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Democrats tighten opposition of high court pick

  Law Center  -   POSTED: 2017/04/01 08:00

Senate Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee swelled Friday as Democrats neared the numbers needed for a filibuster, setting up a showdown with Republicans who have the votes to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii became the latest Democratic senators to announce their opposition to Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appeals court judge in Denver whose conservative rulings make him an intellectual heir to the justice he would replace, the late Antonin Scalia.

McCaskill’s decision came a day after she said she was torn over the decision. She said she’s opposing the federal appeals court judge because his opinions favor corporations over workers and he’s shown “a stunning lack of humanity” in some of those decisions.

She also criticized Trump in her statement announcing her opposition, saying “the president who promised working people he would lift them up has nominated a judge who can’t even see them.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans against changing Senate rules, which could prove momentous for the chamber and would allow all future Supreme Court nominees to get on the court regardless of opposition from the minority party. He says President Donald Trump should just pick a new nominee if Gorsuch is blocked.


The Senate's top Democrat is strongly warning Republicans against changing Senate rules to confirm President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is trying to line up enough votes to block Judge Neil Gorsuch. He lost two in his caucus Thursday when Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said they would vote for him. But Schumer still appears to be on track to amass enough Democrats to block the nomination, which could prompt Republicans to invoke the rules change.

Schumer had tough words for his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in an interview with The Associated Press, saying "the public will judge" whether changing the rule to ease Gorsuch in would be a good idea.


Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled it can take over the powers of congress in what opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro as well as foreign governments denounced as the latest step toward installing a dictatorship in this South American nation.

In a decision late Wednesday, the magistrates said that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past court rulings nullifying all legislation coming out of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the high court can step in and assume congressional duties itself.

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest while condemnations poured in from governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States called for an emergency meeting to deal with what he called a "self-inflicted coup d'etat" by Maduro against the congress. Some hard-line Venezuelan opposition members went on social media to appeal for the military to intervene, and a few protests broke out in the capital.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its call for immediate elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives," the U.S. statement said.

While past decisions by the government-stacked Supreme Court had stripped power from congress, Wednesday's move allows Maduro to rule by fiat, said Julio Borges, the assembly's president. He joined opposition leaders in calling for a new round of demonstrations beginning with a march Saturday, although recent attempts to apply street pressure on the government have failed to attract a large following.



A former journalist from St. Louis who was arrested on a cyberstalking charge related to threats against Jewish organizations made his first New York court appearance on Wednesday and was given legal representation.

Juan Thompson, who was transferred from St. Louis, appeared briefly in federal court, where U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV appointed an attorney to represent him.

The attorney, Mark Gombiner, declined to make a bail argument, so Thompson will likely remain incarcerated until an April 10 hearing. Gombiner declined to comment outside court.

Prosecutors said Thompson made threats against at least eight Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities to harass his girlfriend. The government alleges in court papers that he sometimes emailed threats using the woman's name or used his name but claimed she was trying to implicate him.

Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating story details.

Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 states and two Canadian provinces, according to a report last week by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

Israeli police last week arrested a young Israeli-American man in Jerusalem and said he was the primary suspect in the majority of the threats.




The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.


South Korea's disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye was being questioned Thursday by a court that will decide if she should be arrested over corruption allegations that have already toppled her from power.

Live TV footage earlier showed a stern-looking Park entering the Seoul Central District Court building amid a barrage of camera flashes. She did not comment to reporters. The court is expected to decide by Friday morning whether to approve her arrest.

If the court approves the arrest warrant requested by prosecutors, Park will be immediately sent to a detention facility as prosecutors can detain her for up to 20 days before laying formal charges.

If the court rejects the arrest request, prosecutors can still indict and charge her.

Prosecutors accuse Park of colluding with a confidante to extort from big businesses, take a bribe from one of the companies and commit other wrongdoings. The allegations prompted millions of South Koreans to stage streets protests every weekend for months before the Constitutional Court ruled to dismiss her on March 10. Park's presidential powers had already been suspended after parliament impeached her in December.

It was a dramatic setback to Park, South Korea's first female president who rose to power four years ago amid conservatives' nostalgia for her late dictator father who is credited by supporters for pulling a war-torn country out of poverty in the 1960-70s. Liberal critics revile her father as a ruthless leader who tortured and imprisoned his opponents.

Earlier Thursday, hundreds of her supporters, mostly elderly conservative citizens, gathered near her Seoul home, waving national flags and chanting slogans when she left for the court.



Nicaragua's Supreme Court has rejected a farmer group's appeal seeking to block a proposed $50 billion interoceanic canal.

The legal challenge had sought to overturn a 2013 law under which the canal concession was granted to a Chinese company.

The court's decision late Monday is in line with similar rulings it made previously.

President Daniel Ortega's government says a canal would create tens of thousands of jobs and stimulate the poor Central American nation's economy.

Detractors argue it poses serious environmental risks, would displace thousands of families in the countryside and is financially unfeasible.

No work on the canal itself has been done, though ground has been broken for some access roads related to the project.

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