Legal Podcast - Legal News
The suspect in this week's racially motivated shooting rampage in Fresno shouted Friday that natural disasters will increasingly hit the United States as he was ushered into a cramped courtroom for his first appearance before a judge.
Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was supposed to be officially informed about the first-degree murder charge he is accused of in the shooting death of an unarmed security guard.
Authorities have said he then killed three more people in the rampage, targeting white victims, before he was caught.
But the reading of the charge never happened because Muhammad had another outburst, yelling "Let black people go" and a phrase similar to "in reparations" that was not clearly enunciated.
His court appointed lawyer, Eric Christensen, then told the judge: "I believe this gentleman may not be mentally competent to proceed."
Muhammad yelled again and the judge canceled the proceedings, setting bail at $2.6 million and ordering a mental evaluation for Muhammad.
Police have said Muhammad told them that learning he was wanted for the Williams' killing prompted him to try to kill as many white people as possible before he was caught.
He shot three other white men at random Tuesday, police said, including a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker sitting in a truck and two men who had come out of a Catholic Charities building.
To the chagrin of the vast majority of professors of constitutional law, President-elect Donald Trump has promised to appoint judges to the Supreme Court and throughout the federal judiciary who believe that the Constitution’s original meaning provides authoritative guidance in resolving cases and controversies.
Trump said that his kind of judges would uphold the Second Amendment right of individuals to own firearms, and would overturn Roe v. Wade. That, he emphasized on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” would return the question of abortion to the states—which, given public opinion data, would likely leave abortion legal in most of the country.
Hillary Clinton hoped as president to pursue a markedly different course. In the third presidential debate, she had little to say about the Constitution. But she did signal agreement with President Obama that “empathy” is the leading judicial virtue, stating her plan to “appoint Supreme Court justices who understand the way the world really works, who have real-life experience.”
Like Obama, Clinton assumes that the exercise of empathy from the bench yields progressive results. Her justices, she declared, would reverse Citizens United so that the government could lawfully regulate independent political spending by for-profit corporations, while also protecting voting rights, abortion, and same-sex marriage. To the delight of the vast majority of the nation’s law professors, Clinton indicated that she believes in a “living” Constitution—one that evolves to accommodate progressive policy preferences.
A Lexington man's conviction for violating the city's ban on begging has reached the Kentucky Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case Friday.
Police cited Dennis Champion, who was holding a homemade sign asking for money, for violating Lexington's panhandling ordinance during the holiday season in 2014.
Champion's attorney, Linda Horsman, argued that the ordinance violates her client's free-speech rights. She said the ordinance singles out beggars, while people standing along roadways soliciting for charitable organizations are spared from citation.
Assistant Fayette County Attorney Jason Rothrock said the ordinance was aimed at protecting the safety of motorists and panhandlers and ensuring the efficient flow of traffic.
A day before the state's high court heard the Lexington case, Louisville's panhandling law was struck down by a district judge.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday dealt another defeat to New Jersey's yearslong attempt to legalize sports betting, setting aside the state's challenge to a federal betting ban.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling invalidated a law passed by New Jersey in 2014 that would have allowed sports betting at casinos and racetracks. The court found New Jersey's law repealing prohibitions against sports gambling violated the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which forbids state-authorized sports gambling.
"Because PASPA, by its terms, prohibits states from authorizing by law sports gambling, and because the 2014 law does exactly that, the 2014 law violates federal law," the court wrote.
Currently, only Nevada offers legal sports betting on individual games. Delaware offers multigame parlay betting in which players must pick several games correctly to win. Both were given exemptions when PASPA was passed.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and supporters in the state Legislature have sought to legalize sports gambling to help prop up the struggling casino and horse racing industries. It's estimated up to hundreds of billions of dollars are bet illegally on sports every year in the U.S.
Monmouth Park, in Oceanport on New Jersey's coast, is the only venue currently set up to offer sports gambling, if it were legalized.
The dispute has a lengthy legal history. New Jersey voters approved legal sports gambling in 2011, but the four major professional sports leagues and the NCAA sued the state the following year. The leagues claimed the expansion of betting to New Jersey would damage the integrity of their games and lead to more game-fixing.
Sports betting supporters have called the leagues' stance hypocritical, saying the leagues condone and profit from sports fantasy leagues in which participants assemble rosters of players from different teams and compete against others.
The state Supreme Court delivered a victory Thursday to Republican Gov. Chris Christie and ruled the state does not owe public pensioners cost-of-living payments suspended under a 2011 law.
