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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.


Court raises concerns over power lines by historic Jamestown
Attorney News | 2019/03/11 18:21

A federal appeals court raised concerns Friday that power lines with towers nearly as high as the Statue of Liberty could spoil the view in one of the nation's most historically rich areas, a stretch of river in Virginia where England founded its first permanent settlement.

The power lines cross the James River near Jamestown Island. And they began transmitting 500,000 volts of electricity on Tuesday.

Despite the project's completion, the court directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a full environmental impact statement for the project. The agency previously deemed it to be unnecessary.

The appeals court found that the Corps failed to fully consider the project's impact before issuing a permit to Dominion Energy. The ruling also said the Corps failed to resolve concerns that were raised in many of the 50,000 public comments that were submitted and by other federal agencies over the years.

For instance, the National Park Service has said utility lines should be run underground in the area, allowing people to experience views similar to what English explorer John Smith saw in the early 1600s.


Oregon's high court: Developers can't offset harm to farmers
Attorney News | 2019/03/11 09:21

The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that negative impacts on Oregon's farmers from non-farm development can't be offset by making payments.

The Capital Press reported Friday that the court also ruled this week that it's not enough for a development to avoid taking away agriculturally-zoned land. A project also can't change costs or agricultural practices for farmers.

The ruling settles a lawsuit filed over a planned expansion of a landfill in Yamhill County that would affect nearby farms and orchards.

Waste Management, the owner of the Riverbend Landfill, is reviewing the Oregon Supreme Court's ruling.


Supreme Court seems inclined to retain cross on public land
Attorney News | 2019/03/08 02:18

The Supreme Court seemed inclined Wednesday to rule that a 40-foot-tall cross that stands on public land in Maryland is constitutional, but shy away from a sweeping ruling.

The case the justices heard arguments in is being closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. But the particular memorial at issue is a nearly 100-year-old cross that was built in a Washington, D.C., suburb as a memorial to area residents who died in World War I.

Before arguments in the case, it seemed that the memorial's supporters, including the Trump administration, had the upper hand based on the court's conservative makeup and its decision to take up the matter. On Wednesday, even liberal justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer suggested that they could join a narrow ruling upholding this particular memorial.

Kagan noted that the cross is a symbol linked with soldiers killed in World War I.

"When you go into a World War I battlefield, there are Stars of David there, but because those battlefields were just rows and rows and rows of crosses, the cross became, in people's minds, the pre-eminent symbol of how to memorialize World War I dead," she said, adding that there are no religious words on the Maryland cross and that it sits in an area with other war memorials. She asked, "So why in a case like that can we not say essentially the religious content has been stripped of this monument?"

Breyer, for his part, asked a lawyer arguing for the cross' challengers what she thought about saying that "history counts" and that "We're not going to have people trying to tear down historical monuments even here."

"What about saying past is past?" he said at another point during arguments conducted in a courtroom whose friezes include depictions of Moses and Muhammed and that began, as always, with the marshal's cry: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The cross's challengers include three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, a group that includes atheists and agnostics. They argue that the cross's location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They say the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk. The group lost the first round in court, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross unconstitutional.


High court rules for retired US marshal in W.Va. tax dispute
Attorney News | 2019/02/18 18:11

The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state of West Virginia unlawfully discriminated against a retired U.S. marshal when it excluded him from a more generous tax break given to onetime state law enforcement officers.

The court ruled unanimously for retired marshal James Dawson.

West Virginia law exempts state law enforcement retirees, including former policemen and firefighters, from paying income tax on their retirement benefits. But retired U.S. Marshals Service employees such as Dawson haven’t been getting that tax advantage.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that because there aren’t any significant differences between Dawson’s former job responsibilities and those of state law enforcement retirees, “we have little difficulty concluding” that West Virginia’s law unlawfully discriminates against Dawson under federal law.

West Virginia had argued that it wasn’t doing anything wrong and that Dawson was getting the same benefit, a $2,000 income tax exemption, that applies to virtually all retired federal, state and local employees in West Virginia. The state said that only a “surpassingly small” number people who participate in specific, state-managed retirement plans get the exemption Dawson wanted to claim.

The U.S. government had backed Dawson, who served in the U.S. Marshals Service from 1987 to his retirement in 2008. He led the Marshals Service in the Southern District of West Virginia for the past six years.

In 2013, he filed paperwork seeking to amend his tax returns for two years and claim the more favorable tax exemption. Dawson said the state owed him $2,174 for 2010 and $2,111 for 2011. State tax officials disagreed, so Dawson took his case to court.



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