Records detail frenetic effort to bury stories about Trump
Court News | 2019/07/18 18:06
Court records released Thursday show that President Donald Trump took part in a flurry of phone calls in the weeks before the 2016 election as his close aides and allies scrambled to pay porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair.
   
The investigation involved payments Michael Cohen helped orchestrate to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal after they claimed they had affairs with Trump. (Source: MSNBC / YouTube via MGN)

The documents detailing calls and text messages were made public as federal prosecutors closed their investigation into the payoff ? and a similar payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal ? with no plans to charge anyone in the scandal beyond Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen.

Federal prosecutors in New York said in a court filing that they investigated whether other people gave false statements or otherwise obstructed justice. In the end, the decision was made not to bring additional charges, according to two people briefed on the matter.


Dutch Supreme Court upholds Srebrenica deaths liability
Court News | 2019/07/18 02:07
The Dutch Supreme Court upheld Friday a lower court’s ruling that the Netherlands is partially liable in the deaths of some 350 Muslim men who were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The Netherlands’ highest court ruled that Dutch United Nations peacekeepers evacuated the men from their military base near Srebrenica on July 13, 1995, despite knowing that they “were in serious jeopardy of being abused and murdered” by Bosnian Serb forces.

Presiding Judge Kees Streefkerk said “the state did act wrongfully” and told relatives of the dead they can now claim compensation from the Dutch government.

“They are responsible and they will always have a stain,” Munira Subasic, one of the relatives who brought the case, said angrily of the Dutch. “We know what happened; we don’t need this court to tell us.”

The ruling upholding a 2017 appeals court judgment was the latest in a long-running legal battle by a group of relatives known as The Mothers of Srebrenica to hold the Dutch government accountable for the deaths of their family members in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten said the government accepted the ruling.

“We want to express again our sympathy to the relatives of the victims,” she said in a statement. “The Srebrenica genocide must never be forgotten.”

The 350 men were among 5,000 terrified Muslim residents of the Srebrenica area who took shelter in the Dutch peacekeepers’ base when the region was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of genocide by a U.N. war crimes tribunal in 2017 for masterminding the massacre that left some 8,000 Muslim men and boys dead. Mladic has appealed.


Women urge jail until trial for Epstein as judge weighs bail
Court News | 2019/07/16 02:07
Two Jeffrey Epstein accusers urged a judge Monday to keep the wealthy financier behind bars until he goes on trial on federal charges that he sexually abused underage girls.

The women stood just feet from where Epstein was seated in his blue jail outfit as they asked a federal judge to reject a request by Epstein’s lawyers that he remain under house arrest in his $77 million Manhattan mansion until trial on conspiracy and sex trafficking charges.

Courtney Wild, an unnamed victim in the 2008 lawsuit against the Department of Justice for the secret plea deal that allowed Epstein to avoid similar charges, spoke for the first time in court with a fellow accuser.

Annie Farmer said she was 16 when she met Epstein in New York. She said he later flew her to New Mexico to spend time with him there.



High court keeps citizenship question off census for now
Court News | 2019/07/04 05:43
In a surprising move, the Supreme Court on Thursday kept the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for now, and the question’s opponents say there’s no time to revisit the issue before next week’s scheduled start to the printing of census forms.

But President Donald Trump said on Twitter after the decision that he’s asked lawyers if they can “delay the Census, no matter how long” until the “United States Supreme Court is given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision” on the issue. Under federal law the census must begin on April 1, 2020. A former director of the Census Bureau said he believed Congress would have to change the law for the count to be delayed.

The issue of whether to add the citizenship question to the census is a politically charged one. Democratic cities and states who oppose adding it argue that they’d get less federal money and fewer representatives in Congress if the question is asked because it would discourage the participation of minorities, primarily Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats.

During arguments in the case at the Supreme Court in April it seemed as though the Trump administration would win because Chief Justice John Roberts and other conservatives appointed by Republican presidents did not appear to see anything wrong with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add the question. Ultimately, however, Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

The Trump administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But the Justice Department had never previously sought a citizenship question in the 54-year history of the landmark voting rights law.



