Biden win over Trump in Nevada made official by court
Court News | 2020/11/25 18:44
The Nevada Supreme Court made Joe Biden’s win in the state official on Tuesday, approving the state’s final canvass of the Nov. 3 election.

The unanimous action by the seven nonpartisan justices sends to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak results that will deliver six electoral votes from the western U.S. battleground state to Biden.

The court action drew extra scrutiny amid legal efforts by the state GOP and Trump campaign to prevent sending vote-by-mail ballots to all 1.82 million active registered voters and then to stop the counting of the 1.4 million votes that were cast.

Nevada’s six Democratic presidential electors are scheduled to meet Dec. 14 in the state capital of Carson City.

Biden won Nevada by 33,596 votes, according to results approved by elected officials in Nevada’s 17 counties — including Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, and Washoe County, which includes Reno.

Biden got 50.06% of the vote and Trump 47.67%. Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican who has avoided the public eye in recent weeks, presented the results to the court.

She noted the first-ever use of all-mail balloting statewide in a general election, same-day voter registration and early voting. “The result was more of a hybrid model where voters had a choice of how to participate,” she said, adding that a record number of voters participated.

Certification of the vote does not stop several lawsuits pending in state and federal courts.

They include bids by two Republican congressional candidates and a state Senate challenger to obtain re-votes in those races, an open-records case by the state GOP, and a U.S. District Court action alleging that thousands of ineligible people voted.

A federal judge in that case declined a bid for an immediate injunction that would have stopped the use of a signature verification scanner during the vote count.

Jesse Binnall, an attorney for the Trump campaign who is handling an election challenge pending before a state court judge, said Tuesday he intends to prove that so many fraudulent votes were cast statewide that Trump won Nevada.

Turnout among the state’s more than 1.8 million active registered voters was almost 77.3%, including mail, early voting and Election Day ballots cast amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to secretary of state data.

That was up from a turnout of 76.8% during the presidential election in 2016, when Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Nevada by a little under 2.5% over Trump. Nevada was one of several states due to certify the election on Tuesday.


Justice Alito: COVID restrictions ‘previously unimaginable’
Court News | 2020/11/17 08:34
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sounded an alarm about restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, saying they shouldn’t become a “recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”

“The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” Alito said in an address Thursday to the conservative Federalist Society, which is holding its annual convention virtually because of the pandemic.

Alito noted that he was “not diminishing the severity of the virus’ threat to public health” or saying anything about “whether any of these restrictions represent good public policy.” He cautioned against his words being “twisted or misunderstood.”

But he said it is an “indisputable statement of fact” that “we have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

“Whatever one may think about the COVID restrictions, we surely don’t want them to become a recurring feature after the pandemic has passed,” said Alito, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush.

Alito was particularly critical of two cases earlier this year where the court sided with states that, citing the coronavirus pandemic, imposed restrictions on the size of religious gatherings. In both cases, the court divided 5-4 in allowing those restrictions to continue with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s liberals.

In May, the high court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church challenging attendance limits at worship services. The justices turned away a similar challenge by a Nevada church in July. Alito said in both cases the restrictions had “blatantly discriminated against houses of worship” and he warned that “religious liberty is in danger of becoming a second-class right.”

Both cases came to the court before the death in September of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The liberal justice’s replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett could change how the court might come out on similar cases in the future. Currently before the court is a case involving the Catholic church and limits on in-person services in New York.


With counting winding down, Trump team pushes legal fights
Court News | 2020/11/06 19:59
Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits Thursday, undercutting a campaign legal strategy to attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean President Donald Trump’s defeat. The rulings came as Democrat Joe Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, and Trump and his campaign promised even more legal action based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Thursday, the president launched into a litany of claims, without proof, about how Democrats were trying to unfairly deprive him of a second term. “But we think there’ll be a lot of litigation because we can’t have an election stolen like this,” Trump said.

