Supreme Court justices wade into Florida-Georgia water fight

Supreme Court justices on Monday seemed sympathetic to Florida officials who complain that their neighbors to the north in Georgia are hogging water in a way that endangers a sensitive Sunshine State estuary. But while the court seemed to think “common sense” and maybe even physics favored Florida, the powerful U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not — it favors Georgia, and even the Supreme Court’s clout might not be enough to overcome that. [A Supreme Court fight over Florida’s Forgotten Coast] “There’s nothing common sense about the operations of this basin,” said Craig S. Primis, a Washington lawyer representing the state of Georgia, who spent much of his time at the lectern during oral arguments fighting questions about why capping Georgia’s consumption of river water would not necessarily result in more water downstream. “It is incredibly complicated,” he said. So complicated that the states have been fighting for three decades over the waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, which covers more than 19,600 square miles in three states. The current Supreme Court battle alone has eaten up a combined $100 million in legal fees. At stake in the decades-long litigation is whether the flow of waters will favor Atlanta and the farmers of southwestern Georgia or the seafood producers in the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee River flows from north of Atlanta, and there are five federal dams controlled by the Army Corps that provide flood control, hydropower and recreation, as well as drinking water for the nearly 6 million residents of metro Atlanta. The Flint flows from a spring near Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and sweeps through southwestern Georgia, where farmers depend on irrigation for growing cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts and pecans, among other crops in a more than $4 billion industry. The two rivers converge at the state border to become the Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, 79, found dead at West Texas ranch

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative anchor for the nation’s top court across 30 years, was found dead Saturday at a West Texas ranch, officials said. The 79-year-old jurist apparently died of natural causes after attending a private party of about 40 people at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, according to reports. ANTONIN SCALIA'S FAMILY WAIVES AUTOPSY AFTER DEATH AT RANCH Scalia went to his room Friday evening after telling friends that he wasn’t feeling well, and died in his sleep, CNN reported. His body was discovered when he failed to appear for breakfast Saturday. A gray Cadillac hearse arrived at the ranch on Saturday afternoon, the web site My San Antonio reported. Scalia was an “extraordinary individual and jurist, admired and treasured by his colleagues,” said Chief Justice John Roberts. “His passing is a great loss to the court and the country he so loyally served.” The White House released a statement saying, "The President and First Lady extend their deepest condolences to Justice Scalia's family." DERSHOWITZ: SCALIA, LOVE OR HATE HIM, LEFT HIS MARK ON AMERICAN LAW Former President George W. Bush was among those offering kudos to the acerbic justice. “He was a towering figure and important judge on our nation’s highest court,” Bush said in a statement. “He brought intellect, good judgment, and wit to the bench, and he will be missed by his colleagues and our country.” Speculation began immediately that confirmation of an Obama nominee by a Republican-controlled Senate during an election year appeared a longshot at best. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the next president should be the one to nominate a replacement. CUOMO: REPLACING SCALIA ON SCOTUS A CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he said in a Continue Reading

Queens dad admits in court he fatally stabbed two daughters and wife

A Queens man admitted Friday to butchering his wife and their two baby girls to death in their Jamaica apartment. Miguel Mejia, 28, pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree manslaughter for the deaths of his wife, Deisy Garcia, 21, and their daughters, Daniela, 2, and Yoselin, 1, earlier this year. Mejia showed no emotion as he recounted the details of his horrific crime to Queens Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Holder. Prosecutors said Mejia flew into a drunken rage after returning to his Sutphin Blvd. home on the night of Jan.18 and finding a picture of his wife with another man on her phone. He told the judge he grabbed a kitchen knife out of a butcher’s block and attacked his wife while she was sleeping, stabbing her repeatedly. When he thought his wife was dead, he turned the same knife on his daughters. He told the judge he stabbed Daniela first, and repeatedly. He then used the same knife on Yoselin, stabbing her over and over again. He also told the judge through a translator that he saw blood running from their little bodies. Garcia’s mother and other relatives were in court for the hearing, and sobbed throughout Mejia’s statement. Under the terms of his plea agreement, he’s expected to get a sentence of 45 years behind bars when he goes back before Holder on Nov. 7. He could be released from prison at about age 67. Mejia could have faced life in prison if convicted at trial. A spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney said the deal was made to spare “the family of having to go through a trial and relive the agony of the way their loved ones were so brutally killed.” She also notes that the plea guarantees that Mejia cannot appeal. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said the guilty plea “will bring some degree of closure to the family of the victims. Justice has been swift and it has been certain.” He Continue Reading

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gets his facts WRONG in EPA case dissent, court corrects opinion

