Convention silence from Democrats with high court at stake
Court News | 2020/08/20 07:54
The future of the Supreme Court is on the line, though it would be hard to tell from the Democratic National Convention that just concluded.

There was a fleeting glimpse of a younger Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a brief reference to the court by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and a mention of it by Ayesha Curry, in a segment with NBA star Stephen Curry and their two daughters.

Neither Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden nor vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris said a word about the high court in their acceptance speeches.

By contrast, President Donald Trump and other Republican candidates rarely miss a chance to talk up Trump's more than 200 federal court appointments, including Supreme Court justices  Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, with the prospect of more seats to fill in a second term.

“The most important thing a president can do is the appointment of federal judges and Supreme Court justices," Trump said at a recent campaign stop in Yuma, Arizona.

That's a refrain likely to be repeated at the Republican National Convention that begins on Monday and when Trump gives his acceptance speech later in the week.

The Democratic silence is all the more surprising because liberal groups are trying to motivate progressive voters by highlighting the GOP's success in restocking the federal bench with younger judges who might serve for decades.


Court upholds health order fines for New Mexico businesses
Court News | 2020/08/05 19:57
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously upheld the governor’s authority to fine businesses up to $5,000 a day for violating state emergency health orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The court heard arguments from a group of business owners who claimed the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overstepped its authority in imposing fines higher than $100 citations.

The five-member court ruled without dissent against the business owners who sued. Chief Justice Michael Vigil said the “Legislature has clearly given the governor that authority.”

The court did not make a decision on another claim that the restrictions in response to the pandemic may require government compensation for businesses.

Carter Harrison, an attorney for several business owners, contended that the health order violations could be sanctioned with fines of up to $100 and up to six months in jail.

But Matthew Garcia, a lawyer for the administration, said Lujan Grisham has the authority to impose steep fines.

“What we’re trying to get here is immediate compliance because the only tool we currently have to stem the transmission of COVID-19 is social distancing,” Garcia told the justices.


Judges chosen to help Mississippi courts with backlog
Court News | 2020/07/31 00:43
Several judges are being appointed to help Mississippi courts with backlogs of cases that have developed during the coronavirus pandemic.

As many as 30,000 court cases might have been affected by temporary shutdowns and other limits imposed on the state’s courts to try to limit the spread of the virus, the state Supreme Court said in a news release.

The high court announced some appointments of special judges Friday. They are for Hinds County Court; Warren County Court; the 21st Circuit Court District in Holmes, Humphreys and Yazoo counties; and the 16th Chancery Court District in Jackson, George and Greene counties.  Other judges have also requested help.

The Mississippi Legislature budgeted $2.5 million of federal coronavirus relief money to assist the state courts. Special judges will be paid with the federal money, which is available until December.


Justice Ginsburg says cancer has returned, but won’t retire
Court News | 2020/07/18 23:23
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Friday she is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer, but has no plans to retire from the Supreme Court.

The 87-year-old Ginsburg, who has had four earlier bouts with cancer including pancreatic cancer last year, said her treatment so far has succeeded in reducing lesions on her liver and she will continue chemotherapy sessions every two weeks “to keep my cancer at bay.”

“I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that,” Ginsburg said in a statement issued by the court.

Ginsburg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, is the senior liberal justice on a court that leans conservative by a 5-4 margin. Her departure before the election could give President Donald Trump the chance to shift the court further to the right.

Ginsburg’s history with cancer goes back more than 20 years. In addition to being treated without surgery for a tumor on her pancreas last year, she also underwent surgery for colorectal cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009 and lung cancer in December 2018.

Dr. Alan Venook, a pancreatic cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who is not involved in Ginsburg’s care, said that “clearly, she’s got incurable disease now” because of the spread to her liver.

On average, patients with advanced pancreatic cancer live about a year, but the fact that her disease took so long to recur from her initial pancreatic cancer surgery in 2009 and previous treatments “suggests that it’s not been growing rapidly,” he said.

“She’s above average in many ways.” and has done remarkably well with all her treatments so far, Venook said. “There’s no reason to think she would die imminently.”

Asked earlier this week about a possible opening on the court before the election, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said the president would act quickly if any opening were to arise. Meadows commented after news that Ginsburg had  left the hospital after receiving treatment for an infection, which she said Friday was unrelated to the cancer.