Earlier Thursday, a Biden campaign lawyer called the lawsuits meritless, more political strategy than legal. “I want to emphasize that for their purposes these lawsuits don’t have to have merit. That’s not the purpose. ... It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process,” lawyer Bob Bauer said, accusing the Trump campaign of “continually alleging irregularities, failures of the system and fraud without any basis.”

Trump is used to suing and being sued. A USA Today analysis found that he and his businesses were involved in at least 3,500 state and federal court actions in the three decades before he became president.  In this election, the court battles so far have been small-scale efforts to get a closer look at local elections officials as they process absentee ballots. A Michigan judge noted that the state’s ballot count is over as she tossed the campaign’s lawsuit.

In Georgia, a state judge dismissed a case over concerns about 53 absentee ballots in Chatham County after elections officials in the Savannah-area county testified that all of those ballots had been received on time. Campaign officials said earlier they were considering similar challenges in a dozen other counties around the state.  In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Trump campaign won an appellate ruling to get party and campaign observers closer to election workers who are processing mail-in ballots in Philadelphia.

But the order did not affect the counting of ballots that is proceeding in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, as elections officials are dealing with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by fears of voting in person during a pandemic. The lawsuits in multiple states highlight that the Trump campaign could be confronting a political map in which it might have to persuade courts in two or more states to set aside enough votes to overturn the results. That’s a substantially different scenario than in the contested presidential election of 2000, which eventually was effectively settled by the Supreme Court, when the entire fight was over Florida’s electoral votes and involved a recount as opposed to trying to halt balloting.

Biden, for his part, has said he expects to win the election, but he counseled patience Thursday, saying: “Each ballot must be counted.” Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, despite no evidence anything of the sort was taking place. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, in a call with reporters Thursday morning, said that “every night the president goes to bed with a lead” and every night new votes “are mysteriously found in a sack.” It is quite common in presidential elections to have vote counting continue after election day.


Election 2020 Today: No winner yet, Trump’s court threat
Court News | 2020/11/05 03:59
NO WINNER: President Donald Trump carried the prized battleground of Florida, then he and Democrat Joe Biden shifted their focus to three Northern industrial states ? Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania ? that could prove crucial in determining who wins the White House. A late burst of votes in Wisconsin from Milwaukee gave Biden a small lead, but the state remained too early to call early Wednesday. Michigan and Pennsylvania also remained too early to call with hundreds of thousands of outstanding votes in both states.

COURT CHALLENGE: Trump says he’ll take the presidential election to the Supreme Court, but it’s unclear what he means in a country in which vote tabulations routinely continue beyond Election Day and states largely set the rules for when the count has to end. Trump says “we want all voting to stop,” but the voting is over. It’s only counting that is taking place across the nation. No state will count absentee votes that are postmarked after Election Day. Biden’s campaign called Trump’s statement “outrageous, unprecedented, and incorrect.”

STATUS QUO: Their hopes fading for Senate control, Democrats had a disappointing election night as Republicans swatted down an onslaught of challengers and fought to retain their majority. Several races remained undecided, and at least one headed to a runoff in January. It was a jarring outcome for Democrats, who had devised an expanded political map, eager to provide a backstop against Trump and his party’s grip on the Senate. The voters’ choices will force a rethinking of Democratic Party strategy, messaging and approach from the Trump era.

HOUSE CONTROL: Democrats are driving toward extending their control of the House for two more years but with a potentially shrunken majority. They have lost six incumbents and failed to oust any Republican lawmakers in initial returns. The only gains for Democrats have been two North Carolina seats vacated by GOP incumbents after a court-ordered remapping. Though Democrats seem likely to retain House control, the results have been disappointing for the party, which had hoped to make modest gains of perhaps 15 seats.

BALLOT MEASURES: A nationwide push to relax drug laws took a significant step forward. Voters in Arizona and New Jersey added their states to the list of places legalizing marijuana for adults. And Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Louisiana voters approved an amendment saying there is no state constitutional right to abortion, but Colorado voters defeated abortion limitations. Florida voters approved a measure to gradually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And Mississippi voters approved a new flag.

