High court seems likely to leave to health care law in place

Court News 2020/11/11 15:24   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court seemed likely Tuesday to leave in place the bulk of the Affordable Care Act, including key protections for pre-existing health conditions and subsidized insurance premiums that affect tens of millions of Americans. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, among the conservative justices, appeared in two hours of arguments to be unwilling to strike down the entire law ? a long-held Republican goal that has repeatedly failed in Congress and the courts ? even if they were to find the law’s now-toothless mandate for obtaining health insurance to be unconstitutional.

The court’s three liberal justices are almost certain to vote to uphold the law in its entirety and presumably would form a majority by joining a decision that cut away only the mandate, which now has no financial penalty attached to it. Congress zeroed out the penalty in 2017, but left the rest of the law untouched.

“Would Congress want the rest of the law to survive if the unconstitutional provision were severed? Here, Congress left the rest of the law intact,” Roberts said. “That seems to be a compelling answer to the question.” For his part, Kavanaugh said recent decisions by the court suggest “that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place.”

A week after the 2020 election, the justices heard arguments by telephone in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in the court’s third major case over the 10-year-old law, popularly known as “Obamacare.” Republican attorneys general in 18 states and the administration want the whole law to be struck down, which would threaten coverage for more than 23 million people.

California, leading a group of Democratic-controlled states, and the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives are urging the court to leave the law in place.

Kavanaugh is one of three justices appointed by President Donald Trump on a court that is more conservative than the ones that sustained the law in previous challenges in 2012 and 2015. The others are Neil Gorsuch and new Justice Coney Barrett, who joined the court late last month following her hurried nomination and confirmation to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The three Trump appointees have never ruled on the substance of the health care law. Barrett, though, has been critical of the court’s earlier major health care decisions sustaining the law, both written by Roberts.

The Supreme Court could have heard the case before the election, but set arguments for a week after. The timing could add a wrinkle to the case since President-elect Joe Biden strongly supports the health care law.

The case turns on a change made by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 that reduced the penalty for not having health insurance to zero. Without the penalty, the law’s mandate to have health insurance is unconstitutional, the GOP-led states argue.

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Philadelphia victim’s family sought ambulance, not police

Court News 2020/10/27 16:38   Bookmark and Share
The family of a Black man killed when Philadelphia police officers fired a dozen rounds in a shooting caught on video had called for an ambulance to get him help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention, their lawyer said Tuesday. Additionally, Walter Wallace’s wife is pregnant and is scheduled to have labor induced in coming days, the lawyer, Shaka Johnson, told reporters from the steps of a family home. Wallace’s father planned a statement later Tuesday, Johnson said. Philadelphia officials anticipated a second night of unrest Tuesday, and a Pennsylvania National Guard spokesperson told The Inquirer that several hundred guardsmen were expected to arrive in the city within 24 to 48 hours.

Chief Police Inspector Frank Vanore said earlier at a news conference that police had received a call Monday about a man screaming and that he was armed with a knife.  The two officers each fired at least seven rounds — at least 14 total shots — but could not say how many times Wallace, 27, was struck. Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., earlier told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his son was on medication and struggled with his mental health. "Why didn’t they use a Taser?” he asked.

The officers had not been interviewed as of Tuesday afternoon, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. She said the officers’ names and other identifying information, including their race, would be withheld per department policy until the department could be sure releasing the information would not pose a threat to their safety. Neither officer had a Taser or similar device, with Outlaw saying the department has previously asked for funding to equip more officers with those devices.

Wallace was shot before 4 p.m. Monday in an episode filmed by a bystander and posted on social media. Witnesses complained that police fired excessive shots. Police arrested at least 91 people during unrest Monday night and Tuesday morning, with three people cited for failing to disperse and about a dozen charged with assault of an officer. Police had previously said 30 officers were injured in the unrest, most of them hit with thrown objects like bricks. One officer was still hospitalized Tuesday with a broken leg after being purposely run over by a pickup truck, police said.

Officials with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing officers in Philadelphia, said the officer injuries were unacceptable and called for public patience as the investigation into the shooting continued. Officers said they found Wallace holding a knife and ordered him to drop the weapon several times.

