Willett takes oath for 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Willett takes oath for 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals By Andrea Zelinski, Austin Bureau January 2, 2018 Photo: John Davenport /San Antonio Express-News Image 1of/8 CaptionClose Image 1 of 8 Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to Don R. Willett (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Willett, nominated by President Donald Trump and approved by the Senate to be a judge on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Willett is accompanied by his family. less Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to Don R. Willett (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Willett, nominated by President Donald Trump and ... more Photo: John Davenport /San Antonio Express-News Image 2 of 8 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to James Davis Blacklock (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Blacklock, accompanied by his family, became a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. less Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to James Davis Blacklock (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Blacklock, accompanied by his family, became a ... more Photo: John Davenport /San Antonio Express-News Image 3 of 8 Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to James Davis Blacklock (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Blacklock, accompanied by his family, became a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. less Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (left, facing away) administers the oath of office to James Davis Blacklock (right) on Tuesday at the Supreme Court of Texas in Austin. Blacklock, accompanied by his family, Continue Reading

Let’s confirm Brennan to the U.S. Court of Appeals

America’s legal tradition is based upon a commitment to the rule of law and the principle that every man, woman and child stands equal before the law. These abstract principles cannot exist unless they are adhered to by the men and women entrusted by citizens to preserve them. And no one is more important to the preservation of our judicial process than the judges who preside over it.That is why we urge the U.S. Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Michael Brennan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. RELATED: Baldwin says Trump ignored bipartisan panel by nominating Brennan RELATED: Brennan gets ABA committee nod for 7th Circuit RELATED: Wisconsin appeals court seat a symbol of partisan judicial wars Judge Brennan is committed to these principles. In his time as a well-respected Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, he exhibited the judicial virtues of humility, honesty and impartiality that are essential to equal justice and the rule of law. His qualifications for the Seventh Circuit are outstanding, which is why the American Bar Association gives his nomination a unanimous rating of “well-qualified” — the highest rating a nominated judge can receive.Each of us has had the honor to serve as the United States Attorney, or as a supervising attorney, for either the Eastern or Western federal districts of Wisconsin. As former attorneys for the United States in both civil and criminal matters, we know first-hand how important it is to have judges who are experienced, intelligent and fair, presiding over the various legal matters that come before them. When these qualities are absent, the judicial process fails. A judge’s arbitrary decision can undermine an accused’s rights or leave crime victims without a voice. Businesses can be lost and lives can be ruined if a judge fails to competently apply the law or relies on a preconceived notion of what is “right” in a particular case. Continue Reading

State Supreme Court reverses decision removing inmate from death row

 The Mississippi Supreme Court has reversed a judge's decision permanently removing from death row an inmate who came within an hour of being executed in 1997.In 2015, Circuit Judge Betty Sanders ruled death row inmate Willie C. Russell was mentally disabled, therefore permanently removing him from death row. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia that the execution of those with mental or iintellectual disability is unconstitutional. The court, in a split decision, sent the case back to Sunflower County Circuit Court for hearing on the state's claim that its expert wasn't given an opportunity to assess Russell for a mental disability.In 2006, Russell had undergone psychological testing ordered in a separate aggravated assault case, but that testing was for his competency to stand trial — not for assessing an intellectual disability, said the state Supreme Court opinion written by Justice James Maxwell.Maxwell said Russell was never evaluated on the specific criteria for intellectual disability under the United States Supreme Court's Atkins' ruling mental disability ruling. Related: Man threatening law enforcement on video now in a mental facility Sanders ruled Russell was mentally disabled under the Atkins definition."We find the trial judge abused her discretion by denying the state’s well-supported motion to evaluate Russell prior to the Atkins hearing," the state Supreme Court opinion said. "We reverse the order vacating Russell’s death sentence. And we remand this matter to the trial court with instructions that the state’s expert be permitted to evaluate Russell before the Atkins hearing.Russell was initially sentenced to die for the July 18, 1989, stabbing death of correctional officer Argentra Cotton at Unit 24-B. Russell had previously been convicted of robbery, kidnapping and escape. He abducted a guard at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Continue Reading

Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals questions Trump’s lawyers on revised travel ban

