WVa AG's help sought in Supreme Court impeachment appeal
Court Watch | 2019/01/05 07:21
Three months after a ruling halted the impeachment process involving most of West Virginia's Supreme Court justices, the state Senate president is seeking a second opinion.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Friday at the annual Legislative Lookahead forum he's asked state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to look into handling a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Carmichael, a Republican, is still steamed at a panel of state Supreme Court stand-ins that ruled impeachment efforts of the justices were a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The process was officially derailed when the presiding judge didn't show up to Justice Margaret Workman's trial in the state Senate in light of the court's ruling blocking it.

"We believe it is totally, completely wrong," Carmichael said. The acting justices ruled the Senate lacked jurisdiction to pursue Workman's trial and later applied the decision to trials involving justices Robin Davis and Allen Loughry, who had petitioned the court to intervene.

Davis retired after the House approved impeachment charges against her. Loughry resigned after being convicted of felony fraud charges in federal court.



High court to take new look at partisan electoral districts
Court Watch | 2019/01/04 21:21
The Supreme Court is plunging back into the issue of whether electoral districts can be too partisan.

Disputes have arisen in cases involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional map and a Democratic congressional district in Maryland, and the justices said Friday they will hear arguments in March.

The high court could come out with the first limits on partisan politics in the drawing of electoral districts, but also could ultimately decide that federal judges have no role in trying to police political mapmaking.

The court took up the issue of partisan gerrymandering last term in cases from Wisconsin and the same Maryland district, but the justices failed to reach a decision on limiting political line-drawing for political gain.

Justice Anthony Kennedy had said he was open to limits. He has since retired, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh has taken Kennedy's seat. He has no judicial record on the issue.

The court again has taken one case in which Democrats are accused of unfairly limiting Republicans' political power and one in which Republicans are the alleged culprits. The court also has the entire North Carolina congressional map before it, but only the one Maryland district.

In both cases, however, lower courts have found that the party in charge of redistricting — Republicans in North Carolina, Democrats in Maryland — egregiously violated the rights of voters in the other party.


Missouri death row inmate asks US Supreme Court to intervene
Court Watch | 2018/12/27 21:56
A Missouri death row inmate who lost substantial brain tissue during a surgery plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, saying his planned execution by lethal injection could subject him to severe pain.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported Thursday that Ernest Lee Johnson plans to argue that the loss of brain tissue could mean he has seizures and severe pain in reaction to Missouri’s execution drug.

Johnson was sentenced to death for killing three convenience store workers during a Columbia robbery in 1994.

Johnson’s appeal is moving through lower courts. But Johnson’s attorneys plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene because the high court is currently considering a similar case of another Missouri death row inmate with a rare medical condition that causes blood-filled tumors.

Both argue complications with their conditions and the execution drug could lead to cruel and unusual punishment.


California court blocks pardon of man who killed at age 14
Court Watch | 2018/12/16 02:34
In a rare step, the California Supreme Court has blocked Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to issue a pardon to a 37-year-old Cambodian refugee who killed a woman when he was 14 years old.

The court gave no reason for the rejection, but earlier noted it only had the authority to do so in the case of an “abuse of power.” Brown’s pardon would have effectively stopped Borey Ai’s deportation to Cambodia, a nation where his mother was born but he has never seen.

The governor in the last 10 months has pardoned seven ex-convicts who otherwise faced the threat of deportation to Cambodia, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, whose administration has stepped up efforts to deport immigrants with criminal convictions.

It takes at least four votes of the seven justices to block pardons. The unsigned ruling Wednesday didn’t say how many justices voted to block the pardon. The governor is required to obtain the court’s approval for pardons and sentence commutations for twice-convicted felons.

Appellate lawyer David Ettinger said it appears the last time the court rejected a governor’s pardon occurred in 1930.

A spokesman for the governor, Brian Ferguson, declined comment.

Ai was charged as an adult and convicted in Santa Clara County 1997 of second-degree murder and also of a separate robbery. He was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison.


Man accused of killing tourist appears in New Zealand court
Court Watch | 2018/12/11 02:48
A man accused of killing 22-year-old British tourist Grace Millane made his first appearance in a New Zealand court Monday.

The 26-year-old man stared at the ground while a judge addressed him during the brief appearance at the Auckland District Court. The man has not yet entered a plea on murder charges and the court has temporarily blocked his name from being published.

Millane's father, David Millane, traveled to New Zealand last week after his daughter vanished, and Judge Evangelos Thomas addressed him and other family members.

"I don't know what to say to you at this time, but your grief must be desperate," he said, according to television station Three. "We all hope justice will be fair and swift and ultimately bring you some peace."

The case has riveted people both in Britain and New Zealand.

Described by her father as fun-loving and family-oriented, Millane had been traveling in New Zealand as part of a planned yearlong trip abroad that began in Peru. She went missing Dec. 1 and failed to get in touch with her family on her birthday the next day, or on the days that followed, which alarmed them.

Before she vanished, Millane had been staying at a backpacker hostel in Auckland and left some of her belongings there. Detective Inspector Scott Beard said she met a man for a couple of hours in the evening before surveillance cameras showed them entering the CityLife hotel at about 9:40 p.m.

A week after Millane disappeared, police detained a man for questioning and later charged him with murder.


Supreme Court won't hear Planned Parenthood case
Court Watch | 2018/12/10 18:47
The Supreme Court is avoiding a high-profile case by rejecting appeals from Kansas and Louisiana in their effort to strip Medicaid money from Planned Parenthood over the dissenting votes of three justices.

Lower courts in both states had blocked the states from withholding money that is used for health services for low-income women. The money is not used for abortions. Abortion opponents have said Planned Parenthood should not receive any government money because of heavily edited videos that claimed to show the nation's largest abortion provider profiting from sales of fetal tissue for medical research.

Investigations sparked by the videos in several states didn't result in criminal charges.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the case.

It takes four votes on the nine-justice court to grant review, so neither Chief Justice John Roberts nor new Justice Brett Kavanaugh was willing to join their conservative colleagues to hear the Medicaid funding challenge.

Thomas wrote for the three dissenters that the court seems to be ducking a case it should decide because it involves Planned Parenthood. "But these cases are not about abortion rights," Thomas wrote.

The issue is who has the right to challenge a state's Medicaid funding decisions, private individuals or only the federal government. The states say that the Medicaid program, a joint venture of federal and state governments to provide health care to poorer Americans, makes clear that only the Secretary of Health and Human Services can intervene, by withholding money from a state.


Mexico president blasts 'stratospheric' supreme court wages
Court Watch | 2018/12/09 02:48
The Mexican president is butting heads with the Supreme Court just one week into office after judges suspended a law that would cap public sector salaries, one of his key campaign promises.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador accused the judges of looking after their own pocketbooks and of failing to grasp the "new reality" that his administration represents. The salary cuts are part of a rebalance in government that aims to raise wages for lower income workers while chopping those of top officials.

"They themselves decide that they are going to keep receiving exaggerated, stratospheric salaries - salaries of up to 600,000 pesos ($29,000) a month - those who impart justice," Lopez Obrador complained to reporters Saturday, before repeating one of his favorite mantras: "There can't be a rich government with a poor people."

The freeze throws into question the government's 2019 budget plans, which are due on Dec. 15. The suspension is pending a definitive ruling by the court.

The Mexican Congress decreed in November that, with few exceptions, no public employee should earn more than the president. Lopez Obrador's Morena party has a majority in both houses of Congress. The National Human Rights Commission then asked the court to review the law, saying it appeared to violate the constitution.


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