Another key redistricting case goes in front of high court
Court News | 2018/03/18 02:34
The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case.

The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts.

Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June. The arguments come nearly six months after the court heard a dispute over Wisconsin legislative districts that Democrats claim were drawn to maximize Republican control in a state that is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never thrown out electoral districts on partisan grounds and it’s not clear the justices will do so now. But supporters of limits on partisanship in redistricting are encouraged that the justices are considering two cases.

“In taking these two cases, the Supreme Court wants to say something about partisan gerrymandering. It’s clear the Supreme Court is not walking away from the issue,” said Michael Li, senior counsel at the New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The justices’ involvement in partisan redistricting reflects a period of unusual activity in the courts on this topic. Over the past 16 months, courts struck down political districting plans drawn by Republicans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Federal judges threw out a state legislative map in Wisconsin and a congressional plan in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional districts and replaced them with a court-drawn plan.



Arkansas wants court to dissolve stay for death row prisoner
Attorney News | 2018/03/17 02:33
Lawyers for the state of Arkansas argued Friday that the state prison director has long had the power to determine a death row inmate's sanity and that now isn't the time to change the way it moves the prisoners closer to their executions.

The arguments came in the case of Jack Greene, whose November execution was halted by the Arkansas Supreme Court so it could review his attorneys' arguments that the state correction director, Wendy Kelley, should not be deciding whether he is competent enough to be executed.

Greene's lawyers say doctors have found Greene delusional but Kelley has chosen to rely on outdated assessments of Greene's mental health in determining whether he's eligible to be executed. Greene's lawyers also have argued that Kelley shouldn't be making the determination because her boss, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, sets execution dates.

In papers filed at the state Supreme Court on Friday, assistant attorney general Kathryn Henry wrote that states are entitled to set the guidelines for review, as long as there is a "basic fairness." She also claims that, under the Arkansas Constitution, Greene cannot sue Kelley.

While previous court decisions didn't define "basic fairness," the presumption is that an inmate who is sane at his trial is sane until his execution, Henry wrote. "Only after 'a substantial threshold showing of insanity'" can an inmate win a review — and that review can be "far less formal than a trial," she wrote.

Against his lawyers' advice, Greene has insisted in a number of venues that he is not insane. State lawyers say that is reason enough for justices to dissolve the stay that was issued shortly before Greene's scheduled execution last Nov. 9.

A week before the execution date, a circuit judge said she couldn't hold a hearing on Greene's competence because, under state law, Kelley had the "exclusive authority" to determine whether the inmate was sane enough to be executed. The Arkansas Supreme Court later voted 5-2 to issue a stay and take Greene's case for review, rejecting state arguments.



TransCanada doesn't have to pay landowner attorneys
Attorney News | 2018/03/11 02:37
The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't have to reimburse attorneys who defended Nebraska landowners against the company's efforts to gain access to their land, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court's ruling resolves a dispute that was triggered when TransCanada Inc. filed eminent domain lawsuits against 71 Nebraska landowners in 2015, only to drop them later amid uncertainty over whether the process it used was constitutional.

"We conclude that none of the landowners established that they were entitled to attorney fees," Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote in the opinion.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina argued that TransCanada owes his clients about $350,000 to cover their attorney fees. Domina said the landowners clearly asked for representation in the eminent domain cases, and TransCanada should pay their attorney fees because the company effectively lost those cases.

A TransCanada attorney, James Powers, argued that the landowners failed to prove that they actually paid or were legally indebted to Domina or his law partner, Brian Jorde.

"We're pleased the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with our legal position," Powers said Friday. Domina said he respected the decision but was disappointed for his clients.



Former Trump campaign aide Nunberg at court for grand jury
Court Watch | 2018/03/10 10:37
A former Trump campaign aide appeared for hours before a federal grand jury Friday, after he defiantly insisted in a series of news interviews just days earlier that he intended to defy a subpoena in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Sam Nunberg spent more than six hours inside the federal courthouse in Washington. He declined to speak with journalists on the way in or out of the building, and it was not immediately clear what testimony he offered to the grand jury or what documents he provided.

His appearance marked a turnabout from extraordinary public statements Monday when Nunberg, in multiple interviews, balked at complying with a subpoena that sought his appearance before the grand jury as well as correspondence with other campaign officials. In doing so, he became the first witness in the Mueller probe to openly threaten to defy a subpoena.

Nunberg said he worked for hours to produce the thousands of emails and other communications requested by Mueller, who is investigating whether Donald Trump's campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers are currently negotiating the terms and scope of a possible interview with Mueller's office.


