Sunday, January 29, 2017

Court orders Wisconsin Legislature to redraw voting maps

A panel of federal judges on Friday ordered the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw legislative boundaries by November, rejecting calls from those challenging the maps to have the judges do the work.

The ruling clears the way for the state to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an earlier decision declaring the current maps unconstitutional, but the judges rejected Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s request to delay any work until after the Supreme Court decides whether to hear an appeal.

Schimel’s spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, promised the decision would be swiftly appealed to the Supreme Court. Democrats hailed the ruling and called for public hearings on new maps, but Republicans still control the drawing of district boundaries.

“I hope that legislative Republicans are more competent with their second chance,” said Democratic state Sen. Mark Miller, of Monona.

A dozen voters sued in 2015 over the Republican-drawn maps, alleging they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. The three-judge panel agreed in a 2-1 ruling in November, but didn’t order any immediate action.

In its Friday ruling, the judges ordered the Legislature to redraw the maps by November so they could be in place for the 2018 elections. They forbid the current legislative boundaries from being in effect for any future election. They also declined to do the work themselves, as the Democrats who filed the lawsuit wanted.

Competing bills target, affirm high court water decision

Some lawmakers are taking aim at a recent Washington Supreme Court decision that put the onus on counties to determine whether water is legally available in certain rural areas before they issue building permits.
 
One bill sponsored by Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, amends parts of the state law at the heart of the ruling, known as the Hirst decision. County officials, builders, business and farm groups are among supporting the measure, while environmental groups and tribes oppose it.

A competing bill sponsored by Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, supports the court decision and sets up a program to help counties find ways to meet the requirements.

In October, the high court ruled that Whatcom County failed to protect water resources by allowing new wells to reduce flow in streams for fish and other uses. The court said counties must ensure, independently of the state, that water is physically and legally available before they issue building permits in certain areas.

In the wake of the ruling, some counties have temporarily halted certain rural development, while others changed criteria for obtaining a building permit.

At issue is a struggle to balance competing needs of people and wildlife for limited water, a challenge that has played out across the state for years.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Supreme Court to hear case about party in vacant DC house

The Supreme Court will hear a case in which people arrested for having a party in a vacant house sued police for violating their constitutional rights and won.

The justices said Thursday they will review lower court rulings in favor of 16 people who gathered in a house in Washington about three miles east of the nation's Capitol for a party.

Police arrested the group after no one could identify whose house it was, some said it was a birthday party and others said it was a bachelor party. No one could identify the guest of honor. Several women were scantily clad, with money hanging out of their garter belts. The officers said that the scene resembled a strip club, according to court papers.

Several of the partygoers said someone named "Peaches" gave them permission to have the party.

But when an officer later contacted the purported owner of the home, he denied having given anyone permission to have a party.

The group was arrested for trespassing, a charge later changed to disorderly conduct and then dropped altogether. But the 16 people sued for false arrest and were awarded $680,000.

The issue for the court is whether the officers had sufficient reason to arrest the group for trespassing. The court also will determine whether the officers should be shielded from liability even if their actions are found to violate the law.

A panel of the federal appeals court in Washington upheld the judgment, but four other judges on the court said that the officers should have been protected, citing a string of Supreme Court decisions.

Ethics measure backers ask high court to let them join case

Supporters of a voter-approved government ethics overhaul are asking the state Supreme Court to allow them to join a lawsuit challenging the initiative filed by Republican lawmakers.

South Dakotans for Integrity, a political committee that supported the initiative, is arguing that a lower court judge was wrong in denying their push to intervene in the case.

The judge in December issued an order blocking the entire law from taking effect while the court challenge moves forward.

The group can't appeal that order because they aren't intervenors. South Dakotans for Integrity says the majority of voters who enacted the measure have the right to be represented by advocates whose allegiance is "unquestionable."

Those bringing the lawsuit contend that provisions in the law are unconstitutional. The attorney general's office is defending it.

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.