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CA Gov.proposes new death penalty protocol
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/17 08:16

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger submitted a capital punishment proposal Tuesday in an effort to persuade US District Judge Jeremy Fogel to lift a moratorium on executions in the state. The proposal includes the construction of a new execution chamber and a revised protocol on the procedure for lethal injections in the state. Speaking on the plan, Schwarzenegger said that he is "committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that the lethal injection process is constitutional so the will of the people is upheld."

In December, Schwarzenegger ordered his administration to "correct court-identified deficiencies in California's lethal injection protocol to ensure the death penalty procedure is constitutional" after a federal court issued a memorandum of intended decision concluding that California's lethal injection  procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The memorandum came after the execution of Michael Morales was postponed indefinitely in February 2006 when a court ruling held that medical professionals must monitor executions by lethal injection to be sure that the inmate feels no pain. The ruling imposed a virtual moratorium on executions in California as anesthesiologists refused to take part in the execution.

Connecticut's civil unions law heads to court
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/14 16:17

The state Supreme Court on Monday took up the issue of gay marriage in Connecticut, the first state in the nation to pass a civil unions law without court intervention. Eight gay and lesbian couples, unhappy with civil unions, are suing over the state's refusal to grant them marriage licenses. They want the court to rule that the state's marriage law is unconstitutional because it applies only to heterosexual couples and denies gay couples the financial, social and emotional benefits of marriage.

The state argues that Connecticut's 2005 civil unions law gives the couples the equality they seek under state law.

The state Supreme Court began hearing the case Monday and was expected to issue a decision later in the year.

Attorneys on both sides say a ruling in the couples' favor could have nationwide implications for states that have adopted or are considering civil union-like legislation.

Currently, only Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry. Connecticut, Vermont, California, New Jersey, Maine and Washington have laws allowing either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs.

Anne Stanback, president of the group Love Makes a Family, and a handful of gay marriage supporters, were among the first to arrive at the Supreme Court on Monday morning. She and her partner of 23 years have not had a civil union because they are waiting for full marriage rights.

"We wanted to make sure we were part of the history," Stanback said.

The hearing also drew gay marriage opponents, including members of the Family Institute of Connecticut.

"We hope the court will realize that something this radical should be left to the people, that something this disruptive, divisive and controversial should be left to the people to decide and not handed down from above," said Peter Wolfgang, the group's director of public policy.

The Connecticut couples, who have been together between 10 and 32 years, say civil unions are inferior to marriage and violate their rights to equal protection and due process.

Married couples have federal rights related to taxes, Social Security beneficiary rules, veterans' benefits and other laws that people in civil unions don't have.

Because civil unions aren't recognized nationwide, other rights, such as the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner, disappear when couples cross state lines.

The Connecticut couples' claim was dismissed by a lower court last year when a judge said they received the equality they sought when Connecticut passed a same-sex civil unions law. The couples appealed.

The state Department of Public Health and the Madison town clerk's office were named as defendants in the case after denying marriage licenses to the couples based on state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's advice.

"Our basic argument is, the trial court correctly recognized that there is a rational basis for the state to use a different name for the same rights and benefits accorded same-sex couples," Blumenthal said. "The rights and benefits are identical, whether the union is called a civil union or a marriage."

A bill is pending in Connecticut's legislature to approve same-sex marriage, but leaders of the Judiciary Committee say they want to pull it from consideration this session because they do not believe enough lawmakers would vote to approve it.

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the civil unions bill into law in 2005, has said she would veto a gay marriage bill. Rell has said she believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

Bush Threatens To Veto Expansion Of Hate-Crime Law
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/04 15:28

In what would be his second veto in as many days, President George W. Bush threatened to veto legislation that would expand the federal hate-crime law to include violent acts motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender or disability. Passed by a 237-180 vote in the House of Representatives, the so-called Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, also called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would also allow the Department of Justice to aid in the investigation and prosecution of cases in which violence occurs against people based on their sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.

In issuing a veto threat, the White House said it opposed a bill that treats crime victims differently from others, saying, "The administration believes that all violent crimes are unacceptable, regardless of the victims, and should be punished firmly." The White House, which called the legislation unnecessary, said the bill also raised constitutional concerns.

While the bill has broad bi-partisan support, it still may not have enough votes to override a veto from the executive branch. However, the legislation has earned the endorsement of a variety of groups, including most LGBT civil rights groups, and more than 210 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, such as the National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

Goldman hires US Assistant Secretary of State
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/03 14:28

Dina Habib Powell, a senior aide to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, resigned Wednesday to join a Wall Street investment bank, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

Powell, 33, was assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and deputy to Underscretary of State Karen P. Hughes before her resignation.

Powell said she resigned for personal reason.

She is one of the youngest senior State Department diplomats, and a key architect of a Rice initiative to improve the United States' image abroad.

Powell, who emigrated from Egypt to Texas with her parents, is the highest-ranking Arab American in the Bush administration.

Days before Powell's resignation, Barry Lowenkron, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, resigned to join a private charitable foundation. In addition, one of Rice's two deputies, foreign aid director Randall Tobias also quit due to involvement of sex scandal. ?

New York governor unveils gay marriage bill
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/28 19:18

New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) introduced a bill Friday to legalize gay marriage in New York. In a press release, Spitzer said: Under current law, partners unable to enter into a civil marriage - and their children - lack legal protections taken for granted by married couples. In such areas as property ownership, inheritance, health care, hospital visitation, taxation, insurance coverage, child custody and pension benefits, married couples receive important safeguards against the loss or injury of a spouse, and crucial insurance against legal intrusion into marital privacy.

Spitzer reportedly seeks to fulfill a campaign promise he made last October in his run for governor to support a gay marriage bill. In response, State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R) announced that he still opposed recognizing same-sex marriage, and suggested that in the wake of the recent killing of a New York state trooper Spitzer should put more priority on reintroducing the death penalty for criminals who kill police officers.

Spitzer has admitted that his bill is unlikely to receive support from state lawmakers. Gay marriage advocates nonetheless applauded the bill as a step forward. "Today is a watershed moment in our community's struggle to win the freedom to marry," said Alan Van Capelle, executive director of gay rights group Empire State Pride Agenda.

Bush Vows To Veto Troop Withdrawal Plan
U.S. Legal News | 2007/04/27 16:41

President Bush warned Congress Friday that he will continue vetoing war spending bills as long as they contain a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. Speaking a day after the Democratic-controlled Congress approved legislation that requires that a troop drawdown begin by Oct. 1, Bush said - as expected - he will veto it because of that demand. He invited congressional leaders to come to the White House to discuss a new piece of legislation that does not include a timetable, and expressed optimism a deal could be reached.

But he made clear that if Democrats insist on including timetables again, he will not hesitate to bring out his veto pen.

"If they want to try again that which I've said is unacceptable, of course I won't accept it,'' the president said during a news conference here with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "I hope it won't come to that.''

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