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New Mexico Supreme court mediates clash on pandemic aid
Court Feed News | 2021/11/21 05:29
New Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether state legislators should have a greater say in the spending more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.

Arguments in the case were scheduled for Wednesday morning at the five-seat high court. A bipartisan list of state senators is challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she asserts authority over federal pandemic aid approved by President Joe Biden in March.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.

In a written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque initiated efforts to challenge the governor’s spending authority.

Supportive legal briefs have been filed by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and four long-serving Democratic senators. Critics of the governor have said she has overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature’s representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.


Federal appeals court won’t stop health worker COVID mandate
Court Feed News | 2021/10/23 08:25
A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina’s flagship public university can continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions, rebuffing a conservative group’s argument that affirmative action disadvantages white and Asian students.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal.

“In sum, the Court concludes that UNC has met its burden in demonstrating that it has a genuine and compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity,” Biggs wrote.

Students for Fair Admissions sued UNC in 2014, arguing that using race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions violates the equal protection cause of the Constitution and federal civil rights law. The group contended that UNC had gone too far in using race as a factor in admissions and had thus “intentionally discriminated against certain of (its) members on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity.”

The group’s president, Edward Blum, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that it would appeal by day’s end to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His group already appealed a denial in a similar lawsuit against Harvard University. Blum said he hopes both cases get bundled together so that the U.S. Supreme Court rules simultaneously on private and public universities.

“Shame on Harvard, shame on UNC and shame on all universities who take federal funds from considering race as an element,” said Blum, who has long sought to rid college admissions of race-based admissions policies.

The Supreme Court in June asked the Justice Department to weigh in on Blum’s Harvard lawsuit, which was supported by former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s Justice Department also challenged Yale University ’s admissions practices in a suit President Joe Biden’s administration dropped earlier this year.

UNC countered in court that its admission practices are legally and constitutionally permissible and that race-neutral alternatives would not enable it to achieve its diversity goals. Of roughly 20,000 undergraduate UNC students this fall 2021 semester, approximately 56% are white, nearly 13% Asian, about 10% Hispanic, and 8.5% Black, the university said.

“This decision makes clear the University’s holistic admissions approach is lawful,” said an emailed statement from Beth Keith, a spokesperson for the university. “We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive.”

Judge Biggs wrote that she applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s University of Texas precedent, which established that schools may consider race in admissions in ways narrowly tailored to promote diversity.

She noted that UNC “offered a principled and reasoned explanation,” supported by research, for its pursuit of a diverse student body, citing a 2005 report by a UNC task force that its academic goals depend on “a critical mass” of students from underrepresented groups.

“The University has presented substantial evidence demonstrating its good faith in pursuing the educational benefits that flow from diversity,” the judge concluded.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented a racially diverse group of students who intervened in the case demanding that the university to even more to support minorities. Its statement said considering race in admissions helps ensure that talented applicants from historically marginalized groups aren’t overlooked.

“As our clients demonstrated with their trial testimony and evidence, race is an integral part of a students’ identity, and must be treated as such during the admissions process,” attorney Genevieve Bonadies-Torres said.


US Supreme Court allows lawsuit against troopers to proceed
Court Feed News | 2021/10/09 05:37
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by two state police officers accused of failing to protect a woman from a man who went on a deadly rampage, allowing a civil lawsuit to proceed.

Troopers were accused of failing to do enough when Brittany Irish reported that her boyfriend kidnapped and sexually assaulted her and later set fire to a barn owned by her parents in July 2015.

Her request for police protection was denied.

Hours later, the boyfriend killed Irish’s boyfriend, 22-year-old Kyle Hewitt, and wounded her mother before proceeding to kill another man and wound two others across several towns in northern Maine.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Monday but didn’t say why, the Portland Press Herald reported. The court’s decision means the troopers will not be protected by the legal concept of qualified immunity.

The attorney general’s office, which is defending the troopers, declined comment Tuesday on the lawsuit. Irish’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The man charged in the crime spree, Anthony Lord, pleaded guilty in 2017 to two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and other charges. He’s serving two life sentences.

The lawsuit contends state police triggered the rampage when they called Lord’s cellphone, tipping him off that Brittany Irish had gone to police, instead of attempting to find or detain him. She said she’d warned police that Lord had threatened her if she spoke to authorities.

Later, police declined to post an officer outside her parents’ farmhouse in Benedicta, citing a lack of manpower.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said jurors could conclude that police created the danger, removing the qualified immunity concept that normally protects officers from actions in the line of duty.

“The defendants’ apparent utter disregard for police procedure could contribute to a jury’s conclusion that the defendants conducted themselves in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to the danger they knowingly created,” the court said.


