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Once annually, sometimes less, the full federal appeals court in New York meets to confront a perplexing legal question. Most recently, it was to decide whether shooting somebody point-blank in the face and stabbing somebody to death are violent acts.

The 14 judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan who heard arguments in U.S. v. Gerald Scott were left to decide how to label the 1998 killings that they agreed were “undoubtedly brutal.”

Ultimately, the full court voted 9-to-5 this week to conclude that Scott’s crimes were indeed violent. But their votes came with a robust debate over a legal puzzle that has vexed multiple federal courts — even if, they agreed, the answer might seem like common sense.

A lower-court judge had decided that Scott’s convictions — on manslaughter charges — meant he had not been convicted of a violent crime. He was freed after serving just over 11 years of a 22-year sentence.

The decision did not shock judges who considered the appeal in November in a unique gathering known as an “en banc” meeting of the full 2nd Circuit.

That’s because two laws at stake — the Armed Career Criminal Act and the Career Offender Sentencing Guideline — do not define a violent crime by what the defendant actually did. Instead, the crime is defined by the minimum acts someone might have committed and still been convicted of the offense.

In Scott’s case, the lower court judge concluded that manslaughter can be a crime of omission in which no force is used — if somebody fails to feed someone who dies of starvation or fails to tell someone that their food is poisoned, for example.

A three-judge 2nd Circuit panel later agreed, prompting federal prosecutors to seek the rare full-court proceeding to try to overturn the appeals finding.

The issue had been confronted before in at least two other “en banc” proceedings nationwide and by numerous judges in other court hearings. Still, in various opinions issued Tuesday, the judges in Scott’s case allowed that the question might sound odd to a layperson.


A judge hearing President Donald Trump's federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Democrat Joe Biden's win in Wisconsin said Friday that the president's request to “remand” the case to the GOP-controlled Legislature to pick new electors was “bizarre.”

The federal case is one of two Trump has in Wisconsin making similar arguments. He filed another one in state court, which the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday refused to hear before it first goes through lower courts.

Hearings on both lawsuits were scheduled for Thursday, with the judges noting the importance of resolving the legal battles before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14. Trump, who argues that hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots cast in accordance with state guidelines were illegal, wants a federal judge to give the Republican-controlled Legislature the power to determine who won the election.

“It’s a request for pretty remarkable declaratory relief," said U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig during a conference call to set deadlines and a hearing date. Ludwig, who said it was “an unusual case, obviously,” also cast doubt on whether a federal court should be considering it at all.

“I have a very, very hard time seeing how this is justiciable in the federal court,” Ludwig, a Trump appointee, said. “The request to remand this case to the Legislature almost strikes me as bizarre.”

The judge questioned why Trump wasn't going directly to the Legislature if he wants lawmakers to get involved with naming electors. Bill Bock, the Trump campaign attorney in the federal lawsuit, said Trump needed the court to rule that the election was “invalid" so the Legislature could get involved. He also said that the term “remand,” which is typically used to describe when one court sends a case to a lower court, was “inartful.”

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke cast serious doubt in the week on whether the Legislature might change the state's electors from Biden to Trump backers. Steineke tweeted a clip of actor Dana Carvey playing President George H.W. Bush saying, “Not gonna do it.”

In his state lawsuit, Trump is seeking to disqualify 221,000 ballots he claims were cast illegally. Judge Stephen Simanek, who is hearing that case after the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to take it initially, said Friday he would rule from the bench following next week's hearing that's scheduled to start hours after the one in federal court.

The high court also declined Friday to hear a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Voters Alliance over Trump's loss. Two others filed by Trump allies — one in federal court and one in state court — remain. Trump has lost multiple lawsuits in other battleground states as part of a longshot effort to overturn Biden's victory. Even if he were to prevail in Wisconsin, the state's 10 Electoral College votes would not be enough to hand him reelection.


A state court legal fight to stop the counting of mail ballots in the Las Vegas area has ended after the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Donald Trump campaign and the state Republican party, at their request. The dismissal leaves two active legal cases in Nevada relating to the 2020 presidential election, as a small number of remaining ballots are counted.

The campaign and GOP had tried to withdraw the appeal in the state case, submitting a document last week telling the seven-member court that it had reached a settlement calling for Clark County election officials to allow more observers at a ballot processing facility. However, not all the parties in the lawsuit signed the agreement. The case also involved the national and state Democratic parties, the Nevada secretary of state and the Clark County registrar of voters.