QUOTABLE: “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court ? we want all voting to stop.” ? Trump declared even though voting had ended and it’s only counting that is taking place across the nation.


High court nominee served as ‘handmaid’ in religious group
Court News | 2020/10/09 03:22
Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett served as a “handmaid,” the term then used for high-ranking female leaders in the People of Praise religious community, an old directory for the group’s members shows.

Barrett has thus far refused to discuss her membership in the Christian organization, which opposes abortion and, according to former members, holds that men are divinely ordained as the “head” of both the family and faith, while it is the duty of wives to submit to them.

Portions of two People of Praise directory pages for the South Bend, Indiana, branch were shared with The Associated Press by a former member of the community on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because this person still has family members in People of Praise. A second former member, Gene Stowe, who left the South Bend branch on good terms several years ago, confirmed the authenticity of the directory pages. He said he could not say precisely what year the directory was from, but that it had to be 2013 or earlier because one of the people listed had by then moved to another state.

All the top leaders within People of Praise are male, but in each of the group’s 22 regional branches a select group of women is entrusted with mentoring and offering spiritual guidance to other female members. Until recently, these female leaders were called “handmaids,” a reference to Jesus’ mother Mary, who according to the Bible called herself “the handmaid of the Lord.” The organization recently changed the terminology to “woman leader” because it had newly negative connotations after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” was turned into a popular television show.

The leaders run weekly men’s or women’s groups of about half a dozen people where they pray and talk together, and where the leaders offer advice and guidance. They will also organize to help others in the community, such as providing meals when someone gets sick. Under the organization’s rules, no female leader can provide pastoral supervision to a man, former members said.

The White House on Wednesday defended Barrett. “These allegations are offensive and driven by anti-religious bigotry. Judge Barrett is an independent jurist with an exceptional record,” spokesman Judd Deere said. People of Praise’s belief system is rooted in the Catholic Pentecostal movement, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit. As practiced by People of Praise, that can include praying in tongues to receive divine prophecies, heal the sick and cast out evil spirits, according to documents and former members.

Founded in 1971, the nonprofit organization has 22 branches across North America. It is not a church, but a faith community that includes people from several Christian denominations, though most of its roughly 1,800 adult members are Roman Catholic.

The existence of the directory listing Barrett’s name as a handmaid was first reported by The Washington Post late Tuesday. The AP reported last week that a 2006 issue of the group’s internal magazine, Vine & Branches, included a photograph showing that Barrett had attend a national conference reserved for top female leaders in People of Praise.


2 justices slam court’s 2015 decision in gay marriage case
Court News | 2020/10/06 10:22
The Supreme Court, already poised to take a significant turn to the right, opened its new term Monday with a jolt from two conservative justices who raised new criticism of the court’s embrace of same-sex marriage.

The justices returned from their summer break on a somber note, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, hearing arguments by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic and bracing for the possibility of post-election court challenges.

The court paused briefly to remember Ginsburg, the court’s second woman. But a statement from Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, underscored conservatives’ excitement and liberals’ fears about the direction the court could take if the Senate confirms President Donald Trump’s nominee for Ginsburg’s seat, Amy Coney Barrett.

Commenting on an appeal from a former county clerk in Kentucky who objected to issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Thomas wrote that the 5-4 majority in a 2015 case had “read a right to same-sex marriage” into the Constitution, “even though that right is found nowhere in the text.” And he said that the decision “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots.”

Thomas suggested the court needs to revisit the issue because it has “created a problem that only it can fix.” Until then, he said, the case will continue to have “ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

The court turned away the appeal of the former clerk, Kim Davis, among hundreds of rejected cases Monday. Thomas’ four-page statement prompted outrage from LGBTQ rights groups and others. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Thomas and Alito had “renewed their war on LGBTQ rights and marriage equality” as the direction of the court “hangs in the balance.”

