Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Federal Courts' Category

Another Appeals Court Strikes Down a Marriage Ban

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held unconstitutional on Monday Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The panel upheld a lower court ruling (see Gavel Grab).

Two federal appeals courts now have found such state bans unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor last year.

“We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable,” said appeals Judge Henry F. Floyd in Monday’s ruling, according to The Washington Post. “However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life.” Read more

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Columnist: Judges ‘Aren’t Robots or Partisan Hacks’

In the wake of conflicting rulings from two separate federal appeals courts this week on the Affordable Care Act, columnist Michael McGough of the Los Angeles Times scolds reporters who treat judges like “partisan politicians.”

“Federal judges aren’t robots or partisan hacks,” declares the headline for McGough’s essay, and the author says it’s a harmful practice for reporters to portray them in ways that could give such an adverse impression to readers.

Take judges who have ruled on marriage for same-sex couples, McGough points out.  One recent study says that of 15 rulings at the district court level favoring marriage for same-sex couples, six were delivered by Republican-appointed judges and eight by Democratic appointees.

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Dueling Health Care Rulings Are Not the Last Word

163751742-304xx2118-1415-0-0Dueling federal court opinions (see Gavel Grab)  over the legality of the government subsidizing health insurance premiums for millions of people again showed the ways in which court rulings can deeply affect Americans.

There was a deluge of news media articles about the rulings from two separate appeals courts panels, about the Obama administration’s decision to appeal one of them, and about how the federal Affordable Care Act may ultimately be affected. Links for many of the articles and commentaries can be found by visiting the How Appealing law blog.

The conflicting rulings also drew media attention to the politics of judicial nominations and the politics of the Senate’s confirming judges, including a change in Senate filibuster rules last year. After the rules change, Read more

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Scholar: Life Tenure Protects Judges Making Unpopular Decisions

It’s no accident that a judge who recently found California’s death penalty unconstitutional is a federal jurist protected by life tenure, a law scholar writes.

Erwin Chemerinsky, law school dean at University of California/Irvine, says in an Orange County Register op-ed that state judges who face the electorate after issuing controversial rulings sometimes are thrown out, but the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed it essential to have federal judges who would enforce the Constitution even when doing so is unpopular. Read more

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Court Panels Disagree on Subsidies to Health Care Act

BULLETIN: After one appeals court dealt a potentially major blow to the federal Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite way, according to the New York Times.

Under the federal Affordable Care act, the federal government cannot subsidize insurance premiums for people participating in federal insurance exchanges, as opposed to state-run exchanges, an appeals court in the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday.

According to USA Today, the ruling means that “participants in health exchanges run by the federal government in 34 states are not eligible for tax subsidies.” The blow to the health care law is potentially great, the newspaper said. However, “The decision is the not the last word, however, as other courts are weighing the same issue,” the New York Times reported.

The Affordable Care Act specifically authorizes subsidies when insurance is purchased “through an exchange established by the state.” President Obama’s administration contended that when the federal government set up an exchange, it was effectively established by a state because the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary was filling in for the state when setting up exchanges.

The 2-1 ruling came from a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Drug Sentences Could be Reduced for Thousands

Under a change to sentencing guidelines adopted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency, nearly 50,000 drug offenders could win reduced sentences and early release from federal prison.

Congress has until Nov. 1 to block the action, but it is not expected to do so, according to a Washington Post article.

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder advised federal prosecutors in a memo they should stop seeking mandatory minimum sentences for specified low-level, nonviolent defendants convicted of drug offenses, according to Reuters. Read more

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University Can Consider Race in Admissions, Court Says

In a case on remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, a Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that the University of Texas can keep using race as a factor in weighing the admissions of students, as a means to to promote diversity.

“We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience,” the 2-1 opinion stated, according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court last year sent the affirmative action case in Fisher v. University of Texas back to the lower court for further review (see Gavel Grab).

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Palestinian-American Defendant Seeks Recusal by U.S. Judge

Defense lawyers for Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian-American woman charged with immigration fraud, have asked that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Borman of Detroit recuse himself from the case because of his extensive work to build support for Israel.

According to a Politico article, Odeh is accused of concealing the almost 10 years she served in an Israeli prison after her conviction in two bombings in Jerusalem, nearly 50 years ago. She says she was raped and tortured at the hands of Israeli officials and soldiers, and the U.S. legal system should not take notice of her conviction before an Israeli military court.

Her defense lawyers maintained about the judge, “Clearly, one who has been a life-long supporter and promoter of Israel and has deep ties to the State of Israel spanning over 50 years, who no doubts believes that Israeli is a great democracy and protector of human rights, cannot be ‘reasonably’ said to be impartial when these claims of torture and illegality are raised by a Palestinian defendant.”

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Lawyers Seek to Depose Illinois Judge in Racketeering Lawsuit

Lawyers engaged in a federal racketeering lawsuit in Illinois are pushing to question under oath an unusual witness: Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier. The justice’s successful election in 2004 is central to the litigation.

According to commentary in the Sun-Times by Brett Chase of The Better Government Association, the lawsuit in federal court alleges that  State Farm, the insurance company, “secretly funded most of Karmeier’s campaign by channeling as much as $4 million in donations primarily through other groups.”

The commentary adds that State Farm ”acknowledged that employees and others affiliated with the company gave about $350,000 to Karmeier’s 2004 campaign, but the company denies allegations of filtering additional money through satellite organizations.” Read more

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Commentary: Has Corporate America Slashed Access to Justice?

Thousands of Americans no longer have access to justice when it comes to suing corporations, after a conservative legal movement has pushed hard for judicial restraint and a corporate lobby has pressed for “tort reform,” Lina Kahn of the New America Foundation writes at Washington Monthly. Kahn says:

“Two recent US Supreme Court rulings — AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion and American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant have deeply undercut … centuries-old public rights, by empowering businesses to avoid any threat of private lawsuits or class actions. The decisions culminate a thirty-year trend during which the judiciary, including initially some prominent liberal jurists, has moved to eliminate courts as a means for ordinary Americans to uphold their rights against companies. The result is a world where corporations can evade accountability and effectively skirt swaths of law, pushing their growing power over their consumers and employees past a tipping point.” Read more

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