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Why Trump's bid for president is in the hands of the Supreme Court
Criminal Law | 2024/02/08 10:23
The fate of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to return to the White House is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the justices will hear arguments in Trump’s appeal of a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that he is not eligible to run again for president because he violated a provision in the 14th Amendment preventing those who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office.

Many legal observers expect the nation’s highest court will reverse the Colorado ruling rather than remove the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination from the ballot. But it’s always tricky to try to predict a Supreme Court ruling, and the case against Trump has already broken new legal ground.

“No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two thirds of each House, remove such disability.”

Trump’s lawyers say this part of the Constitution wasn’t meant to apply to the president. Notice how it specifically mentions electors, senators and representatives, but not the presidency.

It also says those who take an oath to “support” the United States, but the presidential oath doesn’t use that word. Instead, the Constitution requires presidents to say they will “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution. And finally, Section 3 talks about any other “officer” of the United States, but Trump’s lawyers argue that language is meant to apply to presidential appointees, not the president.

That was enough to convince the Colorado district court judge who initially heard the case. She found that Trump had engaged in insurrection, but also agreed that it wasn’t clear that Section 3 applied to the president. That part of her decision was reversed by the Colorado Supreme Court.

The majority of the state’s highest court wrote: “President Trump asks us to hold that Section 3 disqualifies every oath-breaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land.”

Trump’s lawyers contend that the question of who is covered by a rarely used, once obscure clause should be decided by Congress, not unelected judges. They contend that the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol wasn’t an insurrection. They say the attack wasn’t widespread, didn’t involve large amounts of firearms or include other markers of sedition. They say Trump didn’t “engage” in anything that day other than in exercising his protected free speech rights.

Others who have been skeptical of applying Section 3 to Trump have made an argument that the dissenting Colorado Supreme Court justices also found persuasive: The way the court went about finding that Trump violated Section 3 violated the former president’s due process rights. They contend he was entitled to a structured legal process rather than a court in Colorado trying to figure out if the Constitution applied to him.

That gets at the unprecedented nature of the cases. Section 3 has rarely been used after an 1872 congressional amnesty excluded most former Confederates from it. The U.S. Supreme Court has never heard such a case.


Federal Judge rules California assault weapons ban unconstitutional
Criminal Law | 2023/10/20 17:48
A federal judge who previously overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons did it again on Thursday, ruling that the state’s attempts to prohibit sales of semiautomatic guns violates the constitutional right to bear arms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego conceded that powerful weapons like AR-15 rifles are commonly used by criminals, but said the guns are importantly also owned by people who obey the law and feel they need firearms to protect themselves.

“The State of California posits that its ‘assault weapon’ ban, the law challenged here, promotes an important public interest of disarming some mass shooters even though it makes criminals of law-abiding residents who insist on acquiring these firearms for self-defense,” Benitez wrote. “Nevertheless, more than that is required to uphold a ban.”

The judge’s ruling is nearly identical to a 2021 decision in which he called California’s ban on assault weapons a “failed experiment.” Benitez has has repeatedly struck down multiple California firearms laws. Just last month, he ruled the state cannot ban gun owners from having detachable magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Benitez’s latest decision would overturn multiple state statutes related to assault weapons. The judge gave the state 10 days to seek a stay on the ruling as part of an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office had already filed a notice of appeal.

“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” Bonta said in a statement Thursday. “This has been state law in California for decades, and we will continue to fight for our authority to keep our citizens safe from firearms that cause mass casualties. In the meantime, assault weapons remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California.”

John Dillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued to overturn the law, cheered the judge’s ruling.


Progressive Councilmember Freddie O’Connell wins Nashville mayor’s race
Criminal Law | 2023/09/22 15:37
Freddie O’Connell, a progressive member of Nashville’s metro council, has resoundingly won the race to become the next mayor of the Democratic-leaning city, according to unofficial results.

Results from the Davidson County Election Commission show O’Connell defeated conservative candidate Alice Rolli in Thursday’s runoff election by a wide margin, with all precincts reporting. Candidates in the race do not run with party affiliations.

