Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Court blocks federal plan to extend overtime pay to many

In a blow to the Obama administration's labor-law plans, a federal court has blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season.

As a result of Tuesday's ruling, overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor's rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress.

"Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted," said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. "Today's preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government."

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called "white collar exemption" that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it's wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.

Lawyers for Egypt's Islamists see high court as last refuge

Twice this month, Egypt's highest appeals court has struck down harsh sentences against Mohammed Morsi, the elected Islamist president overthrown by the military in 2013, giving some hope to thousands of his supporters, who were jailed or sentenced to death by hasty verdicts following mass trials.

Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed as a terrorist group, and the court has upheld heavy sentences against its members. But its quashing of some of the faultiest rulings has led lawyers to see the appeals court as a last refuge for justice.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other top officials have long insisted that Egypt's judiciary is independent of the government and does not engage in show trials.

But a series of swift, mass verdicts issued in the tumultuous months after Morsi's ouster, as security forces were cracking down on his supporters and violently dispersing protests, raised the possibility that Egypt might execute the Brotherhood's leadership.

Many judges on the lower courts openly expressed their disdain for the Islamists and their desire to impose order after the turmoil that followed the 2011 uprising. Defense lawyers say they often relied on faulty police reports citing anonymous security sources.

Among the most notorious rulings were those by a court in the southern city of Minya, which sentenced more than 1,000 alleged Morsi supporters to death in two mass trials that each lasted only a few days. Some of those death sentences were later rescinded by a religious authority, and many of the defendants appealed the rulings and were granted retrials. None were executed.

Scores of other cases were reversed by the Court of Cassation, whose members are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, a panel of the country's most experienced and well-respected judges.

Rights lawyers see it as a refuge for those who have been tried, convicted and condemned by the lower courts, as well as public opinion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Court enters default judgment in Kansas voting rights case

A federal court clerk entered a default judgment Tuesday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for failing to file a timely response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law requiring prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens.

It remains unclear whether U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson will give Kobach more time to respond. If the judgment stands it would apply to all voters in all federal, state and local elections — effectively ending the state's proof-of-citizenship requirement.

Kobach did not immediately return a cellphone message, but spokeswoman Desiree Taliaferro said he would comment.

Kobach faces four separate lawsuits challenging various aspects of Kansas' voter registration law. The law, which went into effect in January 2013, requires prospective voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers.

Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as an anti-fraud measure that keeps non-citizens from voting, including immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Critics say such requirements suppress voter turnout, particularly among young and minority voters, and that there have been few cases of fraud in the past.

"Oftentimes judges will give an attorney who has not filed something in a timely manner another chance," said Paul Davis, an attorney for the voter who brought the lawsuit. "We will have to see whether Judge Robinson is willing to do that in this case."

Kobach could ask the judge to set aside the clerk's action, possibly on grounds that include "excusable neglect," said Mark Johnson, another attorney for the voter.

But if the clerk's action stands, it means the proof-of-citizenship requirement can't be enforced, Johnson said.

The lawsuit contends the requirement violates voters' constitutional right to right to due legal process and the right to freely travel from state to state by infringing on people's ability to vote and to sign petitions. It also contends the actions Kobach has taken to verify citizenship status discriminates against people who were born or got married in other states.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sotomayor calls job on high court blessing and curse

Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court has been both a blessing and a curse and reaching decisions is harder than she ever expected, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Thursday during a visit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The court's first Hispanic justice told a packed campus theater that said she still marvels that she holds her position, noting she sits so close to the president at State of the Union addresses she can almost touch him. But the job comes with a heavy burden because every decision the court makes affects so many people and each ruling creates losers, she said, recalling moments in court where losing litigants have wept.

"I never forget that in every case, someone wins, and there's an opposite. Someone loses. And that burden feels very heavy to me," Sotomayor said. "I have not anticipated how hard decision-making is on the court. Because of that big win and lose on the court and we are affecting lives across the country and sometimes across the world, I'm conscious that what I do will always affect someone."

Sotomayor spoke for about an hour and a half, wandering up and down the theater's aisles and shaking hands with people as she answered questions from a pair of her former law clerks sitting on stage. She warned the audience that she couldn't talk about pending cases and the clerks never asked her about the Senate refusing to hold a hearing or vote on Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to replace the late Antonin Scalia as the court's ninth justice. The clerks instead gave her general questions about her experiences and thought processes. She kept her answers just as general.

