Kavanaugh to hear his 1st arguments as Supreme Court justice
Court Watch | 2018/10/09 10:38
A Supreme Court with a new conservative majority takes the bench as Brett Kavanaugh, narrowly confirmed after a bitter Senate battle, joins his new colleagues to hear his first arguments as a justice.

Kavanaugh will emerge Tuesday morning from behind the courtroom's red velvet curtains and take his seat alongside his eight colleagues. It will be a moment that conservatives have dreamed of for decades, with five solidly conservative justices on the bench.

Kavanaugh's predecessor, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in June, was a more moderate conservative and sometimes sided with the court's four liberal justices. Kavanaugh, in contrast, is expected to be a more decidedly conservative vote, tilting the court right for decades and leaving Chief Justice John Roberts as the justice closest to the ideological middle.

With justices seated by seniority, President Donald Trump's two appointees will flank the Supreme Court bench, Justice Neil Gorsuch at one end and Kavanaugh at the other. Court watchers will be looking to see whether the new justice asks questions at arguments and, if so, what he asks. There will also be those looking for any lingering signs of Kavanaugh's heated, partisan confirmation fight. But the justices, who often highlight their efforts to work together as a collegial body, are likely to focus on the cases before them.

Republicans had hoped to confirm Kavanaugh in time for him to join the court on Oct. 1, the start of the new term. Instead, the former D.C. Circuit judge missed the first week of arguments as the Senate considered an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a woman in high school, an allegation he adamantly denied.

Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 Saturday, the closest vote to confirm a justice since 1881, and has had a busy three days since then. On Saturday evening, Kavanaugh took his oaths of office in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court while protesters chanted outside the court building.


Texas Supreme Court to hear sex offender law challenge
Court Watch | 2018/10/08 13:38
The Texas Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the state's retroactive sex offender laws that some say unfairly stack new punishments on those convicted in plea deals.

More than 2,800 sex offenders remain on the Texas registry despite being no longer required to register under terms of their probation, according to an Austin-American Statesman analysis of the list.

Every qualifying sex offender was ordered onto the registry in 2005 after Texas expanded its sex offense laws. But that included some defendants who were promised in deals with prosecutors that they wouldn't have to be on the list after a certain amount of time.

Donnie Miller struck a deal with Travis County prosecutors after he was charged with sexual assault against a woman outside an Austin gentleman's club in 1993. A jury couldn't agree on a verdict at his trial, forcing Miller to face a second trial and more than $20,000 in legal fees.

He made a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty and in exchange, his record would be cleaned if he stayed out of trouble for 10 years. But Miller received a call a year after successfully completing his probation telling him that Texas had changed the rules and that he'd be on the sex offender registry for life, contrary to the terms of his plea deal.

"If I'd known, why would I have taken a plea deal?" said Miller, 48. "I would have borrowed the money for the retrial."

In a lawsuit before the Texas Supreme Court regarding another similar case, San Antonio attorney Angela Moore argues that undoing plea bargains makes the agreements worthless. About 94 percent of criminal convictions are disposed of with pleas, she said.

Texas Department of Public Safety attorneys warn that the lawsuit could relieve many "other sex offenders of their duty to register."

Texas was among several states to expand state law to include offenders from old cases. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2003 that Alaska's law retroactively requiring old sex offenders with completed sentences to register was legal because the registry wasn't intended to be punitive.

But recent studies show that public lists can have severe consequences, such as public shaming and limiting job opportunities. Since the Alaska decision, new research has emerged that disproves what policymakers previously thought to be true about sex offenders and the effectiveness of such laws.

The updated findings are appearing in court cases across the country. Rulings in Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Alaska eliminated their retroactive sex offender clauses.


Kavanaugh to attend White House event, as elections loom
Areas of Focus | 2018/10/07 10:39
New Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is returning to the White House for a televised appearance Monday with President Donald Trump less

than a month before pivotal congressional elections.

Kavanaugh will take part in an entirely ceremonial swearing-in two days after he officially became a member of the high court and following a bitter

partisan fight over his nomination. The event is unusual for new justices. Only Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer participated in a White House event

after they had been sworn-in and begun work as a justice, according to the court's records on oath-taking by the current crop of justices.

