Saturday, September 8, 2018

India decriminalizes homosexual acts in landmark verdict

India's Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a landmark victory for gay rights that one judge said would "pave the way for a better future." The 1861 law, a relic of Victorian England that hung on long after the end of British colonialism, was a weapon used to discriminate against India's gay community, the judges ruled in a unanimous decision. "Constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, reading the verdict. "Social morality cannot be used to violate the fundamental rights of even a single individual." As the news spread, the streets outside the courthouse erupted in cheers as opponents of the law danced and waved flags. "We feel as equal citizens now," said activist Shashi Bhushan. "What happens in our bedroom is left to us." In its ruling, the court said sexual orientation was a "biological phenomenon" and that discrimination on that basis violated fundamental rights. "We cannot change history but can pave a way for a better future," said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The law known as Section 377 held that intercourse between members of the same sex was against the order of nature. The five petitioners who challenged the law said it was discriminatory and led to gays living in fear of harassment and persecution. Jessica Stern, the executive director of the New York-based rights group OutRight Action International, said the original law had reverberated far beyond India, including in countries where gay people still struggle for acceptance. "The sodomy law that became the model everywhere, from Uganda to Singapore to the U.K. itself, premiered in India, becoming the confusing and dehumanizing standard replicated around the world," she said in a statement, saying "today's historic outcome will reverberate across India and the world." The court's ruling struck down the law's sections on consensual gay sex, but let stand segments that deal with such issues as bestiality.

Trump taking Supreme Court fight to Montana, North Dakota

President Donald Trump is taking the Washington debate over his Supreme Court nominee to the homes of two red-state Senate Democrats this week, elevating Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation as a political litmus test for voters. Trump's strategy aims to turn the screws on the lawmakers, Jon Tester of Montana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who find themselves caught between Senate leaders and progressive donors who are fighting Kavanaugh's confirmation, and their states' more conservative electorate, which is more broadly supportive of Trump's pick. Neither senator has laid down a clear marker on how he or she will vote on Kavanaugh's confirmation, which Senate Republican leaders hope to bring to a vote before the full chamber later this month — just weeks before the general election. Trump is holding a rally in Billings, Montana, on Thursday night, and then attending fundraisers in Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday. White House officials contend the Supreme Court was a powerful motivator for Republican base voters in 2016, when Trump won the White House, and they're seeking to capitalize on Kavanaugh's confirmation to help overcome an enthusiasm gap with Democrats. Likewise, a vote for Kavanaugh by either Tester or Heitkamp could frustrate their Democratic base eager for a more confrontational approach to the Trump administration. "It's a real pickle," said GOP strategist Josh Holmes. "There is no question that all of these red-state Democrats would prefer to have an extremely quiet experience when it comes to the consideration of Kavanaugh," he said. "They don't want to upset leadership and the liberal base that's funding their campaigns, but the voters who control their fate are overwhelmingly in favor of Kavanaugh." Democrats question whether the Kavanaugh vote will resonate in the race to unseat Tester, the Big Sandy farmer who has emphasized his independence and willingness to cross the partisan aisle to work with the president, who carried Montana by 20 percentage points two years ago. "It's not like you're standing in the grocery store line and people are talking about the Kavanaugh confirmation. It's pretty inside baseball for folks," said Barrett Kaiser, a Montana-based Democratic strategist who advised former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Kaiser said Tester had demonstrated a "proven bipartisan record of working with this administration when it helps Montana and oppose them when it doesn't." Republicans last year assailed Tester for his vote against the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Tester said Gorsuch would "stand between women and her health care" and not protect personal privacy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Austrian court's approval for spy agency raid was illegal

Judges in Austria say a lower court's authorization for police to raid the offices of the country's domestic intelligence agency was illegal. The regional court in Vienna said Tuesday that the search of the BVT spy agency on Feb. 28 wasn't justified because the necessary information could have been obtained if police had simply asked for it. It also ruled that the search of three BVT employees' homes wasn't warranted, though a fourth was. The raid, which was part of a probe into alleged misconduct by BVT staff, sparked a political storm earlier this year. Opposition parties accused the government of attempting to purge political enemies. The Vienna court ruling didn't rule on whether evidence seized in the raid should be destroyed.