Appeals court puts Trump abortion restrictions on hold again
Court News | 2019/07/03 05:43
Trump administration rules that impose additional hurdles for low-income women seeking abortions are on hold once again.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Wednesday vacated a unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel and said a slate of 11 judges will reconsider lawsuits brought by more than 20 states and several civil rights and health organizations challenging the rules.

The rules ban taxpayer-funded clinics from making abortion referrals and prohibit clinics that receive federal money from sharing office space with abortion providers.

Critics say the rules would force many clinics to find new locations, undergo expensive remodels or shut down.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The agency previously said its position “is supported by long-standing Supreme Court precedent, and we are confident we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”

Federal judges in Washington, Oregon and California blocked the rules from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Michael McShane in Oregon called the new policy “madness” and said it was motivated by “an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women’s health care than their providers.”


Supreme Court sends Florida cross case back to lower court
Court News | 2019/06/28 18:32
Court decisions directing the removal of a cross from a public park in Florida should get another look, after a Supreme Court ruling that upheld a different cross in Maryland, the high court said Friday.

The justices sent the Florida case back to a lower court to decide whether previous decisions that the cross should be removed were correct or if the cross should stay given the Supreme Court’s latest opinion.

In the Maryland case decided last week, the justices let stand a war memorial in the shape of a cross that is located on a public highway median and maintained by public officials. The approximately 40-foot-tall cross was completed in 1925 and honors soldiers who died in World War I. Seven of the court’s nine justices sided with supporters of the cross in ruling it should stand.

A majority of justices signed on to an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that said “when time’s passage imbues a religiously expressive monument, symbol or practice with this kind of familiarly and historical significance, removing it may no longer appear neutral.” Alito also wrote that the Maryland cross’ connection to World War I was important in upholding it because crosses, which marked the graves of American soldiers, became a symbol closely linked to the war.

The Florida case involves a cross that was first put up in Pensacola’s Bayview Park in 1941 for a community Easter service. It has been the site of annual Easter services since. The cross was at first made of wood but was replaced in 1969 by a 34-foot-tall concrete cross.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Washington-based American Humanist Association sued over the cross on behalf of four current or former residents, arguing that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. A trial court and appeals court agreed.

Luke Goodrich, an attorney at the Washington-based Becket Fund For Religious Liberty, which is representing the city of Pensacola and defending the cross, said he believes the Supreme Court’s recent Maryland case is “very helpful” to their case. He pointed to a line in Alito’s opinion that suggests a “presumption of constitutionality for longstanding monuments, symbols and practices.” And he said the cross is “part of the history and culture of the city of Pensacola.” While the Pensacola cross was not, like the Maryland cross, put up to memorialize World War I veterans, it was put up on the eve of World War II and has become a gathering place, Goodrich said.


High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Court News | 2019/06/25 17:30
The Supreme Court struck down a section of federal law Monday that prevented businesses from registering trademarks seen as scandalous or immoral, handing a victory to California fashion brand FUCT.

The high court ruled that the century-old provision is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. Between 2005 and 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ultimately refused about 150 trademark applications a year as a result of the provision. Those who were turned away could still use the words they were seeking to register, but they didn’t get the benefits that come with trademark registration. Going after counterfeiters was also difficult as a result.

The Trump administration had defended the provision, arguing that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.

The high court’s ruling means that the people and companies behind applications that previously failed as a result of the scandalous or immoral provision can re-submit them for approval. And new trademark applications cannot be refused on the grounds they are scandalous or immoral.

Justice Elena Kagan said in reading her majority opinion that the most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints they convey. She said Lanham Act’s ban on “immoral or scandalous” trademarks does just that.

In an opinion for herself and five colleagues, both conservatives and liberals, Kagan called the law’s immoral or scandalous provision “substantially overbroad.”

“There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment,” she wrote.

Kagan’s opinion suggested that a narrower law covering just lewd, sexually explicit or profane trademarks might be acceptable.

The justices’ ruling was in some ways expected because of one the court made two years ago . In 2017, the justices unanimously invalidated a related provision of federal law that told officials not to register disparaging trademarks, finding that restriction violated the First Amendment. In that case, an Asian-American rock band sued after the government refused to register its band name, “The Slants,” because it was seen as offensive to Asians.


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