Commissioner sought to oversee 3 Ohio redistricting suits
Legal Topics | 2021/10/04 19:16
Attorneys in one of three lawsuits brought against Ohio’s newly drawn maps of legislative districts asked the state’s high court Monday to appoint a master commissioner to oversee the disputes.

Lawyers for voters represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee told the Ohio Supreme Court the special oversight is needed to resolve discovery disputes among three separate legal teams that have sued the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The suits allege some overlapping and some separate violations of the Ohio Constitution by the panel, which was forced to pass four-year maps along party lines because majority Republicans failed to reach agreement with the panel’s two Democrats. The panel’s GOP members defend the maps of Ohio House and Ohio Senate as fair and constitutional.

They are predicted to continue to deliver supermajorities to Republicans in both chambers, though the state’s partisan breakdown is roughly 54% Republicans, 46% Democrats.

In their Monday filing, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s attorneys said that they have made good-faith efforts to work out disputes with fellow lawyers but that “it is already clear that some disputes are fundamental and will be irresolvable.”

Disagreements became apparent after a meeting on Friday, they said. Among areas where lawyers are at odds are whether members of the redistricting panel can be deposed, whether they must answer written questions and whether third parties can be questioned or asked to produce evidence.

The suits are the first to be brought under amendments to the Ohio Constitution that were approved overwhelmingly by the state’s voters in 2015.

The seven-member high court, made up of four Republicans and three Democrats, has exclusive jurisdiction in resolving redistricting disputes. It has set an expedited schedule for hearing the three cases, culminating in oral arguments Dec. 8.

The other two suits were brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and individual voters; and by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Ohio, Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Ohio Environmental Council and individual voters.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine has said he will not recuse himself, despite his father, Gov. Mike DeWine, is a member of the redistricting panel being sued. Both DeWines are Republicans.


Arkansas court: State can’t enforce ban on mask mandates
Legal Topics | 2021/10/01 19:59
Arkansas court: State can’t enforce ban on mask mandates
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said it wouldn’t allow the state to enforce its ban on mask mandates by schools and other government bodies, while lawmakers clashed over efforts to prohibit businesses from requiring employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a one-page order, justices denied the request by the state to stay the August decision blocking enforcement of Arkansas’ mandate ban.

More than 100 school districts and charter schools have approved mask requirements since the ruling against the law. The requirements cover more than half the state’s public school students.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the law but later said he regretted that decision, had separately asked the court to deny the request to stay the ruling.

“I am gratified with the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling allowing the decision of Judge Fox to stand,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Judge Fox determined the law was unconstitutional and allowed local school districts to make their own decisions on masks.”

Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed with the ruling.

“I will wholeheartedly defend Arkansas law as this appeal progresses,” she said in a statement.

The ruling came the same day the majority-Republican Senate voted to send eight bills limiting or prohibiting employer vaccine mandates back to a committee following complaints that they were rushed through a day earlier without public comment.


Federal judge delays vaccine mandate for NYC teachers
Legal Topics | 2021/09/27 17:35
New York City schools have been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for its teachers and other workers by a federal appeals judge just days before it was to take effect.

Workers in the nation’s largest school system were to be required to show vaccination proof starting Monday. But late Friday, a judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction sought by a group of teachers pending review by a three-judge panel, which will take up the motion Wednesday.

Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson said officials were seeking a speedy resolution in court.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Filson said in an email.

The New York Post reported that the department sent an email to principals Saturday morning saying they “should continue to prepare for the possibility that the vaccine mandate will go into effect later in the week.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in August that about 148,000 school employees would have to get at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 27. The policy covers teachers, along with other staffers, such as custodians and cafeteria workers.

It’s the first no-test-option vaccination mandate for a broad group of city workers in the nation’s most populous city. And it mirrors a similar statewide mandate for hospital and nursing home workers set to go into effect Monday.

As of Friday, 82% of department employees have been vaccinated, including 88% of teachers.

Even though most school workers have been vaccinated, unions representing New York City principals and teachers warned that could still leave the 1 million-student school system short of as many as 10,000 teachers, along with other staffers.

De Blasio has resisted calls to delay the mandate, insisting the city was ready.

