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Another key redistricting case goes in front of high court
Legal Business | 2018/03/27 23:19
The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case.

The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts.

Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June. The arguments come nearly six months after the court heard a dispute over Wisconsin legislative districts that Democrats claim were drawn to maximize Republican control in a state that is closely divided between the parties.

The Supreme Court has never thrown out electoral districts on partisan grounds and it’s not clear the justices will do so now. But supporters of limits on partisanship in redistricting are encouraged that the justices are considering two cases.

“In taking these two cases, the Supreme Court wants to say something about partisan gerrymandering. It’s clear the Supreme Court is not walking away from the issue,” said Michael Li, senior counsel at the New York University law school’s Brennan Center for Justice.

The justices’ involvement in partisan redistricting reflects a period of unusual activity in the courts on this topic. Over the past 16 months, courts struck down political districting plans drawn by Republicans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Federal judges threw out a state legislative map in Wisconsin and a congressional plan in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court invalidated the state’s congressional districts and replaced them with a court-drawn plan.



Facing death penalty, school shooting suspect in court
Legal Business | 2018/03/16 01:28
Now formally facing the death penalty, the suspect in the Valentine’s Day school shooting that killed 17 people in Florida is headed for a court appearance Wednesday on a 34-count indictment.

An arraignment hearing is set for 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, whose attorneys say he will plead guilty to all charges if the death penalty is not pursued in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. But Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz on Tuesday filed formal notice that prosecutors will indeed seek capital punishment.

Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has said there were so many warning signs that Cruz was mentally unstable and potentially violent, and that the death penalty might be going too far.

In an email Tuesday, Finkelstein said Cruz is “immediately ready” to plead guilty in return for 34 consecutive life sentences.

“We are not saying he is not guilty but we can’t plead guilty while death is still on the table,” Finkelstein said.

If Cruz does not enter a plea himself — known as standing mute before the court — a not guilty plea will likely be entered on his behalf by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer to keep the legal process moving along, his attorneys have said.

In every case, there is always the possibility of a plea deal. The only other penalty option for Cruz, if convicted, is life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie Guttenberg died in the shooting, was angry the state decided to pursue the death penalty, noting how tortuously long capital punishment cases last.


Greek court rejects Turkish extradition request
Legal Business | 2018/03/15 21:28
A Greek court on Wednesday rejected a Turkish extradition request for a young woman who was among nine suspected Turkish militants arrested in Athens ahead of an official visit by Turkey's president late last year.

A panel of three judges ruled 21-year-old Halaz Secer may be tried for issues other than what the extradition request sought her for and that her life could be in danger if returned to Turkey. The judges also ruled that some offences she was being sought for, such as participating in protests and making banners, were not crimes.

The nine, Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, were arrested for alleged links to the left-wing Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, which Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization.

Secer is the third of the nine to see an extradition request from Turkey rejected. Two others - Naci Ozpolat, 48 and Mehmet Dogan, 60 - have also had the extradition request for them rejected in recent weeks.

After the hearing she returned to jail, where she is being held on Greek charges related to the possession of explosives. She denies being part of a terrorist organization.

Proesecutor Ourania Stathea had recommended the judges reject the extradition request, noting that charges for which Turkey was seeking Secer included "forming and running an armed terrorist organization since 2007," when she would have been 10 years old. Stathea noted Turkey has been under a state of emergency since July 2016, after a failed military coup there, which has led to the imprisonment of thousands of people, including civil servants, journalists, judges and military personnel.

Testifying in court, Secer insisted she was not a member of any terrorist organization, and said she had been protesting in Turkey to call for free education. The young woman said she has been arrested three times from the age of 17 for her activism, and held several months each time. She told the court she suffered injuries during each of the arrests.


Officials ask court to send Kennedy cousin back to prison
Legal Business | 2018/01/31 10:36
Connecticut officials are asking the state's highest court to revoke Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel's bail and send him back to prison, reminding justices it has been more than a year since they reinstated his murder conviction.

The chief state's attorney's office filed the request Monday with the state Supreme Court.

Skakel, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy and his widow, Ethel Kennedy, was convicted of murder in 2002 in the bludgeoning death of Martha Moxley in their wealthy Greenwich neighborhood in 1975, when they were both teenagers.

He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. But another judge granted him a new trial in 2013, citing mistakes by his lawyer. Skakel was then freed after being allowed to post $1.2 million bail while he awaited the new trial.

Prosecutors appealed the lower court ruling to the state Supreme Court, which reinstated the conviction in December 2016 in a 4-3 ruling. Skakel's lawyers asked the high court to reconsider the decision — a request that remains pending. Skakel has been allowed to remain free on bail pending that ruling.

In Monday's petition to the Supreme Court, prosecutor James Killen wrote the court's usual practice is to rule on a request to reconsider a decision within weeks, and it's not clear why it is taking so long.



Malaysia's top court annuls unilateral conversions of minors
Legal Business | 2018/01/30 10:36
Malaysia's top court in a landmark decision says both parents must consent to the religious conversion of a minor, ruling in favor of a Hindu woman whose ex-husband converted their three children to Islam.

M.Indira Gandhi became caught in a high-profile dispute after her former husband became a Muslim and converted their three children without telling her in 2009. He also snatched their daughter, then 11 months old, from the family home.

Malaysia has a dual court system, secular and religious. Gandhi challenged her children's conversions through the civil courts.

The Court of Appeal ruled that civil courts had no jurisdiction over Islamic conversions, but that decision was appealed to the nation's highest court.

The Federal Court on Monday annulled the children's conversions as they were done without Gandhi's consent.


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