What to know: South Africa's genocide case against Israel at ICJ
Legal Business | 2024/01/15 22:16
Israel is defending itself in the United Nations’ highest court Thursday against allegations that it is committing genocide with its military campaign in Gaza.

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice to order Israel to immediately stop the war, alleging it has violated the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust.

The convention defines genocide as acts such as killings “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

South Africa’s 84-page filing says Israel’s actions “are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part” of the Palestinians in Gaza.

It asks the ICJ for a series of legally binding rulings declaring that Israel is breaching “its obligations under the Genocide Convention,” and ordering Israel to cease hostilities, offer reparations, and provide for the reconstruction of all it has destroyed in Gaza.

The filing argues that genocidal acts include killing Palestinians, causing serious mental and bodily harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions meant to “bring about their physical destruction as a group.” And it says Israeli officials have expressed genocidal intent.

During opening arguments, South African lawyers said the latest war is part of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

Many South Africans, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, compare Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with South Africa’s past apartheid regime of racial segregation. Israel rejects such allegations.

Israel, which was founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust, has denounced the genocide claim. The Foreign Ministry said South Africa’s case lacks legal foundation and constitutes a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court.


NRA chief Wayne LaPierre announces resignation ahead of trial
Legal Business | 2024/01/07 07:02
The longtime head of the National Rifle Association said Friday he is resigning, just days before the start of a civil trial over allegations he treated himself to millions of dollars in private jet flights, yacht trips, African safaris and other extravagant perks at the powerful gun rights organization’s expense.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and chief executive officer, said his departure is effective Jan. 31. The trial is scheduled to start Monday in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against him, the NRA and two others who’ve served as executives. LaPierre was in court this week for jury selection and is expected to testify at the trial. The NRA said it will continue to fight the lawsuit, which could result in a further shakeup of its leadership and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee its finances.

“With pride in all that we have accomplished, I am announcing my resignation from the NRA,” LaPierre said in a statement released by the organization, which said he was exiting for health reasons. “I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever.”

James, a Democrat, heralded LaPierre’s resignation as an “important victory in our case” and confirmed the trial will go on as scheduled. His exit “validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability,” James said in a statement.

Andrew Arulanandam, a top NRA lieutenant who has served as LaPierre’s spokesperson, will assume his roles on an interim basis, the organization said.

LaPierre, 74, has led the NRA ’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as the face and vehement voice of its gun-rights agenda and becoming one of the most influential figures in shaping U.S. gun policy. He once warned of “jack-booted government thugs” seizing guns, brought in movie star Charlton Heston to serve as the organization’s president, and condemned gun control advocates as “opportunists” who “exploit tragedy for gain.”

In one example of the NRA’s evolution under LaPierre, after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in 1998, the NRA signaled support for expanded background checks for gun purchases. But after a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, LaPierre repudiated background checks and called for armed guards in every school. He blamed video games, lawmakers and the media for the carnage, remarking: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“The post-Sandy Hook apocalyptic speech was kind of the talismanic moment when, for him and the NRA, there was no going back,” Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of several books on gun politics.

The NRA remains a strong political force, with Republican presidential hopefuls flocking to its annual convention last year. In recent years, though, the organization has been beset by financial troubles, dwindling membership, and infighting among its 76-member board along with lingering questions about LaPierre’s leadership and spending.

After reporting a $36 million deficit in 2018, fueled mostly by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had for decades been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives. In 2021, the organization filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where it was founded as a nonprofit charity in 1871 — but a judge rejected the move, saying it was a transparent attempt to duck James’ lawsuit.


Wisconsin Supreme Court orders new legislative maps in redistricting case
Legal Business | 2023/12/24 20:38
The liberal-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned Republican-drawn legislative maps on Friday and ordered that new district boundary lines be drawn as Democrats had urged in a redistricting case they hope will weaken GOP majorities.

