Judge limits Biden administration in working with social media companies
Legal Topics | 2023/07/05 16:19
A judge on Tuesday prohibited several federal agencies and officials of the Biden administration from working with social media companies about “protected speech,” a decision called “a blow to censorship” by one of the Republican officials whose lawsuit prompted the ruling.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana granted the injunction in response to a 2022 lawsuit brought by attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri. Their lawsuit alleged that the federal government overstepped in its efforts to convince social media companies to address postings that could result in vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or affect elections.

Doughty cited “substantial evidence” of a far-reaching censorship campaign. He wrote that the “evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’ ”

Republican U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, who was the Missouri attorney general when the lawsuit was filed, said on Twitter that the ruling was “a huge win for the First Amendment and a blow to censorship.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the injunction prevents the administration “from censoring the core political speech of ordinary Americans” on social media.


Judge allows North Carolina’s revised 12-week abortion law to take effect
Legal Topics | 2023/07/02 09:01
A federal judge ruled on Friday that nearly all of North Carolina’s revised 12-week abortion law scheduled to begin this weekend can take effect, while temporarily blocking one rule that doctors feared could expose them to criminal penalties.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sets aside that rule but allows the law’s remaining provisions to begin on Saturday while litigation continues.

Abortion providers had last week requested a blanket order halting all of the July 1 restrictions pending their court challenge. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a physician said several sections in the newly revised law were so vague and seemingly contradictory that doctors could unintentionally break the law, leaving them unable to care for women seeking legal abortions.

But the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation this week revising or repealing nearly all of the challenged provisions, making arguments against most of them moot. Among other things, the lawmakers clarified that medication abortions will be legal in nearly all cases through 12 weeks, and that a lawful abortion remains an exception to North Carolina’s fetal homicide statute.

Eagles, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, had said in court that it would be overly broad to block enforcement of the entire law. Instead, she directed that for at least the next two weeks, the state cannot enforce a rule saying doctors must document the existence of a pregnancy within the uterus before conducting a medication abortion.

The abortion providers’ lawyers argued that the language raised questions about whether abortion pills can be dispensed when it’s too early in a pregnancy to locate an embryo using an ultrasound — subjecting a provider to potentially violating the law.


Supreme Court rules for nursing home patient’s family
Legal Topics | 2023/06/28 15:28
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled for the family of a nursing home resident with dementia that had sued over his care, declining to use the case to broadly limit the right to sue government workers.

The man’s family went to court alleging that he was given drugs to keep him easier to manage in violation of his rights. The justices had been asked to use his case to limit the ability of people to use a federal law to sue for civil rights violations. That outcome could have left tens of millions of people participating in federal programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, without an avenue to go to court to enforce their rights.

The Supreme Court has previously said that a section of federal law — “Section 1983” — broadly gives people the right to sue state and local governments when their employees violate rights created by any federal statute.

The court by a 7-2 vote reiterated that Thursday, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson writing that Section 1983 “can presumptively be used to enforce unambiguously conferred federal individual rights.” Both liberal and conservative justices joined her majority opinion while conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

The court had been asked to say that when Congress creates a federal spending program — giving states money to provide services such as Medicare and Medicaid — they shouldn’t face lawsuits from individuals under Section 1983. The court rejected that invitation.

The specific case the justices heard involves the interaction of Section 1983 and the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, a 1987 law that outlines requirements for nursing homes that accept federal Medicare and Medicaid funds. The court was being asked to answer whether a person can use Section 1983 to go to court with claims their rights under the nursing home act are violated. The answer is yes, the court said.


Southern Indiana man bolts from courtroom before capture
Legal Topics | 2023/06/07 17:08
A man sentenced to 200 days in jail for a probation violation bolted from a southern Indiana courtroom and tried to escape before two shocks from a stun gun brought him down, police said.

Trevin Littlejohn, 35, of Columbus, faces a new charge of resisting law enforcement following the episode Monday.

After Littlejohn was read his sentence, he declared he would not go to jail and fled from the courtroom, using chairs to obstruct an officer in the court, said Sgt. Dane Duke of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

Littlejohn escaped the grasp of another officer and was shocked with a stun gun but kept going, fleeing down a flight of stairs before a second shock floored him, Duke said. Officers then placed him in handcuffs.