A judge on a federal appeals court hearing arguments over the legality of President Trump's travel ban questioned White House lawyers Monday on whether the controversial measure was similar to the infamous executive order that mandated the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. During arguments Monday in Seattle, Judge Richard Paez, a member of the three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighing a challenge from the state of Hawaii, asked Trump's Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall whether the logic the White House was using to defend the ban could have been used to defend the 1944 Korematsu v. United States case. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the internment order of Japanese-Americans, regardless of their citizenship, was constitutional. The comparison of the two bans would appear to bode poorly for the Trump administration, given that the Korematsu case, despite being upheld, is widely reviled in both legal and social justice circles. "Would the Korematsu executive order pass muster under your test today?" Paez asked. "No, Judge Paez," Wall responded. "Why not? Facially legitimate. That's all you say. You emphasize facially legitimate," Paez replied. "I want to be very clear about this. This case is not Korematsu, I wouldn't be standing here and the United States would not be defending it," Wall said. "You're not anywhere approaching Korematsu," he added. "How do you apply the facially legitimate standard to an executive order like this? There was no reference to the Japanese in that executive order and look what happened," Paez said. In fact, former President Franklin Roosevelt's 1942 Executive Order 9066 did not order the specific detention of Japanese-Americans. Rather, it authorized his cabinet to "prescribe military areas" that military commanders could then use to hold "any person" with "whatever restrictions the Secretary Continue Reading

Trump eyes Supreme Court after appeals court rejects travel ban

By Susan Heavey WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday criticized a federal appeals court one day after it handed him another legal setback by refusing to revive his U.S. travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations, and appeared poised for the nation's top court to weigh in. On Monday, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals became the second federal appeals court to reject the Republican Trump administration's bid to undo a Hawaii federal judge's decision that blocked the temporary travel ban in a dispute headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The three-judge panel said Trump's March 6 order violated existing immigration law, but did not address whether it was unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims. Trump's 90-day ban targets travelers from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. "Well, as predicted, the 9th Circuit did it again - Ruled against the TRAVEL BAN at such a dangerous time in the history of our country. S.C." Trump said in a post on Twitter, apparently referencing the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's top court, which leans conservative after Trump's appointee won confirmation as the ninth justice earlier this year, could act as soon as this week on his administration's request to reinstate the order. The 9th Circuit, headed by Democratic appointees, largely left in place a nationwide injunction by Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii that stopped parts of the order, which Trump contends is needed to prevent terrorism in the United States. Those who have challenged the travel ban dispute that it is needed to protect Americans and argue that the order violates the U.S. Constitution's bar against favoring or disfavoring a particular religion. Another appeals court, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, last month upheld a Maryland judge's ruling that also blocked Trump's ban. Trump has been on the losing side in all four court rulings on the March order Continue Reading

Courts trump Presidents: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deals Trump’s seven-country travel ban a serious setback

The President of the United States lost big-league in court Thursday night, as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — whose proceedings he had the previous day blasted as “disgraceful” — upheld a ruling freezing implementation of the executive-ordered travel ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries. It is now the responsibility of Donald Trump and his administration to abide, in letter and spirit, to that ruling. The government’s power to implement Trump’s executive order may yet be ruled constitutional. As much as we revile the policy, we wouldn’t be surprised if it passes muster. But until then, the law is the law is the law. And it’s up to independent judges with life tenure to decide what the law means. In this country, it is the solemn duty of the courts to determine when laws passed by Congress and executive orders of the President exceed their constitutional bounds. That, one could say, is in no small part what makes America great. The unanimous ruling by the appeals court makes no definitive legal statement on the validity of the travel moratorium. Rather, it is based on the panel’s judgment about whether the government seems likely to prevail on the merits (no, said the judges) — and whether or not the feds made a compelling case that a failure to implement the order would cause serious harm (no, they said again). Of special note, the panel demolished Justice Department lawyers’ case that the President’s decrees on immigration policy are none of the courts’ business — not to mention their failure to provide evidence making the emergency case to lift the freeze for the sake of national security. All Presidents lose in court. Thomas Jefferson lost in Madison vs. Marbury, which established the principle of judicial review and that the courts can throw out laws (and executive orders). Contrary to Trump’s hypersensitivity, this is Continue Reading

9th Circuit Court of Appeals won’t reconsider President Trump’s original travel ban

The Ninth Court of Appeals will not rehear the case regarding President Trump’s original travel ban, the court announced Wednesday. The decision came hours after a revised ban was blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii. Last month, a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit concluded that Trump’s initial executive order was likely unconstitutional. The administration withdrew the order, which limited travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, and substituted it with another, barring travelers from six Muslim-majority nations and suspending the U.S. refugee program. Following the broad injunction against the policy, the President went on the offensive, calling the judges’ impartiality into question. “It’s a political decision, we're going to see them in court, and I look forward to doing that,” Trump told reporters following the initial decision. “It’s a decision that we’ll win, in my opinion, very easily.” The 9th is the largest appeals court in the country, with jurisdiction over 65.1 million people in nine states. “That circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil,” Trump said. Earlier, Trump targeted Seattle Judge James Robart, who put a halt on the original ban, and suggested that he would be responsible if a terrorist attack occurred in the wake of his ruling. “The judge opens up our country to potential terrorists and others that do not have our best interests at heart,” Trump tweeted on Feb. 4th. “Bad people are very happy!” In another tweet he called Robart a “so-called judge.” On Wednesday, Trump’s inability to hold his tongue came back to bite him. In the ruling on the revised ban, Judge Derrick Watson cited Trump and his top associates own comments about banning Muslims as examples that the executive order had religious motives. Continue Reading

