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.

Polish prosecutors investigate court head for abuse of power

Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation into the head of the country's Constitutional Tribunal to determine if he abused his power in not allowing judges appointed by the ruling party to take part in rulings. The investigation into Andrzej Rzeplinski, which opened Thursday, is the latest development in an ongoing conflict between the Polish government and the constitutional court, whose role is similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. The government's conflict with the court has raised international concerns about the state of democracy in Poland, and the political opposition and other critics have slammed the investigation into Rzeplinski as an attack on the separation of powers. Amid the conflict, Rzeplinski has emerged as one of the key symbols of resistance against the right-wing government, which has moved to centralize power since winning elections last year. The investigation is seen by many as an attempt to discredit him since he enjoys, at least for now, immunity from prosecution. His term as head of the court also expires in December.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Court upholds net neutrality rules on equal internet access

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the government's "net neutrality" rules that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

The 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is a win for the Obama administration, consumer groups and content companies such as Netflix that want to prevent online content from being blocked or channeled into fast and slow lanes.

The rules treat broadband service like a public utility and prevent internet service providers from offering preferential treatment to sites that pay for faster service.

The Federal Communications Commission argued that the rules are crucial for allowing customers to go anywhere on the internet without a provider favoring its own service over that of other competitors. The FCC's move to reclassify broadband came after President Barack Obama publicly urged the commission to protect consumers by regulating internet service as it does other public utilities.

Cable and telecom opponents argue the new rules will prevent them from recovering costs for connecting to broadband hogs like Netflix that generate a huge amount of internet traffic. Providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T say the rules threaten innovation and undermine investment in broadband infrastructure.

But Judges David Tatel and Sri Srinivasan denied all challenges to the new rules, including claims that the FCC could not reclassify mobile broadband as a common carrier. That extends the reach of the new rules as more people view content on mobile devices.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

NY court: Case against ex-AIG execs can continue

New York's attorney general can continue his legal effort to bar two former American International Group Inc. executives from the securities industry and forfeit any improperly gained profits, the state's highest court ruled Thursday.

The Court of Appeals for the second time refused to dismiss the lawsuit originally filed in 2005 by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, ruling it should go to trial.

The suit claims ex-AIG chief executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and ex-chief financial officer Howard Smith had engaged in fraudulent reinsurance transactions to conceal from investors a deteriorating financial condition.

AIG itself resolved state charges as part of a $1.64 billion agreement with regulators in 2006. The insurance giant was bailed out by the federal government in the 2008 financial crisis.

Greenberg and Smith settled related federal Securities and Exchange Commission complaints without admitting wrongdoing in 2009.

Their attorneys challenged the state lawsuit, arguing that New York's Martin Act against securities fraud authorizes neither a permanent industry ban nor disgorgement of profits, and that releases from other settlements barred further financial forfeit.

"As we have previously stated, in an appropriate case, disgorgement may be an available 'equitable remedy distinct from restitution' under the state's anti-fraud legislation," Judge Leslie Stein wrote. "Moreover, as with the attorney general's claim for an injunction, issues of fact exist which prevent us from concluding, as a matter of law that disgorgement is unwarranted."

The court rejected another dismissal motion two years ago, concluding there was sufficient fraud evidence for trial.

Police union defends ex-officer in black musician's death

The police union defended a former officer charged in the fatal shooting of a legally armed black man, saying they believe the officer identified himself before the confrontation.
 
Former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja has been charged with manslaughter and attempted murder in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones. Raja's bail was set at $250,000 during his first court appearance Thursday.

Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said the union believes Raja, who was fired after the shooting, identified himself before confronting Jones on an Interstate 95 ramp before dawn.

Charging documents said Raja, who was investigating a string of auto burglaries, did not identify himself before opening fire. He was driving an unmarked cargo van with no police lights and was in civilian clothes: a tan T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap, the documents said.

Missouri Appeals Court to decide fight over frozen embryos

The Missouri Court of Appeals is being asked to decide whether a divorced St. Louis County couple's two frozen embryos are property or human beings with constitutional rights.

Jalesia McQueen, 44, is suing to be able to use the embryos, which have been stored for six years, to have more children. Her ex-husband, Justin Gadberry, 34, doesn't want to have any more children with McQueen and doesn't believe he should be required to reproduce.

The two signed an agreement in 2010 that would give McQueen the embryos if they divorced, but Gadberry sought to prevent that from happening when the pair did split. St. Louis County Family Court Commissioner Victoria McKee ruled in 2015 that the embryos were "marital property" and gave joint custody to the estranged couple, which required McQueen and Gadberry to agree on the embryos' future use.