Newest justice joins high court amid competing caricatures

Court News 2017/04/12 01:18   Bookmark and Share
Somewhere between the Republican caricature of the next justice of the Supreme Court as a folksy family guy and the Democrats' demonization of him as a cold-hearted automaton, stands Neil Gorsuch.

Largely unknown six months ago, Gorsuch has seen his life story, personality and professional career explored in excruciating detail since he was nominated by President Donald Trump 10 weeks ago.

The portrait that emerges is more nuanced than the extremes drawn by his supporters and critics.

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a warm and collegial family man, boss and jurist, loyal to his employees and kind to those of differing viewpoints. He also has been shown to be a judge who takes such a "rigidly neutral" approach to the law that it can lead to dispassionate rulings with sometimes brutal results.

Four times during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch invoked a "breakfast table" analogy, telling senators that good judges set aside what they have to eat — and their personal views — before they leave the house in the morning to apply the law and nothing else to the facts of the cases at hand. It was all part of Gorsuch's artful effort to reveal as little as possible of his own opinions.
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Court: Banned Dartmouth fraternity can't live in house

Lawyer Blog Post 2017/04/11 09:04   Bookmark and Share
The New Hampshire Supreme Court says members of a former Dartmouth College fraternity aren't allowed to live in their house after the college banned the frat from campus.

The Hanover zoning board revoked the $1.4 million Alpha Delta house's status as a student residence when the fraternity was de-recognized for burning brands into the skin of new members in 2015.

Zoning rules require that such residences operate "in conjunction with" an institution, such as the college. Alpha Delta argued it should be considered "grandfathered" under an older zoning ordinance, but the court on Tuesday rejected that argument.

Alpha Delta had been a fraternity at Dartmouth since the 1840s, and since 1920 has housed 18-22 students. It partially served as the inspiration for the 1978 movie "Animal House."

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Newest justice joins high court amid competing caricatures

Headline Legal News 2017/04/11 09:04   Bookmark and Share
Somewhere between the Republican caricature of the next justice of the Supreme Court as a folksy family guy and the Democrats' demonization of him as a cold-hearted automaton, stands Neil Gorsuch.

Largely unknown six months ago, Gorsuch has seen his life story, personality and professional career explored in excruciating detail since he was nominated by President Donald Trump 10 weeks ago.

The portrait that emerges is more nuanced than the extremes drawn by his supporters and critics.

Gorsuch is widely regarded as a warm and collegial family man, boss and jurist, loyal to his employees and kind to those of differing viewpoints. He also has been shown to be a judge who takes such a "rigidly neutral" approach to the law that it can lead to dispassionate rulings with sometimes brutal results.

Four times during his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch invoked a "breakfast table" analogy, telling senators that good judges set aside what they have to eat — and their personal views — before they leave the house in the morning to apply the law and nothing else to the facts of the cases at hand. It was all part of Gorsuch's artful effort to reveal as little as possible of his own opinions.

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9 life sentences in state case on Charleston church slayings

Legal Insight 2017/04/10 09:04   Bookmark and Share
With Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof getting nine life sentences in state court on top of a federal death sentence, his prosecutions are finally over - and some relatives of the nine parishioners he killed at a historically black church say they can finally begin to heal.

Nadine Collier, daughter of the slain 70-year-old Ethel Lance, wore a white suit to Roof's sentencing Monday; a color she said lets the world know a chapter in her life had closed.

"I will not open that book again," she said to Roof, before he was sentenced. "I just want to say, have mercy on your soul."

The 23-year-old avowed white supremacist said nothing in his own defense as he was sentenced Monday on nine counts of murder, along with three charges of attempted murder and a weapons charge. He was taken from court back to the Charleston County jail, where he'll await transfer to a federal prison and, ultimately, the federal system's death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Roof's plea deal came in exchange for an agreement that state prosecutors would drop their own pursuit of the death penalty against him for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel AME Church. Judge J.C. Nicholson handed down nine consecutive life sentences.