Wallace advanced toward the officers, who fired several times, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokesperson. In the video, a woman and at least one man follow Wallace, trying to get him to listen to officers, as he briskly walks across the street and between cars. The woman, identified by family members as Wallace’s mother, screams and throws something at an officer after her son is shot and falls to the ground.
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High court to review two cases involving Trump border policy

Court News 2020/10/20 09:47   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases involving Trump administration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border: one about a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings and a second about the administration's use of money to fund the border wall. The justices’ decision to hear the cases continues its practice of reviewing lower court rulings that have found President Donald Trump's immigration policies illegal over the past four years.
Most notably, the high court reviewed and ultimately upheld Trump's travel ban on visitors from some largely Muslim countries. In June, the court kept in place legal protections for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The justices will not hear either new case until 2021, and the outcome of the presidential election could make the cases go away, or at least reduce their significance. If Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House, he has pledged to end “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump considers a cornerstone policy on immigration.

In the border wall case, much of the money has already been spent and wall constructed. It is unclear what could be done about wall that has already been built if the administration loses, but it could conceivably be torn down. Biden has said he would cease wall construction if elected but would not tear down what was built under Trump’s watch. The court has allowed both policies to continue even after they were held illegal by lower courts, a sign the challengers could face long odds when the justices ultimately decide the cases.

The Trump administration policy known informally as “Remain in Mexico” began in January 2019. It became a key pillar of the administration’s response to an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families from Central American countries at the border, drawing criticism for having people wait in highly dangerous Mexican cities. Lower courts found that the policy is probably illegal. But earlier this year the Supreme Court stepped in to allow the policy to remain in effect while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy. The Justice Department estimated in late February that there were 25,000 people still waiting in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. Those hearings were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement after the high court agreed to take the case, Department of Justice spokeswoman Alexa Vance said the administration is pleased the court agreed to hear the case, calling the program “a critical component of our efforts to manage the immigration crisis on our Southern Border.”

Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the policy, called the policy “illegal and depraved.” “The courts have repeatedly ruled against it, and the Supreme Court should as well,” she said in a statement. The high court also agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling that it improperly diverted money to build portions of the border wall with Mexico.

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Pennsylvania high court to settle voter signatures fight

Court News 2020/10/17 06:45   Bookmark and Share
Pennsylvania’s highest court granted a request Wednesday to wade into a fight over whether counties should count mail-in ballots when a voter’s signature doesn’t necessarily match the one on their registration. In its brief order, the state Supreme Court said it will decide the matter after a filings deadline in the case on Friday.

In guidance last month to counties, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, told them that state law does not require or permit them to reject a mail-in ballot solely over a perceived signature inconsistency. After President Donald Trump’s campaign contested that guidance in a federal court case, Boockvar asked the court to back up her guidance.

Rejection of ballots over signatures poses “a grave risk of disenfranchisement on an arbitrary and wholly subjective basis,” Boockvar’s court filing said. Trump’s campaign asked a federal judge to declare that Boockvar’s guidance is unconstitutional and to block counties from following that guidance. The judge dismissed the case on Saturday.

However, state Republican lawmakers oppose Boockvar’s guidance to counties, saying in court filings that it would “rewrite existing law,” while disrupting Pennsylvania’s “clear and unambiguously crafted procedures for determining and challenging the validity” of a mail-in or absentee ballot. Boockvar’s guidance to counties comes amid a surge in mail-in voting and rising concerns that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over a variety of technicalities.

The fight over signatures is one of many partisan battles  being fought in the state Legislature and the courts over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid warnings that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania. After President Donald Trump’s campaign contested that guidance in a federal court case, Boockvar asked the court to back up her guidance.

Rejection of ballots over signatures poses “a grave risk of disenfranchisement on an arbitrary and wholly subjective basis,” Boockvar’s court filing said. Trump’s campaign asked a federal judge to declare that Boockvar’s guidance is unconstitutional and to block counties from following that guidance. The judge dismissed the case on Saturday. However, state Republican lawmakers oppose Boockvar’s guidance to counties, saying in court filings that it would “rewrite existing law,” while disrupting Pennsylvania’s “clear and unambiguously crafted procedures for determining and challenging the validity” of a mail-in or absentee ballot.

Boockvar’s guidance to counties comes amid a surge in mail-in voting and rising concerns that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over a variety of technicalities. The fight over signatures is one of many partisan battles  being fought in the state Legislature and the courts over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid warnings that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.
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High Court Won't Take up Ex-Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis' Case

Court News 2020/10/05 09:11   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that allowed a lawsuit to move forward against a Kentucky clerk who was jailed in 2015 after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The high court said Monday it would not take the case involving Kim Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County, and two same-sex couples who had sued her. Soon after the 2015 Supreme Court decision in which same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide, Davis, a Christian who has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing all marriage licenses.

