Court: Tennessee can enforce Down syndrome abortion ban

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/11/23 00:50   Bookmark and Share
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Tennessee can begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as prohibit the procedure if it’s based on the race or gender of the fetus.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee enacted the so-called “reason bans” earlier this year as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure. The law gained national attention because it banned abortion as early as six weeks ? making it one of the strictest in the country ? but it included several other anti-abortion components.

The law was immediately blocked by a lower federal court just hours after Lee signed it into law.

However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision will allow the state to enforce the reason bans while abortion rights groups continue their court battle against that law.

The plaintiffs, which include Tennessee abortion providers being represented by reproductive rights groups, had argued the ban was improperly vague, but the court disagreed.

Currently, more than a dozen states have similar reason bans in place.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy are best made by the individual and their family.”

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that they “appreciate the Sixth Circuit lifting the lower court’s injunction” and looked forward to continuing defending the statute.

“Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender, or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives,” Lee said in a statement. “Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

Immediately following the appeals court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a request in lower federal court for a temporary restraining order to block the reason bans once again, but this time argued the law illegally prohibits a patient from “obtaining constitutionally protected pre-viability abortion care.”

“(The) Sixth Circuit only addressed plaintiffs’ vagueness claims and explicitly declined to issue any ruling with respect to plaintiffs’ claims that the Reason Bans violate patients’ constitutional right to pre-viability abortion,” the attorneys wrote.

The court had not issued a ruling on that as of Friday evening.

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States ? or about 6,000 a year ? is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity.

The rarity of the condition has prompted abortion rights groups to paint the Down syndrome bans as part of yet another thinly veiled effort by lawmakers to continue chipping away at a patient’s right to an abortion.
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Michigan court blocks 2-week absentee ballot extension

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/10/18 09:48   Bookmark and Share
Absentee ballots must arrive by Election Day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension that had been ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in a battleground state. Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts. Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week said 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.

Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Stephens said there was “unrefuted evidence” about mail delivery problems because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the August primary. The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery woes “are not attributable to the state.”

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special boxes have been set up across Michigan.  The court also reversed another portion of Stephens’ decision, which would have allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Judge Mark Boonstra said in a separate, 10-page concurring opinion.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, had declined to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican-controlled Legislature to intervene.
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Roberts a pivotal vote in the Supreme Court's big opinions

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/07/02 21:47   Bookmark and Share
The biggest cases of the Supreme Court term so far have a surprising common thread. On a court with five Republican appointees, the liberal justices have been in the majority in rulings that make workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people illegal, protect young immigrants from deportation and, as of Monday, struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion providers.

As surprising, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative nominated by President George W. Bush who has led the court for nearly 15 years, has joined his liberal colleagues in all three. Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Roberts has played a pivotal role in determining how far the court will go in cases where the court's four liberals and four conservatives are closely divided.

Here's a look at where Roberts stood in the abortion, immigration and LGBT cases, his history on the court and what's at stake in coming decisions in which Roberts could play a key role:

On Monday, Roberts joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in striking down Louisiana's Act 620. The justices ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But Roberts' reason for siding with the liberals had less to do with his feelings on abortion than with his feelings on whether the court should do an abrupt about-face. Four years ago the court's four liberal members and Justice Kennedy struck down a Texas law nearly identical to Louisiana's. At the time, Roberts was a vote in dissent. But with Kennedy's retirement and replacement by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many conservatives had hoped the result in the Louisiana case would be different. Not so, Roberts wrote: “The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago."

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Catholic schools, ex-teachers clash in Supreme Court case

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/05/07 13:32   Bookmark and Share
First, Kristen Biel learned she had breast cancer. Then, after she told the Catholic school where she taught that she’d need time off for treatment, she learned her teaching contract wouldn’t be renewed.

“She was devastated,” said her husband Darryl. “She came in the house just bawling uncontrollably.”

Biel died last year at age 54 after a five-year battle with breast cancer. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a disability discrimination lawsuit she filed against her former employer, St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California.

A judge initially sided with the school and halted the lawsuit, but an appeals court disagreed and said it could go forward. The school, with the support of the Trump administration, is challenging that decision, telling the Supreme Court that the dispute doesn’t belong in court.