TransCanada doesn't have to pay landowner attorneys
Areas of Focus | 2018/03/09 10:37
The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline doesn't have to reimburse attorneys who defended Nebraska landowners against the company's efforts to gain access to their land, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The high court's ruling resolves a dispute that was triggered when TransCanada Inc. filed eminent domain lawsuits against 71 Nebraska landowners in 2015, only to drop them later amid uncertainty over whether the process it used was constitutional.

"We conclude that none of the landowners established that they were entitled to attorney fees," Chief Justice Michael Heavican wrote in the opinion.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina argued that TransCanada owes his clients about $350,000 to cover their attorney fees. Domina said the landowners clearly asked for representation in the eminent domain cases, and TransCanada should pay their attorney fees because the company effectively lost those cases.

A TransCanada attorney, James Powers, argued that the landowners failed to prove that they actually paid or were legally indebted to Domina or his law partner, Brian Jorde.

"We're pleased the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with our legal position," Powers said Friday. Domina said he respected the decision but was disappointed for his clients.


SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK: Kagan recalls clerking for Marshall
Attorney News | 2018/03/07 18:45
Justice Elena Kagan recalled the moment 30 years ago when her boss looked at her "as though I must have lost my mind."

The boss was Justice Thurgood Marshall and the setting was his Supreme Court office, where Kagan was spending a year as a law clerk after graduating from Harvard Law School.

Kagan had just delivered what she deemed a clear and simple explanation for why Marshall should side against a North Dakota girl who lived 16 miles from her school and whose family could not afford the bus service to get her there. The school district wouldn't waive the fee.

The legal giant who argued for the end of segregated schools and the first African-American on the court was not going to cast a vote against a poor school girl.

The story, recounted Tuesday evening in the courtroom where Marshall worked for 24 years, was part of a warm recollection by three judges and a Harvard law professor of their time spent as Supreme Court law clerks for Marshall, whose first term on the court was 50 years ago. Marshall's widow, Cecilia, and sons Thurgood and John were in the audience.

Sarita Kadrmas, the girl who sued, was white, but that was of no consequence in Marshall's thinking, Kagan said. "His basic idea of what he was there to do was ... to ensure that people like Sarita Kadrmas got to school every morning," Kagan said.

Kagan's initial view of the case turned out to be the majority's view in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

Kagan drafted Marshall's dissent and it took several versions "until he felt like I got the right level of passion and disgust," she said.

Marshall was a master storyteller and Judge Douglas Ginsburg, who sits on the federal appeals court in Washington, remembered Marshall's habit of wandering into his clerks' workspace after lunch and spinning tales for 30 to 45 minutes about his days representing black defendants in the Jim Crow South. The stories could be horrific accounts of racial injustice and also quite funny, often at the same time.

Kagan recalled how Marshall judged the fairness of death penalty trials. "I remember once he said to us that when a jury brought back a sentence of life imprisonment, that's when he absolutely knew that the guy was innocent."

All these years later, Kagan said, Marshall continues to influence her. "His voice in my head never went away in terms of trying to figure out what I was doing and why," she said.



Court fight over, founding papers of AA to go up for auction
Legal Topics | 2018/03/07 02:45
lawsuit disputing its ownership was settled.

Auction house Profiles in History announced Wednesday that the manuscript and manifesto is going up for auction on May 5 in Los Angeles. It is expected them to fetch between $2 million and $3 million.

The 161-page typed document with yellowing pages, considered to be nearly scripture by some AA followers, give the first outline of the group's 12-step recovery program. It is filled with handwritten notes and scribbles from the founding fathers of AA, including William Wilson, more commonly known as "Bill W."

It had been slated to be auctioned last June, but Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. disputed that Alabama resident Ken Roberts had the rights to it. Roberts bought the manuscript at auction in 2007 for $850,000.

Details of the settlement were not released, but Profiles in History said Alcoholics Anonymous had waived its rights to the manuscript.

Wilson's widow Lois owned the papers after his death in 1971, and she passed them on to her friend Barry Leach. Alcoholics Anonymous said Leach signed and notarized a letter in 1979 saying the manuscript would belong to the organization after his death. He died in 1985, but the manuscript did not make its way to Alcoholics Anonymous, which did not know about the notarized letter at the time.

Its ownership history in the ensuing years is not entirely clear until 2004, when Sotheby's auctioned it for $1.57 million. Then it sold to Roberts in 2007.



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