Court to release grand jury record in Breonna Taylor case
Legal Topics | 2020/09/30 17:02
Kentucky’s attorney general acknowledged that he never recommended homicide charges against any of the police officers conducting the drug raid that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, and said he didn’t object to a public release of the grand jury’s deliberations.

Amid outrage over the jury’s decision last week to not charge any of the officers for Taylor’s fatal shooting, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Monday that he also did not object to members of the panel speaking publicly about their experience.

“We have no concerns with grand jurors sharing their thoughts on our presentation because we are confident in the case we presented,” Cameron said in a written statement.

Cameron also revealed late Monday that the only charge he recommended to the grand jury was that of wanton endangerment. He had previously declined to say what charges he recommended.

The grand jury last week charged Officer Brett Hankison with three counts of wanton endangerment for firing through Taylor’s apartment into an adjacent unit with people inside. No one in the adjacent unit was injured. Hankison, who was fired from the force for his actions during the raid, pleaded not guilty on Monday.

None of the officers was indicted in the killing of Taylor, who was shot five times after they knocked down her door to serve a narcotics warrant on March 13. In a TV interview Tuesday evening, Cameron also indicated that he had recommended no charges against the other officers, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove.

Speaking to WDRB-TV in Louisville, he remarked of the grand jury, “They’re an independent body. If they wanted to make an assessment about different charges, they could have done that. But our recommendation was that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their acts and their conduct.”

At a news conference last week, Cameron said Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in firing their weapons because Taylor’s boyfriend had fired at them first. Mattingly was struck by a bullet in the leg. There was no conclusive evidence that any of Hankison’s bullets hit Taylor, Cameron said.


Trump taps ‘eminently qualified’ Barrett for Supreme Court
Court News | 2020/09/30 00:02
President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, capping a dramatic reshaping of the federal judiciary that will resonate for a generation and that he hopes will provide a needed boost to his reelection effort.

Barrett, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said she was “truly humbled” by the nomination and quickly aligned herself with Scalia’s conservative approach to the law, saying his “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”

Barrett, 48, was joined in the Rose Garden by her husband and seven children. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill the seat vacated by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

She would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican president, and the third of Trump’s first term in office.

Trump hailed Barrett as “a woman of remarkable intellect and character,” saying he had studied her record closely before making the pick.

Republican senators are lining up for a swift confirmation of Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as they aim to lock in conservative gains in the federal judiciary before a potential transition of power. Trump, meanwhile, is hoping the nomination will galvanize his supporters as he looks to fend off Democrat Joe Biden.

For Trump, whose 2016 victory hinged in large part on reluctant support from white evangelicals on the promise of filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative, the latest nomination in some ways brings his first term full circle. Even before Ginsburg’s death, Trump was running on having confirmed in excess of 200 federal judges, fulfilling a generational aim of conservative legal activists.

Trump joked that the confirmation process ahead “should be easy” and “extremely noncontroversial,” though it is likely to be anything but. No court nominee has been considered so close to a presidential election before, with early voting already underway. He encouraged legislators to take up her nomination swiftly and asked Democrats to “refrain from personal and partisan attacks.”

In 2016, Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the election-year vacancy, saying voters should have a say in the lifetime appointment. Senate Republicans say they will move ahead this time, arguing the circumstances are different now that the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote “in the weeks ahead” on Barrett’s confirmation. Barrett is expected to make her first appearance Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where she will meet with McConnell; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee; and others. Hearings are set to begin Oct. 12, and Graham said he hoped to have Barrett’s nomination out of the committee by Oct. 26.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that a vote to confirm Barrett to the high court would be a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Schumer added that the president was once again putting “Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs” even while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

Biden took that route of criticism, as well, framing Trump’s choice as another move in Republicans’ effort to scrap the 2010 health care law passed by his former boss, President Barack Obama. The court is expected to take up a case against it this fall.

The set design at the Rose Garden, with large American flags hung between the colonnades, appeared to be modeled on the way the White House was decorated when President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg in 1993.

Barrett, recognizing that flags were still lowered in recognition of Ginsburg’s death, said she would be “mindful of who came before me.” Although they have different judicial philosophies, Barrett praised Ginsburg as a trailblazer for women and for her friendship with Scalia, saying, “She has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all across the world.”

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Trump made clear he would nominate a woman for the seat. Barrett was the early favorite and the only one to meet with Trump.

Barrett has been a judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.


Ginsburg makes history at Capitol amid replacement turmoil
Legal Business | 2020/09/26 15:31
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  lay in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol as the first woman ever so honored, making history again as she had throughout her extraordinary life while an intensifying election-year battle swirled over her replacement.

The flag-draped casket of Ginsburg, who died last week at 87, drew members of Congress, top military officials, friends and family, some with children in tow, to the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall, paying respect to the cultural icon who changed American law and perceptions of women’s power.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined other invited guests. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris said that “RBG,” as she is known by many, cleared a path for women like her in civic life.

“She, first of all, made America see what leadership looks like -- in the law, in terms of public service -- and she broke so many barriers,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol. “And I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”

Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Ginsburg was confirmed 27 years ago this month, said he was brought back to when he met her back then. “Wonderful memories,” he said.

Mourners gathered to honor Ginsburg under coronavirus distancing restrictions with the nation in political turmoil.

President Donald Trump is to announce a conservative nominee to replace her on Saturday, just weeks before the election. White House officials have indicated to congressional Republicans and outside allies that the nominee will be Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett  but are maintaining a semblance of suspense to let Trump announce her.