The ruling comes less than a year before the 2024 election in a battleground state where four of the six past presidential elections have been decided by fewer than 23,000 votes, and Republicans have built large majorities in the Legislature under maps they drew over a decade ago.

The court ruled 4-3 in favor of Democrats who argued that the legislative maps are unconstitutional because districts drawn aren’t contiguous. New maps are likely to be unveiled in about two months.

“Because the current state legislative districts contain separate, detached territory and therefore violate the constitution’s contiguity requirements, we enjoin the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current legislative maps in future elections,” Justice Jill Karofksy wrote for the majority.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers hailed the ruling, saying he looked forward to submitting proposed maps for the court to review.

“And I remain as optimistic as ever that, at long last, the gerrymandered maps Wisconsinites have endured for years might soon be history,” he said.

Dan Lenz, an attorney for Law Forward, which brought the lawsuit, called the ruling “a victory for a representative democracy in the state of Wisconsin.”

“For too long, rightwing interests have rigged the rules without any consequences,” he said in a statement. “Gerrymandered maps have distorted the political landscape, stifling the voice of the voters. It challenges the very essence of fair representation and erodes confidence in our political system.”

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called it “a sad day for our state” and suggested it would be appealed, saying the U.S. Supreme Court would have the final say.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court said it will proceed with adopting remedial maps in time for the 2024 election unless the Republican-controlled Legislature can pass maps that Evers will sign. Evers vetoed the current maps.

The court appointed two consultants who already had a hand in reshaping districts in other states.




Google to pay $700 million to US states, consumers in app store settlement
Legal Business | 2023/12/19 05:32
Google has agreed to pay $700 million and make several other concessions to settle allegations that it had been stifling competition against its Android app store — the same issue that went to trial in another case that could result in even bigger changes.

Although Google struck the deal with state attorneys general in September, the settlement’s terms weren’t revealed until late Monday in documents filed in San Francisco federal court. The disclosure came a week after a federal court jury rebuked Google for deploying anticompetitive tactics in its Play Store for Android apps.

The settlement with the states includes $630 million to compensate U.S. consumers funneled into a payment processing system that state attorneys general alleged drove up the prices for digital transactions within apps downloaded from the Play Store. That store caters to the Android software that powers most of the world’s smartphones.

Like Apple does in its iPhone app store, Google collects commissions ranging from 15% to 30% on in-app purchases — fees that state attorneys general contended drove prices higher than they would have been had there been an open market for payment processing. Those commissions generated billions of dollars in profit annually for Google, according to evidence presented in the recent trial focused on its Play Store.

Eligible consumers will receive at least $2, according to the settlement, and may get additional payments based on their spending on the Play store between Aug. 16, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2023. The estimated 102 million U.S. consumers who made in-app purchases during that time frame are supposed to be automatically notified about various options for how they can receive their cut of the money.

Another $70 million of the pre-trial settlement will cover the penalties and other costs that Google is being forced to pay to the states.

Although Google is forking over a sizeable sum, it’s a fraction of the $10.5 billion in damages that the attorneys general estimated the company could be forced to pay if they had taken the case to trial instead of settling.

Google also agreed to make other changes designed to make it even easier for consumers to download and install Android apps from other outlets besides its Play Store for the next five years. It will refrain from issuing as many security warnings, or “scare screens,” when alternative choices are being used.

The makers of Android apps will also gain more flexibility to offer alternative payment choices to consumers instead of having transactions automatically processed through the Play Store and its commission system. Apps will also be able to promote lower prices available to consumers who choose an alternate to the Play Store’s payment processing.


Court affirms actor Jussie Smollett’s convictions and jail sentence
Legal Business | 2023/12/02 08:18
An appeals court upheld the disorderly conduct convictions Friday of actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself in 2019 and lying about it to Chicago police.

Smollett, who appeared in the TV show “Empire,” challenged the role of a special prosecutor, jury selection, evidence and many other aspects of the case. But all were turned aside in a 2-1 opinion from the Illinois Appellate Court.