Supreme Court opinions are rarely susceptible to the kind of fact-checking that reporters usually employ on politics. But Justice Antonin Scalia’s hearty dissent in an environmental case this week contained such a glaring error of fact — misreporting an earlier case in which Scalia himself wrote the majority opinion — that the justice changed the opinion. The court quietly posted the corrected version on its website without notice. With the flourish that is typical of his prose, Scalia launched a lengthy attack on the Environmental Protection Agency and his colleagues on the court who ruled that the EPA has the authority to put in place a regulation aimed at reducing air pollution from power plants that the wind carries into other states. Scalia took the unusual step of reading a summary of his dissent in court Tuesday. The mistake in Scalia’s opinion concerned one section of about a page and a half in which he contended that the EPA was again asking for the authority to weigh costs against benefits in determining how large a reduction in emissions it mandates. “Plus ça Change: EPA’s Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority,” read the section heading. “Plus ça change” is the start of a French phrase that means “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Scalia went on to say the case “is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation.” He cited as authority the high court’s 2001 decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, in which the court said that such an analysis was not allowed under a section of the landmark anti-pollution law. The author was Scalia. The problem is that it was the trucking group, not the EPA, that wanted the agency to use a cost-benefit analysis. Among those who first pointed out the problem were law professors Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve Continue Reading

New York appeals court nixes Defense of Marriage act

A federal appeals court issued a landmark ruling Thursday that reaffirmed the government’s obligation to afford married gay couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. The historic decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan stems from activist Edith Windsor’s fight to have her marriage to Thea Spyer — which was recognized in New York State — recognized by the federal government. “I am thrilled. I look forward to the day when the federal government recognizes the marriages of all Americans,” Windsor said. “Marriage is a word that has magic. There is a legitimacy to it that makes it important.” Donna Aceto/Courtesy NYCLU Edith Windsor with her legal team made up of members from the NYCLU, the ACLU and the Paul, Weiss law firm. — with Melissa Goodman and James Esseks. Windsor wed her partner of 44 years in Canada in 2007 and New York recognized the couple as married even before the state legalized gay marriage in 2011. Ultimately, the court ruling had more to do with death and taxes than love. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor had to pay $353,000 in federal estate taxes — the same taxes a stranger would have paid on the inheritance. Married heterosexual couples are exempt from the tax. The federal government did not recognize Windsor’s union because of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Windsor sued in federal court for equal treatment, and in June a judge ordered the government to repay her the money it collected. The decision is the second time a federal appeals court has declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the circuit court covering Massachusetts rejected the law. In the new majority opinion, Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs blasted the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act — often called DOMA — as an “an unprecedented breach” of Continue Reading

Court: Federal rule doesn’t stop DWA from collecting fees on Indian land

A federal appeals court has rejected the Desert Water Agency's challenge to a Department of the Interior regulation, denying the agency's argument that the rule could prevent it from collecting millions of dollars in revenue from customers in the Palm Springs area.The court believes the water agency will be able to continue charging customers on leased Indian land without interference, and does not need extra support from the judiciary to do so, according to an opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday."DWA continues to collect fees and charges from non-Tribal members on lease land. According to the 9th Circuit, DWA lacks standing until it loses revenue on its fees and charges due to the (Department of the Interior) regulation," water agency general manager Mark Krause said in a statement.      Krause said DWA's legal team is reviewing the decision.The Department of the Interior regulates leases on the U.S.'s Indian reservations. Some 20,000 people in the Palm Springs area lease land on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' reservation in the Palm Springs area, paying rent for the land underneath their homes, businesses and timeshares.Beginning in 2011, Interior overhauled the regulations that govern leasing on Indian land nationwide. One of those new rules stated that property on leased land — known as a "possessory interest" — was subject to federal law and could be taxed by the tribe, but not subject to charges imposed by states or "political subdivisions" of states, including water agencies. GO DEEPER: Half of Palm Springs sits on rented land. What happens if the leases end? Desert Water Agency filed suit in March 2013, fearing that the language could prevent it from collecting fees on leased land and cost it millions of dollars in revenue. DWA argued that, in issuing the new regulatory language, the Department of the Interior was effectively ordering Continue Reading

