What Supreme Court? Trump's HHS pushes LGBT health rollback
Court News | 2020/06/18 00:08
The Trump administration Friday moved forward with a rule that rolls back health care protections for transgender people, even as the Supreme Court barred sex discrimination against LGBT individuals on the job.

The rule from the Department of Health and Human Services was published in the Federal Register, the official record of the executive branch, with an effective date of Aug. 18. That will set off a barrage of lawsuits from gay rights and women's groups. It also signals to religious and social conservatives in President Donald Trump's political base that the administration remains committed to their causes as the president pursues his reelection.

The Trump administration rule would overturn Obama-era sex discrimination protections for transgender people in health care.

Strikingly similar to the underlying issues in the job discrimination case before the Supreme Court, the Trump health care rule rests on the idea that sex is determined by biology. The Obama version relied on a broader understanding shaped by a person's inner sense of being male, female, neither, or a combination.

Writing for the majority in this week's 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, "An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.


International Criminal Court condemns US sanctions order
Legal Business | 2020/06/13 17:17
The International Criminal Court has condemned the Trump administration’s decision to authorize sanctions against court staff, saying it amounted to “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.”

An executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday authorizes sanctions against ICC staff investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Trump’s order would block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.

The court, which has 123 member states, said in a statement released early Friday that it “stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate” laid down in its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

It said an attack on the Hague-based court also constitutes “an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.”

O-Gon Kwon, president of the court’s management and oversight mechanism, the Assembly of States Parties, also criticized the U.S. measures.

“They undermine our common endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities,” he said in a statement. “I deeply regret measures targeting Court officials, staff and their families.”

The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in places where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The U.S. has never been an ICC member.


Wolf asks Pennsylvania Supreme Court to uphold shutdown
Attorney News | 2020/06/13 00:17
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday to intervene in his dispute with legislative Republicans who have voted to end pandemic restrictions he imposed in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Republican majorities in the House and Senate, with a few Democrats in support, voted this week to end the state’s emergency disaster declaration that Wolf has used to shut down “non-life-sustaining” businesses, ban large gatherings and order people to stay at home.

Wolf asked the state’s high court to uphold the shutdown. He said that his gradual reopening plan is working, pointing to a downward trend in the number of new virus infections in Pennsylvania even as cases rise in nearly half the states.

“Pennsylvania’s measured, phased process to reopen is successful because of its cautious approach that includes factors relying on science, the advice of health experts and that asks everyone to do something as simple as wearing a mask when inside or around others outside the home,” Wolf said in a news release. “We will continue to move forward cautiously.”

Wolf has been easing restrictions in vast swaths of the state, including on Friday when he announced that another eight counties would be moving to the least restrictive “green” phase of his reopening plan. But gyms, barber shops, theaters and similar businesses in the state’s highly populated southeast corner remain closed, and many types of businesses statewide must abide by occupancy limits.


UConn student fugitive in court on murder charge, police say
Court Watch | 2020/06/11 00:17
A University of Connecticut student, who police say used a machete to kill a man, fatally shot a high school acquaintance, and then spent six days as a fugitive,  will be arraigned Friday on murder and other charges, authorities said.

Peter Manfredonia, 23, will be arraigned in Rockville Superior Court in the May 22 death of Ted DeMers in nearby Willington, Connecticut, Trooper Josue Dorelus said at a news briefing.

It was not clear whether Manfredonia has an attorney who could comment on his behalf about the charges. Manfredonia is accused of killing DeMers, 62, and seriously wounding another man in the machete attack.

Two days later, police say, Manfredonia stole a truck and guns and fatally shot high school acquaintance Nicholas Eisele, 23, in Derby, Connecticut. He is being held on a $5 million bond. He is charged with murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, assault, home invasion, kidnapping with a firearm, robbery, larceny, stealing a firearm and assault on an elderly person.

State police said further charges will be filed in Eisele's death and the kidnapping of Eisele's girlfriend, who was later found unharmed in New Jersey.


Arena turned court for first felony jury trial in months
Areas of Focus | 2020/06/08 15:29
A city-owned arena in Batesville became a courtroom this week for the first felony criminal jury trial in Mississippi since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100 prospective jurors answered their summons to appear in court at the Civic Center on June 1, Panola County Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps said in a news release.

Prospective jurors maintained social distancing by sitting with five empty seats between them and alternating empty rows. County personnel took temperatures of visitors as they arrived at the arena. Hand sanitizer and masks were provided for people entering the building. Anyone who was ill, had health conditions that could put them at risk for COVID-19, was over age 65, a caregiver or had recently performed jury service, was excused.

The Civic Center is a venue for concerts, motorcycle and monster truck shows, rodeos and other entertainment. The Panola County Board of Supervisors on June 1 officially adopted a resolution declaring it the courthouse for the Second Judicial District of Panola County during the coronavirus pandemic.

A jury was selected to hear the trial of Clinton Winters, 44, of Webb, who faced charges of methamphetamine possession. He was found guilty on the afternoon of June 2. Winters remains in custody and will be sentenced at a later date.



Alaska Supreme Court justices call for system improvements
Attorney News | 2020/06/07 22:29
The justices of the Alaska Supreme Court have called for improvements within the judicial system to ensure equitable and fair treatment for people of color. The four justices posted a letter online Friday saying there needs to be systematic improvements for African Americans, Alaska Natives and other groups.

The letter is addressed to “Fellow Alaskans” and signed by Chief Justice Joel Bolger and Justices Daniel Winfree, Peter Maassen and Susan Carney. Justice Craig Stowers retired June 1, and his seat has not yet been filled.

The justices referred to the ongoing social unrest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd, 46, a black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying on the ground. His death prompted protests across the U.S. and around the world against police brutality and racial injustice.

“As we watch events unfolding in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, we are saddened to see again that the ideals on which our society is founded are far from the reality of many people’s lives,” the letter said.

The justices said they must “provide an accessible and impartial forum” for cases. “We recognize that too often African-Americans, Alaska Natives, and other people of color are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white members of our communities," the justices wrote. “And we recognize that as community members, lawyers, and especially as judicial officers, we must do more to change this reality.”


Pandemic means a silent June at the Supreme Court
Legal Topics | 2020/06/04 16:51
It’s the time of the year when Supreme Court justices can get testy. They might have to find a new way to show it.

The court’s most fought-over decisions in its most consequential cases often come in June, with dueling majority and dissenting opinions. But when a justice is truly steamed to be on a decision’s losing side, the strongest form of protest is reading a summary of the dissent aloud in court. Dissenting justices exercise what a pair of scholars call the “nuclear option” just a handful of times a year, but when they do, they signal that behind the scenes, there’s frustration and even anger.

The coronavirus pandemic has kept the justices from their courtroom since March and forced them to change their ways in many respects. Now, in their season of weighty decisions, instead of the drama that can accompany the announcement of a majority decision and its biting dissent, the court’s opinions are being posted online without an opportunity for the justices to be heard.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County political science professor William Blake, who co-authored the article calling oral dissents the nuclear option, says a June without them would be a “missed opportunity.” They are “a chance to see the justices as exhibiting emotions,” not just the logic of their opinions, he said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  has said that an oral dissent “garners immediate attention.”

“It signals that, in the dissenters’ view, the court’s opinion is not just wrong, but grievously misguided,” she has said.

The act of reading can also be a signal to Congress. In a 2007 dissent Ginsburg read from the bench, she called on lawmakers to overturn her colleagues’ decision in a case about equal pay for women. Congress did, passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Ginsburg’s oral dissent underscored her belief that urgent action was needed, even if it wasn’t the only reason lawmakers acted.


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