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Idaho Supreme Court overturns tougher ballot initiative law
Court News | 2021/08/25 10:21
The Idaho Supreme Court has rejected a new law designed to make it harder for voters to get initiatives on the ballot, saying the legislation was so restrictive that it violated a fundamental right under the state’s constitution.

The ruling issued Monday was a win for Reclaim Idaho, a group that successfully sponsored a Medicaid expansion initiative three years ago and that is now working to qualify an initiative for the ballot that aims to increase public education funding.

Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said in a prepared statement that members of the House Republican Caucus were disappointed by the ruling. He said the law would have increased voter involvement, “especially in the corners of the state too often forgotten by some.”

Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said the ruling means thousands of Idaho residents are “breathing sighs of relief.”

“Nearly every time in our history that our legislature attempted to eliminate the initiative process, either the governor or the courts stepped up to protect the rights of the people. Today’s decision adds a new chapter to that history, and future generations of Idahoans will look back on the court’s decision with gratitude,” Mayville said in a prepared statement.

The high court’s opinion written by Justice Gregory Moeller was unanimous in its main conclusion — that the law should be overturned — though two of the justices said they would have gotten at the same conclusion in slightly different ways.

“The ability of the legislature to make laws related to a fundamental right arises from the reality that, in an ordered society, few rights are absolute,” Moeller wrote. “However, the legislature’s duty to give effect to the people’s rights is not a free pass to override constitutional constraints and legislate a right into non-existence, even if the legislature believes doing so is in the people’s best interest.”

The case pitted the rights of voters to enact and repeal laws against the power of the state Legislature to shape how ballot initiative efforts are carried out. The new law, which passed earlier this year, required signature-gatherers to get 6% of registered voters in each of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts within a short time span. Opponents said it made Idaho’s initiative process the toughest in the nation, rendering such efforts virtually impossible to achieve. But supporters said the law would protect people with less popular political opinions from being overrun by the majority.


Judge tells prison to seize Nassar’s money for victims
Court News | 2021/08/20 11:52
A judge ordered the government to take money from the prison account of a former Michigan sports doctor who owes about $58,000 to victims of his child pornography crimes.

Larry Nassar has received about $13,000 in deposits since 2018, including $2,000 in federal stimulus checks, but has paid only $300 toward court-ordered financial penalties and nothing to his victims, prosecutors said.

He had a prison account balance of $2,041 in July.

“Because (Nassar) has received substantial non-exempt funds in his inmate trust account since incarceration, he was required by law to notify the court and the United States attorney and to apply those funds to the restitution that he still owed,” U.S. District Judge Janet Neff said Thursday.

In a court filing, Nassar said he had received “gifts” from “third parties.”

He said inmates should be paid a “living wage” for prison jobs so they can “make reasonable payments towards restitution.”

Nassar was a doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He pleaded guilty in federal court to child pornography crimes before pleading guilty in state court to sexually assaulting female gymnasts.

Nassar is serving decades in prison.


US moves to cut backlog of asylum cases at US-Mexico border
Court News | 2021/08/18 10:15
The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed changing how asylum claims are handled, aiming to reduce a huge backlog of cases from the U.S.-Mexico border that has left people waiting years to find out whether they will be allowed to stay in America.

Under the proposal, routine asylum cases no longer would automatically be referred to the overwhelmed immigration court system managed by the Justice Department but would be overseen by asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security Department.

Advocates for the change see it as a way to help those with legitimate claims for protection while allowing officials to more quickly deal with people who do not qualify for asylum or are taking advantage of the long delay to stay in the United States.

“Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

The proposal must go through a public comment period before it can be adopted as a new policy.

The immigration court system has an all-time high backlog of about 1.3 million cases. The Trump administration tried to deal with the issue in part by imposing stricter criteria for asylum and forcing people to seek protection in Mexico and Central America. President Joe Biden’s proposal would streamline the system.

The reason for the change is that more people have been seeking asylum under U.S. law, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

As the system works now, people who present themselves at the border or are apprehended by the Border Patrol and identify themselves as asylum-seekers must pass what is known as a “credible fear” interview. A USCIS asylum officer determines whether they meet the criteria of someone facing persecution in their homeland because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.


Holocaust researchers in Poland win libel case on appeal
Court News | 2021/08/16 10:18
An appellate court in Poland on Monday rejected a lawsuit brought against two Holocaust scholars in a case that has been closely watched because it was expected to serve as a precedent for research into the highly sensitive area of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II.

Poland is governed by a nationalist conservative party that has sought to promote remembrance of Polish heroism and suffering during the wartime German occupation of the country. The party also believes that discussions of Polish wrongdoing distort the historical picture and are unfair to Poles.

The Appellate Court of Warsaw argued in its explanation that it believed that scholarly research should not be judged by courts. But it appeared not to be the end: a lawyer for the plaintiff said Monday that she would appeal Monday’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

The ruling was welcomed by the two researchers, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, who declared it a “great victory” in a Facebook post.

“We greet the verdict with great joy and satisfaction all the more, that this decision has a direct impact on all Polish scholars, and especially on historians of the Holocaust,” they said.

Monday’s ruling comes half a year after a lower court ordered the two researchers to apologize to a woman who claimed that her deceased uncle had been defamed in a historical work they edited and partially wrote, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.”

Lawyers for the niece, 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska, argued that her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had harmed her good name and that of her family by suggesting the uncle was also involved in the killing of Jews.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that Leszczynska was “astonished” by the judgement and intends to file an appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.


Court tosses ruling against Pennsylvania COVID-19 measures
Court News | 2021/08/11 11:08
A federal appeals court has dismissed a judge’s ruling that threw out Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping COVID-19 restrictions, saying the issue is now moot because statewide mitigation measures have expired and Pennsylvania voters have since constrained a governor’s emergency powers.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since Wolf’s stay-at-home order, limits on crowd size and business closures are no longer in effect, there is “consequently no relief that this court can grant.”

The Philadelphia-based appeals court also noted that Pennsylvania voters in May approved amendments to the state constitution that give lawmakers much more power over disaster declarations.

The appeals court’s order instructed U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV to vacate his nearly year-old ruling that Wolf’s pandemic restrictions were overreaching and arbitrary and violated citizens’ constitutional rights. The appeals court had previously put the ruling on hold while the Wolf administration appealed.

Stickman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, had sided with plaintiffs that included hair salons, drive-in movie theaters, a farmer’s market vendor, a horse trainer and several Republican officeholders in their lawsuit against Wolf, a Democrat, and his health secretary.

Writing separately, 3rd Circuit Judge Kent Jordan said that while he agreed with the majority that the case is legally moot, he noted the Wolf administration has said the constitutional amendments do not affect a state health secretary’s disease-prevention authority to issue mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders or shut down schools and nonessential businesses.

At the same time, Wolf administration officials have said they have no intention of restoring such statewide mitigation measures, even as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has led to sharply rising infections and hospitalizations.


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