Since 2015, O’Connell has served on the combined city-county government’s council, representing a district that covers downtown Nashville. He succeeds Mayor John Cooper, who decided not to seek reelection.

O’Connell, whose campaign touted him as the “only truly progressive candidate running for mayor,” said he wants to make the city “more ’ville and less Vegas,” a reference to the “Nashvegas” moniker sometimes used to liken the huge boom in tourism in the city to Las Vegas.

“Every part of this city deserves the public resources that bind neighborhoods and neighbors together — schools, parks and libraries,” O’Connell said in a victory speech. “And when we do that, our interactions with our local government should leave us feeling satisfied that a real person worked to solve our issue.”

Down the ballot, Olivia Hill won an at-large metro council seat to make history as the first transgender candidate to be elected to office in Tennessee, according to the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund. Hill’s victory stands in contrast to Tennessee’s Republican leadership in state government, where lawmakers have passed a series of restrictions on the rights of transgender people.


Some states reject federal money to replace dangerous lead pipes
Criminal Law | 2023/08/24 12:45
As the Biden administration makes billions of dollars available to remove millions of dangerous lead pipes that can contaminate drinking water and damage brain development in children, some states are turning down funds.

Washington, Oregon, Maine and Alaska declined all or most of their federal funds in the first of five years that the mix of grants and loans is available, The Associated Press found. Some states are less prepared to pay for lead removal projects because, in many cases, the lead must first be found, experts said. And communities are hesitant to take out loans to search for their lead pipes.

States shouldn’t “shrug their shoulders” and pass up funds, said Erik Olson, a health and food expert at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s troubling that a state would decide to take a complete pass on the funding because part of the reason for the funding is to figure out whether you even have lead,” Olson said.

The Biden administration wants to remove all 9.2 million lead pipes carrying water to U.S. homes. Lead can lower IQ and create behavioral problems in children. The 2021 infrastructure law provides $15 billion to find and replace them. That money will help a lot, but it isn’t enough to get all the toxic pipes out of the ground. State programs distribute the federal funds to utilities.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it is reviewing state requests to decline funds but did not provide a full list of states that have said no so far. That information will be available in October, officials said. States that declined first-year funds can still accept them during the remaining four years.

“EPA has been working closely with our state partners on utilizing Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding that is available,” the agency said.

Lead pipes are far more common in some states such as Michigan and Illinois, which each have hundreds of thousands. The harm there is clear. Flint’s lead crisis elevated lead in tap water to a national health issue. Residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, drank water with too much lead for years until all their lead pipes were replaced. In response, however, Michigan is clamoring for as much money as it can get to remove lead.

The states that declined funds have fewer problematic pipes, but that doesn’t mean lead isn’t an issue. There’s concern about lead in some Maine schools. Portland, Oregon, has struggled with high lead levels for years, although recent tests have been better and officials say the issue isn’t lead pipes, but household plumbing.

Washington accepted $85,000 of $63 million it could have taken and said the decision was based on the limited number of water systems that wanted loans. The EPA estimates the state has 22,000 lead pipes. Oregon, which could have accepted $37 million, said inventories are going to be done with existing staff and resources, adding that utilities have no known lead lines. The EPA projected that the state has 3,530 lead pipes — a relatively small number — based in part on information collected from utilities.


Opponents of Maine’s new abortion law won’t seek to nullify it
Criminal Law | 2023/08/14 10:22
Groups opposed to Maine’s new law expanding abortion access won’t attempt to nullify the statute through a so-called People’s Veto referendum.

Republican Rep. Laurel Libby, leader of the Speak Up for LIFE group, said Wednesday that allies have decided to focus their resources on electing candidates who are opposed to abortions instead of collecting signatures and running a referendum campaign.

“At the end of the day, we want to put our effort into the most effective place possible,” Libby, a Republican from Auburn, told The Associated Press. That means flipping legislative seats, she said, particularly in the Maine House.