His third justice, if confirmed, would be sure to move the court rightward on health care, abortion and other pivotal issues. A Senate confirmation vote would be expected in late October.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and opened the private service.

She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood under gray skies as Ginsburg’s casket made the short procession from the court’s steps where it had been on public view for several days to the East Front of the Capitol.


Senate GOP plans vote on Trump’s court pick before election
Attorney News | 2020/09/23 15:59
Votes in hand, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with plans to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s  Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election, launching a divisive fight over Democratic objections before a nominee is even announced.

Trump said Tuesday he will name his choice Saturday, confident of support. Democrats say it’s too close to the election, and the winner of the presidency should name the new justice. But under GOP planning, the Senate could vote Oct. 29.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Republicans believe the court fight will energize voters for Trump, boosting the party and potentially deflating Democrats who cannot stop the lifetime appointment for a conservative justice . The Senate is controlled by Republicans, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation. The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already underway in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

It is one of the quickest confirmation efforts in recent times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. And it all comes as the nation is marking the grave milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a private lunch meeting Tuesday at Senate GOP campaign headquarters, several Republican senators spoke up in favor of voting before the election. None advocated a delay.

Elsewhere, as tributes poured in for Ginsburg with vigils and flowers at the court’s steps, Democrats led by presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed a tough fight. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said “we should honor her dying wish,” which was that her seat not be filled until the man who wins the presidential election is installed, in January.

But that seemed no longer an option. So far, two Republicans have said they oppose taking up a nomination at this time, but no others are in sight. Under Senate rules, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie vote.


'Justice Joan' Larsen emerges as finalist for Supreme Court
Court Watch | 2020/09/21 22:59
One of the women on Donald Trump’s short list to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court got her first taste of politics as a college student stuffing envelopes for Democrat Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential run.

But, by 1996, Joan L. Larsen was volunteering for Republican Bob Dole, and today few doubt her conservative credentials, which includes a longtime affiliation with the Federalist Society.

Larsen is among a small group of female lawyers whom Trump is considering to replace Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose death last week gave conservatives a chance to move the court further to the right. White House officials say Trump was referring to Larsen when he said Monday his finalists included “a great one from Michigan.” On Tuesday, he called her “very talented” in an interview with a local television station.

In just five years, Joan L. Larsen has gone from a little-known University of Michigan legal scholar to a prominent federal appeals court judge and now a candidate for the high court.

Conservative activists hope that, if nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Larsen would carry on the legacy of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in the early 1990s and eulogized after his 2016 death.

For Trump, picking Larsen could give him a boost in the critical battleground state of Michigan, where she has raised her two children, advanced her career and won election to the state Supreme Court.

Liberals fear that she would follow in Scalia’s footsteps by voting to overrule decisions that legalized abortion rights and gay marriage and other rulings that Scalia and his followers vociferously oppose.

At 52, Larsen would be a candidate who could serve on the high court for three decades or longer. Her father, Leonard Larsen, the retired CEO of a Lutheran social services agency, died in April at age 91. Her mother is 89.

Larsen’s rise began when Michigan's then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court in September 2015, praising her as a “superb attorney” who had experience in government, academia and private practice.


White House lawyer in running for seat on the Supreme Court
Legal Interview | 2020/09/20 23:00
President Donald Trump didn't have to look very far for one of the contenders on his short list to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court: he's been considering one of his own lawyers.

Kate Comerford Todd is a deputy White House counsel, helping navigate Trump's White House through a thicket of legal issues. It's a role she knows well, having served in the counsel's office during the administration of the last Republican president, George W. Bush.

Todd, 45, is the only lawyer mentioned as being on Trump's shortlist who has not previously been a judge, though she's hardly unfamiliar with the high court, having clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Her experience is otherwise diverse: she's twice counseled the White House, worked at a prestigious law firm and represented the interests of a leading business advocacy group.

“She is absolutely brilliant,” said Helgi Walker, a partner at the Gibson Dunn law firm who also served as a Thomas law clerk and in the White House counsel's office under Bush. “She is thoughtful, caring, considerate. She always tries to get it right, no matter what she's doing.”

Trump has signaled that he intends to name a woman for the third Supreme Court selection of his administration. Amy Coney Barrett is emerging as the early favorite to be the nominee after he met with her Monday before leaving the White House to campaign in Ohio. Todd was viewed as the favorite of White House lawyers, but there were concerns that the confirmation process would not be as smooth for a first-time jurist, according to people familiar with the situation.


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87
Legal Business | 2020/09/19 17:34
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington. She was 87.

Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said.

Her death just over six weeks before Election Day is likely to set off a heated battle over whether President Donald Trump should nominate, and the Republican-led Senate should confirm, her replacement, or if the seat should remain vacant until the outcome of his race against Democrat Joe Biden is known. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Friday that the Senate will vote on Trump’s pick to replace Ginsburg, even though it’s an election year.

Trump called Ginsburg an “amazing woman” and did not mention filling her vacant Supreme Court seat when he spoke to reporters following a rally in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Biden said the winner of the November election should choose Ginsburg’s replacement. “There is no doubt — let me be clear — that the voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider,” Biden told reporters after returning to his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, from campaign stops in Minnesota.

Chief Justice John Roberts mourned Ginsburg’s passing. “Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice,” Roberts said in a statement.

Ginsburg announced in July that she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for lesions on her liver, the latest of her several battles with cancer.

Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirer s. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court’s Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defense of the rights of women and minorities, and the strength and resilience she displayed in the face of personal loss and health crises.


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