High court deciding fate of cross-shaped Maryland memorial
Court Watch | 2019/02/25 15:31
The Supreme Court this week is hearing a case challenging the location of a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped Maryland war memorial.

Three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association argue the cross' location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause. The clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They argue the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk.

The cross' supporters say it doesn't violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning: commemorating World War I veterans. The cross' base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in the war.

The American Legion and Maryland officials are defending the cross. They have the support of the Trump administration and 30 states.



Hearing set on end to decades-old Everglades court oversight
Court Watch | 2019/02/10 01:41
A decades-old court order that oversees water quality in the Florida Everglades would end if water managers get their way.

A hearing is set Monday before Miami U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno on a motion by the South Florida Water Management District to end a decree signed in 1992. Among other things, the order sets thresholds for the amount of phosphorous in the Everglades, an ingredient in fertilizer from the vast sugar-growing regions to the north.

The water district and sugar growers say the decree is no longer needed and thwarts projects that would benefit the Everglades. The U.S. government, environmental groups and an Indian tribe disagree, saying the decree is key to pursuing potential violations. State officials seek a 120-day delay in any decision.


Liberals eye 2020 takeover of Wisconsin Supreme Court
Court Watch | 2019/02/08 01:41
Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state's Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.

If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020 — during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.

The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker's law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.

"It is absolutely critical we win this race," liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. "It does set us up for next year to get a court that's likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters' rights and gerrymandering."

The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.


Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate defends blog posts
Court Watch | 2019/02/02 02:39
Conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn is defending blog posts he wrote more than a decade ago where he said a landmark gay rights court ruling could lead to legalized bestiality and labeled Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization.”

Hagedorn spoke Monday about the blogs to conservative talk radio host John Muir on WTAQ-AM. He wrote the blogs while in law school in 2005 and 2006.

He is an evangelical Christian and says he can separate his personal opinion from the law. Hagedorn faces liberal-backed Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer in the April 2 election.

Neubauer is chief judge on the state appeals court where Hagedorn is also a judge.

Neubauer campaign manager Tyler Hendricks says Hagedorn would bring a “personal, extreme and radical agenda to the Supreme Court.”



Out-of-state money boosts Collins after Supreme Court vote
Court Watch | 2019/01/29 02:39
Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins had the best fundraising quarter of her career after she delivered a pivotal vote that helped seat Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The Bangor Daily News reports that after announcing her decision to vote in favor of Kavanaugh's nomination during a speech on the Senate floor in early October, Collins raised $1.8 million in the final quarter of 2018.

The records show that of the nearly $900,000 Collins received from individual donors who contributed more than $200 to her campaign, just $19,000 came from individuals with Maine addresses.

"We made an effort to have a strong quarter because we wanted to send the message that Senator Collins will be prepared to run a vigorous campaign in 2020," said Amy Abbott, the deputy treasurer of Collins' campaign committee. "We focused our fundraising efforts nationally, which we typically do until the election year, which is why there were relatively fewer donations from Maine."

She said the campaign received "many contributions" from Maine that were under the $200 reporting threshold.

In the quarter before her Kavanaugh vote, Collins raised $140,000.

Collins' decision to support Kavanaugh's nomination led to a burst of donations for a potential 2020 challenger. So far no Democrats have emerged to challenge Collins next year.



Lawyer: Incapacitated woman who gave birth not in coma
Court Watch | 2019/01/20 11:22
A lawyer for the family of an incapacitated Arizona woman who gave birth in a long-term care facility said she is not in a coma as previously reported.

The Arizona Republic reported Friday that attorney John Micheaels said the 29-year-old woman has “significant intellectual disabilities” and does not speak but has some ability to move, responds to sounds and is able to make facial gestures.

Phoenix police have said the woman was the victim of a sexual assault and have disclosed little other information.

A Jan. 8 statement by San Carlos Apache Tribe officials said the woman, a tribal member, gave birth while in a coma.

News media outlets have reported that the woman, who has not been publicly identified, was in a vegetative state at the facility where she spent many years.

“The important thing here is that contrary to what’s been reported, she is a person, albeit with significant intellectual disabilities. She has feelings and is capable of responding to people she is familiar with, especially family,” Micheaels told the newspaper.

He responded to a request Saturday by The Associated Press for comment by saying in an email that the information reported in the Republic is correct. He did not comment further.


Guatemala court blocks president's expulsion of UN team
Court Watch | 2019/01/09 01:22
Guatemala's highest court issued a ruling Wednesday blocking President Jimmy Morales' decision to unilaterally end a U.N. anti-corruption commission.

The commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, has angered Morales by investigating him, his sons and his brother on accusations of corruption, which they deny.

Guatemala's Constitutional Court overruled Morales' decision after all-night deliberations on five appeals against the president's cancellation of the agreement with the United Nations.

Morales has argued the commission had violated Guatemala's sovereignty and violated the rights of suspects.

Given the government's refusal to guarantee the commission's security, the U.N. has withdrawn the comission's members

The court has tussled with Morales before over the commission, though he has sometimes tried to ignore its rulings. The court has said the commission's mandate is valid through 2019.

Guatemala's human rights prosecutor, Jordan Rodas, said Morales' administration has to obey the new ruling.

"The government is under obligation to comply," said Rodas, who presented one of the appeals to the court. "If it doesn't obey, that is a whole other matter, and would constitute a coup, because the cornerstone of the rule of law is respect for the judicial branch."


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