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Appeals court upholds mask requirement for Knox schools
Court Feed News | 2021/12/21 18:41
A federal appeals court has upheld the mask requirement for Knox County Schools.

A U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit panel on Monday denied the school board’s request to pause the mask requirement while the issue is debated in court, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled in September the school system must adopt a mask mandate to help protect children with health problems more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic.

Knox County Schools argued virtual classes are a reasonable accommodation, but children attend at home and must be supervised.

“Like the district court, we are not persuaded that virtual schooling is a reasonable alternative to universal masking,” the appeals court wrote. The full appeal of the Knox County case will be heard at a later date, the newspaper reported.

Knox County adopted a mask mandate during the 2020-21 school year but chose not to this year despite COVID-19 numbers that remained high. Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool.


Anchorage wins lawsuit over failed port construction
Court Feed News | 2021/12/17 07:09
Anchorage has won its lawsuit with a federal agency over failed construction at the state’s largest port.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Edward J. Damich on Thursday found the U.S. Maritime Administration breached its 2003 and 2011 agreements with the Municipality of Anchorage over construction at the Port of Anchorage, KTUU-TV reported. The facility has since been renamed the Port of Alaska.

“It’s an enormous vindication of what we’ve been saying all along, and that’s basically that the federal government had control of this project and they didn’t perform — they messed it up,” assistant municipal attorney Robert Owens said.

In 2014, Anchorage filed a lawsuit against the maritime administration for more than $300 million over failed construction in the effort to replace deteriorating facilities and upgrade port infrastructure to meet increasing demands.

A nine-day trial was held last spring, at which the municipality argued the government’s 2003 and 2011 agreements required the agency to provide technical expertise to oversee, design and construct the expansion project “free of defect,” the court documents show.

The government countered that Anchorage was the party responsible for managing and executing the project, and the maritime administration didn’t breach any duties.

The judge sided with Anchorage, saying the federal agency failed to enforce its contractual duties or administer funds properly.

The amount of damages have not been awarded yet. Both sides have 10 days to submit arguments for what they believe the monetary award should be.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson called the verdict a victory for Alaska.

“The Port of Alaska is a vital piece of infrastructure for all Alaskans, with roughly 90% of our population touched by goods that come through the Port,” Bronson said in a statement.

The municipality is working with the state and federal government to secure nearly $1.6 billion to repair the port, Bronson said.

An email sent Friday to the U.S. Maritime Administration seeking comment was not immediately returned.


Court won’t stop Texas abortion ban, but lets clinics sue
Court Feed News | 2021/12/10 19:35
The Supreme Court on Friday left in place Texas’ ban on most abortions, offering only a glimmer of daylight for clinics in the state to challenge the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.

The decision, little more than a week after the court signaled it would roll back abortion rights and possibly overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, was greeted with dismay by abortion rights supporters but praise by opponents.

Five conservative justices, including three appointed by former President Donald Trump, formed a majority to limit who can be sued by the clinics, a result that both sides said probably will prevent federal courts from effectively blocking the law.

Texas licensing officials may be sued, but not state court judges, court clerks or state Attorney General Ken Paxton, the court ruled. That seems to leave people free, under the unusual structure of the Texas law, to sue abortion clinics and anyone else who “aids or abets” an abortion performed after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, around six weeks and before some women know they’re pregnant.

“The Supreme Court has essentially greenlit Texas’s cynical scheme and prevented federal courts from blocking an unconstitutional law,” the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents the Texas clinics, said on Twitter.

The court acted more than a month after hearing arguments over the law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest.


Tunisian trial shines light on use of military courts
Court Feed News | 2021/11/25 06:41
A few days after Tunisia’s president froze parliament and took on sweeping powers in July, a dozen men in unmarked vehicles and civilian clothes barged into politician Yassine Ayari’s family home overnight and took him away in his pajamas.

“These men weren’t wearing uniforms and they didn’t have a warrant,” Ayari told The Associated Press. “It was violent. My 4-year-old son still has nightmares about it.”