Commissioner sought to oversee 3 Ohio redistricting suits
Court Feed News | 2021/10/04 19:19
Attorneys in one of three lawsuits brought against Ohio’s newly drawn maps of legislative districts asked the state’s high court Monday to appoint a master commissioner to oversee the disputes.

Lawyers for voters represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee told the Ohio Supreme Court the special oversight is needed to resolve discovery disputes among three separate legal teams that have sued the Ohio Redistricting Commission.

The suits allege some overlapping and some separate violations of the Ohio Constitution by the panel, which was forced to pass four-year maps along party lines because majority Republicans failed to reach agreement with the panel’s two Democrats. The panel’s GOP members defend the maps of Ohio House and Ohio Senate as fair and constitutional.

They are predicted to continue to deliver supermajorities to Republicans in both chambers, though the state’s partisan breakdown is roughly 54% Republicans, 46% Democrats.

In their Monday filing, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s attorneys said that they have made good-faith efforts to work out disputes with fellow lawyers but that “it is already clear that some disputes are fundamental and will be irresolvable.”

Disagreements became apparent after a meeting on Friday, they said. Among areas where lawyers are at odds are whether members of the redistricting panel can be deposed, whether they must answer written questions and whether third parties can be questioned or asked to produce evidence.

The suits are the first to be brought under amendments to the Ohio Constitution that were approved overwhelmingly by the state’s voters in 2015.

The seven-member high court, made up of four Republicans and three Democrats, has exclusive jurisdiction in resolving redistricting disputes. It has set an expedited schedule for hearing the three cases, culminating in oral arguments Dec. 8.

The other two suits were brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and individual voters; and by the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Ohio, Ohio Organizing Collaborative and Ohio Environmental Council and individual voters.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine has said he will not recuse himself, despite his father, Gov. Mike DeWine, is a member of the redistricting panel being sued. Both DeWines are Republicans.


Arkansas court: State can’t enforce ban on mask mandates
Court Feed News | 2021/10/01 20:04
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday said it wouldn’t allow the state to enforce its ban on mask mandates by schools and other government bodies, while lawmakers clashed over efforts to prohibit businesses from requiring employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a one-page order, justices denied the request by the state to stay the August decision blocking enforcement of Arkansas’ mandate ban.

More than 100 school districts and charter schools have approved mask requirements since the ruling against the law. The requirements cover more than half the state’s public school students.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed the law but later said he regretted that decision, had separately asked the court to deny the request to stay the ruling.

“I am gratified with the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling allowing the decision of Judge Fox to stand,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “Judge Fox determined the law was unconstitutional and allowed local school districts to make their own decisions on masks.”

Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed with the ruling.

“I will wholeheartedly defend Arkansas law as this appeal progresses,” she said in a statement.

The ruling came the same day the majority-Republican Senate voted to send eight bills limiting or prohibiting employer vaccine mandates back to a committee following complaints that they were rushed through a day earlier without public comment.


Federal judge delays vaccine mandate for NYC teachers
Court Feed News | 2021/09/27 17:45
New York City schools have been temporarily blocked from enforcing a vaccine mandate for its teachers and other workers by a federal appeals judge just days before it was to take effect.

Workers in the nation’s largest school system were to be required to show vaccination proof starting Monday. But late Friday, a judge for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a temporary injunction sought by a group of teachers pending review by a three-judge panel, which will take up the motion Wednesday.

Department of Education spokesperson Danielle Filson said officials were seeking a speedy resolution in court.

“We’re confident our vaccine mandate will continue to be upheld once all the facts have been presented, because that is the level of protection our students and staff deserve,” Filson said in an email.

The New York Post reported that the department sent an email to principals Saturday morning saying they “should continue to prepare for the possibility that the vaccine mandate will go into effect later in the week.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in August that about 148,000 school employees would have to get at least a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination by Sept. 27. The policy covers teachers, along with other staffers, such as custodians and cafeteria workers.

It’s the first no-test-option vaccination mandate for a broad group of city workers in the nation’s most populous city. And it mirrors a similar statewide mandate for hospital and nursing home workers set to go into effect Monday.

As of Friday, 82% of department employees have been vaccinated, including 88% of teachers.

Even though most school workers have been vaccinated, unions representing New York City principals and teachers warned that could still leave the 1 million-student school system short of as many as 10,000 teachers, along with other staffers.

De Blasio has resisted calls to delay the mandate, insisting the city was ready.

“We’ve been planning all along. We have a lot of substitutes ready,” the Democrat said in a radio interview on Friday. “A lot is going to happen between now and Monday but beyond that, we are ready, even to the tune of, if we need thousands, we have thousands.”


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