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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 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.



Justices to weigh Trump census plan to exclude noncitizens
Business Law Info | 2020/10/17 23:05
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to take up President Donald Trump’s policy, blocked by a lower court, to exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from the census count that will be used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives. Never in U.S. history have immigrants been excluded from the population count that determines how House seats, and by extension Electoral College votes, are divided among the states, a three-judge federal count said in September when it held Trump’s policy illegal.

The justices put the case on a fast track, setting arguments for Nov. 30. A decision is expected by the end of the year or early in January, when Trump has to report census numbers to the House. Trump’s high court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, could take part in the case if, as seems likely, she is confirmed by then. Last year, the court by a 5-4 vote barred Trump from adding a census question asking people about their citizenship. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month, was part of that slim majority. Barrett would take Ginsburg’s seat.

“President Trump has repeatedly tried ? and failed ? to weaponize the census for his attacks on immigrant communities. The Supreme Court rejected his attempt last year and should do so again,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Dale Ho, representing a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups that challenged Trump’s plan in court.

Trump left it to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, to figure out how many immigrants are not living legally in each state. The outcome of the census case could affect the distribution of political power for the next 10 years. The census also helps determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funding annually. The administration told the court that the president retains “discretion to exclude illegal aliens from the apportionment based on their immigration status.”

Trump’s violation of federal law is “not particularly close or complicated,” the ACLU said in a court filing arguing that the court shouldn’t hear the case. The Supreme Court separately allowed the administration to end the actual census count this week, blocking a court order that would have kept the count going until the end of the month.

The court did not take action on two other administration appeals of controversial policies on asylum seekers and the border wall that also were ruled illegal by lower courts. Since early last year, the administration has made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, which has forced tens of thousands of people to return to Mexico.


Virus spreads on panel handling Supreme Court nomination
Business Law Info | 2020/10/03 23:07
Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the timing of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and whether additional senators may have been exposed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the confirmation process was going “full steam ahead.”

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both said Friday that they had tested positive for the virus. Both had attended a ceremony for Barrett at the White House on Sept. 25 with President Donald Trump, who announced Friday that he had tested positive and was later hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Lee, who did not wear a mask at the White House event, said he had “symptoms consistent with longtime allergies.” Tillis, who did wear a mask during the public portion of the event, said he had “mild symptoms.” Both said they would quarantine for 10 days — ending just before Barrett’s confirmation hearings begin on Oct. 12.

The positive tests come as Senate Republicans are pushing to quickly confirm Barrett in the few weeks they have before the Nov. 3 election. There is little cushion in the schedule set out by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and McConnell, who want to put a third Trump nominee on the court immediately in case they lose any of their power in the election.

Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Barrett, seized on the virus announcements to call for a delay in the hearings.

“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”

Several other members of the Judiciary panel attended the White House ceremony, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Blackburn said she tested negative after the event. Crapo said he “recently” had a negative test and a spokeswoman said he would be getting another one as soon as it could be arranged. A spokeswoman for Hawley said he was being tested Saturday, and the senator tweeted later that his coronavirus test came back negative.

Sasse tested negative, but said in a statement that he would work remotely from his home state and undergo further testing due to his “close interaction with multiple infected individuals,” his office said. He said he planned to to return to Washington in time for the confirmation hearing.



Trump taps ‘eminently qualified’ Barrett for Supreme Court
Business Law Info | 2020/09/30 17:07
President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, capping a dramatic reshaping of the federal judiciary that will resonate for a generation and that he hopes will provide a needed boost to his reelection effort.

Barrett, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said she was “truly humbled” by the nomination and quickly aligned herself with Scalia’s conservative approach to the law, saying his “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”

Barrett, 48, was joined in the Rose Garden by her husband and seven children. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill the seat vacated by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

She would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican president, and the third of Trump’s first term in office.

Trump hailed Barrett as “a woman of remarkable intellect and character,” saying he had studied her record closely before making the pick.

Republican senators are lining up for a swift confirmation of Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as they aim to lock in conservative gains in the federal judiciary before a potential transition of power. Trump, meanwhile, is hoping the nomination will galvanize his supporters as he looks to fend off Democrat Joe Biden.

For Trump, whose 2016 victory hinged in large part on reluctant support from white evangelicals on the promise of filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative, the latest nomination in some ways brings his first term full circle. Even before Ginsburg’s death, Trump was running on having confirmed in excess of 200 federal judges, fulfilling a generational aim of conservative legal activists.

Trump joked that the confirmation process ahead “should be easy” and “extremely noncontroversial,” though it is likely to be anything but. No court nominee has been considered so close to a presidential election before, with early voting already underway. He encouraged legislators to take up her nomination swiftly and asked Democrats to “refrain from personal and partisan attacks.”

In 2016, Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the election-year vacancy, saying voters should have a say in the lifetime appointment. Senate Republicans say they will move ahead this time, arguing the circumstances are different now that the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote “in the weeks ahead” on Barrett’s confirmation. Barrett is expected to make her first appearance Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where she will meet with McConnell; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee; and others. Hearings are set to begin Oct. 12, and Graham said he hoped to have Barrett’s nomination out of the committee by Oct. 26.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that a vote to confirm Barrett to the high court would be a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Schumer added that the president was once again putting “Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs” even while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

Biden took that route of criticism, as well, framing Trump’s choice as another move in Republicans’ effort to scrap the 2010 health care law passed by his former boss, President Barack Obama. The court is expected to take up a case against it this fall.

The set design at the Rose Garden, with large American flags hung between the colonnades, appeared to be modeled on the way the White House was decorated when President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg in 1993.

Barrett, recognizing that flags were still lowered in recognition of Ginsburg’s death, said she would be “mindful of who came before me.” Although they have different judicial philosophies, Barrett praised Ginsburg as a trailblazer for women and for her friendship with Scalia, saying, “She has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all across the world.”

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Trump made clear he would nominate a woman for the seat. Barrett was the early favorite and the only one to meet with Trump.

Barrett has been a judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.


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