Union workers rally before organized labor Supreme Court hearing

Hundreds of union workers gathered in lower Manhattan Saturday to chant, cheer and wave signs in a show of unity ahead of a Supreme Court hearing that could have a profound effect on organized labor. On Monday, the Supreme Court will consider Janus vs. AFSCME — a controversial legal challenge to a longstanding precedent that protects the ability of public employee unions to represent their members and even nonmembers, and to speak out on matters of public interest. Workers from both the public and private sector flooded Foley Square early Saturday. They were joined by a long list of elected officials, including Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio as well as State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. One attendee came all the way from Memphis, Tenn., to speak at the rally. Baxter Leach, who marched in Memphis as a striking sanitation worker more than 50 years ago along with Dr. Martin Luther King , galvanized the crowd with a few simple words. “I want to tell you all. To get what you want you've got to stand up. You can’t sit down,” the civil rights icon said, his face projected on a jumbotron screen across the wide public square in front of the city’s court houses. Gov. Cuomo called the rallying workers “the heart and soul” of the country. “You see labor going backwards all across this country. In New York it's a different story. In New York you see labor going forward. We want more fairness, more justice,” he said. "We know what's going on in this country ... We have a federal administration that has declared itself an enemy of the working men and women of this nation. They have declared a war on the middle class and on the labor movement,” the governor told the cheering crowd. The coalition of unions, economic justice and civil rights groups sponsored the rally — which was echoed at 10 other major cities around the country. Organized loosely around the theme of #unrigthesystem, the main focus Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears argument in 2 vehicle search cases

By Jessica Gresko Published 1:47 pm, Tuesday, January 9, 2018 Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press Image 1of/1 CaptionClose Image 1 of 1 People stands on the plaza of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to attend arguments in one case that lawyers say has the potential to affect the 115 million car rentals annually in the U.S. People stands on the plaza of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to attend arguments in one case that lawyers say has the potential to affect the 115 million car rentals annually in the U.S. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press Supreme Court hears argument in 2 vehicle search cases 1 / 1 Back to Gallery WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s justices put themselves in the driver’s seat Tuesday, hearing arguments in two cases involving vehicle searches, but it was unclear what routes the justices will take to resolve the cases. The justices heard arguments in a case involving Pennsylvania state troopers’ stop of a rental car driven by a man who wasn’t on the rental agreement. They also heard a case from Virginia involving a policeman’s search for a stolen motorcycle. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer in particular seemed to be searching for a way to give easy-to-understand directions in resolving the Pennsylvania case. That case is about police’s ability to search a rental car they stop when the driver isn’t listed on the rental agreement. The case the justices were discussing involves Terrence Byrd, who was driving his fiancee’s rental car on a Pennsylvania highway when a state trooper pulled him over for an alleged minor traffic violation. He acted nervously during the stop, at one point telling troopers he had a marijuana cigarette in the car, and officers eventually asked to Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears Obamacare arguments

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard Round 1 of arguments on Obamacare Monday — with the landmark health law and the landscape of the 2012 presidential race hanging in the balance. The opening jabs centered on a technicality — whether the high court can even rule on the law now, or must wait until it takes full effect in 2015. Tuesday’s Round 2 promises to be the main event. The justices will hear constitutional arguments challenging the law’s linchpin — the “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay fines. Without the mandate, the sweeping health reform law dubbed Obamacare would likely collapse. Consumers could forgo coverage and insurers would have trouble paying for other elements of the law, like covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Frequent swing-voter Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the one to watch Tuesday, said Robert Alt, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Kennedy is going to be where the real focus is, and if he will tip his hand,” Alt said. Kennedy’s position is key given Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are likely to oppose the law, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are viewed as supportive. Amid the buildup, most of the trash-talking Monday took place outside the courtroom as supporters and opponents rallied in the shadow of the Supreme Court. Republican White House contender Rick Santorum brought his campaign to the courthouse steps to bash GOP front-runner Mitt Romney, whom he called “uniquely disqualified” to criticize the law. “He can’t because he supported government-run health care as governor of Massachusetts,” Santorum said. Romney has pledged to repeal Obamacare if elected and leave health care reform up to the states. The controversial law Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears arguments on lethal-injection drug

