In or out? Court case on job bias casts pall on LGBT fests
Court News | 2019/10/14 02:57
National Coming Out Day festivities were tempered this year by anxiety that some LGBT folk may have to go back into the closet so they can make a living, depending on what the Supreme Court decides about workplace discrimination law.

But the mere fact that words like “transgender” are being uttered before the nation’s highest court gives some supporters of LGBT workplace rights hope that the pendulum will swing in their favor.

“I want all members of our community to feel supported by the government, and often for a lot of us and a lot of friends of mine, it’s the first time that they feel represented,” said Jessica Goldberg, a bisexual senior at the University of Colorado Denver.

Still, for many, the arguments showed the continuing relevance of National Coming Out Day, first observed in 1988 and marked every Oct. 11, though observances happen over several days. That includes Philadelphia’s annual OutFest, held Sunday this year and billed as the largest National Coming Out Day event.



Arkansas judge: Court to hear 19 adoption scheme cases
Legal Business | 2019/10/13 09:56
An Arkansas judge says his court will decide individual outcomes in 19 adoption cases involving an Arizona official accused of human smuggling.

Paul Petersen, a Republican assessor of an Arizona county, was arrested Tuesday and charged with human smuggling, sale of a child, fraud, forgery and conspiracy to commit money laundering in Utah, Arizona and Arkansas.

Prosecutors say 44-year-old Petersen paid thousands of dollars to pregnant women from the Marshall Islands to travel to the U.S. and give birth for adoption.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Washington County Circuit Court Judge Doug Martin ordered Friday that statewide adoption cases against Petersen will be decided in his court. Petersen's attorney said Tuesday that his client's actions are "proper business practices."


Analysis: Louisiana figures in 2 major Supreme Court cases
Court Watch | 2019/10/12 09:57
Among cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for the term that began this month, two Louisiana cases stand out — one because of its implications for criminal justice in the state, the other because of what it portends for abortion rights and access nationwide.

And, both, in part, because they deal with matters that, on the surface, might appear to have been settled.

Yes, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases — following Pulitzer Prize winning reporting by The Advocate on the racial impacts of allowing 10-2 verdicts. But sometimes lost amid celebrations of the measure’s passage is its effective date: it applies to crimes that happened on or after Jan. 1 of this year.

No help to people like Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing of a woman in New Orleans. Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.


Alaska Supreme Court to Hear Youths’ Climate Change Lawsuit
Legal Topics | 2019/10/09 17:48
The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit that claims state policy on fossil fuels is harming the constitutional right of young Alaskans to a safe climate.

Sixteen Alaska youths in 2017 sued the state, claiming that human-caused greenhouse gas emission leading to climate change is creating long-term, dangerous health effects.

The lawsuit takes aim at a state statute that says it’s the policy of Alaska to promote fossil fuels, said Andrew Welle of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural systems for present and future generations.

“The state has enacted a policy of promoting fossil fuels and implemented it in a way that is resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions in Alaska,” Welle said in a phone interview. “They’re harming these young kids.”

A central question in the lawsuit, as in previous federal and state lawsuits, is the role of courts in shaping climate policy.


Supreme Court takes up cases about LGBT people’s rights
Attorney News | 2019/10/08 19:07
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard highly anticipated cases on whether federal civil rights law should apply to LGBT people, with Chief Justice John Roberts questioning how doing so would affect employers.

In the first of two cases, the justices heard arguments on whether a federal law banning job discrimination on the basis of sex should also protect sexual orientation. Lower courts have split on the issue. A related case on transgender employees is also being heard Tuesday.

Roberts, a possible swing vote in the cases, wondered about the implications of what he described as an expansion of the job-discrimination law.

“If we’re going to be expanding the definition of what ‘sex’ covers, what do we do about that issue?” Roberts asked.

Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, suggested that the high court would be usurping the role of Congress by reading protection for sexual orientation into the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when lawmakers at the time likely envisioned they were doing no such thing.


Supreme Court to begin new term: About the top cases
Court News | 2019/10/07 02:07
The biggest cases before the Supreme Court are often the last ones to be decided, and the focus on the court will be especially intense in June, just a few months before the 2020 election.

President Donald Trump first announced his intention in 2017 to end the Obama-era program that protected from deportation and gave work permits to roughly 700,000 people who, as children, entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was never authorized by Congress. At issue before the court is whether the way the administration has tried to wind down the program is lawful. There seems to be little debate that Trump has the discretion to do so, as long as his administration complies with a federal law that generally requires orderly changes to policies.

Title 7 of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, among other categories. The question for the justices in two cases is whether that provision protects people from discrimination in the workplace because they are gay or transgender. The sexual orientation case involves a fired skydiver in New York, who has since died, and a fired county government worker in Georgia. Aimee Stephens, a fired funeral home director in suburban Detroit, is at the center of the case about gender identity. The Trump administration has reversed the Obama administration’s support for the workers.


US Supreme Court to review Kansas’ lack of insanity defense
Court News | 2019/10/04 16:07
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider how far states can go toward eliminating the insanity defense in criminal trials as it reviews the case of a Kansas man sentenced to die for killing four relatives.

The high court planned to hear arguments Monday in James Kraig Kahler’s case. He went to the home of his estranged wife’s grandmother about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Topeka the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 and fatally shot the two women and his two teenage daughters.

Not even Kahler’s attorneys have disputed that he killed them. They’ve argued that he was in the grips of a depression so severe that he experienced an extreme emotional disturbance that disassociated him from reality.

In seeking a not guilty verdict due to his mental state, his defense at his 2011 trial faced what critics see as an impossible legal standard. His attorneys now argue that Kansas violated the U.S. Constitution by denying him the right to pursue an insanity defense.

The nation’s highest court previously has given states broad latitude in how they treat mental illness in criminal trials, allowing five states, including Kansas, to abolish the traditional insanity defense. Kahler’s appeal raises the question of whether doing so denies defendants their guaranteed right to due legal process.


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