Judge Rejects Request for New Vote in Virginia House Race
Areas of Focus | 2018/01/02 10:41
A federal judge on Friday rejected a request for a new election that might have forced a 50-50 split in Virginia's House of Delegates, calling ballot mistakes cited by Democrats a "garden-variety" problem that doesn't merit federal intervention.

Democrats had hoped a new election in the 28th District would provide an opportunity for an even split in the chamber, which is now on track to be controlled by a 51-49 GOP majority.

Democrats cited state election officials who said 147 voters received the wrong ballot before Republican Bob Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by only 73 votes.

It is the second defeat in as many days for Democrats. On Thursday, election officials broke a tie vote in another House district by drawing names from a bowl, and picking the Republican.

It is the second time Ellis has rejected a request to intervene in the race. Last month he rejected a request to issue a temporary restraining order that would have barred state elections officials from certifying Thomas as the winner. In both rulings, Ellis said he was leery of interjecting federal courts into a state elections process.


Updated travel ban is headed back to a federal appeals court
Areas of Focus | 2017/12/08 01:11
Thirteen judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will be asked to decide if the ban violates the constitution by discriminating against Muslims, as opponents say, or is necessary to protect national security, as the Trump administration says.

The hearing scheduled Friday comes four days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration can fully enforce the ban even as the separate challenges continue before the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit and the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit appeals courts.

The 4th Circuit is being asked to reverse the decision of a Maryland judge whose injunction in October barred the administration from enforcing the ban against travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen who have bona fide relationships with people or organizations in the U.S. The ban also applies to travelers from North Korea and to some Venezuelan government officials and their families, but the lawsuits didn't challenge those restrictions.

Trump announced his initial travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations in late January, bringing havoc and protests to airports around the country. A federal judge in Seattle soon blocked it, and courts since then have wrestled with the restrictions as the administration has rewritten them. The latest version blocks travelers from the listed countries to varying degrees, allowing for students from some of the countries while blocking other business travelers and tourists, and allowing for admissions on a case-by-case basis.

Opponents say the latest version of the ban is another attempt by Trump to fulfill his campaign pledge to keep Muslims out of the U.S. The administration, however, says the ban is based on legitimate national security concerns.

The 4th Circuit rejected an earlier version in May, finding that it "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination" toward Muslims. The judges cited Trump's campaign pledge on Muslim travelers, as well as tweets and remarks he has made since taking office.


Trappers ask court to throw out lawsuit over US fur exports
Areas of Focus | 2017/11/22 05:56
Fur trappers are asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit from wildlife advocates who want to block the export of bobcat pelts from the United States.

Attorneys for trapping organizations said in recent court filings that the lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service infringes on the authority of state and tribal governments to manage their wildlife.

The plaintiffs in the case allege the government's export program doesn't protect against the accidental trapping of imperiled species such as Canada lynx.

More than 30,000 bobcat pelts were exported in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available, according to wildlife officials. The pelts typically are used to make fur garments and accessories. Russia, China, Canada and Greece are top destinations, according to a trapping industry representative and government reports.

Federal officials in February concluded trapping bobcats and other animals did not have a significant impact on lynx populations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service regulates trade in animal and plant parts according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, which the U.S. ratified in 1975.

The advocates' lawsuit would "do away with the CITES export program," according to attorneys for the Fur Information Council of America, Montana Trappers Association and National Trappers Association.

"They are seeking to interfere with the way the States and Tribes manage their wildlife, by forcing them to limit, if not eliminate, the harvesting of the Furbearers and at the very least restrict the means by which trapping is conducted," attorneys Ira Kasdan and Gary Leistico wrote in their motion to dismiss the case.

Bobcats are not considered an endangered species. But the international trade in their pelts is regulated because they are "look-alikes" for other wildlife populations that are protected under U.S. law.



Feds head to court to seek dismissal of Twin Metals lawsuit
Areas of Focus | 2017/11/14 03:08
Government lawyers go to federal court Tuesday to seek dismissal of a lawsuit by developers of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine who are seeking to regain their mineral rights leases.

The Obama administration last year declined to renew the longstanding leases that Twin Metals needs for the underground mine near Ely in northeastern Minnesota. The government cited the potential harm to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Twin Metals sued last fall to get those leases back, saying it has already invested $400 million, while its congressional supporters are trying to persuade the Trump administration to reverse that decision.

The government argues that the U.S. District Court for Minnesota should dismiss the lawsuit because it's a contract dispute that must be brought in the Court of Federal Claims.


Indonesia court upholds seizure of illegal fishing vessel
Areas of Focus | 2017/10/28 15:31
Indonesia says it has won a two-year court battle that confirms the legality of the government's seizure of a Thai vessel linked to human trafficking and illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.

Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Susi Pudjiastuti said the "monumental" ruling from a court in Aceh province shows that governments can win in the fight against cross-border crime.

Pudjiastuti said in a statement this week that the ministry plans to make the refrigerated cargo ship Silver Sea 2 part of a museum to teach the public about illegal fishing.

The ship was seized by Indonesia's navy in August 2015 amid a crackdown on illegal fishing and after an Associated Press investigation showed its links to human trafficking in the fishing industry.

Several months before its capture, the ship and Thai fishing trawlers had abruptly left an island in remote eastern Indonesia, where the Thai fishing industry held trafficked crew members captive, to escape a government crackdown on illegal fishing.


Immigrant teen seeking abortion asks court to reconsider
Areas of Focus | 2017/10/23 13:08

Attorneys for a pregnant teen being held in a Texas immigration facility are asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision not to order the government to let her obtain an abortion.

Lawyers for the 17-year-old on Sunday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to hold another hearing before all the judges on the court.

A three-judge panel ruled against the teen Friday, giving the government until Oct. 31 to find a sponsor to take in the teen so she could get an abortion on her own.

Her lawyers have accused federal officials of unlawfully restricting the teen's rights. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions for minors in its care.


Threats to Supreme Court test Israel's democracy
Areas of Focus | 2017/10/04 23:00
Israel's Supreme Court, widely seen as a guardian of the country's founding democratic principles, is facing fierce pressure from political hard-liners who are challenging what they see as the court's overreach and liberal slant.

The stepped-up rhetoric and attempts to shackle the court are testing Israel's fragile democracy at a time when members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist government have led an onslaught of attacks against the country's liberal institutions, stirring up populist sentiment and deepening a rift with the country's moderates.

The court's critics want it to tone down what they see as its overt activism and demand a rethink of the institution's role in society. But some observers see the campaign against the court as crossing a line.

"The attacks, the incitement is very worrying," said Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court judge. "Without an independent court there is no democracy."

In Israel, a country with a robust press and rowdy politics, criticism of the court isn't unusual, but its opponents rarely seek to curb its authority. It also comes as Netanyahu's hawkish coalition government, dominated by religious and nationalist parties, has escalated criticism of many of Israel's liberal bastions in the arts, media and civil society and pledged or carried out legislative action against them.


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