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Lawyer: Case of Black inmate set to die reveals racial bias
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/09/26 15:38
The lawyer for the first Black inmate scheduled to die this year as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions says race played a central role in landing her client on death row for slaying a young white Iowa couple and burning them in the trunk of their car.

One Black juror and 11 white jurors heard the 2000 federal case in Texas against Christopher Vialva, who is now 40 but was 19 at the time of the killings. Prosecutors portrayed Vialva as the leader of a Black street-gang faction and alleged he killed the deeply religious husband and wife, Todd and Stacie Bagley, to boost his status within the gang, attorney Susan Otto said.

But Otto contends there was no evidence Vialva, scheduled to be put to death Thursday, was even a full-fledged member ? let alone a leader ? of the 212 PIRU Bloods gang in his Killeen, Texas, hometown. She said the false claim only served to conjure up menacing stereotypes to prejudice the nearly all-white jury.

“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”

Questions about racial bias in the criminal justice system have been front and center since protests erupted across the country following the  death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.


Ginsburg makes history at Capitol amid replacement turmoil
Employment Law | 2020/09/24 22:36
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  lay in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol as the first woman ever so honored, making history again as she had throughout her extraordinary life while an intensifying election-year battle swirled over her replacement.

The flag-draped casket of Ginsburg, who died last week at 87, drew members of Congress, top military officials, friends and family, some with children in tow, to the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall, paying respect to the cultural icon who changed American law and perceptions of women’s power.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, joined other invited guests. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris said that “RBG,” as she is known by many, cleared a path for women like her in civic life.

“She, first of all, made America see what leadership looks like -- in the law, in terms of public service -- and she broke so many barriers,” Harris told reporters at the Capitol. “And I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”

Biden, who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Ginsburg was confirmed 27 years ago this month, said he was brought back to when he met her back then. “Wonderful memories,” he said.

Mourners gathered to honor Ginsburg under coronavirus distancing restrictions with the nation in political turmoil.

President Donald Trump is to announce a conservative nominee to replace her on Saturday, just weeks before the election. White House officials have indicated to congressional Republicans and outside allies that the nominee will be Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett  but are maintaining a semblance of suspense to let Trump announce her.

His third justice, if confirmed, would be sure to move the court rightward on health care, abortion and other pivotal issues. A Senate confirmation vote would be expected in late October.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and opened the private service.

She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood under gray skies as Ginsburg’s casket made the short procession from the court’s steps where it had been on public view for several days to the East Front of the Capitol.


'Justice Joan' Larsen emerges as finalist for Supreme Court
Business Law Info | 2020/09/23 17:16
One of the women on Donald Trump’s short list to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court got her first taste of politics as a college student stuffing envelopes for Democrat Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential run.

But, by 1996, Joan L. Larsen was volunteering for Republican Bob Dole, and today few doubt her conservative credentials, which includes a longtime affiliation with the Federalist Society.

Larsen is among a small group of female lawyers whom Trump is considering to replace Ginsburg, the liberal icon whose death last week gave conservatives a chance to move the court further to the right. White House officials say Trump was referring to Larsen when he said Monday his finalists included “a great one from Michigan.” On Tuesday, he called her “very talented” in an interview with a local television station.

In just five years, Joan L. Larsen has gone from a little-known University of Michigan legal scholar to a prominent federal appeals court judge and now a candidate for the high court.

Conservative activists hope that, if nominated and confirmed by the Senate, Larsen would carry on the legacy of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked in the early 1990s and eulogized after his 2016 death.

For Trump, picking Larsen could give him a boost in the critical battleground state of Michigan, where she has raised her two children, advanced her career and won election to the state Supreme Court.

Liberals fear that she would follow in Scalia’s footsteps by voting to overrule decisions that legalized abortion rights and gay marriage and other rulings that Scalia and his followers vociferously oppose.

At 52, Larsen would be a candidate who could serve on the high court for three decades or longer. Her father, Leonard Larsen, the retired CEO of a Lutheran social services agency, died in April at age 91. Her mother is 89.

Larsen’s rise began when Michigan's then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed her to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court in September 2015, praising her as a “superb attorney” who had experience in government, academia and private practice.



White House lawyer in running for seat on the Supreme Court
Business Law Info | 2020/09/22 00:16
President Donald Trump didn't have to look very far for one of the contenders on his short list to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court: he's been considering one of his own lawyers.

Kate Comerford Todd is a deputy White House counsel, helping navigate Trump's White House through a thicket of legal issues. It's a role she knows well, having served in the counsel's office during the administration of the last Republican president, George W. Bush.

