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Pennsylvania court throws out congressional boundaries
Topics in Legal News | 2018/01/22 17:10
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map.

In the Democratic-controlled court's decision, the majority said the boundaries "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

"We won the whole thing," said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The defendants — top Republican lawmakers — said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to step in and put the decision on hold. The state court's decision lacks clarity, precedent and respect for the constitution and would introduce chaos into the state's congressional races, they said.

The Senate's top Republican lawyer, Drew Crompton, called the timeline to draw new districts "borderline unworkable," but said Republicans will do everything they can to comply.


Attorney general applauds high court decision on water rule
Court Watch | 2018/01/21 17:10
North Dakota's attorney general is applauding a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that recognizes federal district courts as the forum to hear legal challenges to an Obama administration rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem led a coalition of 12 states that obtained the first preliminary injunction against the "Waters of the U.S. Rule" in 2015 in North Dakota, arguing it would greatly and unlawfully expand the federal government's authority over states' land and water and the ability to control pollution.

The rule has never taken effect because of lawsuits and is now under review by President Donald Trump's administration.

Stenehjem says he'll ask the federal district court to resume North Dakota's case as soon as possible now that the jurisdiction issue has been resolved.



Supreme Court sides with police over partygoers in wild bash
Headline Legal News | 2018/01/20 17:10
The Supreme Court sided Monday with police over partygoers in a dispute about arrests at a 2008 bash at a vacant home that had been turned into a makeshift strip club.

The high court ruled that police had sufficient reason to make arrests at the raucous party, which took place in a District of Columbia duplex furnished only with a few metal chairs and a mattress. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in an opinion that police reasonably concluded that the revelers "were knowingly taking advantage of a vacant house as a venue for their late night party."

"Most homeowners do not live in near-barren houses. And most homeowners do not invite people over to use their living room as a strip club, to have sex in their bedroom, to smoke marijuana inside, and to leave their floors filthy. The officers could thus infer that the partygoers knew their party was not authorized," he wrote.

Police officers arrived after receiving a complaint about loud music and illegal activities at a home that had been vacant for months. Arriving officers found loud music playing. Inside the home, they smelled marijuana and saw beer bottles and cups of liquor on the floor. Scantily clad women were performing lap dances while wearing cash-stuffed garter belts. Upstairs, officers found a naked woman, several men, open condom wrappers and a bare mattress.

The partiers provided police with inconsistent stories about the bash. Many said it was a bachelor party, but no one could identify the bachelor. Partygoers claimed they'd been invited to the home but could not say by whom. Two people said that a woman named "Peaches" was the party's host, but she wasn't there when police arrived. Reached by phone, Peaches eventually told police she had invited people to the house but didn't have the homeowner's approval to use the place.



Supreme Court delays order for North Carolina to redraw maps
Topics in Legal News | 2018/01/19 17:10
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republican lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week because of excessive partisan bias in current lines.

The justices announced the stay after legal briefs were filed for and against the GOP legislators' request for a delay. Their lawyers successfully argued that a three-judge panel's ruling last week declaring the state congressional map an illegal partisan gerrymander should be on hold while similar cases involving Wisconsin legislative districts and one Maryland congressional district before the Supreme Court are considered. The court has never declared that the inherently political process of redistricting can be too partisan.

Voter advocacy groups and Democratic voters who sued over the map — heavily weighted toward Republicans in a closely divided state — argued no delay was necessary because it would be struck down however the justices rule in the other cases.

The Supreme Court's order said the delay remains in place while the case is appealed. The request was considered by the entire court, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the request for the delay, according to the order.

GOP Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise, redistricting leaders at the state General Assembly, praised the intervention in a release. "We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court's 11th-hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes" and restored certainty to voters about their districts, they said.



Court seems to favor death row inmate in dispute with lawyer
Court News | 2018/01/17 17:09
The Supreme Court seems ready to say that a lawyer for a criminal defendant cannot override his client's wish and concede his guilt at trial, even if the lawyer's aim is to avoid a death sentence.

The court on Wednesday dived into the case of Louisiana death row inmate Robert McCoy. He repeatedly objected to his lawyer's decision to acknowledge that McCoy killed the son, mother and step-father of his estranged wife in 2008.

Lawyer Larry English has said the evidence against McCoy was overwhelming and that the only way to keep McCoy off death row was to beg for mercy. In the end, the strategy failed and a jury sentenced McCoy to death. If he wins at the Supreme Court, he could get a new trial.

Supreme Court won't take case of ex-NY assembly speaker

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for a re-trial of ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The high court declined Tuesday to get involved in the case. That allows for a re-trial tentatively set for April to proceed.

Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of public corruption charges in late 2015. But the U.S. court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned that conviction last year and sent the case back to the trial court.

The appeals court said that the trial judge would need to instruct jurors on the law in a different manner to conform with a 2016 Supreme Court decision that reversed the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.




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