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Cemetery case puts property rights issue before high court
Legal Focuses | 2018/10/05 05:44

Rose Mary Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn't buy that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn't want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery.

Six years ago, however, Knick's town passed an ordinance that requires anyone with a cemetery on their land to open it to the public during the day. The town ordered Knick to comply, threatening a daily fine of $300 to $600 if she didn't. Knick's response has been to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in her case Wednesday.

"Would you want somebody roaming around in your backyard?" Knick asked during a recent interview on her Lackawanna County property, which is posted with signs warning against trespassing.

Her neighbors in Scott Township, the Vail family, say they just want to visit their ancestors' graves.

The Supreme Court isn't going to weigh in on whether there's a cemetery on Knick's land. Instead, it's considering whether people with property rights cases like Knick's can bring their cases to federal court or must go to state court, an issue groups nationwide are interested in.

Knick, 69, says her town's ordinance wouldn't protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers' decisions.



Supreme Court term amid starts in shadow of Kavanaugh
Legal Focuses | 2018/10/02 03:31

It's the storm before the calm at the Supreme Court. Americans watched Thursday's high court nomination hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh with rapt attention. The televised spectacle was filled with disturbing allegations of sexual assault and Kavanaugh's angry, emotional denial.

On Monday, the court will begin its new term with the crack of the marshal's gavel and not a camera in sight. The term's start has been completely overshadowed by the tumult over Kavanaugh's nomination.

Republicans had hoped to have Kavanaugh confirmed in time for the court's first public meeting since late June, an addition that would cement conservative control of the court.

Instead, there are only eight justices on the bench for the second time in three terms, with a breakdown of four conservatives and four liberals. The court was down a member in October 2016, too, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April 2017, after all but about a dozen cases had been argued

It's unclear how long the vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July will last. Consideration of Kavanaugh's nomination by the Senate has been delayed while the FBI undertakes an investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.

An empty seat on the bench often forces a push for compromise and leads to a less exciting caseload, mainly to avoid 4-4 splits between conservatives and liberals.

The cases the court has agreed to hear so far this term look nothing like the stream of high-profile disputes over President Donald Trump's travel ban, partisan redistricting, union fees and a clash over religious objections to same-sex marriage that the court heard last term.


Stand-ins to decide who sits on West Virginia Supreme Court
Legal Focuses | 2018/09/24 10:20

A group of judicial stand-ins representing West Virginia's Supreme Court was hearing challenges Monday to GOP Gov. Jim Justice's appointments of two Republican politicians to replace two departed justices.

Democrats have called the impeachments that imploded the state's highest court an unprecedented power grab by the West Virginia GOP. One of the petitions being heard on Monday says the choice of U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and ex-House speaker Tim Armstead violates "the clear will of the voters" who elected Democrats to their spots on the bench.

Justice appointed Jenkins and Armstead — who resigned as speaker of the House of Delegates in anticipation of his move to the court — to serve until a Nov. 6 special election in which both men are candidates.

Also on the November ballot is attorney William Schwartz, whose petition seeks to stop Jenkins and Armstead from temporarily serving on the court. His petition also accuses Jenkins of being ineligible because he hasn't actively practiced law recently. The state constitution requires justices to be admitted to practice law for at least 10 years prior to their election.

Jenkins and Schwartz are seeking to serve the remainder of retired Justice Robin Davis' term through 2024, while Armstead hopes to finish the term of retired Justice Menis Ketchum through 2020. Both Davis and Ketchum were elected as Democrats.

Ketchum resigned before the Republican-led House voted to impeach the remaining four justices. Davis then resigned in time to trigger an election for the remainder of her term. The others await Senate impeachment trials next month, including Allen Loughry, who is suspended, and Margaret Workman and Beth Walker, who recused themselves from hearing these petitions. Temporary Chief Justice Paul T. Farrell then appointed four circuit judges to hear the challenges.

According to Schwartz's petition, Jenkins voluntarily placed his West Virginia law license on inactive status in 2014 after he was elected to the U.S. House. But Jenkins said he's been admitted to practice law in the state for more than three decades. According to the bylaws of the State Bar, an inactive status means members are admitted to practice law but aren't taking clients or providing legal counseling.


The Latest: McConnell says Kavanaugh 'will be' on court soon
Legal Focuses | 2018/09/19 07:19

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling evangelical activists the Senate will "plow right through" and move to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

McConnell told the annual Values Voter conference Friday "in the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court." He urges the Republican-leaning activists to "keep the faith" and predicts senators will do their jobs.

McConnell's predictions come as California college professor Christine Blasey (BLAH'-zee) Ford accuses Kavanaugh of sexual assault more than 30 years ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.

Negotiations have been ongoing on whether Ford will testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Donald Trump is challenging by name the woman accusing his Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault, saying if the attack she alleges were that "bad" then she would have filed charges.

Trump tweeted Friday: "I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!"

The president previously had avoided naming California college professor Christine Blasey (BLAH'-zee) Ford or casting doubt on her account. Ford alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than 30 years ago when they were teenagers. Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.


The Latest: Bolton says international court 'dead to us'
Legal Focuses | 2018/09/10 22:07

The United States is pledging to use "any means necessary" to protect American citizens and allies from International Criminal Court prosecution.

President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, says the court is "illegitimate" and "for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

Bolton delivered his remarks Monday to the conservative Federalist Society in Washington. He says that the court threatens the "constitutional rights" of Americans and U.S. sovereignty.

The ICC, which is based in the Hague, has a mandate to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute that established the court, but his successor, George W. Bush, renounced the signature, citing fears that Americans would be unfairly prosecuted for political reasons.

The State Department is announcing the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington.

The department says that the PLO "has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel."

It accuses the Palestinian leadership of condemning a yet-to-be-released Trump administration plan to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It also contends that the PLO is refusing to engage with the U.S. government on peace efforts.

In its statement Monday, the department says its decision is also consistent with administration and congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.



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