The ruling effectively keeps the state from having its unfunded liability, which is about $80 billion under new accounting rules, increased by about $17.5 billion. It's the second significant victory for Christie over public unions on the pension issue. Moody's credit rating agency said the ruling eliminated a major fiscal threat to the state.
Christie called the ruling a win for taxpayers.
"State taxpayers have won another huge victory, one that spares them from the burden of unaffordable benefit increases for public employee unions," he said in a statement.
Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, writing for the majority in the 6-1 ruling, reversed an appellate court's ruling and said there isn't enough proof lawmakers intended to create a non-forfeitable right to cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs.
"We conclude that the Legislature retained its inherent sovereign right to act in its best judgment of the public interest and to pass legislation suspending further COLAs," the justice wrote.
The decision sparked outrage from labor groups that were among the court case's plaintiffs and had sought to have the COLAs reinstated. The head of the state's largest teachers' union called the ruling "despicable" and said teachers counted on the increases as part of their compensation.
"This is theft, plain and simple," New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer said. "For 20 years, New Jersey's politicians have failed New Jersey's public servants. Now, for the second time in two years, the Supreme Court has done the same thing."
Pat Provnick, 71, of Hammonton, retired in 2000 after 33 years as a teacher and said the suspension of adjustments has led her to little changes, such as buying generic instead of name brand items at the grocery store. But it could mean having to move out of her home, which she said is more difficult to afford because of the suspension.
A Virginia high school discriminated against a transgender teen by forbidding him from using the boys' restroom, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a case that could have implications for a North Carolina law that critics say discriminates against LGBT people.
The case of Gavin Grimm has been especially closely watched since North Carolina enacted a law last month that bans transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. That law also bans cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances, a response to an ordinance recently passed in Charlotte.
In the Virginia case, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — which also covers North Carolina — ruled 2-1 to overturn the Gloucester County School Board's policy, saying it violated Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in schools. A federal judge had previously rejected Grimm's sex discrimination claim, but the court said that judge ignored a U.S. Department of Education regulation that transgender students in public schools must be allowed to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity.
"We agree that it has indeed been commonplace and widely accepted to separate public restrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities on the basis of sex," the court wrote in its opinion. "It is not apparent to us, however, that the truth of these propositions undermines the conclusion we reach regarding the level of deference due to the department's interpretation of its own regulations."
Maxine Eichner, a University of North Carolina law professor who is an expert on sexual orientation and the law, said the ruling — the first of its kind by a federal appeals court — means the provision of North Carolina's law pertaining to restroom use by transgender students in schools that receive federal funds also is invalid.
"The effects of this decision on North Carolina are clear," she said, adding that a judge in that state will have no choice but to apply the appeals court's ruling.
Other states in the 4th Circuit are Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina. While those states are directly affected by the appeals court's ruling, Eichner said the impact will be broader.
"It is a long and well-considered opinion that sets out the issues," she said. "It will be influential in other circuits."
Appeals court Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, who was appointed to the appeals court by Republican President George H.W. Bush, wrote in a dissenting opinion that the majority's opinion "completely tramples on all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes."
The majority opinion was written by Judge Henry F. Floyd and joined by Judge Andre M. Davis, both appointees of Democratic President Barack Obama. The Richmond-based court was long considered the nation's most conservative federal appeals court, but a series of vacancies in the last few years has allowed Obama to reshape it. Including the two senior judges, the court now has 10 judges appointed by Democrats and seven by Republicans.
The lengthy legal debate over a Minnesota program that keeps sex offenders confined indefinitely after they complete their prison sentences shifted south Tuesday as state officials urged a federal appeals court nearly 500 miles away to overturn a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional.
Solicitor General Alan Gilbert told a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis that District Judge Donovan Frank "lost his neutrality" when he made critical comments before ruling last summer. Even before his ruling, the judge called the program "draconian" and said it is "clearly broken" and needs to be reformed.
"He has prejudged the program," said Gilbert, who asked the jurists to reverse the lower court ruling and appoint a new judge to consider the suit by 14 plaintiffs on behalf of the more than 700 civilly committed offenders. The panel did not immediately issue a decision after hearing 20-minute presentations by both sides.
Only a handful of offenders have been provisionally released to community-based settings in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program's 20-plus-year history, which is why the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit say it's tantamount to a life sentence.
While civilly committed offenders in California, Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states are allowed to re-enter society after completing treatment, no one has been fully discharged from Minnesota's program.