No-cost birth control, now the norm, faces court challenges
Attorney News | 2019/01/16 01:32
Millions of American women are receiving birth control at no cost to them through workplace health plans, the result of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to contraception.

The Trump administration sought to allow more employers to opt out because of religious or moral objections. But its plans were put on hold by two federal judges, one in Pennsylvania and the other in California, in cases that could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

The judges blocked the Trump policy from going into effect while legal challenges from state attorneys general continue.

Here's a look at some of the issues behind the confrontation over birth control, politics and religious beliefs:

Well into the 1990s many states did not require health insurance plans to cover birth control for women.

"Plans were covering Viagra, and they weren't covering birth control," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

By the time President Barack Obama's health law passed in 2010, employers and insurers largely began covering birth control as an important part of health care for women.

The ACA took that a couple of steps further. It required most insurance plans to cover a broad range of preventive services, including vaccinations and cancer screenings, but also women's health services. And it also required such preventive services to be offered at no charge.


DeSantis picks female Cuban-American for state's high court
Legal Topics | 2019/01/13 08:51
With the first of his three picks for the Florida Supreme Court, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday chose a female Cuban-American appellate judge to become the state's newest justice.

Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.

"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."

DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.

"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."

Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.



Supreme Court will hear Wisconsin drunk driving case
Attorney News | 2019/01/12 06:51
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a Wisconsin drunk driving law that has parallels in other states.

Wisconsin law says law enforcement officials can draw blood from an unconscious driver without a warrant if they suspect the person was driving drunk.

The case the court agreed Friday to hear involves Gerald Mitchell. He was arrested in Sheboygan for driving while intoxicated in 2013 in Wisconsin. Mitchell was too drunk to take a breath test and became unconscious after being taken to a hospital. His blood was then drawn without a warrant. Mitchell was ultimately convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Mitchell says the blood draw was a search that violated his constitutional rights, but Wisconsin’s Supreme Court upheld his convictions. Mitchell says 29 states have similar laws.


Congo runner-up Fayulu asks court to order election recount
Legal Interview | 2019/01/12 06:51
Congo's presidential runner-up Martin Fayulu has asked the constitutional court to order a recount in the disputed election, declaring on Saturday that "you can't manufacture results behind closed doors."

He could be risking more than the court's refusal. Congo's electoral commission president Corneille Nangaa has said there are only two options: The official results are accepted or the vote is annulled — which would keep President Joseph Kabila in power until another election. The Dec. 30 one came after two years of delays.

"They call me the people's soldier ... and I will not let the people down," Fayulu said. Evidence from witnesses at polling stations across the country is being submitted to the court, which is full of Kabila appointees.

Rifle-carrying members of Kabila's Republican Guard deployed outside Fayulu's home and the court earlier Saturday. It was an attempt to stop him from filing, Fayulu said while posting a video of them on Twitter: "The fear remains in their camp."

Fayulu has accused the declared winner, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi, of a backroom deal with Kabila to win power in the mineral-rich nation as the ruling party candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, did poorly.

The opposition coalition for Fayulu, a businessman vocal about cleaning up widespread corruption, has said he won 61 percent of the vote, citing figures compiled by the Catholic Church's 40,000 election observers across the vast Central African country.




Kansas abortion foes brace for state Supreme Court decision
Legal Topics | 2019/01/10 17:22
Abortion opponents in Kansas have been bracing themselves for nearly two years for a ruling from the state's highest court that protects the right to have an abortion and potentially upends politics in a state long at the center of the national debate.

The Kansas Supreme Court is relatively liberal in a state with a Republican-dominated Legislature that has strong anti-abortion majorities.

Court watchers also are asking: Why is it taking so long for the justices to rule? No one outside the court knows for sure and the justices are not saying, as is their long-standing custom. One educated guess is that they still are wrestling with the implications of declaring that the state constitution protects abortion rights.

That was the core legal issue when the court heard attorneys' arguments in March 2017 in a major abortion lawsuit . An abortion-rights decision could allow state courts in Kansas to chart their own course on abortion and invalidate restrictions that the federal courts would uphold.

"What's the test for that?" said Jeffrey Jackson, a Washburn University of Topeka law professor. "There's any number of weird possible decisions that you can get to."

The case arises from abortion opponents' numerous legislative victories during eight years under Republican governors. Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, a strong abortion rights supporter, takes office Monday, but the Legislature emerged from last year's elections more conservative — and as anti-abortion as ever.

GOP conservatives' power in the Legislature surged following "Summer of Mercy" protests in 1991 against the late Dr. George Tiller's clinic in Wichita, among a few in the U.S. known to do late-term abortions. An anti-abortion zealot shot Tiller to death in 2009.

Legislators debate abortion annually. Kansas recorded its lowest number of abortions in 30 years in 2017, fewer than 6,800 — 46 percent less than the peak of more than 12,400 in 1999.



Guatemala court blocks president's expulsion of UN team
Court Watch | 2019/01/09 01:22
Guatemala's highest court issued a ruling Wednesday blocking President Jimmy Morales' decision to unilaterally end a U.N. anti-corruption commission.

The commission, known by its Spanish initials as CICIG, has angered Morales by investigating him, his sons and his brother on accusations of corruption, which they deny.

Guatemala's Constitutional Court overruled Morales' decision after all-night deliberations on five appeals against the president's cancellation of the agreement with the United Nations.

Morales has argued the commission had violated Guatemala's sovereignty and violated the rights of suspects.

Given the government's refusal to guarantee the commission's security, the U.N. has withdrawn the comission's members

The court has tussled with Morales before over the commission, though he has sometimes tried to ignore its rulings. The court has said the commission's mandate is valid through 2019.

Guatemala's human rights prosecutor, Jordan Rodas, said Morales' administration has to obey the new ruling.

"The government is under obligation to comply," said Rodas, who presented one of the appeals to the court. "If it doesn't obey, that is a whole other matter, and would constitute a coup, because the cornerstone of the rule of law is respect for the judicial branch."


Nissan's Ghosn tells Tokyo court he is innocent
Opinions | 2019/01/07 15:22
The former chairman of Japan's Nissan Motor Co. has told a Tokyo court that he was "wrongfully accused" of false financial reporting and other allegations.

In his first public appearance since he was detained on Nov. 19, Ghosn denied any wrongdoing and proclaimed his loyalty to the company. Explaining Ghosn's lengthy detention, the judge said he was considered a flight risk.

Prosecutors have charged Ghosn, who led a dramatic turnaround at the Japanese automaker over the past two decades, with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his income by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) over five years through 2015.

They also say he is suspected of having Nissan temporarily take on his investment losses from the financial crisis.

The former chairman of Japan's Nissan Carlos Ghosn will assert his innocence in a Tokyo courtroom Tuesday, according to his prepared statement that addresses each of the allegations that led to his Nov. 19 arrest.

The statement, which was to be delivered by Ghosn at his hearing, was released to The Associated Press through a person close to Ghosn and his family. They shared the information on condition anonymity due to its confidential nature.

In the statement Ghosn said the investment losses he was being accused of stemmed from his having to be paid in yen and he had asked Nissan to temporarily take on the collateral, and the company suffered no losses.


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