That led to lawsuits against her, and a judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses. She spent five days in jail after refusing. Davis had argued that a legal doctrine called qualified immunity protected her from being sued for damages by couples David Ermold and David Moore as well as James Yates and Will Smith. Their case will now move forward. Davis, a Republican, ultimately lost her bid for reelection in 2018. Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr. is now the county’s clerk.

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas wrote for himself and Justice Samuel Alito that while he agreed with the decision not to hear the case, it was a "stark reminder of the consequences" of the court's 2015 decision in the same-sex marriage case. Because of that case, he wrote, “those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without running afoul" of the case “and its effect on other antidiscrimination laws.”
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Court OK’s $800M settlement for MGM Resorts, Vegas victims

Court News 2020/10/01 09:17   Bookmark and Share
A court on Wednesday approved a settlement totaling $800 million from casino company MGM Resorts International and its insurers to more than 4,400 relatives and victims of the Las Vegas Strip shooting that was the deadliest in recent U.S. history.  The action makes final a deal settling dozens of lawsuits on the eve of the third anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 58 people and injured more than 850 at an open-air concert near the Mandalay Bay resort.

“By the grace of God, myself and my family are going to be OK,” said Stephanie Fraser, a plaintiff in the lawsuit from La Palma, California. “I needed to be able to protect our kids.” Clark County District Court Judge Linda Bell, in her brief order, cited “near-unanimous participation in the settlement among potential claimants.”  Authorities said more than 22,000 people were attending an outdoor music festival when a gunman firing military-style weapons from windows on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay rained rapid-fire bullets into the crowd.  Fraser’s husband of 13 years, Brian Fraser, a vice president at a mortgage company, died after being shot in the chest as they danced while country music singer Jason Aldean performed.

“Brian is missed beyond words by all of us — all of our family and all of our friends,” Stephanie Fraser told The Associated Press. The couple had four children and stepchildren. She and her attorney, Dan Robinson, declined to say how much they’ll receive in the settlement. “With this coming to an end, it brings closure and allows us to put pieces back together,” Fraser said. “Brian would want that for us.” MGM Resorts, owner of the hotel and the concert venue, acknowledged no liability. It will pay $49 million, while its insurance companies will pay $751 million.

“We are grateful that the decision brings families, victims and the community closer to closure,” the company said in a statement. It noted the anniversary of the Oct. 1, 2017, event, calling it “a time of great sadness and reflection.” Memorial ceremonies are scheduled Thursday at several venues in Las Vegas, including a reading of the names of the slain beginning at 10:05 p.m. — the time the first shots rang out. Attorney Robert Eglet, the plaintiffs’ lawyer who spent a year arranging the settlement with clients, legal firms and attorneys in at least 10 states, said the amounts to be disbursed will be determined by two retired judges and he’s hopeful that payments will begin going out by the end of the year.

“There’ve been no objections and we expect no appeals,” Eglet told The Associated Press. “We’ll send out notices of the order. After 30 days the $800 million will be deposited.” The case will be dismissed at that time, he added.  “Our firm and the other leadership firms hope it helps victims and their families find some sense of closure and healing,” said Mark Robinson Jr., a California attorney representing Fraser and more than one-third of the shooting victims.

Eglet previously said that everyone involved “recognized there are no winners in long, drawn-out litigation with multiple trials where people and the community are reliving the event every time we try a case.”  A line-by-line list of victims, identified by their initials only, runs for more than 170 pages of a 225-page civil complaint filed Sept. 9 seeking compensation and punitive damages from MGM Resorts. It accused the casino company of negligence, wrongful death and liability in the 2017 shooting.

Plaintiffs came from nearly every state in the U.S., at least eight Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, Iran and Ireland. In various lawsuits, victims and families accused MGM Resorts of failing to protect people at the concert venue or stop the shooter from amassing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition over several days before he opened fire.

Millions of dollars could go to the most severely and permanently injured, Eglet said, depending on factors including age, number of dependents, type of injuries, previous and future medical treatment, and ability to work.  A minimum $5,000 would go to each person who filed a claim for unseen injuries and did not seek medical attention or therapy. Court filings in the case don’t mention the gunman, Stephen Paddock, who killed himself before police closed in.  Las Vegas police and the FBI determined the 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes poker player meticulously planned the attack and acted alone. They theorized he may have sought notoriety, but said they never determined a clear motive for the attack.

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