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Pennsylvania court throws out congressional boundaries
Legal & Political | 2018/01/17 10:39
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map.

In the Democratic-controlled court's decision, the majority said the boundaries "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

"We won the whole thing," said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The defendants — top Republican lawmakers — said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to step in and put the decision on hold. The state court's decision lacks clarity, precedent and respect for the constitution and would introduce chaos into the state's congressional races, they said.

The Senate's top Republican lawyer, Drew Crompton, called the timeline to draw new districts "borderline unworkable," but said Republicans will do everything they can to comply.


Thai court drops royal insult charges against academic
Law News | 2018/01/15 10:39
A Thai military court on Wednesday dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back over 500 years ago.

Sulak Sivaraksa was charged in October under the draconian lese majeste law that protects the monarchy from libel and defamation. The Bangkok military court had agreed to hear views from historians and experts before it decided to drop the charges for lack of evidence.

Sulak, a veteran academic and proclaimed royalist, said he had petitioned Thailand's new king, Vajiralongkorn, for help in dropping the charges against him.

"I contacted many people for help but no one dared to. So I petitioned the king. If it weren't for His Majesty's grace, this case would not have been dropped," he said.

His case stems from a 2014 university lecture when he told the audience to "not fall prey to propaganda" and questioned whether King Naraesuan had really won the 1593 battle by defeating a Burmese prince in solo combat mounted on a war elephant. The story is one of Thailand's most celebrated historical feats and the date of the combat is marked each year with a military parade on Jan. 18.

Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The law in writing appears to only protect the king, queen, and heir apparent but in practice the rules are more widely interpreted.


Supreme Court: Water rule suits should begin in trial courts
Court Press News | 2018/01/14 10:40
Opponents of an Obama administration rule aimed at protecting small streams and wetlands from development and pollution now know which courts should be hearing their lawsuits.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that litigation over the rule should begin in the lowest level of federal courts, not in the federal courts of appeal. The rule has never taken effect because of lawsuits and is now under review by President Donald Trump's administration.

The 2015 rule sought to settle a debate over which waterways are covered under the Clean Water Act. The debate has dragged on for years and remained murky despite two Supreme Court rulings.

President Barack Obama's administration redefined "waters of the United States" protected under the act to include smaller creeks and wetlands.



Supreme Court delays order for North Carolina to redraw maps
Legal Career News | 2018/01/14 10:40
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republican lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week because of excessive partisan bias in current lines.

The justices announced the stay after legal briefs were filed for and against the GOP legislators' request for a delay. Their lawyers successfully argued that a three-judge panel's ruling last week declaring the state congressional map an illegal partisan gerrymander should be on hold while similar cases involving Wisconsin legislative districts and one Maryland congressional district before the Supreme Court are considered. The court has never declared that the inherently political process of redistricting can be too partisan.

Voter advocacy groups and Democratic voters who sued over the map — heavily weighted toward Republicans in a closely divided state — argued no delay was necessary because it would be struck down however the justices rule in the other cases.

The Supreme Court's order said the delay remains in place while the case is appealed. The request was considered by the entire court, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the request for the delay, according to the order.

GOP Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise, redistricting leaders at the state General Assembly, praised the intervention in a release. "We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court's 11th-hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes" and restored certainty to voters about their districts, they said.



Court seems to favor death row inmate in dispute with lawyer
Law News | 2018/01/13 10:40
The Supreme Court seems ready to say that a lawyer for a criminal defendant cannot override his client's wish and concede his guilt at trial, even if the lawyer's aim is to avoid a death sentence.

The court on Wednesday dived into the case of Louisiana death row inmate Robert McCoy. He repeatedly objected to his lawyer's decision to acknowledge that McCoy killed the son, mother and step-father of his estranged wife in 2008.

Lawyer Larry English has said the evidence against McCoy was overwhelming and that the only way to keep McCoy off death row was to beg for mercy. In the end, the strategy failed and a jury sentenced McCoy to death. If he wins at the Supreme Court, he could get a new trial.

Supreme Court won't take case of ex-NY assembly speaker

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for a re-trial of ex-New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The high court declined Tuesday to get involved in the case. That allows for a re-trial tentatively set for April to proceed.

Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of public corruption charges in late 2015. But the U.S. court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned that conviction last year and sent the case back to the trial court.

The appeals court said that the trial judge would need to instruct jurors on the law in a different manner to conform with a 2016 Supreme Court decision that reversed the public corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.



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