Trump Nevada campaign official Adam Laxalt did not immediately respond Wednesday to messages about the action by the state high court. The appeal had challenged Judge James Wilson Jr.’s ruling Nov. 2 in Carson City that neither the state nor Clark County had done anything to give one vote preference over another. Meanwhile, an active lawsuit filed in federal court alleging ineligible votes were cast in the Las Vegas area has a Nov. 19 deadline for filings but no immediate hearing date.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon declined after a hearing Friday to issue an order immediately halting the count of mail-in ballots from Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County ? a Democratic stronghold in an otherwise GOP state. The judge noted what was then the pending Nevada Supreme Court appeal and said he didn’t want to become involved in “an issue of significant state concern, involving state laws (that) should be interpreted by state courts.”

Plaintiffs in that case include a woman who said she tried to vote in person but was told a mailed ballot with her signature had already been received, and a political strategist and TV commentator who said he was denied an opportunity to observe ballot counting late on election night.  Separately, a public records lawsuit in state court led a judge to set a Nov. 20 deadline for the Clark County registrar of voters to turn over to the Trump campaign and the state GOP the names, party affiliations, work schedules and job responsibilities of more than 300 people who were hired to count ballots.

Vote counting in Nevada ends Thursday. State elections officials report more than 1.3 million ballots were cast. On a call with reporters hosted by the Voter Protection Program, Democratic attorneys general Aaron Ford of Nevada and Dana Nessel of Michigan said lawsuits questioning the results of elections in their states are baseless.

Ford branded people spreading claims of fraud “saboteurs” working to undermine faith in the democratic process. “There’s been no evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing and no P.R. stunt or piled-on litigation is going to change that fact,” Ford said.


Amy Coney Barrett was formally sworn in Tuesday as the Supreme Court's ninth justice, her oath administered in private by Chief Justice John Roberts. Her first votes on the court could include two big topics affecting the man who appointed her.

The court is weighing a plea from President Donald Trump to prevent the Manhattan district attorney from acquiring his tax returns. It is also considering appeals from the Trump campaign and Republicans to shorten the deadline for receiving and counting absentee ballots in the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Northeastern Pennsylvania's Luzerne County filed legal papers at the court Tuesday arguing that Barrett should not take part in the Pennsylvania case. It's not clear if she will vote in the pending cases, but she will make that call.

Barrett was confirmed Monday by the Senate in a 52-48 virtual party line vote. She is expected to begin work as a justice on Tuesday after taking the second of two oaths required of judges by federal law. No justice has assumed office so close to a presidential election or immediately confronted issues so directly tied to the incumbent president's political and personal fortunes.

Barrett declined to commit to Democratic demands that she step aside from any cases on controversial topics, including a potential post-election dispute over the presidential results.

At 48, she's the youngest justice since Clarence Thomas joined the court in 1991 at age 43. Other election-related issues are pending at the high court, which next week also will hear a clash of LGBTQ rights and religious freedoms. The fate of the Affordable Care Act is on the agenda on Nov. 10, and Trump himself last week reiterated his opposition to the Obama-era law. “I hope they end it,” he said in an interview with CBS News' “60 Minutes.”

On Friday, Barrett, the most open opponent of abortion rights to join the court in decades, also could be called upon to weigh in on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. The state is appealing lower court rulings invalidating the ban. Abortion opponents in Pittsburgh also are challenging a so-called bubble zone that prevents protesters from getting too close to abortion clinics.

The court put off acting on both cases before Barrett joined the court, without offering any explanation in the Mississippi case. It ordered Pittsburgh to file a response to the appeal filed by the protesters, who call themselves sidewalk counselors.

It's not clear that the public will know how Barrett voted in the two abortion cases because the court typically doesn't make the vote counts public when it is considering whether to grant full review to cases.



Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett batted away Democrats’ skeptical questions Tuesday on abortion, health care and a possible disputed-election fight over transferring presidential power, insisting in a long and lively confirmation hearing she would bring no personal agenda to the court but decide cases “as they come.”

The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views with often colloquial language, but refused many specifics. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Donald Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the the Nov. 3 election.

“Judges can’t just wake up one day and say I have an agenda — I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion — and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.

“It’s not the law of Amy,” she said. “It’s the law of the American people.”

Barrett returned to a Capitol Hill mostly shut down by COVID-19 protocols, the mood quickly shifting to a more confrontational tone  from opening day. She was grilled by Democrats strongly opposed to Trump’s nominee yet unable to stop her. Excited by the prospect of a judge aligned with the late Antonin Scalia, Trump’s Republican allies are rushing ahead to install a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.

The president seemed pleased with her performance. “I think Amy’s doing incredibly well,” he said at the White House departing for a campaign rally.