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court debate over a controversial execution drug broke along the usual liberal-conservative lines Wednesday, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito implying that the shortage of suitable drugs is because of death-penalty "abolitionists."Justice Stephen Breyer, however, countered by telling an attorney for the state of Oklahoma that the drug midazolam isn't strong enough to block the pain from other drugs in the execution protocol and that he loses the case if that's true.In a hearing that lasted an hour and 10 minutes Wednesday, the justices listened to arguments on whether midazolam, a Valium-like drug at the center of controversial executions in Arizona and Oklahoma, violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.One of the key points of deliberation was whether it prevents suffering by the condemned."Does the fact that something is a lethal dose necessarily mean that it's not incredibly painful?" Justice Elena Kagan asked. SUPREME COURT AND LETHAL INJECTION: What's at stake RELATED: Arizona rules for seeking the death penalty are on trialBreyer, who seemed to have the most familiarity with the drug's short and controversial history as an execution agent, noted that while midazolam may be used in minor medical procedures, it may not be sufficient to mask the pain of "major stimuli."The arguments stem from Glossip vs. Gross, filed on behalf of an Oklahoma death-row inmate. Attorneys argue that midazolam does not put the condemned person in a deep enough state of anesthesia to mask possible intense pain from two other drugs that actually cause the prisoner's death.Oklahoma, Arizona and other states turned to midazolam after more effective drugs traditionally used in executions by lethal injection became unavailable because manufacturers refused to sell them to state corrections departments.If the high court rules against Oklahoma, it will block the use of midazolam for executions in Arizona, Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears Obamacare arguments: What’s it all about?

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court began hearing arguments Monday over President Obama's health care overhaul, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derisively labeled “Obamacare'' by its opponents. Here’s a look at how the case will unfold before the court: Q: What's this all about? A: The Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is Obama's signature domestic achievement. Passed by Congress in 2010, its aim is to provide health insurance to more than 30 million previously uninsured Americans, while trying to restrain costs and prevent disruptions to the majority already with coverage. Opponents say the law is unconstitutional; their chief argument is that Congress does not have the power to force unwilling Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine. Q: Which issues on which days? A: Monday's 90-minute argument was about whether court action is premature because no one yet has paid a fine for not having health insurance. Tuesday's two-hour argument will cover the central issue of whether Congress overstepped its authority by requiring Americans to purchase health insurance starting in 2014 or pay a penalty. Wednesday's arguments will be split into two parts: Justices will hear 90 minutes of debate in the morning over whether the rest of the law can take effect even if the health insurance mandate is unconstitutional and another hour Wednesday afternoon over whether the law goes too far in coercing states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for low-income people by threatening to cut off federal aid to states that don't comply. Q: When will the justices rule? A: The court could decide any time, but complex cases argued in the spring normally produce decisions near the end of the court's session, scheduled for late June. Q: Is it possible that the justices won't decide whether the law is constitutional or not? A: It is possible. The first issue the Continue Reading

State Supreme Court hears Eden Park appeal

One of two men convicted in the 2012 fatal shootings during a soccer tournament at Eden Park asked the state Supreme Court Wednesday to overturn his conviction.Jeffrey Phillips is serving life in prison. His lawyer, Kevin O'Connell, a public defender, argued that a Superior Court judge erred in not declaring a mistrial after a key prosecution witness testified that he was in a state witness protection program.That information was disclosed to defense lawyers just days before the trial was to start, and the Superior Court Judge in the case, Calvin Scott, instructed state prosecutors to not tell jurors about that aspect of a plea deal they made with the witness.But the witness, when asked by a deputy attorney general what consideration he had received in exchange for his testimony, told the jury he was in the state's witness protection program.Jeffrey Phillips' trial lawyer immediately asked the judge to declare a mistrial. The judge denied the request.Supreme Court Justice Randy Holland asked O'Connell if his concern was that the disclosure prejudiced the jury because the witness "would be willing to risk his life" to testify.O'Connell said that type of evidence "becomes so prejudicial" that it is difficult to overcome. "We went to sidebar and asked for a mistrial." STORY:  Jury convicts Eden Park shooters of murder STORY:  Witnesses describe Eden Park shootingChief Justice Leo Strine then asked Deputy Attorney General Sean Lugg what the prosecutor hoped to gain when she asked the question.Strine said it put the witness in a bad position because he was supposed to be instructed not to bring up the protection program. But to not bring it up, he would have not been telling the whole truth, Strine said.In addition, he suggested the whole theory in the state's case against Phillips and co-defendant Otis Phillips was that they had worked together to kill a witness.Logg said he wasn't certain what the prosecutor had in Continue Reading

