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UN court hears case over strategic Indian Ocean islands
Law & Politics | 2018/09/02 12:55
Officials from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius told United Nations judges Monday that former colonial power Britain strong-armed its leaders half a century ago into giving up territory as a condition of independence, a claim that could have an impact on a strategically important U.S. military base.

Judges at the International Court of Justice began hearing arguments for an advisory opinion the U.N. General Assembly requested on the legality of British sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. The largest island, Diego Garcia, has housed the U.S. base since the 1970s.

"The process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete as a result of the unlawful detachment of an integral part of our territory on the eve of our independence," Mauritius Defense Minister Anerood Jugnauth told judges.

Mauritius argues that the Chagos archipelago was part of its territory since at least the 18th century and taken unlawfully by the U.K. in 1965, three years before the island gained independence. Britain insists it has sovereignty over the archipelago, which it calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Jugnauth testified that during independence negotiations, then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson told Mauritius' leader at the time, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, that "he and his colleagues could return to Mauritius either with independence or without it and that the best solution for all might be independence and detachment (of the Chagos Islands) by agreement."

Ramgoolam understood Wilson's words "to be in the nature of a threat," Jugnauth said.

British Solicitor General Robert Buckland described the case as essentially a bilateral dispute about sovereignty and urged the court not to issue an advisory opinion.


Prosecutor to press court to release church abuse report
Law & Politics | 2018/07/02 00:02
Pennsylvania's highest court is being pressed to publicly release a major grand jury report on allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will ask the court to swiftly decide lingering legal issues before it, his office said Friday. He expects to make that request Monday.

"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to see the report, know who is attempting to block its release and why, and to hear the voices of the victims of sexual abuse within the Church," Shapiro said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court is blocking the release of the report as the result of legal challenges filed under seal by people apparently named in the report. The court has declined to make those filings or dockets public, or name the people who filed the challenges.

The Supreme Court's chief justice, Thomas Saylor, declined comment through a spokeswoman, and lawyers for the unnamed people challenging the report did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, seven news organizations, including The Associated Press, on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the case in a bid to argue that the court should release the report, contending that it is required by law. If the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges, it could immediately order the report's release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view, lawyers for the news organizations wrote.

The court also should be consistent with practice in other grand jury matters and make public the filings and dockets in the case, with redactions if necessary, the news organizations wrote.

Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive such review by any state. The grand jury spent two years investigating allegations of child sex abuse in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, churches with some 1.7 million members.


Georgia officer to appear in court after deadly shooting
Law & Politics | 2018/06/27 00:03
A white Georgia police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter after shooting a fleeing black man is set to make his first court appearance.

Kingsland Police Officer Zechariah Presley's hearing will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Camden County, Georgia.

Presley was charged after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his body camera recording and other evidence in the death of Anthony Green in the small south Georgia town of Kingsland.

Presley's lawyer, Adrienne Browning, said her client is looking forward to his day in court and declined further comment. The killing has enraged Green's family and friends. They plan to hold a news conference with their lawyers at 11:30 a.m. Friday.


The Latest: Colorado governor announces Supreme Court pick
Law & Politics | 2018/06/02 02:26
Gov. John Hickenlooper has named Carlos Samour to the Colorado Supreme Court, filling a vacancy left by Chief Justice Nancy Rice's imminent retirement.

Samour, a judge in the 18th Judicial District in Arapahoe County, is best known for presiding over the Aurora theater shooting trial in 2015.

Samour was raised in El Salvador, where his father was also a judge. Hickenlooper said his family fled the country when Samour was 13 because his father feared retaliation for finding a military official guilty.

"His father was ousted from his judicial position and his home was riddled by bullets because his father chose to faithfully apply the laws of that country," said Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Samour was chosen from three nominees after Rice in March announced her plans to retire at the end of June. She will have served more than four years as chief justice, nearly 20 years on the court and about 31 years total as a judge in Colorado.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday plans to announce his choice to fill a vacancy on the Colorado Supreme Court.

Earlier this month, a judicial nominating commission gave the governor three judges to choose from, after Chief Justice Nancy Rice announced her retirement.

The nominees are Maria Berkenkotter, the former chief judge of the 20th Judicial District in Boulder County; Karen Brody, a judge in the 2nd Judicial District in Denver County; and Carlos Samour, a judge in the 18th Judicial District in Arapahoe County.


Justices allow Arkansas to enforce abortion restrictions
Law & Politics | 2018/05/18 02:28
The Supreme Court is allowing Arkansas to put in effect restrictions on how abortion pills are administered. Critics of a challenged state law say it could effectively end medication abortions in the state.

The justices did not comment Tuesday in rejecting an appeal from the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Arkansas that asked the court to review an appeals court ruling and reinstate a lower court order that had blocked the law from taking effect. The law says doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications.

The law is similar to a provision in Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the court order barring enforcement of the law, but put its ruling on hold while Planned Parenthood appealed to the Supreme Court.

The legal fight over the law is not over, but the state is now free to enforce the law at least for the time being.

Planned Parenthood has said that if the law stands, Arkansas would be the only state where women would not have access to a pair of drugs that end pregnancies: mifepristone, which makes it difficult for a fetus to attach to the uterine wall, and misoprostol, which causes the body to expel it, similar to a miscarriage.

The organization offers pills to end pregnancies at clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock but says it cannot find any Arkansas obstetrician willing to handle hospital admissions. Preventing women from obtaining medication abortions would create an undue burden on their right to an abortion, Planned Parenthood says. Undue burden is the standard set by the Supreme Court to measure whether restrictions go too far in limiting women who want an abortion.


Court: Montana minimizes impact of mining near Yellowstone
Law & Politics | 2018/05/08 02:27
A gold exploration proposal near Yellowstone National Park faced a significant setback as a judge blamed Montana officials for understating the potential for mining to harm land, water and wildlife.

The ruling released Friday means the Montana Department of Environmental Quality would have to conduct a lengthy environmental review before Lucky Minerals can proceed.

The Vancouver, Canada, company received approval last year to begin searching for gold, copper and other minerals at 23 locations in Emigrant Gulch, a picturesque area of steep mountains and dense forest in south-central Montana's Paradise Valley. It has a long history of small-scale mining.

The results of the exploration work would guide the company's future plans for commercial-scale mining.

Environmental groups sued over the project last year on behalf of local residents, who are concerned mining could reduce tourism and pollute the nearby Yellowstone River.

State Judge Brenda R. Gilbert agreed with the environmentalists that state officials gave too much deference to the company in considering the project and ignored evidence that water supplies could be damaged.

The agency also should have looked more closely at the project's impacts on grizzly bears and wolverines and considered the broader implications if Lucky Minerals expands onto federal lands, Gilbert said.


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