Wednesday marked the deadline to notify state officials of a People’s Veto, a constitutional provision allowing citizens to repeal legislation through a statewide vote. To move forward, more than 67,000 signatures would have been needed.

Mills presented the bill expanding abortion access after a Yarmouth woman came forward with her story about having to travel to Colorado for an abortion after learning at week 32 of her pregnancy that her unborn son had a fatal condition that would not allow him to survive.

Critics said the law’s language was broader than necessary if the goal was simply to allow abortions in instances of a fatal fetal anomaly later in a pregnancy. They also said the bill put too much power in the hands of doctors.

Passage was considered a foregone conclusion in the Legislature where Democrats controlled both chambers, and there were enough co-sponsors to ensure passage. But the vote was close in the House after emotional testimony.

Beside Maine, six states leave the decision to get an abortion to doctors and their patients, without restrictions. They are Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and Vermont, plus Washington, D.C.


Grieving families confront Pittsburgh shooter at death penalty sentencing
Criminal Law | 2023/08/03 17:03
Grieving families confronted the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter at his sentencing hearing Thursday, one day after a jury determined that capital punishment was appropriate for the perpetrator of the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

The hearing at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh got underway, with some 22 witnesses — survivors of the 2018 massacre and relatives of the 11 people who were fatally shot — expected to deliver victim impact statements.

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville was expected to formally sentence Robert Bowers to death later Thursday.

“Mr. Bowers, you met my beloved husband in the kitchen. Your callous disregard for the person he was repulses me,” testified Peg Durachko, wife of 65-year-old Dr. Richard Gottfried, a dentist who was shot and killed. “Your hateful act took my soulmate from me.”

Mark Simon, whose parents, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, were killed in the attack, testified he still has their bloodied prayer shawl. He said he remains haunted by the 911 call placed by his mother, whom Bowers shot while she was on the line.

“My parents died alone, without any living soul to comfort them or to hold their hand in their last moments,” said Simon, condemning “that defendant” as evil and cowardly and urging the judge to show him no mercy.

“You will never be forgiven. Never,” Simon told Bowers.

Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver from suburban Baldwin, ranted about Jews online before carrying out the attack at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. He told police at the scene that “all these Jews must die” and has since expressed pride in the killings.

Jurors were unanimous in finding that Bowers’ attack was motivated by his hatred of Jews, and that he chose Tree of Life for its location in one of the largest and most historic Jewish communities in the nation so he could “maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national, and international Jewish communities.” They also found that Bowers lacked remorse.

The jury rejected defense claims that Bowers has schizophrenia and that his delusions about Jewish people spurred the attack.

Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, also shot and wounded seven, including five responding police officers.

He was convicted in June of 63 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.


Texas is using disaster declarations to install buoys and razor wire
Criminal Law | 2023/07/25 10:47
Wrecking ball-sized buoys on the Rio Grande. Razor wire strung across private property without permission. Bulldozers changing the very terrain of America’s southern border.

For more than two years, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has escalated measures to keep migrants from entering the U.S., pushing legal boundaries with a go-it-alone bravado along the state’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) border with Mexico. Now blowback over the tactics is widening, including from within Texas.

A state trooper’s account of officers denying migrants water in 100-degree Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) temperatures and razor wire leaving asylum-seekers bloodied has prompted renewed criticism. The Mexican government, some Texas residents along the border and the Biden administration are pushing back. On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department sued Abbott over the buoy barrier that it says raises humanitarian and environmental concerns, asking a federal court to require Texas to dismantle it.

bbott, who cruised to a third term in November while promising tougher border crackdowns, has used disaster declarations as the legal bedrock for some measures.

Critics call that a warped view. “There are so many ways that what Texas is doing right now is just flagrantly illegal,” said David Donatti, an attorney for the Texas American Civil Liberties Union.

Abbott did not respond to requests for comment. He has repeatedly attacked President Joe Biden’s border policies, tweeting Friday that they “encourage migrants to risk their lives crossing illegally through the Rio Grande, instead of safely and legally over a bridge.”

The Biden administration has said illegal border crossings have declined significantly since new immigration rules took effect in May.


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