“I can’t imagine if he had a vacancy on the Supreme Court that he would not very quickly make the appointment and look for the Senate to take quick action,” Meadows said, adding that he didn’t want any comment to be seen as wishing Ginsburg “anything but the very best.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that if there were to be a vacancy on the court during this year’s election cycle, the Republican-controlled Senate would likely confirm a nominee selected by Trump.

Ginsburg said she was disclosing her cancer treatment now because she is satisfied “that my treatment course is now clear.”

Venook said the chemotherapy drug Ginsburg said she is getting, gemcitabine, is one that’s often used. Immunotherapy, which Ginsburg’s statement said she tried unsuccessfully, has not worked well for pancreatic cancer, Venook said.

Ginsburg said a medical scan in February revealed growths on her liver and she began chemotherapy in May.

“My most recent scan on July 7 indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease,” she said. “I am tolerating chemotherapy well and am encouraged by the success of my current treatment.”



Given a chance, Trump would push court pick before election
Court News | 2020/07/17 23:23
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to make it clear: Given the chance, they would push through a Supreme Court nominee should a vacancy occur before Election Day.

The issue has taken on new immediacy with the disclosure Friday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer after four earlier bouts with the disease. The 87-year-old liberal, who apologized in 2016 for her pointed public criticism of Trump during his first campaign, says she has no plans to retire.

The development has focused even more on what's at stake this election, with the winner in position to help shape the trajectory of the court for years to come.

Trump administration officials have underscored that Trump would not hesitate to fill an opening before voters have their say Nov. 3, less than four months away, on whether to give him a second term.

Four years ago, also in a presidential election year, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to vote when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Merrick Garland, a federal judge, to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in February. Nine months before that year's election, McConnell said voters should determine who would nominate the person to fill that seat.


Wisconsin Supreme Court OKs GOP-authored lame-duck laws
Court News | 2020/07/11 15:52
The conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Republican-authored lame-duck laws that stripped power from the incoming Democratic attorney general just before he took office in 2019.

The justices rejected arguments  that the laws were unconstitutional, handing another win to Republicans who have scored multiple high-profile victories before the court in recent years.

The 5-2 ruling marks the second time that the court has upheld the lame-duck laws passed in December 2018, just weeks before Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, took office. The actions in Wisconsin mirrored Republican moves after losing control of the governors’ offices in Michigan in November 2018 and in North Carolina in 2016. Democrats decried the tactics as brazen attempts to hold onto power after losing elections.

The Wisconsin laws curtailed the powers of both the governor and attorney general, but the case decided Thursday dealt primarily with powers taken from Kaul.

The attorney general said in a statement that Republican legislators have demonstrated open hostility to him and Evers and made it harder for state government to function. Evers echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own, saying Republicans have been working against him “every chance they get, regardless of the consequences.”

Thursday’s ruling involved a case filed by a coalition of labor unions led by the State Employees International Union. The coalition argued that the laws give the Legislature power over the attorney general’s office and that this violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

The laws prohibit Evers from ordering Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits, let legislators intervene in lawsuits using their own attorneys rather than Kaul’s state Department of Justice lawyers, and force Kaul to get permission from the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee before settling lawsuits.

Republicans designed the laws to prohibit Evers from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to ensure that they have a say in court if Kaul chooses not to defend GOP-authored laws.



Supreme Court doesn’t wade into Texas mail-in voting battle
Court News | 2020/06/27 16:51
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by Texas Democrats to allow all of the state’s 16 million registered voters to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

The denial is not the end of the ongoing battle over mail-in voting in Texas, but it remains a loss for Democrats who made the emergency ruling request while the original case is tied up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged the lower court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election.” Voting by mail in Texas is generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

For months, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has fought expanding mail-in balloting during the pandemic, saying fear of contracting the virus is an insufficient reason. A federal judge in Texas sided with Democrats in May, but that decision is on hold pending appeal.

Early voting in Texas begins Monday for primary runoff elections that had been postponed to July over coronavirus fears, but Texas is now one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots as confirmed cases reach record levels and Gov. Greg Abbott reimposes restrictions.


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