“We’ve been planning all along. We have a lot of substitutes ready,” the Democrat said in a radio interview on Friday. “A lot is going to happen between now and Monday but beyond that, we are ready, even to the tune of, if we need thousands, we have thousands.”


Spain: Venezuelan spymaster loses court extradition dispute
Legal Topics | 2021/09/20 18:17
Spain’s Supreme Court refused Monday to suspend a government decision allowing a former Venezuelan spymaster to be extradited to the United States.

Lawyers for Gen. Hugo Carvajal, who for over a decade was late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’s eyes and ears in the Venezuelan military, asked the court to put the Spanish government decision — taken 18 months ago — on hold.

But the Supreme Court said in its written decision that Carvajal had presented no new arguments against the government decision, which he had already opposed at the court in May last year.

Carvajal’s extradition procedure is currently on hold at the National Court, after he filed a request for asylum in Spain.

Nicknamed “El Pollo,′ or “The Chicken”, Carvajal was arrested Sept. 9 in a small apartment in Madrid, where he had been holed up for months. His arrest came nearly two years after Carvajal defied a Spanish extradition order and disappeared.

In the United States, he faces federal charges for allegedly working with guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to “flood” the U.S. with cocaine.


Minnesota Supreme Court defers ruling on Minneapolis police
Legal Topics | 2021/09/16 17:13
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling Thursday in the fight over a ballot question about the future of policing in Minneapolis, but it didn’t settle the bigger question of whether the public will get to vote on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s ruling lifted a small part of a lower court’s order that rejected the ballot language approved by the City Council, saying that elections officials don’t have to include notes with ballots instructing people not to vote on the question and that any votes won’t be counted.

The order didn’t address the main issue in dispute — whether voters will get to decide on a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary.”

The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer, but it leaves critical details about the new agency to be determined later.

The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and absentee voting opens Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections, and ballots have already been printed.

Terrance Moore, an attorney for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the proposal, said he expects a ruling on the bigger question to come at some point later. The city attorney’s office agreed that the high court has yet to rule on the main issues.

Joe Anthony, an attorney for former City Council member Don Samuels and two other people who challenged the ballot language as misleading, called the order “a little mysterious.” He noted the lower court injunction barring counting and reporting votes was left in place, at least for the moment. There are a few possibilities for what could happen next, he said, including the Supreme Court taking time for fuller arguments, then deciding by Nov. 2 whether the votes cast would count.


Australia’s High Court intervenes in police shooting trial
Legal Topics | 2021/09/13 12:38
Australia’s highest court on Friday agreed to hear a challenge to a police officer using his law enforcement job as a defense against a charge of murdering an Indigenous man.

Constable Zachary Rolfe could become the first police officer to be convicted in Australia of unlawfully killing an Indigenous person.

Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker three times in a bedroom of his family home in the central Australian Indigenous township of Yuendumu during an attempted arrest on Nov. 9, 2019.

Walker had stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors during a struggle. The murder charge relates to the second and third shots that killed the 19-year-old and that prosecutors allege were unnecessary.

Three High Court judges on Friday agreed to hear a challenge by prosecutors to the Northern Territory Supreme Court’s interpretation of defenses available to Rolfe.

Five Supreme Court judges found that Rolfe could claim immunity from criminal liability under a law that protects police officers acting “in good faith in the performance or purported performance” of law enforcement duties.

The judges ruled that a jury should decide whether Rolfe’s actions fitted the criteria of the immunity clause.

But prosecutors had argued that that defense should not be available to Rolfe.

Body-cam footage allegedly recorded Rolfe explain that he fired the fatal shots to prevent his partner Constable Adam Eberl from being stabbed.

Prosecutors argued that because Rolfe was protecting Eberl, he was no longer trying to arrest Walker and was therefore not indemnified by the Northern Territory Police Administration Act.

Prosecutor Philip Strickland told the three High Court judges on Friday that if their court did not decide the indemnity question, Rolfe could be acquitted on an incorrect interpretation of the law.


Supreme Court hanging up phone, back to in-person arguments
Legal Topics | 2021/09/08 17:54
The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.


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