Baldwin's Supreme Court nominee fight is early flashpoint

Headline Legal News 2017/04/06 22:51   Bookmark and Share
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's support for a filibuster to block President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court has become an early flashpoint as she faces re-election next year.

While Baldwin and Republicans, including her Wisconsin colleague Sen. Ron Johnson, trade barbs over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, voters back home in a state that went for Trump in November worry about the continued erosion of bipartisanship and increasing polarization in Washington.

"Nobody is making any concessions and I think this is going to be the downfall of both parties," said Anna Street, a 56-year-old nurse from West Allis, on Tuesday.

Baldwin voted Thursday to support a Democratic filibuster in an attempt to stop Gorsuch's nomination to the nation's highest court, while Johnson voted to end debate. Baldwin argues that Trump should put forward someone who could get enough bipartisan support to garner 60 votes and overcome any filibuster.

But Republicans, on a party-line vote with Johnson in support and Baldwin opposed, changed Senate rules on Thursday to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move labeled the "nuclear option" because it would unravel Senate traditions that have led to reaching bipartisan consensus.

"Republicans and Democrats ought to get to a point where they're talking to each other and not go on with this," said Roger Sunby, a retired public education administrator from Mount Horeb. He said Gorsuch would be confirmed no matter what action Democrats take.

Republicans see Baldwin's opposition to Gorsuch as a vulnerability. Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans have been attacking Baldwin as being out of the "mainstream" because of her opposition to Gorsuch.

Baldwin argues that it's not her, but Gorsuch, who is out of the mainstream, citing his rulings "against disabled students, against workers, and against women's reproductive health care."

Baldwin said in a statement after her votes Thursday that she has "deep concerns" about Gorsuch's record and that she wants a justice who will serve as a check on the executive branch.

"Based on his record and the many questions he has chosen to leave unanswered, I don't have confidence Judge Gorsuch would be that justice and I oppose his confirmation to our highest court," she said.

Baldwin backers argue that her support for a filibuster will only further bolster her bona fides among liberals as someone willing to stand up to Trump.
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US court ruling could bring more suits over Nazi-looted art

Topics in Legal News 2017/04/05 22:51   Bookmark and Share
The heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers have spent nearly a decade trying to persuade German officials to return a collection of medieval relics valued at more than $250 million.

But they didn't make much headway until they filed a lawsuit in an American court.

The relatives won a round last week when a federal judge ruled that Germany can be sued in the United States over claims the so-called Guelph Treasure was sold under duress in 1935.

It's the first time a court has required Germany to defend itself in the U.S. against charges of looted Nazi art, and experts say it could encourage other descendants of people who suffered during the Holocaust to pursue claims in court.

The case also is among the first affected by a law passed in Congress last year that makes it easier for heirs of victims of Nazi Germany to sue over confiscated art.

"It open all kinds of other claims based on forced sales in Nazi Germany to jurisdiction in U.S. courts if the facts support it," said Nicholas O'Donnell, an attorney representing the heirs.

The collection includes gold crosses studded with gems, ornate silverwork and other relics that once belonged to Prussian aristocrats. The heirs of the art dealers — Jed Leiber, Gerald Stiebel, and Alan Philipp — say their relatives were forced to sell the relics in a coerced transaction for a fraction of its market value.

The consortium of dealers from Frankfurt had purchased the collection in 1929 from the Duke of Brunswick. They had managed to sell about half of the pieces to museums and collectors, but the remaining works were sold in 1935 to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

Following the sale, Goering presented the works as a gift to Adolf Hitler, according to court documents. The collection has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is considered the largest collection of German church treasure in public hands.

German officials claim the sale was voluntary and say the low price was a product of the Great Depression and the collapse of Germany's market for art. In 2014, a special German commission set up to review disputed restitution cases concluded it was not a forced sale due to persecution and recommended the collection stay at the Berlin museum.
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Court: Civil Rights Law Prohibits Discrimination of LGBT

Attorney News 2017/04/03 22:51   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, setting up a likely battle before the Supreme Court as gay rights advocates push to broaden the scope of the 53-year-old law.

