Minnesota Supreme Court defers ruling on Minneapolis police

Headline Legal News 2021/09/16 10:47   Bookmark and Share
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling Thursday in the fight over a ballot question about the future of policing in Minneapolis, but it didn’t settle the bigger question of whether the public will get to vote on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s ruling lifted a small part of a lower court’s order that rejected the ballot language approved by the City Council, saying that elections officials don’t have to include notes with ballots instructing people not to vote on the question and that any votes won’t be counted.

The order didn’t address the main issue in dispute — whether voters will get to decide on a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary.”

The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer, but it leaves critical details about the new agency to be determined later.

The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and absentee voting opens Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections, and ballots have already been printed.

Terrance Moore, an attorney for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the proposal, said he expects a ruling on the bigger question to come at some point later. The city attorney’s office agreed that the high court has yet to rule on the main issues.

Joe Anthony, an attorney for former City Council member Don Samuels and two other people who challenged the ballot language as misleading, called the order “a little mysterious.” He noted the lower court injunction barring counting and reporting votes was left in place, at least for the moment. There are a few possibilities for what could happen next, he said, including the Supreme Court taking time for fuller arguments, then deciding by Nov. 2 whether the votes cast would count.
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1st female LGBT federal appeals court nominee to get hearing

Court News 2021/09/14 12:18   Bookmark and Share
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is considering President Joe Biden’s nomination of a Vermont judge who played a role in the state’s passage of the first-in-the-nation civil unions law, a forerunner of same-sex marriage, to become the first openly LGBT woman to serve on any federal circuit court.

At the start of the Tuesday hearing, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, called the nomination of Beth Robinson, an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit “truly historic.” The court’s territory includes Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

“She’s been hailed as a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mode of the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Leahy said as he introduced Robinson. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Beth helped Vermont and America more fully realizing the meaning of equality under the law.”

Robinson helped argue the case that led to Vermont’s 2000 civil unions law. She has served on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011.

She “has built a reputation for her impartiality, and fair application of the law,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, in his introduction. “She treats people with respect and compassion and she understands the duty of the court to provide equitable justice.”

Robinson told the committee that she would be honored to continue her work promoting the rule of law as a judge on the 2nd circuit.
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Supreme Court hanging up phone, back to in-person arguments

Lawyer Blog Post 2021/09/08 12:25   Bookmark and Share
The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.
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Court rules Catholic school wrongfully fired gay substitute

Headline Legal News 2021/09/06 14:42   Bookmark and Share
A gay substitute teacher was wrongfully fired by a Roman Catholic school in North Carolina after he announced in 2014 on social media that he was going to marry his longtime partner, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn ruled Friday that Charlotte Catholic High School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Charlotte violated Lonnie Billard’s federal protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Cogburn granted summary judgment to Billard and said a trial must still be held to determine appropriate relief for him.

“After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained to teach all this time,” Billard said in a statement released Friday by the ACLU, which represented him in court. “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”

Billard taught English and drama full-time at the school for more than a decade, earning its Teacher of the Year award in 2012. He then transitioned to a role as a regular substitute teacher, typically working more than a dozen weeks per year, according to his 2017 lawsuit.

He posted about his upcoming wedding in October 2014 and was informed by an assistant principal several weeks later that he no longer had a job with the school, according to the ruling.

The defendants said that they fired Billard not because he was gay, but rather because “he engaged in ‘advocacy’ that went against the Catholic Church’s beliefs” when he publicly announced he was marrying another man, the ruling said.

But Cogburn ruled that the school’s action didn’t fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings, nor was the school’s action protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom.
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