Smollett had reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men wearing ski masks. The search for the attackers soon turned into an investigation of Smollett himself, leading to his arrest on charges he had orchestrated the whole thing.

Authorities said he paid two men whom he knew from work on “Empire,” which filmed in Chicago. Prosecutors said Smollett told the men what slurs to shout, and to yell that he was in “MAGA Country,” a reference to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign slogan.

A jury convicted Smollett in 2021 on five felony counts of disorderly conduct, a charge that can be filed in Illinois when a person lies to police.

He now will have to finish a 150-day stint in jail that was part of his sentence. Smollett spent just six days in jail while his appeal was pending.

Lawyers for Smollett, who is Black and gay, have publicly claimed that he was the target of a racist justice system and people playing politics.  “We are preparing to escalate this matter to the Supreme Court,” Smollett spokeswoman Holly Baird said, referring to Illinois’ highest court and also noting that the opinion at the appellate court wasn’t unanimous.

Appellate Justice Freddrenna Lyle would have thrown out the convictions. She said it was “fundamentally unfair” to appoint a special prosecutor and charge Smollett when he had already performed community service as part of a 2019 deal with Cook County prosecutors to close the case.


New Mexico Supreme Court upholds Democratic-drawn congressional map
Legal Business | 2023/11/28 15:51
The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld a Democratic-drawn congressional map that divvied up a conservative, oil-producing region and reshaped a swing district along the U.S. border with Mexico, in an order published Monday.

All five justices signed a shortly worded order to affirm a lower court decision that the redistricting plan enacted by Democratic state lawmakers in 2021 succeeded in substantially diluting votes of their political opponents — but that the changes fell short of “egregious” gerrymandering.

The Republican Party argued unsuccessfully that the new district boundaries would entrench Democratic officials in power, highlighting the 2022 defeat of incumbent GOP Congresswoman Yvette Herrell by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez.

Democratic state lawmakers argued that the 2nd District in southern New Mexico remains competitive, with just a 0.7% margin of victory in the 2022 election.

The district is one of about a dozen in the national spotlight as Republicans campaign to keep their slim U.S. House majority in 2024. Courts ruled recently in Alabama, Louisiana and Florida that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents. Legal challenges to congressional districts are also ongoing in Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the legal outcome in New Mexico “leaned heavily on the closeness of the previous election” in which a “popular Republican incumbent” was defeated by a lesser-known rival.


Trump celebrates win in Colorado election case during return visit to Iowa
Legal Business | 2023/11/20 15:39
Former President Donald Trump celebrated a win in a closely watched election case during a return visit to Iowa Saturday, where he blasted his political foes and encouraged his supporters to not move past their grievances with President Joe Biden.

A Colorado judge Friday rejected an effort to keep the GOP front-runner off the state’s primary ballot, concluding that Trump had engaged in insurrection during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol but that it was unclear whether a Civil War-era constitutional amendment barring insurrectionists from public office applied to the presidency. It was Trump’s latest win following rulings in similar cases in Minnesota and Michigan.

Trump, campaigning in west-central Iowa, called the decision “a gigantic court victory” as he panned what he called “an outrageous attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters by getting us thrown off the ballot.”

“Our opponents are showing every day that they hate democracy,” he charged before a crowd of about 2,000 people at a commit-to-caucus event at a high school in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where supporters decked out in Trump gear had lined up for hours to get a seat in the gymnasium.

Trump’s visit was part of his fall push to sign up supporters and volunteers before the state’s fast-approaching caucuses that will kick off the race for the Republican presidential nomination. It was the latest in a series of targeted regional stops aimed at seizing on the large crowds the former president draws to press attendees to commit to vote for him and serve as precinct leaders on Jan. 15.

While Trump boasted that polls show him far ahead of other contenders, he urged those in attendance Saturday to turn out on caucus day to “make sure we have a big victory” that would signal to other candidates that they should drop out.


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