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Wisconsin Supreme Court OKs GOP-authored lame-duck laws
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/07/09 23:02
The conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Republican-authored lame-duck laws that stripped power from the incoming Democratic attorney general just before he took office in 2019.

The justices rejected arguments  that the laws were unconstitutional, handing another win to Republicans who have scored multiple high-profile victories before the court in recent years.

The 5-2 ruling marks the second time that the court has upheld the lame-duck laws passed in December 2018, just weeks before Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats, took office. The actions in Wisconsin mirrored Republican moves after losing control of the governors’ offices in Michigan in November 2018 and in North Carolina in 2016. Democrats decried the tactics as brazen attempts to hold onto power after losing elections.

The Wisconsin laws curtailed the powers of both the governor and attorney general, but the case decided Thursday dealt primarily with powers taken from Kaul.

The attorney general said in a statement that Republican legislators have demonstrated open hostility to him and Evers and made it harder for state government to function. Evers echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own, saying Republicans have been working against him “every chance they get, regardless of the consequences.”

Thursday’s ruling involved a case filed by a coalition of labor unions led by the State Employees International Union. The coalition argued that the laws give the Legislature power over the attorney general’s office and that this violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

The laws prohibit Evers from ordering Kaul to withdraw from lawsuits, let legislators intervene in lawsuits using their own attorneys rather than Kaul’s state Department of Justice lawyers, and force Kaul to get permission from the Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee before settling lawsuits.

Republicans designed the laws to prohibit Evers from pulling Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to ensure that they have a say in court if Kaul chooses not to defend GOP-authored laws.



Supreme Court upholds cellphone robocall ban
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/07/05 00:04
The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 1991 law that bars robocalls to cellphones.

The case, argued by telephone in May because of the coronavirus pandemic, only arose after Congress in 2015 created an exception in the law that allowed the automated calls for collection of government debt.

Political consultants and pollsters were among those who asked the Supreme Court to strike down the entire 1991 law that bars them from making robocalls to cellphones as a violation of their free speech rights under the Constitution. The issue was whether, by allowing one kind of speech but not others, the exception made the whole law unconstitutional.

Six justices agreed that by allowing debt collection calls to cellphones Congress “impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. And seven justices agreed that the 2015 exception should be stricken from the law.

“Americans passionately disagree about many things. But they are largely united in their disdain for robocalls,” Kavanaugh noted at the outset of his opinion.

During arguments in the case in May, Justice Stephen Breyer got cut off when someone tried calling him. Breyer said after he rejoined the court’s arguments: “The telephone started to ring, and it cut me off the call and I don’t think it was a robocall.”


Supreme Court lifts ban on state aid to religious schooling
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/07/04 00:05
States can’t cut religious schools out of programs that send public money to private education, a divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

By a 5-4 vote with the conservatives in the majority, the justices upheld a  Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling in which almost all the recipients attend religious schools.

The Montana Supreme Court had struck down the K-12 private education scholarship program that was created by the Legislature in 2015 to make donors eligible for up to $150 in state tax credits. The state court had ruled that the tax credit violated the Montana constitution’s ban on state aid to religious schools.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion that said the state ruling itself ran afoul of the religious freedom, embodied in the U.S. Constitution, of parents who want the scholarships to help pay for their children’s private education. “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious,” Roberts wrote.


Appeals court orders dismissal of Michael Flynn prosecution
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/06/27 16:54
A divided federal appeals court on Wednesday ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, turning back efforts by a judge to scrutinize the Justice Department’s extraordinary decision to drop the prosecution.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in a 2-1 ruling that the Justice Department’s move to abandon the case against Flynn settles the matter, even though Flynn pleaded guilty as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation to lying to the FBI.

The ruling, a significant win for both Flynn and the Justice Department, appears to cut short what could have been a protracted legal fight over the basis for the government’s dismissal of the case. It came as Democrats question whether the Justice Department has become too politicized and Attorney General William Barr too quick to side with the president, particularly as he vocally criticizes, and even undoes, some of the results of the Russia investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday centered on another unusual move by Barr to overrule his own prosecutors and ask for less prison time for another Trump associate, Roger Stone. Barr has accepted an invitation to testify before the panel on July 28, a spokeswoman said Wednesday, and he will almost certainly be pressed about the Flynn case.

Trump tweeted just moments after the ruling became public: “Great! Appeals Court Upholds Justice Departments Request to Drop Criminal Case Against General Michael Flynn.”

Later, at the White House, Trump told reporters he was happy for Flynn.

“He was treated horribly by a group of very bad people,” Trump said. “What happened to Gen. Flynn should never happen in our country.”

Flynn called into conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and said the ruling was a good development for him and his family. But he also called it “great boost of confidence for the American people in our justice system because that’s what this really comes down to ? is whether or not our justice system is going to have the confidence of the American people.”

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan had declined to immediately dismiss the case, seeking instead to evaluate on his own the department’s request. He appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the Justice Department’s position and to consider whether Flynn could be held in criminal contempt for perjury. He had set a July 16 hearing to formally hear the request to dismiss the case.


What Supreme Court? Trump's HHS pushes LGBT health rollback
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/06/17 00:14
The Trump administration Friday moved forward with a rule that rolls back health care protections for transgender people, even as the Supreme Court barred sex discrimination against LGBT individuals on the job.

The rule from the Department of Health and Human Services was published in the Federal Register, the official record of the executive branch, with an effective date of Aug. 18. That will set off a barrage of lawsuits from gay rights and women's groups. It also signals to religious and social conservatives in President Donald Trump's political base that the administration remains committed to their causes as the president pursues his reelection.

The Trump administration rule would overturn Obama-era sex discrimination protections for transgender people in health care.

Strikingly similar to the underlying issues in the job discrimination case before the Supreme Court, the Trump health care rule rests on the idea that sex is determined by biology. The Obama version relied on a broader understanding shaped by a person's inner sense of being male, female, neither, or a combination.

Writing for the majority in this week's 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, "An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.


Arena turned court for first felony jury trial in months
Criminal Law Updates | 2020/06/06 22:44
A city-owned arena in Batesville became a courtroom this week for the first felony criminal jury trial in Mississippi since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100 prospective jurors answered their summons to appear in court at the Civic Center on June 1, Panola County Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps said in a news release.

Prospective jurors maintained social distancing by sitting with five empty seats between them and alternating empty rows. County personnel took temperatures of visitors as they arrived at the arena. Hand sanitizer and masks were provided for people entering the building. Anyone who was ill, had health conditions that could put them at risk for COVID-19, was over age 65, a caregiver or had recently performed jury service, was excused.

The Civic Center is a venue for concerts, motorcycle and monster truck shows, rodeos and other entertainment. The Panola County Board of Supervisors on June 1 officially adopted a resolution declaring it the courthouse for the Second Judicial District of Panola County during the coronavirus pandemic.

A jury was selected to hear the trial of Clinton Winters, 44, of Webb, who faced charges of methamphetamine possession. He was found guilty on the afternoon of June 2. Winters remains in custody and will be sentenced at a later date.




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