Kentucky Supreme Court justice in line for Court of Appeals job

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson of Louisville is being vetted by the FBI for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals’ 6th Circuit.Abramson, who has been on state high court since 2007, would be “a terrific appointment,” U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, said Monday.Two high-level public officials confirmed that they had been interviewed as part of the screening process for the appeals court, which is one rung below the U.S. Supreme Court. They said they couldn’t be named because the FBI requested that they not comment.Abramson, 58, said she had no comment.U.S. Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both had no comment, their spokesmen said.Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Denise Clayton said she knew about the potential appointment but couldn’t elaborate. She said she wasn’t surprised because Abramson is “incredibly capable.”Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. did not deny he might lose one his court’s seven members but said he couldn’t comment. A White House spokesman said it doesn’t comment on judicial nominations until the president makes them.Abramson would have to be nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges are paid $211,200 a year.She would succeed Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. of Louisville, who resigned in August as the longest-serving member on the 6th Circuit, which is based in Cincinnati and hears cases for Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.Martin said he was retiring because he and his wife were both battling cancer, although it was later disclosed that his retirement ended an investigation into allegations that he made “questionable travel reimbursement requests,” according to an opinion issued by an arm of the federal courts charged with evaluating judicial misconduct complaints.Through a spokeswoman, Martin said that he hoped to “work with the Department of Justice to Continue Reading

Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts: State of the Union has ‘degenerated into a political pep rally’

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the scene at President Obama's first State of the Union address was "very troubling" and that the annual speech to Congress has "degenerated into a political pep rally." Responding to a University of Alabama law student's question about the Senate's method of confirming justices, Roberts said senators improperly try to make political points by asking questions they know nominees can't answer because of judicial ethics rules. "I think the process is broken down," he said. Obama chided the court for its campaign finance decision during the January address, with six of the court's nine justices seated before him in their black robes. Roberts said he wonders whether justices should attend the address. "To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there," said Roberts, a Republican nominee who joined the court in 2005. Roberts said anyone is free to criticize the court and that some have an obligation to do so because of their positions. "So I have no problems with that," he said. "On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court - according the requirements of protocol - has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling." Breaking from tradition, Obama used the speech to criticize the court's decision that allows corporations and unions to freely spend money to run political ads for or against specific candidates. "With all due deference to the separation of powers, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. Justice Samuel Alito was the only justice to respond at the time, shaking his head and Continue Reading

Supreme Court Justice David Souter plans to retire at end of term in June

Supreme Court Justice David Souter plans to retire at the end of the current court term or when President Obama's choice to replace him is confirmed by the Senate, the White House confirmed Thursday night. The 69-year-old Souter's departure after 19 years on the bench will give Obama his first chance to shape the high court's direction. Souter declined comment Thursday night. Because Souter, a Republican appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, surprised everyone and joined the court's liberal wing, Obama's choice to replace him is unlikely to change the court's ideological balance. Most observers expect Obama to appoint a woman, because the court currently has only one woman justice and Obama won election with strong support from women. Possible nominees who have been mentioned as being on a theoretical short list include Elena Kagan, the current solicitor general who represents the government before the Supreme Court; Sonia Sotomayor, a Hispanic judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Diane Wood, a federal judge in Chicago who taught at the University of Chicago at the same time that Obama was teaching constitutional law there. Speculation about Souter's plans began to swirl as the other eight justices each hired four law clerks to work with them in the Supreme Court term that starts in October. Unlike in previous years, Souter did not hire anyone for the plum positions. Wednesday was the last day of oral arguments in the current term, which officially ends the day preceding the first Monday in October. Souter's departure will leave the two oldest - and most liberal - justices still on the bench. Retirements for John Paul Stevens, 89, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, have been rumored for years, with many expecting that one or the other would be the first to give a new Democratic President a Supreme Court vacancy. Souter has never made any secret of his dislike for Washington, once telling acquaintances Continue Reading

Trump urges Supreme Court to drop travel ban case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court should drop its review of President Trump's immigration travel ban and wipe lower court decisions against it off the books, the Justice Department said Thursday.The request was opposed by states and immigrant rights groups that have fought various versions of the ban since January. They told the court to reschedule the case, or at least to let the earlier rulings stand.The high court could decide within the next few days whether to declare the case moot because the Trump administration has replaced an expired ban on six majority-Muslim countries with a new one targeting eight nations. In addition, a ban on worldwide refugees will expire in three weeks.The procedural skirmish will determine both the timetable for challenges to the immigration and refugee policies and their chances of success. For the time being, the justices have removed the case, previously scheduled for oral argument next Tuesday, from their calendar.If the administration succeeds in wiping the record clean, it will need to defend only Trump's latest ban, which followed a three-month review of immigration procedures. Keeping the lower court rulings on the books would give opponents more support for claims that the new ban exceeds the president's authority and discriminates against Muslims. The latest travel ban, issued Sept. 24 by proclamation, targets five countries included in two previous versions — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — as well as Chad, North Korea and Venezuela. Unlike the earlier bans, it treats some countries and types of travelers, such as students or tourists, differently than others. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit had ruled that Trump lacked proof the earlier ban was needed, and the 4th Circuit appeals court said it discriminated based on religion.In its letter to the high court Thursday, the administration argued that the new ban is "based on detailed findings Continue Reading