With Ginsburg’s death and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, only three members of the majority in the gay marriage case remain: Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Reversing the court’s decision in the gay marriage case would seem a tall order, but Thomas’ statement underscored liberals’ fears that the court could roll back some of their hardest-fought gains.

The cases the justices spent about two and a half hours discussing Monday, however, were far less prominent: a water dispute between Texas and New Mexico and a case involving a provision of the Delaware constitution that keeps the number of state judges affiliated with the two major political parties fairly even. The justices seemed prepared to uphold Delaware’s political party provision, and the argument passed without any comment about the partisan fighting over the Supreme Court’s makeup.

The justices will hear a total of 10 arguments this week and next, but the term is so far short on high-profile cases. That could change quickly because of the prospect of court involvement in lawsuits related to the election. Perhaps the biggest case currently on the justices’ docket is post-Election Day arguments in the latest Republican bid to strike down the Affordable Care Act, which provides more than 20 million people with health insurance.

The justices last heard argument in their courtroom in February and skipped planned arguments in March and April before hearing cases by phone in May. On Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts began the hearing by noting what the public has only seen in pictures: that the door to the justices’ courtroom and the section of the court’s bench in front of Ginsburg’s chair have been draped with black fabric.


Trump taps ‘eminently qualified’ Barrett for Supreme Court
Court News | 2020/09/30 00:02
President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, capping a dramatic reshaping of the federal judiciary that will resonate for a generation and that he hopes will provide a needed boost to his reelection effort.

Barrett, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said she was “truly humbled” by the nomination and quickly aligned herself with Scalia’s conservative approach to the law, saying his “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”

Barrett, 48, was joined in the Rose Garden by her husband and seven children. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill the seat vacated by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

She would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican president, and the third of Trump’s first term in office.

Trump hailed Barrett as “a woman of remarkable intellect and character,” saying he had studied her record closely before making the pick.

Republican senators are lining up for a swift confirmation of Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as they aim to lock in conservative gains in the federal judiciary before a potential transition of power. Trump, meanwhile, is hoping the nomination will galvanize his supporters as he looks to fend off Democrat Joe Biden.

For Trump, whose 2016 victory hinged in large part on reluctant support from white evangelicals on the promise of filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative, the latest nomination in some ways brings his first term full circle. Even before Ginsburg’s death, Trump was running on having confirmed in excess of 200 federal judges, fulfilling a generational aim of conservative legal activists.

Trump joked that the confirmation process ahead “should be easy” and “extremely noncontroversial,” though it is likely to be anything but. No court nominee has been considered so close to a presidential election before, with early voting already underway. He encouraged legislators to take up her nomination swiftly and asked Democrats to “refrain from personal and partisan attacks.”

In 2016, Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the election-year vacancy, saying voters should have a say in the lifetime appointment. Senate Republicans say they will move ahead this time, arguing the circumstances are different now that the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote “in the weeks ahead” on Barrett’s confirmation. Barrett is expected to make her first appearance Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where she will meet with McConnell; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee; and others. Hearings are set to begin Oct. 12, and Graham said he hoped to have Barrett’s nomination out of the committee by Oct. 26.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that a vote to confirm Barrett to the high court would be a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Schumer added that the president was once again putting “Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs” even while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

Biden took that route of criticism, as well, framing Trump’s choice as another move in Republicans’ effort to scrap the 2010 health care law passed by his former boss, President Barack Obama. The court is expected to take up a case against it this fall.

The set design at the Rose Garden, with large American flags hung between the colonnades, appeared to be modeled on the way the White House was decorated when President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg in 1993.

Barrett, recognizing that flags were still lowered in recognition of Ginsburg’s death, said she would be “mindful of who came before me.” Although they have different judicial philosophies, Barrett praised Ginsburg as a trailblazer for women and for her friendship with Scalia, saying, “She has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all across the world.”

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Trump made clear he would nominate a woman for the seat. Barrett was the early favorite and the only one to meet with Trump.

Barrett has been a judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.


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