Supreme Court to begin new term: About the top cases
Court News | 2019/10/07 02:07
The biggest cases before the Supreme Court are often the last ones to be decided, and the focus on the court will be especially intense in June, just a few months before the 2020 election.

President Donald Trump first announced his intention in 2017 to end the Obama-era program that protected from deportation and gave work permits to roughly 700,000 people who, as children, entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was never authorized by Congress. At issue before the court is whether the way the administration has tried to wind down the program is lawful. There seems to be little debate that Trump has the discretion to do so, as long as his administration complies with a federal law that generally requires orderly changes to policies.

Title 7 of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex, among other categories. The question for the justices in two cases is whether that provision protects people from discrimination in the workplace because they are gay or transgender. The sexual orientation case involves a fired skydiver in New York, who has since died, and a fired county government worker in Georgia. Aimee Stephens, a fired funeral home director in suburban Detroit, is at the center of the case about gender identity. The Trump administration has reversed the Obama administration’s support for the workers.


US Supreme Court to review Kansas’ lack of insanity defense
Court News | 2019/10/04 16:07
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider how far states can go toward eliminating the insanity defense in criminal trials as it reviews the case of a Kansas man sentenced to die for killing four relatives.

The high court planned to hear arguments Monday in James Kraig Kahler’s case. He went to the home of his estranged wife’s grandmother about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Topeka the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 and fatally shot the two women and his two teenage daughters.

Not even Kahler’s attorneys have disputed that he killed them. They’ve argued that he was in the grips of a depression so severe that he experienced an extreme emotional disturbance that disassociated him from reality.

In seeking a not guilty verdict due to his mental state, his defense at his 2011 trial faced what critics see as an impossible legal standard. His attorneys now argue that Kansas violated the U.S. Constitution by denying him the right to pursue an insanity defense.

The nation’s highest court previously has given states broad latitude in how they treat mental illness in criminal trials, allowing five states, including Kansas, to abolish the traditional insanity defense. Kahler’s appeal raises the question of whether doing so denies defendants their guaranteed right to due legal process.


Trial begins Monday in Kansas abortion stalking lawsuit
Court News | 2019/10/01 09:28
A federal jury will decide whether the operator of a Wichita abortion facility had reasonable grounds to seek a protection-from-stalking order against an abortion protester.

Jury selection begins Monday in the federal lawsuit filed by anti-abortion activist Mark Holick against clinic operator Julie Burkhart.

The lawsuit stems from anti-abortion protests in 2012 and 2013 in front of Burkhart's home and in her neighborhood. She subsequently got a temporary protection-from-stalking order against him that was dismissed two years later.

U.S. District Judge John Broomes has already thrown out some of the lawsuit's claims, but left it to a jury to decide whether the facts constituted malicious prosecution.


New justice formally joins Virginia Supreme Court
Court News | 2019/09/10 16:48
The Virginia Supreme Court has a new justice.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Teresa Chafin, previously a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals, formally joined the court Friday in a special session in Abingdon.

The General Assembly elected her in February. Chafin is the sister of state Sen. Ben Chafin, who lobbied on her behalf but didn't vote when the Senate confirmed her 36-0.

Chafin will serve a 12-year term. She's filling a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Elizabeth McClanahan.



Attorneys: Court seat puts Montgomery in far different role
Court News | 2019/09/07 23:49
Attorneys say Gov. Doug Ducey's appointment of now-former Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court puts Montgomery in a new role that could silence his public advocacy on policy issues.

Montgomery for years has been a power-broker at the Arizona Legislature on criminal-justice issues while being an outspoken critic of marijuana legalization.

Ducey, in announcing his fifth appointment to the state high court, said he's confident that he picked a justice who will interpret the law, not someone to write it.

Arizona's judicial conduct code limits what judges can do off the bench, and attorneys interviewed by the Arizona Capitol Times said it'd be a departure from tradition for Montgomery to continue his past advocacy now that he's on the bench.

Danny Seiden, a former Ducey aide who once served as a special assistant county attorney to Montgomery, said Montgomery is now in a "less powerful" position as a justice compared to an elected county attorney.

"Prosecutors have a ton of power in the process," Seiden said. "That's why they're elected, that's why they have to face the people and stand for their charging decisions and policymaking role in the process. But when you're a judge, you really just interpret statutes . You don't make policy."

Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said it'd be a departure from tradition for Montgomery to do otherwise.

"I assume that there was this separation of powers and they should not play a role in lobbying," Soler said.

But Montgomery's background creates questions how he'll behave as a justice, Soler said.

"Justices need to be fair and impartial, and I think that during the last nine years he's really shown that he lets his personal biases drive his prosecutorial practices and policies, so I think that's certainly going to be a big question for us ? is he going to be fair and impartial?" she said.

Republican attorney Kory Langhofer said it will be telling to see how Montgomery navigates issues like criminal justice reform.

"I strongly suspect that his views on criminal justice are deeply held and will come through in his jurisprudence. But I think his judicial philosophy on other political matters about which he's expressed very strong opinions may be less predictable," Langhofer said.


SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Gender pronouns part of LGBT fight
Court News | 2019/08/22 05:00
Dozens of legal briefs supporting fired funeral director Aimee Stephens at the Supreme Court use “she” and “her” to refer to the transgender woman.

So does the appeals court ruling in favor of Stephens that held that workplace discrimination against transgender people is illegal under federal civil rights law.

But in more than 110 pages urging the Supreme Court to reverse that decision, the Trump administration and the Michigan funeral home where Stephens worked avoid gender pronouns, repeatedly using Stephens’ name.

Stephens’ case is one of two major fights over LGBT rights that will be argued at the high court on Oct. 8. The other tests whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation also violates the provision of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title 7, that prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. The cases are expected to be decided by next spring, during the presidential election campaign.



Australian court upholds sex abuse verdict of Cardinal Pell
Court News | 2019/08/20 09:00
An Australian appeals court Wednesday upheld convictions against Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of sexually abusing children, in a decision cheered by scores of abuse survivors and victims’ advocates demonstrating outside the court.

A unanimous jury in December found Pope Francis’ former finance minister guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral more than two decades ago. The Victoria state Court of Appeal rejected his appeal in a 2-1 ruling, with the court’s chief justice saying the majority found Pell’s accuser to be a compelling “witness of truth.”

Pell’s lawyers will examine the judgment and consider an appeal to the High Court, Australia’s final arbiter, his spokeswoman Katrina Lee said. “Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision,” her statement said.

The Vatican noted Pell had always maintained his innocence and had a right to appeal. It said its own investigation into Pell would await the outcome of any final appeal in Australia.



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