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Group takes oil refinery fight to North Dakota's high court
Court Line | 2019/03/28 01:05

An environmental group is taking its battle against an oil refinery being developed near Theodore Roosevelt National Park to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The National Parks Conservation Association argued in its Wednesday filing that an air quality permit issued by the state Health Department for the $800 million Davis Refinery and upheld by a state judge violates the federal Clean Air Act.

The Health Department after a two-year review determined the refinery will not be a major source of pollution that will negatively impact the park just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away. The permit the agency issued in June 2018 cleared the way for construction to begin. Meridian Energy Group began site work last summer and plans to resume construction this spring with a goal of having the refinery fully operational by mid-2021.

State District Judge Dann Greenwood ruled in January that the Health Department had effectively supported its position. Greenwood refused to declare the permit invalid and send the case back to the agency for a more rigorous review. The NPCA wants the Supreme Court to overrule him.

"Although the underlying permit contains a requirement for the Davis Refinery to keep monthly logs of its actual emissions ... the permit contains no requirement that the Davis Refinery install monitors to actually collect this data," association attorney Derrick Braaten said.

The group fears that pollution from the refinery will mar the park's scenery and erode air quality for wildlife and visitors. The park is North Dakota's top tourist attraction, drawing more than 700,000 people annually.

"With the decision to appeal, NPCA is fighting to protect the park that has inspired generations of conservationists," Stephanie Kodish, clean air program director for the association, said in a statement.

Roosevelt ranched in the region in the 1880s and is still revered by many for his advocacy of land and wildlife conservation.

Meridian maintains the facility will be "the cleanest refinery on the planet" thanks to modern technology and will be a model for future refineries. The company in a statement Wednesday said it does not comment on pending litigation.

State Air Quality Director Terry O'Clair said he had not had a chance to review the appeal but that "we're confident in the permit that was issued."

Meridian in late January obtained a needed state water permit . It still faces a separate state court battle related to the refinery's location. Two other environmental groups are challenging a decision by North Dakota regulators who concluded they were barred by state law from wading into the dispute over the site.


Supreme Court won't stop bump stock ban
Court Line | 2019/03/27 01:06

The Supreme Court won't stop the Trump administration from enforcing its ban on bump stock devices, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns.

The ban took effect Tuesday. Gun rights groups asked the court on Monday to stop the government from enforcing the ban for now. Chief Justice John Roberts declined one request for the court to get involved on Tuesday and a second request was declined by the court on Thursday. That was the only remaining request.

The administration's ban puts it in the unusual position of arguing against gun rights groups.

President Donald Trump said last year that the government would move to ban bump stocks. The action followed a 2017 Las Vegas shooting where bump stocks were used. Fifty-eight people were killed.


High court questions courts’ role in partisan redistricting
Attorney News | 2019/03/23 01:06

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority sounded wary Tuesday of allowing federal judges to determine when electoral maps are too partisan, despite strong evidence that the political parties drew districts to guarantee congressional election outcomes.

The decisions in two cases the justices heard Tuesday, from Maryland and North Carolina, could help shape the makeup of Congress and state legislatures for the next decade in the new districts that will be created following the 2020 census.

In more than two hours of arguments over Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina and a single congressional district drawn to benefit Democrats in Maryland, the justices on the right side of the court asked repeatedly whether unelected judges should police the partisan actions of elected officials.

“Why should we wade into this?” Justice Neil Gorusch asked.

Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh pointed out that voters in some states and state courts in others are imposing limits on how far politicians can go in designing districts that maximize one party’s advantage.

Gorsuch said the court’s 2015 ruling upholding Arizona voters’ decision to take redistricting away from the legislature and create an independent commission shows there are other ways to handle the issue. That case was decided by a 5-4 vote before Gorsuch joined the court, with four conservatives in dissent.


Supreme Court tosses $315 million award in USS Cole lawsuit
Legal News | 2019/03/22 01:07

The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a nearly $315 million judgment against Sudan stemming from the USS Cole bombing, saying Sudan hadn't properly been notified of the lawsuit.

The justices ruled 8-1 that notice of the lawsuit should have been mailed to Sudan's foreign ministry in the country's capital, Khartoum. The notice was instead mailed to Sudan's embassy in Washington.

The lawsuit in which the justices ruled involves sailors who were injured in the 2000 bombing of the Cole in Yemen. Sailors and their spouses sued Sudan in a U.S. court, arguing that Sudan had provided support to al-Qaida, which claimed responsibility for the Cole attack. Seventeen sailors died when the ship was struck by a bomb-laden boat. Dozens of others were injured.

In order to alert Sudan to the lawsuit, the group mailed the required notice to Sudan's embassy in Washington. Sudan didn't initially respond to the lawsuit in court, and a judge entered an approximately $315 million judgment against the country. Sudan then tried to get the judgment thrown out.

Sudan and the sailors who were suing disagreed about the requirements of a 1976 law, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. The statute lays out how to properly notify another country of a lawsuit filed in a U.S. court. If other agreements between the countries don't exist, the law says that notice should be "addressed and dispatched ... to the head of the ministry of foreign affairs of the foreign state concerned."

Lawyers for Sudan and for the U.S. government had argued that the best reading of that phrase is that it requires the notice to be sent to the foreign minister in the foreign country. The Supreme Court agreed.


Supreme Court to consider Louisiana's non-unanimous juries
Legal PR | 2019/03/18 23:33

The Supreme Court will consider banning non-unanimous juries in criminal cases in Louisiana, the only state that still allows them.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from a man who was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury's 10-2 vote. First-degree murder charges already require a unanimous jury to convict.

Oregon voters recently approved a state constitutional amendment that ended Oregon's use of divided juries to convict some criminal defendants.

The high court also is agreeing Monday to decide whether states can eliminate the so-called insanity defense for criminal defendants without violating the Constitution.

The appeal comes from a Kansas man who has been sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, their two daughters and the wife's grandmother. The cases will be argued in the fall.


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