A 40-year-old computer engineer-turned-corruption fighter, Ayari will stand trial again in a military court on Monday, accused of insulting the presidency and defaming the army. It is the latest in a series of trials that shine a light on Tunisia’s use of military courts to push through convictions against civilians. Rights groups say the practice has accelerated since President Kais Saied’s seizure of power in July, and warn that its use further threatens hard-won freedoms amid Tunisia’s democratic backsliding.

The charges Ayari faces relate to Facebook posts in which he criticized Saied, calling him a “pharaoh” and his measures a “military coup.” Ayari intends to remain silent in court to protest the whole judicial process, according to his lawyer, Malek Ben Amor.

Amnesty International is warning of an “alarming increase” in Tunisian military courts targeting civilians: In the past three months, it says, 10 civilians have been investigated or prosecuted by military tribunals, while four civilians are facing trial for criticizing the president.

That’s especially worrying because Tunisia was long considered the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, and was long seen as a model for the region.


New Mexico Supreme court mediates clash on pandemic aid
Court Feed News | 2021/11/21 05:29
New Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether state legislators should have a greater say in the spending more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.

Arguments in the case were scheduled for Wednesday morning at the five-seat high court. A bipartisan list of state senators is challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she asserts authority over federal pandemic aid approved by President Joe Biden in March.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.

In a written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque initiated efforts to challenge the governor’s spending authority.

Supportive legal briefs have been filed by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and four long-serving Democratic senators. Critics of the governor have said she has overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature’s representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.


Federal appeals court won’t stop health worker COVID mandate
Court Feed News | 2021/10/23 08:25
A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina’s flagship public university can continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions, rebuffing a conservative group’s argument that affirmative action disadvantages white and Asian students.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal.

“In sum, the Court concludes that UNC has met its burden in demonstrating that it has a genuine and compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity,” Biggs wrote.

Students for Fair Admissions sued UNC in 2014, arguing that using race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions violates the equal protection cause of the Constitution and federal civil rights law. The group contended that UNC had gone too far in using race as a factor in admissions and had thus “intentionally discriminated against certain of (its) members on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity.”

The group’s president, Edward Blum, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that it would appeal by day’s end to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His group already appealed a denial in a similar lawsuit against Harvard University. Blum said he hopes both cases get bundled together so that the U.S. Supreme Court rules simultaneously on private and public universities.

“Shame on Harvard, shame on UNC and shame on all universities who take federal funds from considering race as an element,” said Blum, who has long sought to rid college admissions of race-based admissions policies.

The Supreme Court in June asked the Justice Department to weigh in on Blum’s Harvard lawsuit, which was supported by former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s Justice Department also challenged Yale University ’s admissions practices in a suit President Joe Biden’s administration dropped earlier this year.

UNC countered in court that its admission practices are legally and constitutionally permissible and that race-neutral alternatives would not enable it to achieve its diversity goals. Of roughly 20,000 undergraduate UNC students this fall 2021 semester, approximately 56% are white, nearly 13% Asian, about 10% Hispanic, and 8.5% Black, the university said.

“This decision makes clear the University’s holistic admissions approach is lawful,” said an emailed statement from Beth Keith, a spokesperson for the university. “We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive.”

Judge Biggs wrote that she applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s University of Texas precedent, which established that schools may consider race in admissions in ways narrowly tailored to promote diversity.

She noted that UNC “offered a principled and reasoned explanation,” supported by research, for its pursuit of a diverse student body, citing a 2005 report by a UNC task force that its academic goals depend on “a critical mass” of students from underrepresented groups.

“The University has presented substantial evidence demonstrating its good faith in pursuing the educational benefits that flow from diversity,” the judge concluded.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented a racially diverse group of students who intervened in the case demanding that the university to even more to support minorities. Its statement said considering race in admissions helps ensure that talented applicants from historically marginalized groups aren’t overlooked.

“As our clients demonstrated with their trial testimony and evidence, race is an integral part of a students’ identity, and must be treated as such during the admissions process,” attorney Genevieve Bonadies-Torres said.


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