Roof stood at the defense table with his attorneys, clad in a gray and white striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffed to a chain at his waist.

The deal, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said, serves as an "insurance policy" in the event that Roof's federal conviction falls apart. But it also means the families of the nine people he killed don't have to endure a second grueling trial.

Roof was 21 when he walked into a Wednesday night Bible study session at the historic church known as Mother Emanuel. As witnesses testified in his federal trial last year, Roof waited until the session's closing minutes to unload 77 shots into his victims as they shut their eyes in a final prayer.

Survivors testified during the federal trial, evoking chilling images of the bloody Wednesday night tableau. Jennifer Pinckney, widow of slain pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, brought some jurors to tears as she told how she shielded her young daughter in her husband's office while the bullets rang out in the nearby fellowship hall.

At Roof's first court appearance on the day after his arrest, his victims' relatives spoke of forgiveness, with some saying they mourned their loved ones but would pray for his lost soul. The families of what have become known as the Emanuel Nine have been widely lauded for their willingness to forgive in the face of sorrow but also, in embrace of their strong faith, to pray the man who drastically altered their lives would find peace himself.
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Senate GOP 'goes nuclear,' clearing way for Trump court pick

Legal Insight 2017/04/09 09:03   Bookmark and Share
Republicans invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate Thursday, unilaterally rewriting the chamber's rules to allow President Donald Trump's nominee to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Furious Democrats objected until the end, but their efforts to block Judge Neil Gorsuch failed as expected. Lawmakers of both parties bemoaned the long-term implications for the Senate, the court and the country.

"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

The maneuvering played out in an atmosphere of tension in the Senate chamber with most senators in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats mounted a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. Then Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday and he could then be sworn in in time to take his seat on the court later this month and hear the final cases of the term.

The maneuvering played out with much hand-wringing from all sides about the future of the Senate, as well as unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations as each side blamed the other. The rules change is known as the "nuclear option" because of its far-reaching implications.
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New Ohio lethal injection process rejected by appeals court

Legal Business 2017/04/07 22:51   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Ohio's new three-drug lethal injection process, jeopardizing the upcoming executions of several condemned killers.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found the proposed use of a contested sedative, midazolam, unconstitutional. The court also ruled that Ohio's planned use of two other drugs the state abandoned years ago prevents their reintroduction in a new execution system.

After repeatedly saying it would no longer use those drugs — pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — "but now attempting to execute condemned inmates with these very drugs, the State had taken directly contradictory positions," Judge Karen Nelson Moore ruled for the majority.

The court also favored arguments by attorneys for death row inmates that use of another drug altogether — pentobarbital — is still an option, despite Ohio's arguments that it can't find supplies of that drug.

An appeal is likely. Options including asking the full appeals court to consider the case or appealing straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office.

The ruling was a blow to the state, which hoped to begin executing several condemned killers next month. The first of those, Ronald Phillips, is scheduled to die May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

Allen Bohnert, a lawyer for death row inmates challenging Ohio's lethal injection system, applauded the decision, saying the appeals court was correct in rejecting the execution process.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014, when inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die under a never-before-tried two-drug method that began with midazolam. The same drug was involved in a problematic execution later that year in Arizona.

Ohio announced its three-drug method in October and said it had enough for at least four executions, though records obtained by The Associated Press indicated the supply could cover dozens of executions.

The drugs are midazolam, rocuronium bromide — like pancuronium bromide, a drug used to paralyze inmates — and potassium chloride.

The prison system used 10 milligrams of midazolam on McGuire. The new system calls for 500 milligrams. The state said there's plenty of evidence proving the larger amount will keep inmates from feeling pain.

Ohio also said the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in 2015 in a case out of Oklahoma.

The court on Thursday said arguments by death row inmates that even 500 milligrams of midazolam could lead to a risk of pain were more convincing than counterarguments from the state.
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