Rancorous, partisan start for Kavanaugh high court hearin
Court Watch | 2018/09/03 20:58
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh declared fervently at his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday the court "must never, never be viewed as a partisan institution." But that was at the end of a marathon day marked by rancorous exchanges between Democrats and Republicans, including dire Democratic fears that he would be President Donald Trump's advocate on the high court.

The week of hearings on Kavanaugh's nomination began with a sense of inevitability that the 53-year-old appellate judge eventually will be confirmed, perhaps in time for the first day of the new term, Oct. 1, and little more than a month before congressional elections.

However, the first of at least four days of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee began with partisan quarreling over the nomination and persistent protests from members of the audience, followed by their arrests.

Strong Democratic opposition to Trump's nominee reflects the political stakes for both parties in advance of the November elections, Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump's 2016 campaign and the potentially pivotal role Kavanaugh could play in moving the court to the right.

Democrats, including several senators poised for 2020 presidential bids, tried to block the proceedings in a dispute over Kavanaugh records withheld by the White House. Republicans in turn accused the Democrats of turning the hearing into a circus.

Trump jumped into the fray late in the day, saying on Twitter that Democrats were "looking to inflict pain and embarrassment" on Kavanaugh.

The president's comment followed the statements of Democratic senators who warned that Trump was, in the words of Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, "selecting a justice on the Supreme Court who potentially will cast a decisive vote in his own case."

In Kavanaugh's own statement at the end of more than seven hours of arguing, the federal appeals judge spoke repeatedly about the importance of an independent judiciary and the need to keep the court above partisan politics, common refrains among Supreme Court nominees that had added salience in the fraught political atmosphere of the moment.


Chaos marks start of Kavanaugh confirmation hearing
Areas of Focus | 2018/09/02 20:58
Quarreling and confusion marked the start of the Senate's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday, with Democrats trying to block the proceedings because of documents being withheld by the White House. Protesters also disrupted the proceedings.

In his opening remarks released ahead of delivery, Kavanaugh sought to tamp down the controversy over his nomination, which would likely shift the closely divided court to the right. He promised to be a "team player" if confirmed, declaring that he would be a "pro-law judge" who would not decide cases based on his personal views.

But Democrats raised objections from the moment Chairman Chuck Grassley gaveled the committee to order. They want to review 100,000 documents about Kavanaugh's record being withheld by the White House as well as some 42,000 documents released to the committee on a confidential basis on the eve of the hearing, along with others not sought by Republicans on the committee.

"We have not been given an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing on this nominee," said Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., made a motion to adjourn.

Grassley denied his request, but the arguments persisted.

More than a dozen protesters, shouting one by one, disrupted the hearing at several points and were removed by police. "This is a mockery and a travesty of justice," shouted one woman. "Cancel Brett Kavanaugh!"

Grassley defended the document production as the most open in history, saying there was "no reason to delay the hearing. He asked Kavanaugh, who sat before the committee with White House officials behind him, to introduce his parents, wife and children.

"I'm very honored to be here," Kavanaugh said.

With majority Republicans appearing united, it's doubtful the hearings will affect the eventual confirmation of President Donald Trump's nominee. But they will likely become a rallying cry for both parties just two months before the midterm elections.

Kavanaugh declared he would be even-handed in his approach to the law.

"A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy," Kavanaugh said in prepared opening remarks. "I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge. I am not a pro-prosecution or pro-defense judge."

"I would always strive to be a team player on the Team of Nine," he added.

The Supreme Court is more often thought of as nine separate judges, rather than a team. And on the most contentious cases, the court tends to split into two sides, conservative and liberal. But the justices often say they seek consensus when they can, a


UN court hears case over strategic Indian Ocean islands
Legal Topics | 2018/09/02 06:59
Officials from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius told United Nations judges Monday that former colonial power Britain strong-armed its leaders half a century ago into giving up territory as a condition of independence, a claim that could have an impact on a strategically important U.S. military base.

Judges at the International Court of Justice began hearing arguments for an advisory opinion the U.N. General Assembly requested on the legality of British sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. The largest island, Diego Garcia, has housed the U.S. base since the 1970s.

"The process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete as a result of the unlawful detachment of an integral part of our territory on the eve of our independence," Mauritius Defense Minister Anerood Jugnauth told judges.

Mauritius argues that the Chagos archipelago was part of its territory since at least the 18th century and taken unlawfully by the U.K. in 1965, three years before the island gained independence. Britain insists it has sovereignty over the archipelago, which it calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Jugnauth testified that during independence negotiations, then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson told Mauritius' leader at the time, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, that "he and his colleagues could return to Mauritius either with independence or without it and that the best solution for all might be independence and detachment (of the Chagos Islands) by agreement."

Ramgoolam understood Wilson's words "to be in the nature of a threat," Jugnauth said.