Kavanaugh, along with his law clerks, already has been at the Supreme Court preparing for his first day on the bench Tuesday when the justices will

hear arguments in two cases about longer prison terms for repeat offenders. The new justice's four clerks all are women, the first time that has

happened.

The clerks are Kim Jackson, who previously worked for Kavanaugh on the federal appeals court in Washington, Shannon Grammel, Megan Lacy and

Sara Nommensen. The latter three all worked for other Republican-nominated judges. Lacy had been working at the White House in support of

Kavanaugh's nomination.

In his Senate testimony last month in which he denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman in high school, accusing Democrats of

orchestrating a partisan campaign against him, Kavanaugh had promised that, if he was confirmed, the four clerks working for him would be women.

"I'll be the first justice in the history of the Supreme Court to have a group of all-women law clerks. That is who I am."

On Monday, Trump kept up attacks on Democrats for opposing Kavanaugh, pressing on an issue that Republicans have used to energize their voters.


Massachusetts high court to weigh teen texting suicide case
Legal Topics | 2018/10/05 05:17
Massachusetts' highest court is set to consider whether to throw out the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a woman who as a teenager encouraged her suicidal boyfriend to kill himself in dozens of text messages.

Lawyers for 22-year-old Michelle Carter will urge the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday to reject a judge's finding that she caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to get back in a truck filled with toxic gas.

Carter was sentenced to 15 months in jail last year but has remained free while she pursues her appeal. Prosecutors say Carter could have stopped Roy, who was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014.

Her lawyers say her conviction criminalizes free speech and that Carter's words didn't cause Roy's death.


Cemetery case puts property rights issue before high court
Headline Legal News | 2018/10/05 05:16
Rose Mary Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn't buy that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn't want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery.

Six years ago, however, Knick's town passed an ordinance that requires anyone with a cemetery on their land to open it to the public during the day. The town ordered Knick to comply, threatening a daily fine of $300 to $600 if she didn't. Knick's response has been to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in her case Wednesday.

"Would you want somebody roaming around in your backyard?" Knick asked during a recent interview on her Lackawanna County property, which is posted with signs warning against trespassing.

Her neighbors in Scott Township, the Vail family, say they just want to visit their ancestors' graves.

The Supreme Court isn't going to weigh in on whether there's a cemetery on Knick's land. Instead, it's considering whether people with property rights cases like Knick's can bring their cases to federal court or must go to state court, an issue groups nationwide are interested in.

Knick, 69, says her town's ordinance wouldn't protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers' decisions.



Indian court allows deportation of 7 Rohingya to Myanmar
Attorney News | 2018/10/04 12:17
India on Thursday deported its first group of Rohingya Muslims since the government last year ordered the expulsion of members of the Myanmar minority group and others who entered the country illegally.

The deportation was carried out after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute plea by the seven men's lawyer that they be allowed to remain in India because they feared reprisals in Myanmar. They were arrested in 2012 for entering India illegally and have been held in prison since then.

Indian authorities handed the seven over to Myanmar officials at a border crossing in Moreh in Manipur state, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. Each carried a bag of belongings.

The Supreme Court said it would allow their deportation because Myanmar had accepted them as citizens. Government attorney Tushar Mehta told the judges that Myanmar had given the seven certificates of identity and 1-month visas to facilitate their deportation.

Most Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar are denied citizenship and face widespread discrimination.

Defense attorney Prashant Bhushan said the government should treat them as refugees, not as illegal migrants, and send a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to talk to them so they would not be deported under duress.

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 2017 to escape a brutal campaign of violence by Myanmar's military.

An estimated 40,000 other Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India. Less than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many have settled in areas of India with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, New Delhi, and the Himalayan region of Jammu-Kashmir. Some have taken refuge in northeast India bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.


UN court orders US to lift some Iran sanctions
Court News | 2018/10/03 12:17
The United Nations' highest court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must "remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from" the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

By limiting the order to sanctions covering humanitarian goods and the civil aviation industry, the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, pointed that out in a tweet.

"This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction," the ambassador tweeted. "Even so, it is worth noting that the Court declined today to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran. Instead, the Court issued a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."

While imposing the so-called "provisional measures," the court's president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, stressed that the case will continue and the United States could still challenge the court's jurisdiction.


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