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Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda
Legal News Digest | 2017/11/15 11:23
To get the Supreme Court's attention these days, try saying your speech rights are being violated.

Whether the underlying topic is abortion, elections, labor unions or wedding cakes, the First Amendment is starting to dominate the Supreme Court's agenda.

The court on Monday granted three new speech cases, including a challenge to a California law that requires licensed pregnancy-counseling clinics to tell patients they might be eligible for free or discounted abortions. The nine-month term now features six cases, out of 44 total, that turn on the reach of the Constitution's free speech guarantee.

Several will be among the term's most closely watched. They include a high-profile fight over a Colorado baker who refuses to make cakes for same-sex weddings and a challenge to the requirement in some states that public-sector workers pay for the cost of union representation. Both of those cases offer the prospect of ideological divides that could put the court's five Republican appointees in the majority, backing free speech rights.

Free speech also plays a central role in what could be a watershed case involving partisan voting districts. The court's liberals could join with Justice Anthony Kennedy to allow legal challenges to partisan gerrymanders for the first time. During arguments in October, Kennedy suggested those challenges would be based on the First Amendment's protections for speech and free association.

The free speech clause has had a special resonance with the court's conservative wing under Chief Justice John Roberts. The court invoked the First Amendment in the landmark 2010 Citizens United decision, which said corporations could spend unlimited sums on political causes. Writing for the five-justice majority, Kennedy equated federal spending restrictions with using "censorship to control thought."

The court has also backed speech rights with more lopsided majorities in cases involving violent video games, depictions of animal cruelty, abortion-clinic buffer zones and anti-homosexual protesters.



Court gives government a win in young immigrants' cases
Legal News Digest | 2017/10/26 12:39
A federal appeals court handed the U.S. government a victory Tuesday in its fight against lawsuits opposing a decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan directed Brooklyn judges to expeditiously decide if a court can properly review the decision to end in March the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The government insists it cannot.

Activists are suing the government in New York, California, the District of Columbia and Maryland. DACA has protected about 800,000 people, many of them currently in college, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or came with families that overstayed visas.

A three-judge 2nd Circuit panel issued a brief order after hearing oral arguments. It said the government will not have to continue to produce documents or submit to depositions before the lower court decides whether the cases can proceed. It also said it will only decide the issue of whether to order the lower court to limit document production once those issues are addressed.

Attorney Michael Wishnie, who argued for plaintiffs suing the government, praised the appeals court for having "moved swiftly to address the government filings in this case."

And he noted that a Brooklyn judge gave the government until Friday to submit written arguments on the legal issues the appeals court said must be resolved before the case proceeds. The plaintiffs must submit their arguments by Nov. 1.

Earlier Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim M. Mooppan told the appeals court panel the government planned to ask the Brooklyn federal court by early next week to dismiss the lawsuits.

He said lawyers fighting the government were engaging in a "massive fishing expedition" for documents and testimony that would reveal the deliberative processes at the highest levels of the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. He called it "wholly improper."

Mooppan seemed to get a sympathetic ear from appeals judges, with one of them saying the government's opponents seemed to be pursuing "a disguised application under the Freedom of Information Act."

"There are a lot of different ways this is very wrong, your honor. That might be one of them," Mooppan said.


Court asked to dismiss cases tied to ex-drug lab chemist
Legal News Digest | 2017/09/22 02:15
A petition is asking the highest court in Massachusetts to dismiss every case connected to a former state chemist who authorities say was high almost every day she went to work at a state drug lab for eight years.

The state's public defender agency is a party to the petition filed Wednesday before the Supreme Judicial Court by two women whose drug possession convictions are tied to evidence handled by chemist Sonja Farak.

Farak pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing cocaine from the state crime lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She worked at the lab between 2005 and 2013.

The women say the state failed to notify them of Farak's misconduct even after her conviction, depriving them of the opportunity to challenge their convictions.




Open records policy set for administrative court records
Legal News Digest | 2017/08/04 09:04
Kentucky's Supreme Court justices have approved an open records policy to guide how the public accesses administrative records in the state court system.

State officials say the first open records policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts takes effect Aug. 15. The AOC is the operations arm of the state's court system.

The new policy describes how to submit an open records request to AOC.

Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. says the judicial branch has long complied with the "spirit" of the open records law, but says it's time to formalize its commitment in a written policy.

First Amendment expert and Louisville lawyer Jon Fleischaker says he's looked forward to the time when the public had definitive guidance on how to access the court system's administrative records.


Academic accused in Chicago killing due in California court
Legal News Digest | 2017/07/31 09:03
A Northwestern University microbiologist suspected in the stabbing death of a 26-year-old Chicago man is due in a California courtroom.

Wyndham Lathem and Oxford University financial officer, Andrew Warren, were sought in a cross-country chase on first-degree murder charges in the death of Trenton James Cornell-Duranleau. His body was found July 27 in an apartment near downtown Chicago.

Lathem and Warren were fugitives for more than a week before separately turning themselves in to California authorities. They have yet to be charged.

The 42-year-old Lathem is being held without bail in Alameda County. His court appearance is Monday in the city of Pleasanton.

Attorney Barry Sheppard says he expects Lathem to waive extradition. He also urged the public to wait until all the facts are released before making judgments.




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