$100 million decision: 9th Circuit rejects Arizona appeal of pollution controls

A federal appeals court has rejected Arizona's challenge of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement to use an expensive catalytic converter to reduce pollution from a coal-fired power plant.The state in 2013 appealed EPA's remedy for nitrogen-oxide pollution at Salt River Project's Coronado power plant at St. Johns, plus two other utilities' plants that have since entered into deals with federal regulators to pursue other emissions cleanups. The federal requirements were meant to reduce haze that limits visibility in southwestern national parks, as required by the Clean Air Act.SRP already has added the prescribed pollution reduction at one of Coronado's coal-burning units, but EPA mandated it on the other as well. Complying is expected to cost more than $100 million, with costs to be passed on to customers."We're disappointed," said Caroline Oppleman, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, declining further comment until state officials have time to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. "At this moment we have to better understand all the details, and we're going to be looking at it."At the time of its appeal, state environmental officials complained that they had created their own haze-reduction plan but received little cooperation from federal regulators demanding more.The Arizona attorney general's office and SRP both referred questions to the Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday.An attorney for environmental groups who intervened on EPA's behalf said the ruling should set a precedent for plants throughout the Southwest that are dirtying the air at Grand Canyon and other parks."What this ruling means is the court clearly recognizes that EPA has authority over the haze plan, and states like Arizona that don't require the coal plants to clean up must do so," said Michael Hiatt, and Earthjustice staff attorney representing the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association.The ruling has no Continue Reading

United States Supreme Court starts new term with Cigarette suit

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court opened its new term Monday suggesting it would side with tobacco companies in their fight to block lawsuits over deceptive marketing of "light" cigarettes. The court's term begins, by law, on the first Monday in October. "The October 2008 term is now convened," Chief Justice John Roberts told a packed courtroom that included retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The justices turned away hundreds of appeals that had accumulated over the summer before addressing the tobacco case. RELATED: PALIN CAN'T COME UP WITH A SUPREME COURT CASE SHE DISAGREES WITHSeveral justices were skeptical that state laws against fraudulent advertising could be used to sue the makers of "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes when a federal law on cigarette labeling rules out lawsuits that involve smoking and health. "How do you tell it's deceptive or not unless you look at smoking and health?," asked Chief Justice John Roberts. Three Maine residents sued Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group Inc. and its Philip Morris USA Inc. subsidiary under the state's law against unfair marketing practices. The class-action claim represents all smokers of Marlboro Light or Cambridge Light cigarettes, both made by Philip Morris. The lawsuit argues that the company knew for decades that smokers of light cigarettes compensate for the lower levels of tar and nicotine by taking longer puffs and compensating in other ways. A federal district court threw out the lawsuit, but the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it could go forward. The role of the Federal Trade Commission could be important in the outcome. The FTC is only now proposing to change rules that for years condoned the use of "light" and "low tar" in advertising the cigarettes, despite evidence that smokers were getting a product as dangerous as regular cigarettes. The FTC "created this problem by tacitly approving the place of these figures in the advertisements," Justice Samuel Alito said. Douglas Continue Reading

Gay marriages halted in Alabama after state Supreme Court orders judges to cease issuing wedding licenses

Probate judges must again decide whether to issue wedding licenses to gay couples after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is legal, despite a federal court’s decision to the contrary. The all-Republican court sided with a pair of conservative groups Tuesday night and ordered Alabama’s 68 probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. A previous ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade that gay-marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution does not preclude the judges from following state law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the court ruled. It was not immediately clear what effect the court’s ruling would have, or what probate judges would do after opening their doors Wednesday. The court gave state judges five days to respond if they believe they shouldn’t have to follow the decision, but such a move could be politically risky in much of the deeply conservative state. The U.S. Supreme Court, which already has agreed to decide the legality of same-sex marriage nationwide, also could be asked to review the ruling. While a six-member majority of the nine-member Alabama court did not explicitly invalidate the marriages of hundreds of same-sex couples who obtained licenses in the state in recent weeks, the decision used the term “purported” to describe those licenses. The court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself from the case and did not participate in the writing of the unsigned 134-page decision. After Granade’s ruling, Moore told probate judges across the state not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer. Still others decided to issue the licenses. Of the Continue Reading