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  Court Watch - Legal News


A lawsuit filed Tuesday said Georgia's secretary of state violated the law and deprived citizens of their right to vote by canceling a schedule election for a state Supreme Court seat.

The civil rights suit against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was filed in federal court in Atlanta by three Georgia voters. It is rooted in Raffensperger's decision to cancel a scheduled May 19 election for Justice Keith Blackwell's seat on the state Supreme Court. Blackwell had announced his intention to resign in November and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he planned to fill the seat by appointment.

Raffensperger spokesman Walter Jones declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

The cancellation has already prompted two earlier lawsuits filed in Fulton County Superior Court by would-be candidates for Blackwell's seat who allege that the cancellation was illegal. A judge ruled that Raffensperger didn't violate the law and that Kemp could rightfully fill the seat by appointment. Appeals are pending before the state Supreme Court.

Blackwell continues to occupy his seat on the high court and his resignation isn't effective until Nov. 18, meaning it hasn't created a vacancy that the governor has the power to fill, the new federal lawsuit says.

“Georgia law does not give the Secretary the authority to deem an occupied seat on the Georgia Supreme Court vacant,” the lawsuit says. “To call an occupied seat vacant is to confound the meaning of both ‘occupied’ and ‘vacant.'”

That means the cancellation of the election violates state law, and a violation of state law that disenfranchises voters is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee, the suit says.

But even if state law allows Raffensperger not to hold an election for Blackwell's seat, that state law and Raffensperger's actions under that law violate the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit says.


The Michigan Supreme Court is reviewing a speed limit dispute in a small town in western Michigan. The court said it will hear arguments in the case of Anthony Owen, who was accused of drunk driving in Ionia County.

A sheriff's deputy said Owen was speeding in a 25 mph zone. However, Owen won in appeals court by noting the speed limit was actually 55 mph by default, as there was no sign on the road.

The Supreme Court is exploring whether the officer simply, "made an objectively reasonable mistake of the law."


The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review whether a 2015 lawsuit alleging gross failures in the foster-care system should be treated as a class-action matter.

The high court decision means the case will proceed to trial as a class-action lawsuit, the Arizona Republic reported.

A trial date has not yet been scheduled before U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver. Any changes to the system resulting for the lawsuit will apply to all children in Arizona foster care, as well as those in the future.

Attorneys for the Arizona Department of Child Safety and the state's Medicare provider argue the lawsuit conflates problems that individual children have encountered with systemwide failures.

New York-based nonprofit Children's Rights has brought similar lawsuits in other states, arguing the problems are systemic and can only be solved with judicial intervention.

Silver's decision to classify the matter as a class action was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Department of Child Safety has argued that it has made substantial improvements, citing a 23% decrease of children in state custody and to a higher rate of children leaving the system, either because the children were returned to their parents or were adopted.



Three people who planned to attend political and religious events are challenging New Hampshire's statewide ban on gatherings of 50 people or more to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Binford, Eric Couture and Holly Rae Beene filed a lawsuit Tuesday, the day after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu issued the order. They argue that there is no emergency and that the governor is violating their constitutional rights.

A spokesman for Sununu said Thursday that the order is consistent with actions taken across the country and is clearly within the governor's authority.  A hearing is scheduled for Friday.


The Supreme Court announced Monday that it is postponing arguments for late March and early April because of the coronavirus, including fights over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records.

Other business will go on as planned, including the justices’ private conference on Friday and the release of orders in a week’s time. Some justices may participate by telephone, the court said in a statement.

Six of the nine justices are 65 and older, at higher risk of getting very sick from the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, and Stephen Breyer, 81, are the oldest members of the court.

There is no new date set for the postponed arguments. the building has been closed to the public since last week.

The only other time the 85-year-old court building was closed for arguments was in October 2001, when anthrax was detected in the court mailroom. That led the justices to hold arguments in the federal courthouse about a half mile from the Supreme Court,

Within a week and after a thorough cleaning, the court reopened.

In 1918, when the court still met inside the Capitol, arguments were postponed for a month because of the flu pandemic. In the nation’s early years, in August 1793 and August 1798, adjustments were made because of yellow fever outbreaks, the court said.


Australia’s highest court on Thursday said it will deliver a verdict at a later date on whether to overturn the convictions of the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of child sex abuse.

Cardinal George Pell’s lawyer, Bret Walker, told the High Court that if it found a lower court had made a mistake in upholding Pell’s convictions, he should be acquitted.

Prosecutor Kerri Judd told the seven judges that if there were a mistake, they should send the case back to the Victoria state Court of Appeal to hear it again.

Otherwise, the High Court should hear more evidence and decide itself whether the convictions against Pope Francis’ former finance minister should stand, Judd said.

Pell is one year into a six-year sentence after being convicted of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral while he was the city’s archbishop in the late 1990s.

The 78-year-old cleric’s two-day hearing that ended on Thursday could be his last chance of clearing his name.

Pell was largely convicted on the testimony of one of the choirboys, now in his 30s with a young family.

He first went to police in 2015 after the second victim died of a heroin overdose at the age of 31. Neither can be identified under state law.

Judd told the court on Thursday that the surviving victim’s detailed knowledge of the layout of the priests’ sacristy supported his accusation that the boys were molested there.



The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would allow the Trump administration to continue enforcing a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings, despite lower court rulings that the policy probably is illegal.

The justices’ order, over a dissenting vote by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, overturns a lower court order that would have blocked the policy, at least for people arriving at the border crossings in Arizona and California. The lower court order was to have taken effect on Thursday. Instead, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will remain in force while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts, probably at least through the end of President Donald Trump’s term in January.

The next step for the administration is to file a formal appeal with the Supreme Court. But the justices may not even consider the appeal until the fall and, if the case is granted full review, arguments would not be held until early 2021.

The high court action is the latest instance of the justices siding with the administration to allow Trump’s immigration policies to continue after lower courts had moved to halt them. Other cases include the travel ban on visitors from some largely Muslim countries, construction of the border wall, and the “wealth test” for people seeking green cards.


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