Supreme Court halts 3 upcoming executions in Oklahoma
Court News | 2015/02/03 23:22
The Supreme Court has ordered Oklahoma to postpone lethal injections executions using a controversial sedative until the court rules in a challenge involving the drug.

The court's order Wednesday came as little surprise after both the state and the lawyers for three inmates who faced execution between now and March requested the temporary halt. The justices agreed on Friday to take up the challenge to the use of the sedative midazolam, which has been used in problematic executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma.

The case will be argued in April and decided by late June.

Left open by the court's order is whether Oklahoma can carry out an execution that does not involve midazolam.


Two justices once open to cameras in court now reconsider
Court News | 2015/02/03 23:22
Two Supreme Court justices who once seemed open to the idea of cameras in the courtroom said Monday they have reconsidered those views, dashing even faint hopes that April's historic arguments over gay marriage might be televised.

In separate appearances, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor said allowing cameras might lead to grandstanding that could fundamentally change the nature of the high court.

Sotomayor told an audience in West Palm Beach, Florida, that cameras could change the behavior of both the justices and lawyers appearing at the court, who might succumb to "this temptation to use it as a stage rather than a courtroom."

"I am moving more closely to saying I think it might be a bad idea," she said.

During her confirmation hearings in 2009, Sotomayor told lawmakers she had a positive experience with cameras and would try to soften other justices' opposition to cameras.

Speaking at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, Kagan told an audience that she is "conflicted" over the issue and noted strong arguments on both sides.

Kagan said that when she used to argue cases before the court as Solicitor General, she wanted the public to see how well prepared the justices were for each case "and really look as though they are trying to get it right."

But Kagan said she is wary now of anything "that may upset the dynamic of the institution."

She pointed to Congress, which televises floor proceedings, saying lawmakers talk more in made-for-TV sound bites than to each other.


Fugitive treasure hunter to appear in Florida federal court
Court News | 2015/01/30 17:31
A treasure hunter locked in a legal battle over one of the greatest undersea hauls in American history was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday after two years on the run.

The U.S. Marshals Service captured former fugitive Tommy Thompson at a Hilton hotel in West Boca Raton on Tuesday. The capture was announced Wednesday by Brian Babtist, a senior inspector in the agency's office in Columbus, Ohio, where a federal civil arrest warrant was issued for him in 2012 for failing to show up to a key court hearing. A criminal contempt warrant was unsealed Wednesday.

Thompson had been on the lam for two years, accused of cheating investors out of their share of $50 million in gold bars and coins he had recovered from a 19th century shipwreck.

Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the sunken S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. In what was a technological feat at the time, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of gold bars and coins from the shipwreck. Much of that was later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.


Arizona sheriff could face civil contempt hearing in court
Court News | 2015/01/19 22:19
An Arizona sheriff could face a civil contempt hearing in federal court for his office's repeated violations of orders issued in a racial-profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow held a telephonic conference Thursday and told Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's attorneys that the six-term sheriff may face an April 21-24 hearing.

But a top lawyer with the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that Snow stopped short of officially ordering the hearing. The judge has given both sides until Jan. 23 to file additional paperwork.

At a Dec. 4 hearing, Snow sent strong signals that he intended to pursue contempt cases that could expose Arpaio to fines and perhaps jail time.

Lawyers for the sheriff didn't immediately return calls for comment on the possible civil contempt hearing.

Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the Arizona ACLU, said Friday that Arpaio's office could face sanctions or fines for not following court orders and "fines to deter future bad acts and fines to compensate anyone permanently harmed" in the racial-profiling cases.


Nebraska court could hold up Keystone pipeline
Court News | 2015/01/08 21:14
The Republican-led Congress appears ready to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but no matter what actions are taken in Washington, the entire 1,179-mile project could be delayed until Nebraska signs off on the route.

After several years of intense debate, the routing process is before the Nebraska Supreme Court, and depending on how the justices rule, months or years could pass before construction begins in that state.

Even if approval comes from Washington and the high court, opponents are looking for new ways to block the project, including filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of Native American tribes in Nebraska and South Dakota over the possible disruption of Indian artifacts.

The court is considering whether an obscure agency known as the Nebraska Public Service Commission must review the pipeline before it can cross the state, one of six on the pipeline's route. Gov. Dave Heineman gave the green light in 2013 without the involvement of the panel, which normally regulates telephones, taxis and grain bins.

The justices have given no indication when they will render a decision.

President Barack Obama has said he is waiting for the court's decision, and the White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the bill in what was expected to be the first of many confrontations with the new Congress over energy and environmental policy.


Idaho gay marriage fight appealed to Supreme Court
Court News | 2015/01/05 22:48
Idaho's governor and attorney general have filed separate petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court, fighting against gay marriage and arguing that the state's case has national consequences.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Idaho since an October ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has struck down bans across the West.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden's filing Friday states that the issue is a matter of a state's right to define marriage without the federal government's involvement.

"This case presents the Court with the opportunity to resolve a divisive split on a question of nationwide importance: Whether the United States Constitution now prohibits states from maintaining the traditional definition of civil marriage, i.e., between one man and one woman," Wasden said in the petition.

Gov. Butch Otter's petition, filed Tuesday, states that the high court should review Idaho's case alone or in addition to a pending case involving the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the right of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee to decide whether to allow gay marriage.


Woman at center of 1961 Supreme Court case dies
Court News | 2014/12/11 19:01
A woman who stood up to police trying to search her Ohio home in 1957 and ultimately won a landmark Supreme Court decision on searches and seizures has died.

Dollree Mapp died Oct. 31 in Conyers, Georgia. A relative and caretaker, Carolyn Mapp, confirmed her death Wednesday and said she died on the day after her birthday at the age of 91.

Mapp's Supreme Court case, Mapp v. Ohio, is a staple of law school textbooks and considered a milestone case on the Fourth Amendment, which requires law enforcement officers to get a warrant before conducting a search. The case curbed the power of police by saying evidence obtained by illegal searches and seizures could not be used in state court.

Mapp's path to the U.S. Supreme Court began on May 23, 1957, when three Cleveland police officers arrived at her home. There had just been a bombing at the home of Don King, who later became famous as a boxing promoter, and police believed that a person wanted for questioning was hiding in Mapp's home. The officers demanded to enter, but Mapp refused to let them in without a search warrant. More officers later arrived and police forced open a door, according to a summary of the case in the Supreme Court opinion.

When the officers confronted Mapp, one held up a piece of paper, claiming it was a warrant, and Mapp snatched it away. After a struggle an officer got the paper back, Mapp was handcuffed for being "belligerent," and officers searched her home. They didn't find the person they were looking for, but they did find some pornographic books and pictures. At the time, an Ohio law made having obscene material a crime, and Mapp was convicted, though she said the materials belonged to a former boarder. Prosecutors never produced a search warrant at trial.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court overturned Mapp's conviction in a 6-3 decision, ruling in 1961 that illegally obtained evidence could not be used in state court. The court had previously ruled that this was the case in federal court, but Mapp's case extended the "exclusionary rule" to states where the vast majority of criminal prosecutions take place, broadening the protection.


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