Biden, Supreme Court nominee on Hill to pressure GOP

Judge Merrick Garland found himself back on Capitol Hill on Thursday in a familiar place ? meeting with a Democratic senator who used the visit to complain about Republicans' inaction on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. said he met with Garland to "see how he's doing." Nearly six months ago, Obama nominated Garland to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. Republicans have said they won't act until the next president chooses a nominee.

"He's had to wait longer than any nominee ever has," Leahy told reporters. "We've got plenty of time. If they want to do their job, we could easily have the hearing and the confirmation in September."

Asked if he'd seen any signs that Republicans are wavering in their refusal to consider a nominee this year, Leahy said, "You'll have to ask them." The spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who's led GOP opposition to Garland, said nothing has changed.

"The majority leader has been clear: The next president will make the nomination for this vacancy," said spokesman Don Stewart.

Vice President Joe Biden also planned to be on Capitol Hill on Thursday to help turn up the pressure on McConnell.

It was Garland's first visit to Congress since he held dozens of individual meetings with senators in the spring.

The court is currently divided 4-4 between liberal- and conservative-leaning justices. Garland's confirmation would tip the court in the more liberal direction.

Both parties have appealed to voters by making the court's leaning a campaign issue, stressing that either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump will decide that by whomever they nominate.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Court considers Kansas rule that voters prove citizenship

A federal appeals court will decide whether Kansas has the right to ask people who register to vote when they get their driver's licenses for proof that they're citizens, a decision which could affect whether thousands have their ballots counted in November's election.

Three judges from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case Tuesday from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the American Civil Liberties Union but didn't indicate how soon they could rule.

Kansas wants the court to overturn a ruling by a federal judge in May that temporarily blocked the state from disenfranchising people who registered at motor vehicle offices but didn't provide documents such as birth certificates or naturalization papers. That was about 18,000 people at the time. If the order is allowed to stand, the state says up to an estimated 50,000 people who haven't proven they're citizens could have their votes counted in the fall.

Since 1993, states have had to allow people to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver's licenses. The so-called motor-voter law says that people can only be asked for "minimal information" when registering to vote, allowing them to simply affirm they are citizens.

The ACLU claims the law intended to increase registration doesn't allow states to ask applicants for extra documents. It also says that motor vehicle clerks don't tell people renewing existing licenses that they need to provide the documents, leaving them under the mistaken impression that their registration is complete when they leave the office.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Court again says New Jersey can't legalize sports betting

A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt another defeat to New Jersey's yearslong attempt to legalize sports betting, setting aside the state's challenge to a federal betting ban. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling invalidated a law passed by New Jersey in 2014 that would have allowed sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The court found New Jersey's law repealing prohibitions against sports gambling violated the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which forbids state-authorized sports gambling. "Because PASPA, by its terms, prohibits states from authorizing by law sports gambling, and because the 2014 law does exactly that, the 2014 law violates federal law," the court wrote. Currently, only Nevada offers legal sports betting on individual games. Delaware offers multigame parlay betting in which players must pick several games correctly to win. Both were given exemptions when PASPA was passed. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature have sought to legalize sports gambling to help prop up the struggling casino and horse racing industries. It's estimated up to hundreds of billions of dollars are bet illegally on sports every year in the U.S.

Monmouth Park, in Oceanport on New Jersey's coast, is the only venue currently set up to offer sports gambling, if it were legalized.

The dispute has a lengthy legal history. New Jersey voters approved legal sports gambling in 2011, but the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state the following year. The leagues claimed the expansion of betting to New Jersey would damage the integrity of their games and lead to more game-fixing.

Sports betting supporters have called the leagues' stance hypocritical, saying the leagues condone and profit from sports fantasy leagues in which participants assemble rosters of players from different teams and compete against others.

North Carolina shooting victim's family hires lawyer

The family of a black North Carolina man shot to death in a neighborhood confrontation in Raleigh has hired the lawyer representing two other black men who were killed by white police officers.

State Rep. Justin Bamberg of South Carolina says he is representing relatives of Kouren-Rodney Bernard Thomas.

Thomas was killed Aug. 7 when a white man living two doors down from a neighborhood party called police to complain of "hoodlums" and then fired a shotgun from his garage. Chad Cameron Copley is charged with murder.

Bamberg also is representing the family of Alton Sterling. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, man was killed last month after he scuffled with two police officers outside a convenience store.

Bamberg also represents the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed South Carolina motorist killed by a North Charleston officer last year. Michael Slager faces state and federal charges.