Indian Supreme Court orders house arrest for activists

India's top court ordered Wednesday that five prominent rights activists arrested for alleged Maoist links be kept under house arrest instead of police custody until it rules next week on a petition challenging their detention. Police, meanwhile, broke up a protest in southern India against the arrests and detained about two dozen people. Attorney Prashant Bhushan said the court order will prevent police from taking the five to the western city of Pune, where authorities are investigating their alleged links to Maoist rebels in various parts of the country. The Supreme Court also ordered the federal and state governments to provide detailed reasons for their arrests within three days. It set Sept. 6 for the next hearing in the case. Those arrested on Tuesday were Telugu-language poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Farreira in Mumbai, and Gautam Navalakha and Sudha Bhardwaj in New Delhi and a neighbouring town. Police accused the five of delivering speeches that triggered protests and violence between low-caste Dalits and right-wing groups near Pune in December. The government says Maoist rebels, who are active in several states, are India's biggest internal security threat. The rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the government for more than four decades, demanding land and jobs for the poor and indigenous communities.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

California high court rules for immigrant kids in visa fight

The California Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for some immigrant children who are abused or abandoned by a parent to seek a U.S. visa to avoid deportation in a ruling that advocates said would help thousands of children. State judges cannot require that children drag an absentee parent living abroad into court in their visa application process, the justices said in a unanimous decision. Immigration rights advocates had warned that such a requirement would make it nearly impossible for the children to fight deportation. That's because courts in California cannot establish authority over a foreign citizen and the parent may want nothing to do with a child claiming abuse, and would refuse to participate in a court proceeding in the U.S., immigration groups said. The ruling overturned a lower court decision. The California Supreme Court said it was sufficient to adequately notify the absent parent of the court proceedings, but that parent did not have to be a party to the case. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in court documents that the case had implications for a "substantial portion" of the thousands of children who have fled to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico and settled in California. Kristen Jackson, an attorney for the plaintiff in the case, estimated the ruling would affect thousands of children.

Lawyers will seek to shift blame for warehouse fire at trial

Lawyers for the two men charged in the Northern California warehouse fire that killed 36 people said Friday they are now preparing for a trial where they will try to shift blame for the blaze from their clients to others, including the building's owner and government officials. Derick Almena, 48, and Max Harris, 28, on Friday appeared briefly in an Oakland courtroom for the first time since a judge scuttled a plea deal agreed to by prosecutors. They were ordered back to court in three weeks to schedule a trial. Outside court, the men's lawyers say there's plenty of blame to share for the Dec. 2, 2016, fire in an Oakland warehouse illegally converted into an underground entertainment venue and live-work space for artists. The cause of the fire has never been determined, which the lawyers said is key part of the men's defense. Serra also said numerous government officials visited the illegally converted warehouse before the fire, and they had a duty to report the building's condition to authorities. Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and three children and were visited by Alameda County's Child Protective Services officials several times. Oakland police officers were also called to the warehouse on several occasions to investigate noise complaints and tenant disputes, among other issues.

Alabama Supreme Court won't move lawsuit against Moore

The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday refused to transfer a defamation lawsuit against former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore by a woman who says Moore molested her decades ago. The court denied Moore's request to have the case heard in Etowah County instead of Montgomery. Moore issued a statement calling the decision "ridiculous." Leigh Corfman accused Moore of sexually molesting her decades ago when she was 14 and he was a prosecutor in his 30s. Moore has denied the allegations, but they became an issue in the 2017 race in Alabama to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate. Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones. Corfman in January filed a lawsuit against Moore and his campaign, saying they defamed her and made false statements, calling her a liar and immoral as they denied the claims in the midst of the election. Moore sought to have the case heard in Etowah County where he and Corfman both live. "The Court itself admits venue is proper in either county. Should not the case be tried in the county where we both live and where her reputation and character are well known?" Moore said. Etowah County has also been friendlier territory for Moore. During the U.S. Senate race, Moore won about 60 percent of the vote in Etowah County, while he garnered just 27 percent of in Montgomery. Several Supreme Court justices recused from the case involving Moore, who is a former chief justice of the court. Five retired judges were randomly selected to hear the case along with Associate Justice Brady Mendheim, Jr., and Associate Justice Will Sellers.