Supreme Court appears likely to reject Trump immunity claim

Court Watch 2020/05/10 13:25   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared likely to reject President Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office. But the court seemed less clear about exactly how to handle subpoenas from Congress and the Manhattan district attorney for Trump’s tax, bank and financial records.

The court’s major clash over presidential accountability could affect the  2020 presidential campaign, especially if a high court ruling leads to the release of personal financial information before Election Day.

The justices heard arguments in two cases by telephone Tuesday that stretched into the early afternoon. The court, which includes six justices age 65 or older, has been meeting by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was no apparent consensus about whether to ratify lower court rulings that the subpoenas to Trump’s accountant and banks are valid and should be enforced. The justices will meet by phone before the end of the week to take a preliminary vote on how those cases should come out, and decisions are expected by early summer.

On the same day Trump’s lawyers were telling the court that the subpoenas would be a distraction that no president can afford, Trump found the time to weigh in on a long string of unrelated issues on Twitter, about Elon Musk reopening Tesla’s California plant in defiance of local authorities, the credit he deserves for governors’ strong approval ratings for their handling of the virus outbreak, the anger Asian Americans feel “at what China has done to our Country,” oil prices, interest rates, his likely opponent in the November election and his critics.

The justices sounded particularly concerned in arguments over congressional subpoenas about whether a ruling validating the subpoenas would open the door to harassing future presidents.

“In your view, there is really no protection against the use of congressional subpoenas for the purpose of preventing the harassment of a president,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Douglas Letter, the lawyer for the House of Representatives.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he worried about a “future Sen. McCarthy,” a reference to the Communist-baiting Wisconsin senator from the 1950s, with subpoena power against a future president.

But in the case involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Trump’s taxes, the justices showed little interest in the broadest argument made by Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, that a president can’t be investigated while he holds office.
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Washington Supreme Court to hear COVID-19 inmate case online

Court Watch 2020/04/23 13:23   Bookmark and Share
In an historic setting, the Washington Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Thursday while sitting alone in their separate chambers using Zoom technology in a case that addresses the safety of inmates in the state’s prisons during the coronavirus outbreak.

At the same time, conservative lawmakers, law enforcement officials and some victims plan to hold news conferences on both sides of the state to protest the release of some offenders.

At least 24 corrections employees and 13 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, almost 100 offenders were placed in isolation and more than 1,000 are being quarantined. The majority of the positive cases occurred at the Monroe Correctional Complex where seven staff and 12 inmates have the disease.

After the virus hit the facility, the second largest in Washington, inmates filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking the justices to order Gov. Jay Inslee and Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair to release inmates who are older than 60, have underlying conditions and are within 60 days of their release date.

In an unanimous ruling on April 10, the justices ordered the state to devise a plan to protect inmates from the disease. Several days later, Inslee announced plans to release almost 1,000 non-violent offenders who are close to their release date.

As of Wednesday, about 41 inmates received work release furloughs, 293 had their sentences commuted and another 600 were on a list to be considered for a release into the community using electronic monitoring.

The corrections department has also told the court that it has imposed a list of measures designed to keep incarcerated people healthy, including mandatory face masks and hand-sanitizer dispensers.

Lawyers for the inmates say their efforts fall short. They say the prisons are too crowded to allow for social distancing.

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Supreme Court: Justices healthy and trying to stay that way

Court Watch 2020/03/21 17:44   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court reported Friday that the nine justices are healthy and trying to stay that way.

To that end, when the court held its regularly scheduled private conference Friday morning, some of the justices participated remotely, and those who were in the building did not engage in the tradition of shaking hands, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

The court plans to issue opinions Monday in cases argued during the fall and winter without taking the bench, Arberg said. The last time that happened was when the court decided Bush v. Gore late in the evening of Dec. 12, 2000, essentially settling the disputed 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush.

Arberg wouldn't say who showed up in person Friday to the justices' conference room, adjacent to Chief Justice John Roberts' office. Six of the nine justices are 65 and older, at higher risk of getting very sick from the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned 87 on Sunday, and Stephen Breyer, 81, are the oldest members of the court.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 54, flew on a commercial flight last week between Washington, D.C., and Louisville, Kentucky, for a ceremony in honor of U.S. District Judge Justin Walker, a former law clerk whom President Donald Trump named to the federal bench last year.
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Fight over jaguar habitat in Southwest heads back to court

Court Watch 2020/03/19 17:45   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court is ordering a U.S. district judge in New Mexico to reconsider a case involving a fight over critical habitat for the endangered jaguar in the American Southwest.

Groups representing ranchers had sued, arguing that a 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set aside thousands of acres for the cats was arbitrary and violated the statute that guides wildlife managers in determining whether certain areas are essential for the conservation of a species.

With the order released this week, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling that had sided with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Jaguars are currently found in 19 countries. Several individual male jaguars have been spotted in Arizona and New Mexico over the last two decades but there's no evidence of breeding pairs establishing territories beyond northern Mexico.

Shrinking habitats, insufficient prey, poaching and retaliatory killings over livestock deaths are some of the things that have contributed to the jaguar’s decline in the Southwest over the past 150 years.

Under a recovery plan finalized last year, Mexico as well as countries in Central and South America would be primarily responsible for monitoring jaguar movements within their territory. Environmentalists have criticized the plan, saying the U.S. government is overlooking opportunities for recovery north of the international border.

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Supreme Court won't disturb ruling against anti-homeless law

Court Watch 2019/12/18 09:22   Bookmark and Share
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left a lower court ruling in place that struck down a law making it a crime to sleep in public places when homeless shelter space is unavailable.

A federal appeals court had ruled that the anti-camping ordinance in Boise, Idaho, was cruel and unusual punishment, violating the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. "A state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless," the appeals court said.

The Supreme Court denied Boise's appeal Monday without comment, as is its normal practice when declining to grant reviews.

Lawyers for the city argued that Boise wanted to enforce the ordinance "in the parks, foothills, and other public areas not just to keep them safe and sanitary but also to allow users to utilize the public spaces as they were intended to be used." Supporters of the law said people sleeping on the streets are unsafe and make residents feel less safe.

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Media lawyers in Australian court over Cardinal gag order

Court Watch 2019/04/10 10:32   Bookmark and Share
Dozens of high-profile Australian journalists and major media organizations were represented by lawyers in a court on Monday on charges relating to breaches of a gag order on reporting about Cardinal George Pell's convictions for sexually molesting two choirboys.

Reporting in any format accessible from Australia about the former Vatican economy chief's convictions in a Melbourne court in December was banned by a judge's suppression order that was not lifted until February.

Such suppression orders are common in the Australian and British judicial systems, and breaches can result in jail terms. But the enormous international interest in a criminal trial with global ramifications has highlighted the difficulty in enforcing such orders in the digital world.

Lawyers representing 23 journalists, producers and broadcasters as well as 13 media organizations that employ them appeared in the Victoria state Supreme Court for the first time on charges including breaching the suppression order and sub judice contempt, which is the publishing of material that could interfere with the administration of justice. Some are also charged with scandalizing the court by undermining public confidence in the judiciary as well as aiding and abetting foreign media outlets in breaching the suppression order.

Media lawyer Matthew Collins told the court that convictions could have a chilling effect on open justice in Australia. He described the prosecutions as unprecedented under Australian law.

"This is as serious as it gets in terms of convictions, fines and jail time," Collins said. Justice John Dixon urged lawyers to consider whether all 36 people and companies would face a single trial or whether there should be 36 trials.

He ordered prosecutors to file detailed statements of claim against all those charged by May 20 and defense lawyers to file responses by June 21.
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