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.


Supreme Court to review Arizona ‘ballot harvesting’ law
Court Watch | 2020/10/03 00:26
The Supreme Court said Friday it will review a 2016 Arizona law that bars anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning another person’s early ballot. The law itself, however, remains in effect through the presidential election and until the justices rule.

The court will begin hearing arguments again next week after a summer break. The Arizona case was one of four cases the court, now eight justices because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed to hear in its new term that begins Monday. As is usual, the justices did not comment in taking the cases. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices will not be returning to the courtroom to hear arguments but instead will continue hearing arguments by telephone. The court has been closed to the public since March.

In the Arizona case, a federal appeals court ruled in January that Arizona’s law banning so-called “ballot harvesting” violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, but the court put its ruling on hold while the Supreme Court was asked to take the case.  The appeals court also found that Arizona’s policy of discarding ballots if a voter went to the wrong precinct violates the law. The court said both have a discriminatory impact on minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The high court in recent years has weakened the Voting Rights Act, throwing out the most powerful part of the landmark law in 2013. It could use the current case to go even further. The case began after Republicans in Arizona passed the law making it a felony to return someone else’s ballot to election officials in most cases and Democrats sued.

Both parties had used ballot collection in Arizona to boost turnout during elections by going door to door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballot. Democrats used the method aggressively in minority communities and argued their success prompted the new GOP-sponsored law. Republicans argued the law was aimed at preventing election fraud. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a statement he is pleased the court will hear the case.

The justices also said Friday they will review a longstanding effort by the Federal Communications Commission to relax restrictions in individual media markets on ownership of different forms of media — TV stations and newspapers — over fears that it would leave fewer outlets controlled by minorities.  The court also will take up cases involving how immigration officials evaluate the claims of asylum seekers and a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore against BP Inc. and other energy companies seeking money for their contribution to climate change, although the issue before the justices is a technical one involving where the case should be heard.  The Supreme Court has already filled its argument calendar through December, so none of the cases will be argued before January 2021.




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.


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