British Solicitor General Robert Buckland described the case as essentially a bilateral dispute about sovereignty and urged the court not to issue an advisory opinion.


Blankenship ballot bid denied by West Virginia Supreme Court
Headline Legal News | 2018/08/31 16:02
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a last-minute bid by former coal CEO Don Blankenship to get his name on the ballot in November's U.S. Senate race in West Virginia.

The court upheld a decision by the secretary of state denying Blankenship's application for a third-party candidacy.

"The West Virginia Secretary of State is ordered to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that Donald L. Blankenship does not appear on the 2018 General Election Ballot for the Office of United States Senator for the State of West Virginia," the decision said.

The court itself is in a state of upheaval. One of the judges hearing the case Wednesday was filling in for a suspended justice, and two sat in for judges who retired after lawmakers voted to impeach them over allegations of improper use of court funds.

The justices issued the decision in the form of an order, rather than an opinion that would have laid out how each one voted and included comments from a majority ruling.

In a statement, Blankenship thanked his supporters and said he will evaluate his next step with his attorneys, which could include an appeal.

"For those who believe in democracy, it is a frightening decision," he said. "Americans desperately need to pay attention as the politicians continue to move voters to the sidelines and out of the election process."

Secretary of State Mac Warner had blocked Blankenship's bid to run as the Constitution Party's nominee, based on the state's "sore loser" law. It prohibits major-party primary candidates who lose from switching to a minor party. Blankenship finished third in the Republican primary in May.


Cooper, GOP lawmakers back in court on altered amendments
Court Watch | 2018/08/30 23:02
Gov. Roy Cooper is seeking to persuade a judicial panel a second time to keep questions for two proposed amendments to the North Carolina Constitution off the November ballot.

Attorneys for the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers are expected in a Raleigh courtroom Friday, when three trial judges will hear arguments on Cooper's request to block those amendments.

A majority on this same judicial panel last week prevented referendums for two previous versions of the amendments the General Assembly approved from going on ballots. That prompted GOP legislators to submit slightly different amendments and questions. Cooper argues those questions are misleading to the public, like the earlier ones.

The amendments would swing control over judicial vacancies and state election board membership from the governor to the legislature.


Court may reconsider ruling on police deadly force measure
Attorney News | 2018/08/29 23:02
The question of whether Washington voters will have their say on a measure designed to make it easier to prosecute police for negligent shootings might not be over after all.

One day after ruling that Initiative 940 should appear on the November ballot, the state Supreme Court requested a briefing by the end of the day Wednesday about how the justices' various opinions should be interpreted.

Supporters of the initiative said only a single justice, Barbara Madsen, voted that I-940 should go to voters while a compromise measure preferred by lawmakers, advocates and police groups should not. Supporters of I-940 said her opinion should not control the result of what amounted to a 4-4-1 decision, and late Tuesday they filed an emergency motion asking the court to reconsider.

"For reasons not explained, the Court seems to have adopted the view of that single Justice as the ruling of the Court as a whole," attorneys for De-Escalate Washington, the initiative's sponsor, wrote.

In their response Wednesday afternoon, frequent initiative sponsor Tim Eyman and Republican Sen. Mike Padden, who sued over the issue, said the court's action was appropriate because five justices believed I-940 should go to the ballot.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman also filed a response, taking no position on the outcome of the case but urging the court to hurry. Because of the reconsideration motion, her office had to halt certain election preparations, including notifying counties which initiatives would appear on their ballots.


Iran goes to UN's highest court over re-imposed US sanctions
Legal Topics | 2018/08/28 16:34
Iran went to the United Nations' highest court Monday in a bid to have U.S. sanctions lifted following President Donald Trump's decision earlier this year to re-impose them, calling the move "naked economic aggression."

Iran filed the case with the International Court of Justice in July, claiming that sanctions the Trump administration imposed on May 8 breach a 1955 bilateral agreement known as the Treaty of Amity that regulates economic and consular ties between the two countries.

At hearings that started Monday at the court's headquarters in The Hague, Tehran asked judges at the world court to urgently suspend the sanctions to protect Iranian interests while the case challenging their legality is being heard — a process that can take years.

In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the legal move an attempt by Tehran "to interfere with the sovereign rights of the United States to take lawful actions, including re-imposition of sanctions, which are necessary to protect our national security."

Trump said in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran's nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Washington also threatened other countries with sanctions if they don't cut off Iranian oil imports by early November.

Trump said in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran's nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Washington also threatened other countries with sanctions if they don't cut off Iranian oil imports by early November.

Iranian representative Mohsen Mohebi told the court the U.S. decision was a clear breach of the 1955 treaty as it was "intended to damage, as severely as possible, Iran's economy."

Iran's 2015 nuclear deal imposed restrictions on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program in return for the lifting of most U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran.



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