Baldwin's Supreme Court nominee fight is early flashpoint

Headline Legal News 2017/04/06 22:51   Bookmark and Share
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's support for a filibuster to block President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court has become an early flashpoint as she faces re-election next year.

While Baldwin and Republicans, including her Wisconsin colleague Sen. Ron Johnson, trade barbs over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, voters back home in a state that went for Trump in November worry about the continued erosion of bipartisanship and increasing polarization in Washington.

"Nobody is making any concessions and I think this is going to be the downfall of both parties," said Anna Street, a 56-year-old nurse from West Allis, on Tuesday.

Baldwin voted Thursday to support a Democratic filibuster in an attempt to stop Gorsuch's nomination to the nation's highest court, while Johnson voted to end debate. Baldwin argues that Trump should put forward someone who could get enough bipartisan support to garner 60 votes and overcome any filibuster.

But Republicans, on a party-line vote with Johnson in support and Baldwin opposed, changed Senate rules on Thursday to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move labeled the "nuclear option" because it would unravel Senate traditions that have led to reaching bipartisan consensus.

"Republicans and Democrats ought to get to a point where they're talking to each other and not go on with this," said Roger Sunby, a retired public education administrator from Mount Horeb. He said Gorsuch would be confirmed no matter what action Democrats take.

Republicans see Baldwin's opposition to Gorsuch as a vulnerability. Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans have been attacking Baldwin as being out of the "mainstream" because of her opposition to Gorsuch.

Baldwin argues that it's not her, but Gorsuch, who is out of the mainstream, citing his rulings "against disabled students, against workers, and against women's reproductive health care."

Baldwin said in a statement after her votes Thursday that she has "deep concerns" about Gorsuch's record and that she wants a justice who will serve as a check on the executive branch.

"Based on his record and the many questions he has chosen to leave unanswered, I don't have confidence Judge Gorsuch would be that justice and I oppose his confirmation to our highest court," she said.

Baldwin backers argue that her support for a filibuster will only further bolster her bona fides among liberals as someone willing to stand up to Trump.
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Bangladesh High Court upholds death for 2 in blogger killing

Headline Legal News 2017/04/02 15:23   Bookmark and Share
Bangladesh's High Court on Sunday confirmed the death penalty for two people tied to a banned Islamist militant group for the killing of an atheist blogger critical of radical Islam.

The court also upheld jail sentences for six others after appeals were filed challenging the verdicts handed down by a trial court in 2015.

Sunday's decision involves the killing of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death in 2013. Haider had campaigned for banning the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

One of the defendants was Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani, the leader of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, and the rest were university students inspired by his sermons.

During the trial, the students said that Rahmani incited them to kill Haider in sermons in which he said all atheist bloggers should be killed to protect Islam.

The two North South University students who received the death sentences included Faisal bin Nayeem, who the court said hacked Haider with meat cleavers in front of his house in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital. Another was tried in absentia. The others received prison sentences ranging from three years to life. Rahmani was sentenced to five years.

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Oklahoma tribe sues oil companies in tribal court over quake

Headline Legal News 2017/03/06 10:47   Bookmark and Share
An Oklahoma-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system Friday accusing several oil companies of triggering the state's largest earthquake that caused extensive damage to some near-century-old tribal buildings.

The Pawnee Nation alleges in the suit that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September and is seeking physical damages to real and personal property, market value losses, as well as punitive damages.

The case will be heard in the tribe's district court with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members.
"We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here," said Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation's executive director. "We're using our tribal laws, our tribal processes to hold these guys accountable."

Attorneys representing the 3,2 00-member tribe in north-central Oklahoma say the lawsuit is the first earthquake-related litigation filed in a tribal court. If an appeal were filed in a jury decision, it could be heard by a five-member tribal Supreme Court, and that decision would be final.

"Usually tribes have their own appellate process, and then, and this surprises a lot of people, there is no appeal from a tribal supreme court," said Lindsay Robertson, a University of Oklahoma law professor who specializes in Federal Indian Law.


