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Lawyers for Egypt's Islamists see high court as last refuge
Law & Politics | 2016/12/02 16:48
Twice this month, Egypt's highest appeals court has struck down harsh sentences against Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president overthrown by the military in 2013, giving some hope to thousands of his supporters, who were jailed or sentenced to death by hasty verdicts following mass trials.

Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed as a terrorist group, and the court has upheld heavy sentences against its members. But its quashing of some of the faultiest rulings has led lawyers to see the appeals court as a last refuge for justice.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other top officials have long insisted that Egypt's judiciary is independent of the government and does not engage in show trials.

But a series of swift, mass verdicts issued in the tumultuous months after Morsi's ouster, as security forces were cracking down on his supporters and violently dispersing protests, raised the possibility that Egypt might execute the Brotherhood's leadership.

Many judges on the lower courts openly expressed their disdain for the Islamists and their desire to impose order after the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising. Defense lawyers say they often relied on faulty police reports citing anonymous security sources.

Among the most notorious rulings were those by a court in the southern city of Minya, which sentenced more than 1,000 alleged Morsi supporters to death in two mass trials that each lasted only a few days. Some of those death sentences were later rescinded by a religious authority, and many of the defendants appealed the rulings and were granted retrials. None were executed.

Scores of other cases were reversed by the Court of Cassation, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, a panel of the country's most experienced and well-respected judges.

Rights lawyers see it as a refuge for those who have been tried, convicted and condemned by the lower courts, as well as public opinion.


Grassley: GOP can't stonewall a Clinton Supreme Court pick
Law & Politics | 2016/10/21 03:21
Republicans "can't just simply stonewall" nominees to the Supreme Court even if the president making the choice is Democrat Hillary Clinton, says the GOP chairman of the Judiciary Committee in a reaffirmation of the Senate's advise-and-consent role on judicial picks.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley's comments on Tuesday was a response to fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, who a day earlier vowed that Republicans would unite against any nominee Clinton puts forward if she becomes president. That unprecedented pledge raised the possibility that the Supreme Court would have to operate for four years of a Clinton term with one or more vacancies, rather than nine justices.

The court has had one vacancy for months since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Republicans have refused to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, arguing that the next president should fill the opening.

"I think we have a responsibility to very definitely vet — if you want to use the word vet — whoever nominee that person puts forward," Grassley told radio reporters in Iowa. "We have the same responsibility for (Donald) Trump. We know more the type of people Trump would nominate because he's listed 20. They fall into the category of strict constructionists. As I heard about Hillary on the last debate, the type of people she's going to appoint, I would say they're judicial activists."

He added that the new president should make the choice and "if that new president happens to be Hillary. We can't just simply stonewall."

McCain's comments came in an interview with Philadelphia talk radio host Dom Giordano to promote the candidacy of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., one of the more vulnerable GOP incumbents as Republicans scramble to hold onto their Senate majority.



High court temporarily blocks subpoena over sex ads
Law & Politics | 2016/09/09 06:26
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena that seeks information on how the classified advertising website Backpage.com screens ads for possible sex trafficking.

The order came hours after Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer asked the high court to intervene, saying the case threatens the First Amendment rights of online publishers.

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Friday that the website must respond to the subpoena within 10 days. Roberts said Backpage does not have to comply with the appeals court order until further action from the Supreme Court. He requested a response from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations by Friday.

The Senate panel has tried for nearly a year to force Backpage to produce certain documents as part of its investigation into human trafficking over the Internet.

After the website refused to comply, the Senate voted 96-0 in March to hold the website in contempt. The vote allowed the Senate to pursue the documents in federal court, marking the first time in more than two decades that the Senate has enforced a subpoena in court.

A federal district judge sided with the Senate last month, rejecting arguments that the subpoena was unconstitutional, overly broad and burdensome. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed.


Egyptian lawyer, journalist released after prison sentence
Law & Politics | 2016/08/07 17:56
Egyptian authorities have released two prominent human rights activists who had been jailed for over a year for demonstrating against police brutality.

Lawyer Mahienour el-Masry and journalist Youssef Shabaan were freed Saturday after serving 15 months in jail having been convicted of "storming a police station" at a demonstration in the coastal city of Alexandria in 2013.

El-Masry had been incarcerated before for her activism, and in 2014 received the Ludovic Trarieux Human Rights Award while on hunger strike in prison. Hunger striking is often used in Egypt to protest ill treatment and lack of due process.

Egypt has undergone an unprecedented crackdown on free speech, political opposition and any dissent under general-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has promised stability and the revival of a still-faltering economy in need of reform.



Kansas Supreme Court reviews lawmakers' school aid changes
Law & Politics | 2016/05/10 17:08
Attorneys for Kansas hope to persuade the state Supreme Court that recent changes in the state's education funding system are fair enough to poor districts that the justices can abandon a threat to shut down public schools.

The high court was set to hear arguments Tuesday on whether the technical changes legislators made earlier this year comply with a February order from the justices to improve funding for poor school districts. The changes leave most districts' aid unchanged and don't boost overall education spending.

Lawyers for four school districts suing the state contend legislators' work shouldn't satisfy the Supreme Court because aid to all poor districts didn't increase. But the state's attorneys have submitted more than 950 pages of documents in an attempt to show that lawmakers' solution was in keeping with past court decisions.

"I'm hopeful the Supreme Court's going to take what the Legislature has done and say it's an appropriate answer," Republican Gov. Sam Brownback told reporters ahead of the arguments.

The Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, districts sued the state in 2010, arguing that Kansas spends too little on its schools and unfairly distributes the aid it does provide, more than $4 billion a year.

The court concluded in February that lawmakers hadn't done enough to ensure that poor districts keep up with wealthy ones. The justices ordered lawmakers to fix the problems by June 30 or face having schools shut down.



JetBlue attendant pleads not guilty to cocaine charge
Law & Politics | 2016/04/24 17:07
A JetBlue flight attendant accused of trying to sneak a suitcase full of cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge.
 
City News Service says Marsha Gay Reynolds entered the plea Friday to possessing cocaine with intent to distribute.
   
Authorities say during a random security screening at LAX in March, the former Jamaican beauty queen left her carry-on luggage, kicked off her Gucci high heels and bolted down an upward-moving escalator.

Authorities found about 70 pounds of cocaine in her luggage. Reynolds, who lives in Queens, later surrendered in New York. If convicted, she faces 10 years in prison.



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