The 8-to-3 decision by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes just three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite, saying employers aren't prohibited from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.

The 7th Circuit is considered relatively conservative and five of the eight judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, making the finding all the more notable.

The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn't hire her full time because she is a lesbian.

In an opinion concurring with the majority, Judge Richard Posner wrote that changing norms call for a change in interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

"I don't see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she's a woman," wrote the judge, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan.

The decision comes as President Donald Trump's administration has begun setting its own policies on LGBT rights. Late in January, the White House declared Trump would enforce an Obama administration order barring companies that do federal work from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. But in February, it revoked guidance on transgender students' use of public school bathrooms, deferring to states.

Hively said after Tuesday's ruling that she agreed to bring the case because she felt she was being "bullied." She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the time has come "to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender."

"This decision is game changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace and sends a clear message to employers: it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," said Greg Nevins, of Lambda Legal, which brought the case on behalf of Hively.

Ivy Tech said in a statement that its policies specifically bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and that it denies discriminating against Hively, a factual question separate from the 7th Circuit's finding regarding the law.
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Arkansas asks court to block order on execution drugs

Court News 2017/04/02 15:24   Bookmark and Share
Arkansas prison officials asked the state's highest court Friday to stay a judge's order that they must disclose more information about one of the drugs they plan to use in the executions of eight men over a 10-day period in April.

The attorney general's office asked the state Supreme Court to issue a stay of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's order requiring Arkansas to release copies of the package insert and labels for its supply of potassium chloride, one of the three drugs used in its lethal injection protocol.

The state said it had released the documents, but had redacted information on the labels that it says could lead to identification of the drug's supplier. Steven Shults, the attorney who sued the state for the information, declined to comment on the case Friday.

Shults' attorneys asked the court to deny the state's motion, saying there was no evidence that the information withheld would identify the drug's supplier.

The filing said releasing all of the information would give Shults "an unreviewable victory that will completely undermine and obviate the confidentiality provisions" of the state's lethal injection law.

Arkansas hasn't executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining drugs. The state's 2015 lethal injection law keeps secret the source of the state's execution drugs.

The prison officials, who plan to execute eight inmates in a 10-day period next month before another one of the state's lethal drugs expires April 30, had refused to release packing slips that detail how the drugs are to be used. The Associated Press has previously used the labels to identify drugmakers whose products would be used in executions against their will. The AP renewed its request after the state acquired its potassium chloride in March, but was also rejected.
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Bangladesh High Court upholds death for 2 in blogger killing

Headline Legal News 2017/04/02 15:23   Bookmark and Share
Bangladesh's High Court on Sunday confirmed the death penalty for two people tied to a banned Islamist militant group for the killing of an atheist blogger critical of radical Islam.

The court also upheld jail sentences for six others after appeals were filed challenging the verdicts handed down by a trial court in 2015.

Sunday's decision involves the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death in 2013. Haider had campaigned for banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

One of the defendants was Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, the leader of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and the rest were university students inspired by his sermons.

During the trial, the students said that Rahmani incited them to kill Haider in sermons in which he said all atheist bloggers should be killed to protect Islam.

The two North South University students who received the death sentences included Faisal bin Nayeem, who the court said hacked Haider with meat cleavers in front of his house in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Another was tried in absentia. The others received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Rahmani was sentenced to five years.

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Court: Wisconsin Bell discriminated against worker

Court Watch 2017/04/01 15:26   Bookmark and Share
A Wisconsin appeals court says state labor officials properly determined that Wisconsin Bell's decision to fire a bipolar employee amounted to discrimination.

According to court documents, Wisconsin Bell fired Charles Carlson in 2011 for engaging in electronic chats with co-workers and leaving work early one day. Carlson maintained he was reacting to news he didn't get a promotion, he was looking for support as his therapist had suggested and he doesn't react like other people.

The Labor Industry Review Commission found the company fired Carlson because of his disability in violation of employment discrimination laws.

The 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the commission's interpretation was reasonable and there's enough evidence to support imposing liability on Wisconsin Bell.

Wisconsin Bell says it does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including that based on disability. The company says it disagrees with the ruling and is considering its options.

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