Delaware Supreme Court hears case for freed death row inmate

The Delaware Supreme Court must decide whether the videotaped interview of Jermaine Wright confessing to the 1991 murder of Phillip Seifert, a disabled liquor store clerk, should be allowed at his retrial.The decision and the trial could either lead to the 43-year-old being put back behind bars or to the state’s case against him unraveling.Wright – once Delaware’s longest serving inmate on death row – is currently free and sat silently in the front row of a Dover courtroom Wednesday as his lawyer argued that nearly two decades ago he was not properly read his rights and was highly suggestible when he confessed.The confession was the heart of the state’s case against Wright and helped secure his death sentence.Prosecutors were forced earlier this year to let Wright go free while they appeal a judge’s decision to suppress the videotaped confession.Five justices heard arguments for the state’s appeal Wednesday and will issue a written ruling at a later date.Deputy Attorney General Elizabeth McFarland told the court that Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins Jr. abused his discretion by suppressing the confession. She asked for a new judge to be assigned to the retrial.Wright’s attorney, Allison Mielke, responded by defending Parkins’ ruling, saying he correctly recognized that Wright told police what they wanted to hear because he was not properly read the Miranda warning, was withdrawing from heroin, and was interrogated for 13 hours while handcuffed to a desk.She said he was incorrectly told: “You have the right, right now, at any time, to have an attorney present with you, if you so desire. Can’t afford to hire one, if the state feels that you’re diligent and needs one, they’ll appoint one for you.”Seifert, 66, was shot three times – once in the neck and twice in the head – during a robbery of the former Hi-Way Inn on Governor Printz Boulevard on Jan. 14, 1991. The Continue Reading

Can state withhold money from cities over local laws? Arizona Supreme Court hears case on Tucson gun rules

The Arizona Supreme Court could decide whether the state can punish cities by withholding millions of dollars in aid if local officials enact policies that contradict state law.Or, the high court may tackle a narrower question of whether Tucson's city charter gives it the right to destroy confiscated weapons and ignore a state law that says the guns must be sold.The court examined both possibilities Tuesday as it heard arguments in a case that raises questions about the extent to which the state can pre-empt local laws enacted by charter cities. The state Constitution gives charter cities independence from state laws on matters of "strictly local concerns."In this case, the state and Tucson have conflicting opinions on what is local.The case was prompted by a 2016 state law that requires counties, cities and towns to keep their ordinances and other official actions in line with state law. A violation would trigger withdrawal of the tax revenue the state shares with local jurisdictions, money that is vital to most local governments' operations.Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, made quick use of the law, using its provisions last fall to ask Attorney General Mark Brnovich to investigate Tucson's 12-year-old gun ordinance.Brnovich found a violation may have occurred, which triggers the issue going to the Supreme Court for a decision.Tucson sued in response, citing the Arizona Constitution's protection for charter cities to enact strictly local laws. Cities such as Tucson and Phoenix, as well as 17 others, are governed by charters adopted by their citizens.On Tuesday, Associate Justice Ann Timmer questioned whether the guns Tucson confiscates and destroys are only a local issue. After all, a gun is a piece of property that can move across city boundaries, she said.Chief Justice Scott Bales wondered how a city decides what is local.“How do you identify what is truly a municipal affair?” Bales asked.Rick Rollman, representing the Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears arguments in case on memorial cross erected on California public park land

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court is taking up a long-running legal fight over a cross honoring World War I soldiers that has stood for 75 years on public land in a remote part of California. The cross, on an outcrop known as Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve, has been covered in plywood for the past several years following federal court rulings that it violates the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion. The justices were to hear arguments Wednesday in a case the court could use to make an important statement about its view of the separation of church and state. The Obama administration is defending the presence of the cross, which court papers describe as being 5 feet to 8 feet tall. A former National Park Service employee, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued to have the cross removed or covered after the agency refused to allow erection of a Buddhist memorial nearby. Frank Buono describes himself as a practicing Catholic who has no objection to religious symbols, but he took issue with the government's decision to allow the display of only the Christian symbol. Easter Sunrise services have been held at the site for decades. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has repeatedly ruled in Buono's favor. Congress has intervened on behalf of the cross, prohibiting the Park Service from spending money to remove the cross, designating it a national memorial and ultimately transferring the land to private ownership. The appeals court invalidated the 2004 land transfer, saying that "carving out a tiny parcel of property in the midst of this vast preserve — like a doughnut hole with the cross atop it — will do nothing to minimize the impermissible governmental endorsement" of the religious symbol. Veterans groups are on both sides of the case, with some worrying that other religious symbols that serve as war memorials could be threatened by a Continue Reading

Supreme Court hears death penalty case

The Supreme Court will take up a death penalty case Monday that has brought executions to a halt for the longest period in 25 years.Even in Texas, where the majority of the nation's executions take place, no one has been put to death since Sept. 25. Two Kentucky Death Row inmates are arguing that death by lethal injection violates the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." The inmates are Ralph Baze and Thomas Clyde Bowling. Baze was sentenced to die for shooting a local sheriff, and Bowling for the shooting deaths of a couple and the wounding of their 2-year-old child. In a case being watched around the world, their 2004 suit says Kentucky's injection procedures, similar to those on the books in dozens of other states, cause excruciating pain. Lawyers for the men say other states routinely botch executions by using poorly trained people. Veterinarians have sided with the prisoners, pointing out that Kentucky requires animal euthanasia to be done by first injecting a barbiturate that causes minimal pain before putting an animal down. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading