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Wondering when Supreme Court nominations became so politically contentious? Only about 222 years ago — when the Senate voted down George Washington's choice for chief justice.

"We are in an era of extreme partisan energy right now. In such a moment, the partisanship will manifest itself across government, and there's no reason to think the nomination process will be exempt from that. It hasn't been in the past," University of Georgia law professor Lori Ringhand said.

This year's brouhaha sees Senate Democrats and Republicans bracing for a showdown over President Donald Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch. It's the latest twist in the political wrangling that has surrounded the high court vacancy almost from the moment Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.

Each side has accused the other of unprecedented obstruction. Republicans wouldn't even hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee. Democrats are threatening a filibuster, which takes 60 votes to overcome, to try to stop Gorsuch from becoming a justice. If they succeed, Republicans who control the Senate could change the rules and prevail with a simple majority vote in the 100-member body.

As she lays out in "Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings and Constitutional Change," the book she co-wrote, Ringhand said, "There were more rejected nominees in the first half of the nation's history than in the second half. That controversy has been partisan in many cases, back to George Washington."

"Confirmations have been episodically controversial," said Ringhand, who is the Georgia law school's associate dean. "The level of controversy has ebbed and flowed."

John Rutledge, a South Carolinian who was a drafter of the Constitution, was the first to succumb to politics. The Senate confirmed Rutledge as a justice in 1789, a post he gave up a couple of years later to become South Carolina's chief justice.

In 1795, Washington nominated Rutledge to replace John Jay as chief justice. By then, Rutledge had become an outspoken opponent of the Jay Treaty, which sought to reduce tensions with England. A year after ratifying the treaty, the Senate voted down Rutledge's nomination.



A state appeals court has overruled a western Indiana judge and ordered him to expunge a woman's convictions despite his disgust for her crimes.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 last week that Jay Circuit Judge Brian Hutchison must expunge the convictions of 35-year-old Mindy M. McCowan of Dunkirk for forgery in 2003 and for dealing methamphetamine in 2004.

The ruling said McCowan was released from prison in 2007 and completed probation in 2010. She has since maintained employment and earned an associate's degree and professional certifications.

The Star Press reports Hutchison declined to expunge the convictions last November, saying he has drug cases before him every day and he wasn't "doing favors for people who are causing these problems in Jay County."



An Illinois appeals court on Friday vacated an injunction obtained by the Chicago police union that barred the city's release of disciplinary files dating back decades.

The Fraternal Order of Police sued to block the release after a March 2014 appellate court ruling that documents dating back to 1967 should be made public. Several news outlets had requested the records.

As a result of the 2014 ruling, the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, obtained 11 years of records and published an interactive database of police misconduct.

Last year, Cook County Circuit Judge Peter Flynn issued an injunction based a clause in the union's bargaining contract requiring the destruction of public records after four years. The union also claimed releasing the documents would unfairly harm the officers named in the citizen complaints.

The union contends police officers are susceptible to false complaints, and reports that go unsubstantiated should not have an indefinite shelf life. The city of Chicago appealed the injunction.

In its ruling Friday, the appeals court confirmed the records must be released under Freedom of Information Act laws. The court also ruled the union contract clause requiring the destruction of disciplinary records after four years was "legally unenforceable" because it conflicted with the state's public records law.

FOP President Dean Angelo Sr. declined to comment on the ruling, saying he had not yet read it.


Moscow court sends 7 to prison for protest rally

•  International     updated  2014/02/24 15:10

A Russian court handed down prison sentences Monday of up to four years for seven people who took part in a 2012 protest against Vladimir Putin. An eighth defendant received a suspended sentence.

Hundreds of their supporters gathered outside the courthouse to condemn the trial and the Kremlin's crackdown on opposition. Police detained about 200 of them, accusing them of violating public order.

Among those detained were members of the punk band Pussy Riot who had spent nearly two years in prison as punishment for their own anti-Putin protest.

The defendants sentenced Monday were among 28 people rounded up after the May 6, 2012, protest on the eve of Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term. The rally turned violent after police restricted access to Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin, where the protesters had permission to gather.

The eight defendants were found guilty last week, but sentencing was postponed until Monday. All have been in custody for nearly two years except for Anastasia Dukhanina, 20, who was under house arrest. She was given a suspended sentence.

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