued, President Trump’s decision to block users from his personal twitter account does not violate the First Amendment,” Laco said in an emailed statement.

Appeal options include asking the panel to reconsider, or seeking a reversal from the full 2nd Circuit or from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The decision came in a case brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. It had sued on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.


US appeals court sides with Trump in lawsuit involving hotel
Areas of Focus | 2019/07/10 00:32
A federal appeals court threw out a lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel, handing Trump a significant legal victory Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the ruling of a federal judge in Maryland who said the lawsuit could move forward.

The state of Maryland and the District of Columbia sued in 2017, claiming Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel. The case is one of three that argue the president is violating the provision, which prohibits federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

In the case before the 4th Circuit, the court found the two jurisdictions lack standing to pursue their claims against the president, and granted a petition for a rare writ of mandamus, directing U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

Trump heralded the decision in a tweet, saying, "Word just out that I won a big part of the Deep State and Democrat induced Witch Hunt." Trump tweeted that he doesn't make money but loses "a fortune" by serving as president.


Fines, jail, probation, debt: Court policies punish the poor
Court Watch | 2019/07/08 18:32
Johnny Gibbs has been trying to get a valid driver’s license for 20 years, but he just can’t afford it.

To punish him for high school truancy in 1999, Tennessee officials told him he would not be able to legally drive until he turned 21. He drove anyway, incurring two tickets and racking up more than $1,000 in fines and fees.

Like other low-income defendants in similar situations across the country, Gibbs couldn’t pay and ended up serving jail time and probation. That incurred another cost: a monthly supervision fee to a private probation company.

Rather than risk another arrest, Gibbs, now 38, decided to quit driving, which he said makes it nearly impossible to work. He said he spent several years living in a motel room with his mother, his disabled father and his sister before they all became homeless. In August, the family found housing in a dilapidated trailer, miles from the nearest town or food source.

A growing number of legal groups and nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. are challenging these practices, but they continue — despite a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found it unconstitutional to incarcerate defendants too poor to pay fines.

In Oklahoma, for example, the Washington-based Civil Rights Corps, which has litigated more than 20 lawsuits since it was founded in 2016 to undo various aspects of “user-funded justice,” is challenging policies that it claims have led to one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Counties across the state of Oklahoma refer debt collection to a for-profit company, Aberdeen Enterprizes II, which adds an additional 30 percent fee and threatens debtors with arrest. Many of those who can’t pay are not just thrown in jail; they’re also made to pay for their incarceration, further increasing their debt.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivens said reforming fees, fines and bail is a priority of the Conference of Chief Justices, a nonprofit organization comprising top judicial officials from each of the 50 states.


Swedish court detains rapper A$AP Rocky on assault charge
Legal Business | 2019/07/05 22:42
U.S. rapper A$AP Rocky was ordered held by a Swedish court Friday for two weeks in pre-trial detention while police investigate a fight in downtown Stockholm.

Prosecutor Fredrik Karlsson said Friday after the hearing at the Stockholm District Court that A$AP Rocky — the stage name of Rakim Mayers — was to be held on a lesser assault charge than he initially had demanded.

"They were attacked and he made use of self-defense," said defense lawyer Henrik Olsson Lilja, adding they would appeal the ruling.

The rapper was involved in the fight Sunday before appearing at a music festival in Sweden. It was not clear who else was involved in the incident. Videos published on social media show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by A$AP Rocky. He and others punched and kicked the person on the ground.

After the video was published online, the rapper posted his own videos to his Instagram account, which purport to show the man in question following and repeatedly harassing him and his entourage.



High court keeps citizenship question off census for now
Court News | 2019/07/04 05:43
In a surprising move, the Supreme Court on Thursday kept the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now, and the question’s opponents say there’s no time to revisit the issue before next week’s scheduled start to the printing of census forms.

But President Donald Trump said on Twitter after the decision that he’s asked lawyers if they can “delay the Census, no matter how long” until the “United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision” on the issue. Under federal law the census must begin on April 1, 2020. A former director of the Census Bureau said he believed Congress would have to change the law for the count to be delayed.

The issue of whether to add the citizenship question to the census is a politically charged one. Democratic cities and states who oppose adding it argue that they’d get less federal money and fewer representatives in Congress if the question is asked because it would discourage the participation of minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.

During arguments in the case at the Supreme Court in April it seemed as though the Trump administration would win because Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives appointed by Republican presidents did not appear to see anything wrong with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the question. Ultimately, however, Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But the Justice Department had never previously sought a citizenship question in the 54-year history of the landmark voting rights law.



Appeals court puts Trump abortion restrictions on hold again
Court News | 2019/07/03 05:43
Trump administration rules that impose additional hurdles for low-income women seeking abortions are on hold once again.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday vacated a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel and said a slate of 11 judges will reconsider lawsuits brought by more than 20 states and several civil rights and health organizations challenging the rules.

The rules ban taxpayer-funded clinics from making abortion referrals and prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers.

Critics say the rules would force many clinics to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The agency previously said its position “is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”

Federal judges in Washington, Oregon and California blocked the rules from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in Oregon called the new policy “madness” and said it was motivated by “an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women’s health care than their providers.”


Iowa Supreme Court takes a right turn under Gov. Reynolds
Attorney News | 2019/07/02 05:43
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds is transforming the Iowa Supreme Court from one that leaned liberal to a solidly conservative body, prompting concerns among critics that it could erode past support for civil liberties as well as abortion and gay rights.

Through a combination of coincidence, a mandatory retirement age of 72 for judges and changes in the selection process that favor Republicans, Reynolds could make the most appointments to the seven-member court since former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack named five from 1999 to 2007.

Governor for just over two years, Reynolds already has appointed two justices — one due to illness and another a retirement . One of her appointees is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which has been instrumental in vetting judges for President Donald Trump's aggressive push to remake the federal courts.

The current balance of the court is 5-2 Republican, although GOP appointee Chief Justice Mark Cady often sides with liberals. Reynolds will get to replace Brent Appel, a Democratic appointee, who turns 72 in 2022, the last year of her current term. If she runs and wins a second term as governor she could replace David Wiggins in 2023, the last retiring Democrat appointee and Cady in 2025 to complete the conservative transformation.


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Court to Trump: Blocking Twitter ..
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