Todd, 45, is the only lawyer mentioned as being on Trump's shortlist who has not previously been a judge, though she's hardly unfamiliar with the high court, having clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Her experience is otherwise diverse: she's twice counseled the White House, worked at a prestigious law firm and represented the interests of a leading business advocacy group.

“She is absolutely brilliant,” said Helgi Walker, a partner at the Gibson Dunn law firm who also served as a Thomas law clerk and in the White House counsel's office under Bush. “She is thoughtful, caring, considerate. She always tries to get it right, no matter what she's doing.”

Trump has signaled that he intends to name a woman for the third Supreme Court selection of his administration. Amy Coney Barrett is emerging as the early favorite to be the nominee after he met with her Monday before leaving the White House to campaign in Ohio. Todd was viewed as the favorite of White House lawyers, but there were concerns that the confirmation process would not be as smooth for a first-time jurist, according to people familiar with the situation.



Flowers, homemade signs by high court in Ginsburg tribute
Class Action News | 2020/09/19 18:23
Mourners dropped off bouquets and gathered outside the Supreme Court early Saturday in quiet tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Homemade cardboard signs and a collection of flowers blanketed the court's grounds.

Hours earlier, hundreds of people had turned out after hearing of Ginsburg's death. They wept and sang in a candlelight vigil, packing the high court’s steps in a spontaneous memorial.

Scores of candles flickered in the nighttime wind as people knelt to leave flowers, American flags and handwritten condolence messages for Ginsburg, who died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at age 87 after 27 years on the court. Prayer candles with Ginsburg’s photo on them were also left on the steps.

Several times, dozens in the crowd broke out into song, singing “Amazing Grace” and “This Land is Your Land” as others embraced one another and wiped tears from their eyes. At one point, the crowd broke into a thunderous applause — lasting for about a minute — for Ginsburg.

“Thank you RBG,” one sign read. On the sidewalk, “RBG” was drawn inside a pink chalk heart. Jennifer Berger, 37, said she felt compelled to join the large crowd that gathered to pay tribute to Ginsburg’s life.

“I think it is important for us to recognize such a trailblazer,” she said. “It is amazing to see how many people are feeling this loss tonight and saying goodbye.”

Ginsburg spent her final years on the bench as the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing and became something of a rock star to her admirers. Young women especially seemed to embrace the court’s Jewish grandmother, affectionately calling her the Notorious RBG, for her defense of the rights of women and minorities.

The memorial service remained mostly peaceful and somber, but turned tense for several minutes after a man with a megaphone approached people in the crowd and began to chant that “Roe v. Wade is dead,” a refence to the landmark Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights nationwide.

A large group confronted the man, leading to a brief shouting match. Many in the crowd began yelling “RBG” to try to drown out the man’s voice as he continued to say Republicans would push to quickly appoint a conservative justice to the court. Supreme Court police officers stood alongside the crowd and the man eventually left the area.


Shooting outside US court in Phoenix wounds federal officer
Business Law Info | 2020/09/16 15:15
A drive-by shooting wounded a federal security officer outside the U.S. courthouse in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, and a person was later taken into custody, authorities said. The officer was taken to a hospital and was expected to recover, according to city police and the FBI. Jill McCabe, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Phoenix office, said someone was later detained and there was no indication of a further threat to the public.

The court security officer works for the U.S. Marshals Service and was struck in their protective vest, said a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly. Court security officers work under the direction of the U.S. Marshals Service but generally are employed by private security companies.

The FBI said it isn’t providing any more details as it investigates. Police had released a photo of a silver sedan spotted leaving the area around the Sandra Day O’Connor U.S. Courthouse. Hours after the shooting, a street surrounding the courthouse was closed to traffic, roped off by yellow tape with police officers standing on each corner. Armed federal officers talked outside the main entrance to the courthouse, which was still open to the public, according to a court clerk.

The shooting came after the weekend ambush of two Los Angeles County deputies. They were sitting in their parked vehicle when a man walked up to the passenger’s side and fired multiple rounds. The deputies were struck in the head and critically wounded but were expected to recover. The gunman hasn’t been captured, and a motive has not been determined. Federal courthouses have been flashpoints for recent violence, but it’s not clear who shot the officer in Phoenix or why.

In June, a federal security officer was shot and killed and his partner was wounded outside the federal courthouse in Oakland as they guarded the building during protests over racial injustice and police brutality. An Air Force sergeant was charged with the shooting, and prosecutors say he had ties to the far-right, anti-government “boogaloo” movement and used the protest as cover for the crime and his escape.

During demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, protesters and federal officers clashed at the federal courthouse, where people set fires and tossed fireworks and rocks, while federal authorities unleashed tear gas and made arrests.



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