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Court ponders mass murderer Breivik's prison conditions

Headline Legal News 2017/01/20 17:59   Bookmark and Share
An appeals court in Norway is considering whether the prison conditions under which mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is being held amount to a violation of his human rights.

The six-day trial ended Wednesday in a makeshift courtroom inside Skien prison in southern Norway where Breivik, 37, is serving a 21-year sentence for killing 77 people in a 2011 bomb-and-shooting rampage.

Breivik's lawyer, Oystein Storrvik, spent most of the last day seeking to show that restrictions on his client's visitors and the strict control over Breivik's mail and phone calls have led to a lack of human interaction and privacy, which amounts to a violation of his rights.

The case is "really about a person that is sitting very, very alone in a small prison within a prison" since 2012, explained Storrvik.

He dismissed the benefits of the weekly visits by a state-appointed prison confidante for Breivik, saying "it's a paid job."

Addressing the court last week, Breivik said his solitary confinement had deeply damaged him and made him even more radical in his neo-Nazi beliefs.

The Norwegian state rejected the criticism and said efforts to find a prison confidante show the authorities have "gone out of their way" to remedy the situation.

In a surprise verdict last year, the Oslo District Court sided with Breivik, finding that his isolation was "inhuman (and) degrading" and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. It ordered the government to pay his legal costs.

But it dismissed Breivik's claim that his right to respect for private and family life was violated by restrictions on contacts with other right-wing extremists, a decision that Breivik is appealing.

If the state loses the appeal, Breivik's prison regime will have to be revised. The government could decide to take the case to the Norwegian Supreme court. A ruling is expected in February.

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Court lifts execution reprieve for San Antonio hit man

Headline Legal News 2016/12/06 13:23   Bookmark and Share
Texas' highest criminal court lifted a reprieve on Wednesday that, for the second time in a decade, prevented a convicted hit man from being executed for the 1992 slaying of a San Antonio woman.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals didn't rule on the merits of the appeal filed by 44-year-old Rolando Ruiz, who was five days away from execution when the court stepped in on Aug. 26. Instead, the court ruled that his appeal was not legally proper and dismissed it, clearing the way for prosecutors in Bexar County to seek a new execution date for Ruiz.

Investigators said Ruiz collected $2,000 to kill Theresa Rodriguez at her home in San Antonio at the request of her husband, Michael, and a brother-in-law as part of a life insurance scheme.

Ruiz was convicted of being the triggerman in the plot. Michael Rodriguez also was convicted in the case — but he wound up on death row after becoming one of the notorious Texas Seven gang of inmates who escaped from a prison in December 2000 and killed a Dallas-area police officer. Rodriguez was executed in 2008.

In Ruiz's appeal, his attorneys argued that his trial lawyers and his original appeals lawyers failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence, like his long-term drug abuse and a troubled childhood, that could have convinced jurors to decide on a punishment other than death.

But in a 6-1 ruling with two judges not participating, the criminal appeals court said that claim had been "fully and completely vetted" by the federal courts over the past seven years. The court said the claims of poor legal help at Ruiz's trial had been "inspected, scrutinized, studied, probed, analyzed, reviewed and evaluated by the three main levels of the federal court system."

The court also said it had previously rejected the argument raised in the appeal that executing Ruiz more than two decades after his conviction amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

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Justice Thomas: Honor Scalia by reining in government

Headline Legal News 2016/11/18 12:48   Bookmark and Share
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is calling fellow conservatives to continue the work of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to keep the power of the courts and other branches of government in check.

Thomas tells 1,700 people at a dinner in honor of Scalia that the Supreme Court has too often granted rights to people that are not found in the Constitution. He cited the decision in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal across the country.

Thomas said he and his longtime friend and colleague formed an "odd couple" of a white New Yorker and a black man from Georgia.

He paraphrased Lincoln's Gettysburg address to exhort the audience to "be dedicated to the unfinished business for which Justice Scalia gave his last full measure of devotion."

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