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With counting winding down, Trump team pushes legal fights
Business Law Info | 2020/11/06 20:04
Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits Thursday, undercutting a campaign legal strategy to attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean President Donald Trump’s defeat.

The rulings came as Democrat Joe Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, and Trump and his campaign promised even more legal action based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Thursday, the president launched into a litany of claims, without proof, about how Democrats were trying to unfairly deprive him of a second term. “But we think there’ll be a lot of litigation because we can’t have an election stolen like this,” Trump said.

Earlier Thursday, a Biden campaign lawyer called the lawsuits meritless, more political strategy than legal.

“I want to emphasize that for their purposes these lawsuits don’t have to have merit. That’s not the purpose. ... It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process,” lawyer Bob Bauer said, accusing the Trump campaign of “continually alleging irregularities, failures of the system and fraud without any basis.”

Trump is used to suing and being sued. A USA Today analysis found that he and his businesses were involved in at least 3,500 state and federal court actions in the three decades before he became president.  In this election, the court battles so far have been small-scale efforts to get a closer look at local elections officials as they process absentee ballots. A Michigan judge noted that the state’s ballot count is over as she tossed the campaign’s lawsuit.

In Georgia, a state judge dismissed a case over concerns about 53 absentee ballots in Chatham County after elections officials in the Savannah-area county testified that all of those ballots had been received on time. Campaign officials said earlier they were considering similar challenges in a dozen other counties around the state.  In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Trump campaign won an appellate ruling to get party and campaign observers closer to election workers who are processing mail-in ballots in Philadelphia.


Legal armies ready if cloudy election outcome heads to court
Business Law Info | 2020/11/02 20:44
Signature matches. Late-arriving absentee votes. Drop boxes. Secrecy envelopes. Democratic and Republican lawyers already have gone to court over these issues in the run-up to Tuesday’s election. But the legal fights could take on new urgency, not to mention added vitriol, if a narrow margin in a battleground state is the difference between another four years for President Donald Trump or a Joe Biden administration.

Both sides say they’re ready, with thousands of lawyers on standby to march into court to make sure ballots get counted, or excluded.  Since the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, both parties have enlisted legal teams to prepare for the unlikely event that voting wouldn’t settle the contest. But this year, there is a near presumption that legal fights will ensue and that only a definitive outcome is likely to forestall them.

The candidates and parties have enlisted prominent lawyers with ties to Democratic and Republican administrations. A Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court pits Donald Verrilli, who was President Barack Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, against John Gore, a onetime high-ranking Trump Justice Department official.

It’s impossible to know where, or even if, a problem affecting the ultimate result will arise. But existing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nevada offer some hint of the states most likely to be ground zero in a post-election battle and the kinds of issues that could tie the outcome in knots.

Roughly 300 lawsuits already have been filed over the election in dozens of states across the country, many involving changes to normal procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than 9 million.

Most of the potential legal challenges are likely to stem from the huge increase in absentee balloting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, elections officials won’t start processing those ballots until Election Day, and some counties have said they won’t begin counting those votes until the following day. Mailed ballots that don’t come inside a secrecy envelope have to be discarded, under a state Supreme Court ruling.

“I still can’t figure how counting and verifying absentee ballots is going to go in some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert.

The deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots is Friday, an extension ordered by the Pennsylvania’s top court. The Supreme Court left that order in place in response to a Republican effort to block it. But several conservative justices indicated they’d be open to taking the issue up after the election, especially if those late-arriving ballots could mean the difference in the state.


Supreme Court leaves NC absentee ballot deadline at Nov. 12
Court Feed News | 2020/10/30 04:51
The Supreme Court will allow absentee ballots in North Carolina to be received and counted up to nine days after Election Day. The justices, by a 5-3 vote Wednesday, refused to disturb a decision by the State Board of Elections to lengthen the period from three to nine days because of the coronavirus pandemic, pushing back the deadline to Nov. 12. The board’s decision was part of a legal settlement with a union-affiliated group.

Republicans had asked the high court to step in. Under the Supreme Court’s order, mailed ballots postmarked on or before Election Day must be received by 5 p.m. on Nov. 12 in order to be counted.  Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices in the majority. Three conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, dissented. New Justice Amy Coney Barrett took no part in the case “because of the need for a prompt resolution and because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat whose office defended the deadline extension in court, hailed the high court’s decision in a statement. “North Carolina voters had a huge win tonight at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court upheld the State Board of Elections’ effort to ensure that every eligible vote counts, even during a pandemic,” he said. “Voters must have their mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, but now we all have certainty that every eligible vote will be counted. Let’s vote!”

Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger said the high court’s order will undermine public confidence in government. “The question is simple: May unelected bureaucrats on a state panel controlled by one political party overrule election laws passed by legislatures, even after ballots have already been cast? If public confidence in elections is important to our system of government, then hopefully the answer to that question is no,” Berger said in a statement.

State and national Republican groups, including President Donald Trump’s campaign, had filed separate but similar appeals asking the high court to make the state revert to a Nov. 6 deadline for accepting late-arriving ballots that were postmarked by Election Day. That three-day timeframe was specified in state law.

The appeals, including one led by the state’s Republican legislative leaders, argued that the deadline change put in place by the State Board of Elections usurped legislators’ constitutional authority to set rules for elections. They also said the change made after early voting started would create unequal treatment of voters who had cast ballots under previous, stricter rules.

The State Board of Elections had lengthened the period as part of a late September legal settlement with the North Carolina Alliance for Retired Americans, a union-affiliated group represented by Marc Elias, a lawyer prominent in Democratic circles. The legal settlement, which also loosened requirements for fixing absentee ballots that lacked a witness signature, was approved by a state judge. The settlement said counties should have longer to accept ballots because of possible mail delays.



US to get 9th justice with Dems powerless to block Barrett
Attorney Blogs | 2020/10/27 23:33
A divided Senate is set to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, giving the country a ninth justice Monday as Republicans overpower Democratic opposition to secure President Donald Trump’s nominee the week before Election Day.

Democratic leaders asked Vice President Mike Pence to stay away from presiding over her Senate confirmation due to potential health risks after his aides tested positive for COVID-19. But although Pence isn’t needed to break a tie, the vote would present a dramatic opportunity for him to preside over confirmation of Trump’s third Supreme Court justice.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team wrote that not only would Pence’s presence violate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, “it would also be a violation of common decency and courtesy.”

But Senate Republicans control the chamber and Barrett’s confirmation isn’t in doubt.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed at the “apocalyptic” warnings from critics that the judicial branch was becoming mired in partisan politics as he defended its transformation under his watch.

“This is something to be really proud of and feel good about,” the Republican leader said Sunday during a rare weekend session.

McConnell said that unlike legislative actions that can be undone by new presidents or lawmakers, “they won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

Schumer, of New York, said the Trump administration’s drive to install Barrett during the coronavirus crisis shows “the Republican Party is willing to ignore the pandemic in order to rush this nominee forward.”

To underscore the potential health risks, Schumer urged his colleagues Sunday not to linger in the chamber but “cast your votes quickly and from a safe distance.” Some GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus following a Rose Garden event with Trump to announce Barrett’s nomination, but they have since said they have been cleared by their doctors from quarantine. Pence’s office said the vice president tested negative for the virus on Monday.

The confirmation was expected to be the first of a Supreme Court nominee so close to a presidential election. It’s also one of the first high court nominees in recent memory receiving no support from the minority party, a pivot from not long ago when a president’s picks often won wide support.


Trump, Biden lawyer up, brace for White House legal battle
Employment Law | 2020/10/25 04:30
President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.


Supreme Court puts curbside voting on hold in Alabama
Business Law Info | 2020/10/22 11:31
The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold a lower court order that would have permitted curbside voting in Alabama in November.

The justices' vote was 5-3, with the court's three liberals dissenting. As is typical when the Supreme Court acts on an emergency basis, the justices in the majority did not explain their decision. It was not clear how many counties might have offered curbside voting, allowing people to vote from their car by handing their ballot to a poll worker.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan, described the lower court's order allowing curbside voting in November as “modest,” and she said she would not have put it on hold.

“It does not require all counties to adopt curbside voting; it simply gives prepared counties the option to do so. This remedy respects both the right of voters with disabilities to vote safely and the State’s interest in orderly elections,” she said, noting that 28 states permit curbside voting.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed on behalf of voters with health issues who were concerned about the risk of COVID-19 at the polls.

The state’s Republican attorney general and secretary of state sought to block a lower court's ruling in the case that would have let counties offer curbside voting. Lawyers for the state argued that since Alabama does not have a law expressly permitting curbside voting, that it should not be allowed.

“I am very enthusiastic that the Supreme Court of the United States has seen fit to secure Alabama’s election integrity by ruling as to the letter and the spirit of the law," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in a telephone interview.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued Alabama has “taken extraordinary measures to ensure that all voters can vote safely," and that it would be potentially chaotic to rapidly implement curbside voting days ahead of the election.



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