After being treated at a hospital, Littlejohn was lodged in the Bartholomew County Jail in Columbus.

Littlejohn’s attorney J. Grant Tucker said he had no comment on the incident.



Supreme Court won’t put Illinois gun law on hold
Legal Topics | 2023/05/19 15:52
The Supreme Court said Wednesday that Illinois can, for now, keep in place a new law that bars the sale of certain semi-automatic guns and large-capacity magazines.

The high court denied an emergency request from people challenging the law, which bans so-called assault weapons. The law’s opponents had asked the court to put the law on hold while a court challenge continues. The court did not comment and no justice publicly dissented.

The high court’s action comes at a time when gun violence has been heavily in the news. Since the beginning of the year, 115 people have died in 22 mass killings — an average of one mass killing a week, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in a partnership with Northeastern University. The database counts killings involving four or more fatalities, not including the perpetrator. Just recently, on May 6, a man armed with an AR-15 style rifle and other firearms fatally shot eight people, including three children, at a Dallas-area mall.

The case before the Supreme Court involves an Illinois state law enacted in January. The legislation bans the sale of a series of guns including the AR-15 and AK-47. The law also bars the sale of magazines that have more than 15 rounds of ammunition for handguns and more than 10 rounds of ammunition for a long gun.

People who legally owned the now-barred guns and magazines ahead of the law’s enactment can continue to keep them. The guns, however, must be registered with law enforcement.

Nine other states and the District of Columbia have gun bans similar to the one in Illinois, according to the gun control group Brady, which tracks the legislation. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey and New York also require registration of guns purchased prior to the law while four other states – Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington -- do not.

The Illinois legislation was driven largely by the killing of seven people at a 4th of July parade last year in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. The shooter was armed with an AR-15 rifle and 30-round magazines.




Senegal’s opposition leader gets suspended jail sentence
Legal Topics | 2023/05/09 16:56
Senegal’s main opposition leader on Monday was given a six-month suspended prison sentence by an appeals court in the West African nation over a defamation case brought against him by a government minister.

The court ruling against Ousmane Sonko prevents President Macky Sall’s most prominent political rival from running in next year’s presidential election, but can be appealed again.

Sonko was ordered to pay 200 million West African francs ($336,000) in damages and interest by Judge Mamadou Cissé.

If Sonko doesn’t pay the fine, the judge can order his imprisonment.

Senegal’s public prosecutor had requested a two-year sentence for “forgery, use of forgery, defamation and insults” in the trial brought by the Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang.

Sonko didn’t appear in court on Monday. In a statement made on Sunday, he announced that he would no longer respond to court summonses.

The popular opposition figure was sentenced in March by a lower court to a two-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay damages.

There was a heavy presence of security forces around Dakar Monday. Sonko’s supporters have taken to the streets in angry protests in the past after previous stages in the court process.


Judge in Catholic bankruptcy recuses over church donations
Legal Topics | 2023/04/30 05:03
A federal judge overseeing the New Orleans Roman Catholic bankruptcy recused himself in a late-night reversal that came a week after an Associated Press report showed he donated tens of thousands of dollars to the archdiocese and consistently ruled in favor of the church in the case involving nearly 500 clergy sex abuse victims.

U.S. District Judge Greg Guidry initially announced hours after the AP report that he would stay on the case, citing the opinion of fellow federal judges that no “reasonable person” could question his impartiality. But amid mounting pressure and persistent questions, he changed course late Friday in a terse, one-page filing.

“I have decided to recuse myself from this matter in order to avoid any possible appearance of personal bias or prejudice,” Guidry wrote. The 62-year-old jurist has overseen the 3-year-old bankruptcy in an appellate role, and his recusal is likely to throw the case into disarray and trigger new hearings and appeals of every consequential ruling he’s made.

But legal experts say it was the only action to take under the circumstances, citing federal law that calls on judges to step aside in any proceeding in which their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

“This was a clear and blatant conflict that existed for some time,” said Joel Friedman, a longtime legal analyst in New Orleans who is now a law professor at Arizona State University. “It creates the exact problem the rules are designed to avoid, the impression to the public that he’s not an impartial decisionmaker.”

Guidry’s recusal underscores how tightly woven the church is in the city’s power structure, a coziness perhaps best exemplified when executives of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints secretly advised the archdiocese on public relations messaging at the height of its clergy abuse crisis.


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