High court blocks NY virus limits on houses of worship

Legal Insight 2020/11/26 21:35   Bookmark and Share
With coronavirus cases surging again nationwide, the Supreme Court barred New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by the virus.

The justices split 5-4 late Wednesday night, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. It was the conservative’s first publicly discernible vote as a justice. The court’s three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented.

The move was a shift for the court. Earlier this year, when Barrett’s liberal predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was still on the court, the justices divided 5-4 to leave in place pandemic-related capacity restrictions affecting churches in California and Nevada.

The court’s action Wednesday could push New York to reevaluate its restrictions on houses of worship in areas designated virus hot spots. But the impact is also muted because the Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups that sued to challenge the restrictions are no longer subject to them.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Thursday the ruling was “more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else” and “irrelevant from any practical impact” given that the restrictions have already been removed.

“Why rule on a case that is moot and come up with a different decision than you did several months ago on the same issue?” Cuomo asked in a conference call with reporters. “You have a different court. And I think that was the statement that the court was making.”

The Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America have churches and synagogues in areas of Brooklyn and Queens previously designated red and orange zones. In those red and orange zones, the state had capped attendance at houses of worship at 10 and 25 people, respectively. But the those particular areas are now designated as yellow zones with less restrictive rules neither group challenged.

The justices acted on an emergency basis, temporarily barring New York from enforcing the restrictions against the groups while their lawsuits continue. In an unsigned opinion the court said the restrictions “single out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”

“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty,” the opinion said.
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Court: Tennessee can enforce Down syndrome abortion ban

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/11/23 00:50   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Tennessee can begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as prohibit the procedure if it’s based on the race or gender of the fetus.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee enacted the so-called “reason bans” earlier this year as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure. The law gained national attention because it banned abortion as early as six weeks ? making it one of the strictest in the country ? but it included several other anti-abortion components.

The law was immediately blocked by a lower federal court just hours after Lee signed it into law.

However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision will allow the state to enforce the reason bans while abortion rights groups continue their court battle against that law.

The plaintiffs, which include Tennessee abortion providers being represented by reproductive rights groups, had argued the ban was improperly vague, but the court disagreed.

Currently, more than a dozen states have similar reason bans in place.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy are best made by the individual and their family.”

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that they “appreciate the Sixth Circuit lifting the lower court’s injunction” and looked forward to continuing defending the statute.

“Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender, or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives,” Lee said in a statement. “Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

Immediately following the appeals court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a request in lower federal court for a temporary restraining order to block the reason bans once again, but this time argued the law illegally prohibits a patient from “obtaining constitutionally protected pre-viability abortion care.”

“(The) Sixth Circuit only addressed plaintiffs’ vagueness claims and explicitly declined to issue any ruling with respect to plaintiffs’ claims that the Reason Bans violate patients’ constitutional right to pre-viability abortion,” the attorneys wrote.

The court had not issued a ruling on that as of Friday evening.

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States ? or about 6,000 a year ? is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity.

The rarity of the condition has prompted abortion rights groups to paint the Down syndrome bans as part of yet another thinly veiled effort by lawmakers to continue chipping away at a patient’s right to an abortion.
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Tory Lanez pleads not guilty in Megan Thee Stallion shooting

Court News 2020/11/20 00:49   Bookmark and Share
Rapper Tory Lanez pleaded not guilty through his attorney Wednesday to felony assault charges in the July shooting of hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion.

Lawyer Shawn Chapman Holley entered the plea in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom to counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle on behalf of Lanez, 28, who was not at the hearing.

Lanez was told to return for a hearing Jan. 20 and an order keeping him from making any kind of contact with Megan Thee Stallion was extended.

In a criminal complaint, prosecutors said Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, fired on a victim identified as “Megan P.” after she got out of an SUV during an argument in the Hollywood Hills on July 12, and “inflicted great bodily injury” on her. Megan Thee Stallion’s legal name is Megan Pete. If convicted, Lanez faces a maximum sentence of roughly 23 years.

The Canadian rapper was charged in October after months of speculation and publicity surrounding the incident. At first, Los Angeles police reported the incident only as shots fired, a woman with foot injuries, and a man arrested on a weapons allegation.

Megan Thee Stallion, whose legal name is Megan Pete, revealed a few days later that her foot injuries came from gunshots, and more than a month later said in an Instagram video that it was Lanez who fired them. She slowly revealed more via social media in subsequent weeks.

“The way people have publicly questioned and debated whether I played a role in my own violent assault proves that my fears about discussing what happened were, unfortunately, warranted,” she wrote.

The day after he was charged, Lanez tweeted “the truth will come to the light,” and “a charge is not a conviction.”

Lanez has not reached the stardom that Megan the Stallion has, but his album “Daystar,” released in September after the shooting but before he was charged, reached the top 10 on the Billboard album chart, and he has had a successful run of mixtapes and major-label records since his career began in 2009.

Megan Thee Stallion was already a major up-and-coming star at the time of the shooting, and since then, her guest stint on the Cardi B song “WAP” helped turn the track ? and music video ? into a huge cultural phenomenon, and she appeared on the season premiere of “Saturday Night Live.”
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In court, Giuliani argues to block Biden win in Pennsylvania

Legal Insight 2020/11/18 21:18   Bookmark and Share
Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, returned to federal court Tuesday after a long hiatus to accuse Democrats in control of big cities of hatching a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election, even though no such evidence has emerged in the two weeks since Election Day. The court case is over the Trump campaign’s federal lawsuit seeking to prevent the battleground state of Pennsylvania from certifying its election. Withering questions from the judge gave Trump’s opponents hope that the lawsuit will be one of many filed by the Trump campaign around the country to be tossed out of court.

