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Congregants at oldest US synagogue ask high court to step in
Court Line | 2018/10/22 11:12

Congregants at the oldest synagogue in the United States asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to review a decision giving a New York congregation control of Rhode Island's Touro Synagogue and a set of bells valued in the millions.

Lawyers for Newport's Congregation Jeshuat Israel asked for a review of last year's decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that it presents important constitutional issues surrounding religious liberty.

"If allowed to stand and be followed, the decision will fundamentally alter how ordinary disputes involving religious parties are tried and decided, and introduce an element of arbitrariness and cherry-picking by courts as to what secular evidence may be considered or ignored in any particular case," lawyer Gary Naftalis wrote in the filing.

He argued that the ruling in favor of Congregation Shearith Israel in Manhattan unfairly disregarded secular evidence and establishes a two-tiered legal regime: one for religious groups and another for those that are secular.

Lou Solomon, a lawyer for New York congregation and also the head of its board, said the request is "unfortunate," but it's their right. He said the other side was continuing to undermine their "ability to regain the harmonious relations" and had "presented absolutely no reason for the Supreme Court to review much less disturb the decision of the First Circuit."


Sessions criticizes court order on deposition in census case
Court Line | 2018/10/16 23:48

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday criticized a court order that allows for the questioning of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on how a citizenship question came to be added to the 2020 census.

The court's actions, the attorney general said in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, represent an improper attempt "to hold a trial over the inner-workings of a Cabinet secretary's mind."

With his remarks, Sessions waded into a simmering legal dispute that may ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court, which solidified its conservative majority with the recent addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The conflict centers on a judge's order that Ross may be deposed by lawyers challenging whether a question on citizenship legally can be included on the census. Plaintiffs in two lawsuits, including more than a dozen states and big cities, have sued, saying the question will discourage immigrants from participating in the census.

The judge, Jesse M. Furman, has said Ross can be questioned about how the citizenship inquiry was added to the census because he was "personally and directly involved in the decision, and the unusual process leading to it, to an unusual degree." A New York-based federal appeals court backed Furman's ruling last week, but Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a temporary stay.



Colorado Supreme Court hears high-stakes oil and gas lawsuit
Court Line | 2018/10/14 23:49

An attorney for six young people who want the state to impose tougher safeguards on the energy industry told the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday that the law requires regulators to protect public health from the hazards of drilling.

A lawyer for the state countered that regulators acted properly when they rejected a request for stronger health protections on the grounds that they did not have the authority to impose them.

The justices heard oral arguments in the high-stakes case but did not say when they would rule.

The case revolves around how much weight energy regulators should give public health and the environment — a contentious issue in Colorado, where cities often overlap lucrative oil and gas fields and drilling rigs sit within sight of homes and schools.

The six young plaintiffs in the case asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, which regulates the industry, to enact a rule that would require energy companies to show they would not harm human health or the environment before regulators issued a drilling permit.

The commission responded that it did not have that authority. Commission members said Colorado law required them to balance public safety with responsible oil and gas production.

Colorado Solicitor General Frederick R. Yarger, representing the attorney general's office, told the Supreme Court that the commission correctly interpreted state law to mean it must consider other factors in addition to public health.



Manhattan DA drops part of Weinstein case
Court Line | 2018/10/11 17:35

Manhattan’s district attorney dropped part of the criminal sexual assault case against Harvey Weinstein on Thursday after evidence emerged that cast doubt on the account one of his three accusers provided to the grand jury.

The development was announced in court Thursday with Weinstein looking on.

The tossed charge involves allegations made by one of the three accusers in the case, Lucia Evans, who was among the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein of sexual assault.

In an expose published in The New Yorker one year ago Wednesday, Evans accused Weinstein of forcing her to perform oral sex when they met alone in his office in 2004 to discuss her fledgling acting career. At the time, Evans was a 21-year-old college student.

Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the judge that prosecutors wouldn’t oppose dismissal of the count in the case involving Evans. She insisted the rest of the case, involving two other accusers, was strong.

“In short, your honor, we are moving full steam ahead,” she said.

Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told the judge he believed Evans had lied both to the grand jury and to The New Yorker about her encounter with Weinstein. He also said he believed a police detective had corruptly attempted to influence the case by keeping a witness from testifying about her misstatements.


Supreme Court wrestles with case on detention of immigrants
Court Line | 2018/10/10 00:35

The Supreme Court wrestled Wednesday with a case about the government’s ability to detain certain immigrants after they’ve served sentences for committing crimes in the United States. Several justices expressed concerns with the government’s reading of immigration law.

Justice Stephen Breyer seemed perhaps the most sympathetic to the arguments of immigrants in the case. The immigrants, mostly green-card holders, say they should get hearings where they can argue for their release while deportation proceedings against them are ongoing. Breyer noted that the United States “gives every triple ax murderer a bail hearing.”

While members of the court’s conservative majority seemed more inclined than its liberal members to back the government, both of President Donald Trump’s appointees asked questions that made it less clear how they might ultimately rule.

The issue in the case before the justices has to do with the detention of noncitizens who have committed a broad range of crimes that make them deportable. Immigration law tells the government to pick those people up when they are released from federal or state prisons and jails and then hold them without bond hearings while an immigration court decides whether they should be deported.

But those affected by the law aren’t always picked up immediately and are sometimes not detained until years later. They argue that unless they’re picked up essentially within a day of being released, they’re entitled to a hearing where they can argue that they aren’t a danger to the community and are not likely to flee. If a judge agrees, they can stay out of custody while their deportation case goes forward. That’s the same hearing rule that applies to other noncitizens the government is trying to deport.

The Trump administration argues, as the Obama administration did, against hearings for those convicted of crimes and affected by the law. The government reads immigration law to say that detention is mandatory for those people regardless of when they are picked up.

Sounding sympathetic to the immigrants’ arguments, Breyer asked a lawyer arguing for the government whether he thought “a person 50 years later, who is on his death bed, after stealing some bus transfers” is still subject to mandatory detention without a hearing. But Breyer also seemed to suggest that the government might be able to hold noncitizens without bond hearings if they were picked up more than a day after leaving custody, maybe up to six months.


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