Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda

Court News 2017/11/12 16:10   Bookmark and Share
To get the Supreme Court's attention these days, try saying your speech rights are being violated.

Whether the underlying topic is abortion, elections, labor unions or wedding cakes, the First Amendment is starting to dominate the Supreme Court's agenda.

The court on Monday granted three new speech cases, including a challenge to a California law that requires licensed pregnancy-counseling clinics to tell patients they might be eligible for free or discounted abortions. The nine-month term now features six cases, out of 44 total, that turn on the reach of the Constitution's free speech guarantee.

Several will be among the term's most closely watched. They include a high-profile fight over a Colorado baker who refuses to make cakes for same-sex weddings and a challenge to the requirement in some states that public-sector workers pay for the cost of union representation. Both of those cases offer the prospect of ideological divides that could put the court's five Republican appointees in the majority, backing free speech rights.

Free speech also plays a central role in what could be a watershed case involving partisan voting districts. The court's liberals could join with Justice Anthony Kennedy to allow legal challenges to partisan gerrymanders for the first time. During arguments in October, Kennedy suggested those challenges would be based on the First Amendment's protections for speech and free association.

The free speech clause has had a special resonance with the court's conservative wing under Chief Justice John Roberts. The court invoked the First Amendment in the landmark 2010 Citizens United decision, which said corporations could spend unlimited sums on political causes. Writing for the five-justice majority, Kennedy equated federal spending restrictions with using "censorship to control thought."

The court has also backed speech rights with more lopsided majorities in cases involving violent video games, depictions of animal cruelty, abortion-clinic buffer zones and anti-homosexual protesters.

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Trump choosing white men as judges, highest rate in decades

Court News 2017/11/07 16:11   Bookmark and Share
President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America's federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation's diversity.

So far, 91 percent of Trump's nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of Trump's most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and Trump has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges. That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country. The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.
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Illinois to require veterans courts across the state in 2018

Court News 2017/10/29 19:01   Bookmark and Share
A law passed last year requires every judicial circuit in Illinois to have a veterans treatment court starting Jan. 1.

The courts allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence, The Chicago Tribune reported. The sentence requires frequent court visits and mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Veterans can also apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence. Those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies.

Supporters say the program will help those who risked their lives for their country.

Army veteran Gregory Parker enrolled in the Lake County Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court after his fourth drunken driving arrest resulted in a felony reckless driving charge. Parker graduated from the program in about 18 months. He's quit drinking and continues to go to therapy.

"I finally find myself enjoying things in life I've never enjoyed before," he said.

But some wonder if every community has the resources or the need for a court dedicated to veterans.

Some rural communities may only have a few veterans moving through the court system, said Michelle Rock, executive director of the Illinois Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health and Justice, which provides support for treatment courts statewide.

"We know that it may not be cost-effective for every county in the state to have one," she said.

Before the new law, Kane County officials weighed the need for a veterans court with the availability of resources and decided against offering the court, said Court Administrator Doug Naughton.

The overall court system should be improved, instead of offering one group more options, said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois.
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Brazilian court revives case against Olympian Ryan Lochte

Court News 2017/10/28 19:01   Bookmark and Share
Over the summer, it appeared Ryan Lochte had been cleared of criminal charges in Brazil after he was accused of fabricating a story about getting robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro during the 2016 Olympics. On Friday, a decision made by an appeals court that originally ruled the case should be dismissed was reversed, according to USA Today, which cited Brazilian newspaper O Globo. The ruling came after Rio's prosecutor's office filed its own appeal.

"I'm disappointed that they're trying to take another shot at it," Lochte's attorney Jeff Ostrow told USA Today. "I think they should just let it die because they lost and because he didn't do anything wrong. But for whatever reason, they want to try to save face and continue this charade, let them do what they gotta do and we'll continue to fight it because we believe we're right."

Ostrow said he will now attempt to halt further proceedings by filing his own legal motion. If the case continues, Lochte could once again be facing a sentence of one to six months in jail should he be convicted of a misdemeanor offense of fabrication, although he would be unlikely to serve it. The reason, according to CNBC, is that Lochte would need to be extradited to Brazil, which would require U.S. cooperation. Under agreed upon terms with Brazil, extradition only applies in the case of more serious offenses, such as murder or rape.

Lochte's alleged offense was making up a tale inspired by a confrontation between him and three other U.S. swimmers and security at a gas station. After the incident, Lochte embarked on a media tour telling the world he was robbed at gunpoint by criminals posing as Rio police. With Rio authorities trying to downplay the city's crime rate, however, Lochte's allegations sparked an investigation. Eventually security camera footage revealed Lochte's story was untrue.
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Ohio court won't hear case in seizure of exotic animals

Court News 2017/10/21 19:03   Bookmark and Share
Another court has dealt a blow to an Ohio man who is trying to get his six tigers and several other exotic animals back from the state.

The Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month said it would not hear an appeal in the case involving the owner of a roadside animal sanctuary near Toledo.

Ohio took custody of 11 animals from Kenny Hetrick in January 2015 after officials say he ignored warnings that he needed a permit.

Hetrick argues he was treated differently than other exotic animal owners and has asked the courts to force the state to give him a permit and return the animals.

The tigers, bear, leopard and cougar are now being kept in out-of-state sanctuaries during the state's appeal.

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Court, for now, blocks immigrant teen's access to abortion

Court News 2017/10/19 19:03   Bookmark and Share
An appeals court is blocking, for now, an abortion sought by a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant being held in a Texas facility, ruling that the government should have time to try to release her so she can obtain the abortion outside of federal custody.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its ruling Friday hours after arguments from lawyers for the Trump administration and the teenager. The court ruled 2-1 that the government should have until Oct. 31 to release the girl into the custody of a sponsor, such as an adult relative in the United States. If that happens, she could obtain an abortion if she chooses. If she isn't released, the case can go back to court.

The judge who dissented wrote that the court's ruling means the teen will be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy for "multiple more weeks."

The teen, whose name and country of origin have been withheld because she's a minor, is 15 weeks pregnant. She entered the U.S. in September and learned she was pregnant while in custody in Texas.

She obtained a court order Sept. 25 permitting her to have an abortion. But federal officials have refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others may take her to have an abortion. A lower federal court ruled that she should be able to obtain an abortion Friday or Saturday, but the government appealed.

Federal health officials said in a statement that for "however much time" they are given they "will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies" in their facilities.

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