During several hours of arguments, U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann told Giuliani that agreeing with him would disenfranchise the more than 6.8 million Pennsylvanians who voted.  “Can you tell me how this result could possibly be justified?” Brann questioned. Giuliani responded, “the scope of the remedy is because of the scope of the injury.” Meanwhile, lawyers defending the Democratic secretary of state, Philadelphia and several counties said the Trump campaign’s arguments lack any constitutional basis or were rendered irrelevant by a state Supreme Court decision Tuesday.

They asked Brann to throw out the case, calling the evidence cited “at best, garden-variety irregularities” that would not warrant undoing Pennsylvania’s election results, which delivered a victory for President-elect Joe Biden. The Trump campaign’s lawsuit is based on a complaint that Philadelphia and six Democratic-controlled counties in Pennsylvania let voters make corrections to mail-in ballots that were otherwise going to be disqualified for a technicality, like lacking a secrecy envelope or a signature.

It is not clear how many ballots that could involve, although some opposing lawyers say it is far too few to overturn the election result. But Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, spent most of his time in court claiming baselessly that a wide-ranging scheme in Pennsylvania and elsewhere stole the election from Trump in battleground states won by Biden.

Democrats in control in major cities in those states ? Giuliani name-checked Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Detroit ? prevented Republican observers from watching election workers process mail-in ballots so the workers could falsify enough ballots to ensure Trump lost, Giuliani claimed, without evidence to back it up. “The best description of this situation is widespread, nationwide voter fraud, of which this is a part. ... This is not an isolated case, this is a case that is repeated in at least 10 other jurisdictions,” Giuliani said, without citing any evidence. Later, he claimed, “they stole the election.”

The dozens of affidavits Trump’s lawyers filed in the case, however, do not assert widespread fraud, but rather the potential for something fishy to occur because partisan poll watchers weren’t given an opportunity to view the results. Brann did not rule Tuesday. He canceled a Thursday hearing to air the Trump campaign’s evidence and instead gave the parties three more days to file arguments in the case. Next Tuesday is the deadline for Pennsylvania’s counties to certify their election results.

Trump’s campaign has not been shy in previous weeks about publicizing what they say is evidence of election fraud. But there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, and officials of both political parties have stated publicly that the election went well. The Trump campaign argues that Republican-controlled counties in Pennsylvania did not allow voters to correct ballots and claims the inconsistent practice in Democratic-controlled counties violated constitutional rights of due process and equal protection under the law.

Two of the Trump campaign’s co-plaintiffs are voters whose ballots were disqualified by counties that did not notify them about the problems. If no county allowed voters to correct problems with mail-in ballots “it’s very likely that the results would have been very, very different,” argued Linda Kerns, a Philadelphia lawyer working alongside Giuliani.
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Court weighs challenge to Colorado discrimination law

Headline Legal News 2020/11/17 00:56   Bookmark and Share
A Colorado web designer should not have to create wedding websites for same-sex couples under the state's anti-discrimination law because it would amount to forced speech that violates her religious beliefs, a lawyer told an appeals court Monday.

Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, told a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the issue for designer Lorie Smith, who is a Christian, is the message and not the customer.

“No one should be forced to express a message that violates their convictions,” Waggoner said during the virtual hearing. She is trying to revive a lawsuit challenging the state’s law, which her group also targeted on behalf of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in a case decided in 2018 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court decided the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with anti-religious bias against Phillips after he refused to bake a cake for two men who were getting married. But it did not rule on the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBT people.

On Monday, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich asked what Smith would do if she was approached by a straight wedding planner asking her to create four heterosexual wedding sites and one for a same-sex wedding. Waggoner said Smith would not take that job.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she has not started offering wedding websites yet.

But if she did, he said her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
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Republicans face court setbacks, Trump law firm steps down

Legal Business 2020/11/13 00:57   Bookmark and Share
Republicans suffered setbacks to court challenges over the presidential election in three battleground states on Friday while a law firm that came under fire for its work for President Donald Trump’s campaign withdrew from a major Pennsylvania case.

The legal blows began when a federal appeals court rejected an effort to block about 9,300 mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day in Pennsylvania. The judges noted the “vast disruption” and “unprecedented challenges” facing the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic as they upheld the three-day extension.

Chief U.S. Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith said the panel kept in mind “a proposition indisputable in our democratic process: that the lawfully cast vote of every citizen must count.”

The ruling involves a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to accept mail-in ballots through Friday, Nov. 6, citing the pandemic and concerns about postal service delays.

Republicans have also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue. However, there are not enough late-arriving ballots to change the results in Pennsylvania, given President-elect Joe Biden’s lead. The Democratic former vice president won the state by about 60,000 votes out of about 6.8 million cast.

The Trump campaign or Republican surrogates have filed more than 15 legal challenges in Pennsylvania as they seek to reclaim the state’s 20 electoral votes, but have so far offered no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.

A Philadelphia judge found none as he refused late Friday to reject about 8,300 mail-in ballots there. The campaign has pursued similar litigation in other battleground states, with little to show for it.

In Michigan, a judge Friday refused to stop the certification of Detroit-area election results, rejecting claims the city had committed fraud and tainted the count with its handling of absentee ballots. It’s the third time a judge has declined to intervene in a statewide count that shows Biden up by more than 140,000 votes.

And, in Arizona, a judge dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit seeking the inspection of ballots in metro Phoenix after the campaign’s lawyers acknowledged the small number of ballots at issue wouldn’t change the outcome of how the state voted for president.

The campaign had sought a postponement of Maricopa County’s certification of election results until ballots containing overvotes ? instances in which people voted for more candidates than permitted ? were inspected.

Meanwhile, legal giant Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, which had come under fire for its work for the Trump campaign, withdrew from a lawsuit that seeks to stop Pennsylvania officials from certifying the election results.
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