Trump has said he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from his heated election with Democrat Joe Biden, but Barrett testified she has not spoken to Trump or his team about election cases. Pressed by panel Democrats, she skipped past questions about ensuring the date of the election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. She declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases without first consulting the other justices.

“I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she said.

A frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, all but implored the nominee to be more specific about how she would handle landmark abortion cases, including Roe v. Wade and the follow-up Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which confirmed it in large part.


The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that allowed a lawsuit to move forward against a Kentucky clerk who was jailed in 2015 after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The high court said Monday it would not take the case involving Kim Davis, the former clerk of Rowan County, and two same-sex couples who had sued her. Soon after the 2015 Supreme Court decision in which same-sex couples won the right to marry nationwide, Davis, a Christian who has a religious objection to same-sex marriage, stopped issuing all marriage licenses.

That led to lawsuits against her, and a judge ordered Davis to issue the licenses. She spent five days in jail after refusing. Davis had argued that a legal doctrine called qualified immunity protected her from being sued for damages by couples David Ermold and David Moore as well as James Yates and Will Smith. Their case will now move forward. Davis, a Republican, ultimately lost her bid for reelection in 2018. Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr. is now the county’s clerk.

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas wrote for himself and Justice Samuel Alito that while he agreed with the decision not to hear the case, it was a "stark reminder of the consequences" of the court's 2015 decision in the same-sex marriage case. Because of that case, he wrote, “those with sincerely held religious beliefs concerning marriage will find it increasingly difficult to participate in society without running afoul" of the case “and its effect on other antidiscrimination laws.”


President Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Saturday, capping a dramatic reshaping of the federal judiciary that will resonate for a generation and that he hopes will provide a needed boost to his reelection effort.

Barrett, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said she was “truly humbled” by the nomination and quickly aligned herself with Scalia’s conservative approach to the law, saying his “judicial philosophy is mine, too.”

Barrett, 48, was joined in the Rose Garden by her husband and seven children. If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill the seat vacated by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It would be the sharpest ideological swing since Clarence Thomas replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall nearly three decades ago.

She would be the sixth justice on the nine-member court to be appointed by a Republican president, and the third of Trump’s first term in office.

Trump hailed Barrett as “a woman of remarkable intellect and character,” saying he had studied her record closely before making the pick.

Republican senators are lining up for a swift confirmation of Barrett ahead of the Nov. 3 election, as they aim to lock in conservative gains in the federal judiciary before a potential transition of power. Trump, meanwhile, is hoping the nomination will galvanize his supporters as he looks to fend off Democrat Joe Biden.

For Trump, whose 2016 victory hinged in large part on reluctant support from white evangelicals on the promise of filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative, the latest nomination in some ways brings his first term full circle. Even before Ginsburg’s death, Trump was running on having confirmed in excess of 200 federal judges, fulfilling a generational aim of conservative legal activists.

Trump joked that the confirmation process ahead “should be easy” and “extremely noncontroversial,” though it is likely to be anything but. No court nominee has been considered so close to a presidential election before, with early voting already underway. He encouraged legislators to take up her nomination swiftly and asked Democrats to “refrain from personal and partisan attacks.”

In 2016, Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court to fill the election-year vacancy, saying voters should have a say in the lifetime appointment. Senate Republicans say they will move ahead this time, arguing the circumstances are different now that the White House and Senate are controlled by the same party.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will vote “in the weeks ahead” on Barrett’s confirmation. Barrett is expected to make her first appearance Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where she will meet with McConnell; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee; and others. Hearings are set to begin Oct. 12, and Graham said he hoped to have Barrett’s nomination out of the committee by Oct. 26.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that a vote to confirm Barrett to the high court would be a vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. Schumer added that the president was once again putting “Americans’ healthcare in the crosshairs” even while the coronavirus pandemic rages.

Biden took that route of criticism, as well, framing Trump’s choice as another move in Republicans’ effort to scrap the 2010 health care law passed by his former boss, President Barack Obama. The court is expected to take up a case against it this fall.

The set design at the Rose Garden, with large American flags hung between the colonnades, appeared to be modeled on the way the White House was decorated when President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg in 1993.

Barrett, recognizing that flags were still lowered in recognition of Ginsburg’s death, said she would be “mindful of who came before me.” Although they have different judicial philosophies, Barrett praised Ginsburg as a trailblazer for women and for her friendship with Scalia, saying, “She has won the admiration of women across the country and indeed all across the world.”

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Trump made clear he would nominate a woman for the seat. Barrett was the early favorite and the only one to meet with Trump.

Barrett has been a judge since 2017, when Trump nominated her to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But as a longtime University of Notre Dame law professor, she had already established herself as a reliable conservative in the mold of Scalia, for whom she clerked in the late 1990s.

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