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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.



Despite court ruling, China gay rights movement makes gains
Law & Politics | 2016/04/15 08:40
For years, Chen Tiantian could only read about the gay rights movement in faraway places. She knew that there were activists in Beijing and a vibrant community in Shanghai, and that in San Francisco, a distant mecca, gay pride parades took up entire streets.
 
But on Wednesday, the 20-year-old English major sat on the steps of a courthouse and spoke fervently about how the struggle for equality had arrived in her central Chinese hometown — and how she planned to take part.

"It's hard to believe, but we're right in the middle of this," said Chen, who is lesbian and came with several friends to support a local couple who had challenged the city's civil affairs bureau after they were denied a marriage certificate. "It's like I'm finally entering the struggle myself."

Though it was dismissed by the court in Changsha, China's first legal challenge to a law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples has galvanized many of the hundreds of young Chinese gay rights supporters who gathered at the courthouse, some of them waving small rainbow flags. The hearing's sizable public turnout and coverage by usually conservative Chinese media appeared to reflect early signs of shifting social attitudes in China on the topic of sexual orientation.

The lawsuit that was dismissed was brought by 26-year-old Sun Wenlin against the civil affairs bureau for refusing to issue him and his partner, Hu Mingliang, a marriage registration certificate. The judge's ruling against the couple came down after a three-hour hearing — but that didn't dampen the mood of many of the hundreds of young Chinese who gathered outside the courthouse hoping for a chance to "witness history," in the words of one supporter.


Thai court sentences migrants to death in murder
Law & Politics | 2015/12/21 18:52
A Thai court on Thursday sentenced two Myanmar migrants to death for the murder of two British backpackers on a resort island last year, in a case that raised questions about police competence and the treatment of migrant workers in Thailand.

Human Rights Watch called the verdict "profoundly disturbing," citing the defendants' accusations of police torture that were never investigated and questionable DNA evidence linking them to the crime.

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22, have denied killing David Miller, 24, and raping then murdering Hannah Witheridge, 23, last year on the island of Koh Tao. Their defense attorney said they planned to appeal.

Miller and Witheridge's battered bodies were found Sept. 15, 2014, on the rocky shores of Koh Tao, an island in the Gulf of Thailand known for its white sand beaches and scuba diving. Autopsies showed that the young backpackers, who met on the island while staying at the same hotel, suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.

The killings tarnished the image of Thailand's tourism industry, which was already struggling to recover after the army staged a coup just months earlier in May 2014 and then imposed martial law.



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