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Take some time to explore the blog

•  Court News     updated  2020/12/19 12:54

For years, I have served as a useful source to those seeking inspiration, help, or advice.


I finally decided to own that role and be intentional about it. I started writing about my passions, my thoughts, and curious wonderings about our world.

I founded Sonnet 54 with a mission to give others a taste of what goes on in my mind, and I have been at it ever since.

Take some time to explore the blog, read something interesting, and feel free to reach out if you would like to collaborate on a project together.

Supreme Court wrestles with non-unanimous juries case

•  Court News     updated  2020/12/02 12:40

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struggled with whether to require new trials for potentially thousands of prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon who were convicted by non-unanimous juries before the court barred the practice last year.

The high court last year ruled 6-3 that juries in state criminal trials must be unanimous to convict a defendant. Previously, Louisiana and Oregon as well as the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico had allowed divided votes to result in convictions. Now, juries everywhere must vote unanimously to convict.

But the Supreme Court's decision last year affected only future cases and cases in which the defendants were still appealing their convictions when the high court ruled. The question for the court now is whether the decision should be made retroactive. That would benefit prisoners convicted by non-unanimous juries whose cases were final before last year's ruling.

Several justices noted the very high bar past cases have set to making a new rule retroactive while also suggesting this case might clear it. “Why isn't unanimity basic?” Justice Stephen Breyer asked during arguments the court heard by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic. “How could it be that a rule like that does not have retroactive effect?” Justice Elena Kagan asked.



Court weighs challenge to Colorado discrimination law

•  Court News     updated  2020/11/17 00:52

A Colorado web designer should not have to create wedding websites for same-sex couples under the state's anti-discrimination law because it would amount to forced speech that violates her religious beliefs, a lawyer told an appeals court Monday.

Kristen Waggoner, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, told a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the issue for designer Lorie Smith, who is a Christian, is the message and not the customer.

“No one should be forced to express a message that violates their convictions,” Waggoner said during the virtual hearing. She is trying to revive a lawsuit challenging the state’s law, which her group also targeted on behalf of Colorado baker Jack Phillips in a case decided in 2018 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court decided the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had acted with anti-religious bias against Phillips after he refused to bake a cake for two men who were getting married. But it did not rule on the larger issue of whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBT people.

On Monday, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich asked what Smith would do if she was approached by a straight wedding planner asking her to create four heterosexual wedding sites and one for a same-sex wedding. Waggoner said Smith would not take that job.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she has not started offering wedding websites yet.

But if she did, he said her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.


Signature matches. Late-arriving absentee votes. Drop boxes. Secrecy envelopes. Democratic and Republican lawyers already have gone to court over these issues in the run-up to Tuesday’s election. But the legal fights could take on new urgency, not to mention added vitriol, if a narrow margin in a battleground state is the difference between another four years for President Donald Trump or a Joe Biden administration.

Both sides say they’re ready, with thousands of lawyers on standby to march into court to make sure ballots get counted, or excluded.  Since the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, both parties have enlisted legal teams to prepare for the unlikely event that voting wouldn’t settle the contest. But this year, there is a near presumption that legal fights will ensue and that only a definitive outcome is likely to forestall them.

The candidates and parties have enlisted prominent lawyers with ties to Democratic and Republican administrations. A Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court pits Donald Verrilli, who was President Barack Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, against John Gore, a onetime high-ranking Trump Justice Department official.

It’s impossible to know where, or even if, a problem affecting the ultimate result will arise. But existing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Minnesota and Nevada offer some hint of the states most likely to be ground zero in a post-election battle and the kinds of issues that could tie the outcome in knots.

Roughly 300 lawsuits already have been filed over the election in dozens of states across the country, many involving changes to normal procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than 9 million.

Most of the potential legal challenges are likely to stem from the huge increase in absentee balloting brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In Pennsylvania, elections officials won’t start processing those ballots until Election Day, and some counties have said they won’t begin counting those votes until the following day. Mailed ballots that don’t come inside a secrecy envelope have to be discarded, under a state Supreme Court ruling.

“I still can’t figure how counting and verifying absentee ballots is going to go in some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert.

The deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots is Friday, an extension ordered by the Pennsylvania’s top court. The Supreme Court left that order in place in response to a Republican effort to block it. But several conservative justices indicated they’d be open to taking the issue up after the election, especially if those late-arriving ballots could mean the difference in the state.

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