The case is one of 10 the high court is  hearing arguments in by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic. The justices heard arguments in four cases this week. Next week includes Biel’s case as well as high-profile fights over President Donald Trump’s financial records and whether presidential electors have to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who wins the popular vote in their state.

Biel’s lawsuit is one of two cases being heard together that involves the same issue: the “ministerial exception” that exempts religious employers from certain employment discrimination lawsuits.

The Supreme Court recognized in a unanimous 2012 decision that the Constitution prevents ministers from suing their churches for employment discrimination. But it specifically avoided giving a rigid test for who should count as a minister.

Now the Supreme Court will decide whether Biel, and another former teacher who sued a different Catholic school for age discrimination, count as ministers barred from suing. Both Biel and the other teacher, Agnes Morrissey-Berru, taught religion, among other subjects.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for Biel and Morrissey-Berru, says if his clients lose, it could have “innumerable, cascading consequences” on employees of religious institutions. He’s argued employment law protections could be denied to nurses at religiously affiliated hospitals, counselors at religious summer camps, and cooks and administrators in social services centers.
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Court issues temporary restraining order on Gov. Kelly's order

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/04/19 23:21   Bookmark and Share
A federal judge issued a limited temporary restraining order on Governor Kelly's order banning religious gatherings of ten or more people. The ruling was made by Judge John W. Broomes Saturday evening.

Kelly responded, saying, "This is not about religion. This is about a public health crisis,” Kelly said. “This ruling was just a preliminary step. There is still a long way to go in this case, and we will continue to be proactive and err on the side of caution where Kansans’ health and safety is at stake.”

A telephone conference call had be arranged to hear arguments from attorneys. Broomes also set a time for a preliminary injunction hearing on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Wichita.
Court issues temporary restraining order on Gov. Kelly's order

The churches and their pastors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Kelly, arguing that the directive violates their religious and free-speech rights, as well as their right to assembly.

A federal judge issued a limited temporary restraining order on Governor Kelly's order banning religious gatherings of ten or more people.

The ruling was made by Judge John W. Broomes Saturday evening.

Kelly responded, saying, "This is not about religion. This is about a public health crisis,” Kelly said. “This ruling was just a preliminary step. There is still a long way to go in this case, and we will continue to be proactive and err on the side of caution where Kansans’ health and safety is at stake.”

A telephone conference call had be arranged to hear arguments from attorneys. Broomes also set a time for a preliminary injunction hearing on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Wichita.

The churches and their pastors filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Kelly, arguing that the directive violates their religious and free-speech rights, as well as their right to assembly.
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Wisconsin’s pandemic election puts focus on state’s court

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/04/09 11:51   Bookmark and Share
Anyone needing proof of the power and significance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court can look no further than the lines of mask-wearing voters that stretched for hours in Milwaukee during an election held despite a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

An election-eve decision by the court overturning the governor’s order to postpone the vote made the state an outlier in pushing ahead with voting, ignoring pleadings from health experts and local officials about the danger of spreading the virus.

The fact that Wisconsin went forward when other states delayed their elections, and that many voters were willing to endure long waits to cast ballots, reflects the hotly disputed role the court has taken in a state with outsize importance in national politics.

Republicans and Democrats both see Wisconsin as crucial to winning national elections and gaining control of Congress. Historically, elections in the state are decided by close margins and power has flipped between the parties.

Since conservatives have held a majority on the state Supreme Court, the Republican-dominated Legislature has been able to enact laws that enhanced the GOP’s position, including voter ID laws and limits on labor unions, despite legal challenges from Democrats. The court would play a pivotal role in reviewing the drawing of new district lines for legislative and congressional offices following the 2020 census, which has a major impact on the balance of political power.

On the ballot Tuesday for a 10-year term was one of the justices in the court’s 5-2 conservative majority, Dan Kelly.

Democrats charged that holding the election when many voters might stay home would unduly benefit Republicans, who generally fare better in low-turnout ballots. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan in name only.

No turnout information was available from Tuesday’s vote. The results can’t be posted until April 13, allowing time for counting absentee ballots.
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