Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Federal Courts' Category

U.S. Expects Thousands of Drug Offender Clemency Requests

To promote equity in criminal sentencing, the Obama administration is preparing to consider clemency requests by thousands of U.S. inmates convicted of drug offenses, the Washington Post reported.

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said. “The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

The initiative follows President Obama’s signing in 2010 The Fair Sentencing Act, which ended a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for simple possession of crack cocaine and reduced disparities in penalties for possession of crack and powder cocaine; and action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission this month to rewrite its guidelines and make sentences less severe for defendants in a majority of U.S. drug cases. Read more

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Shooting Investigated at New Federal Courthouse in Utah

A defendant who attacked a witness with a writing utensil in a courtroom was shot by a federal marshal on Monday inside the newly opened Salt Lake City, Utah courthouse, according to the Associated Press.

The defendant was shot several times in the chest. Afterward he was removed from the courthouse on a stretcher. The new court building went into a lockdown after the incident.

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Federal Judge Stays Order on Recognizing Out-of-State Marriages

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black has agreed to stay his recent order that Ohio officials must recognize as legal the marriages of same-sex couples that were performed out of state.

The stay did not apply, however, to four couples who brought the lawsuit that he ruled upon earlier this week, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer article.

Gavel Grab has documented a recent increase in legislators’ calls to impeach judges who rule on the marriage issue, and Judge Black is one who has been targeted. Earlier in April, Ohio state legislator John Becker renewed demands that Judge Black be impeached (see Gavel Grab).

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Marriage Case Argued in Federal Appellate Court

gty_gay_marriage_supreme_court_jef_130614_wgA three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver heard arguments yesterday on the constitutionality of a Utah ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  The Los Angeles Times called it “a closely watched case that weighs a state’s right to enforce its own laws against the rights of individuals to marry regardless of gender.”

The case is the first to reach a federal appellate court since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year (see Gavel Grab).  “Many believe the case, or a similar one, is destined for the U.S. Supreme Court,” reports the Los Angeles Times, adding that the same panel of judges in Denver will hear an Oklahoma marriage case next week.

For more information on the role of courts in society and efforts to protect impartial courts, visit the Justice at Stake website.


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Courts Play Central Role in Marriage Debate

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonWhether states can deny marriage to same-sex couples is an issue that is making a steady march toward the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a Washington Post piece headlined “Same-sex marriage battle escalates to force Supreme Court decision on constitutionality.”  The article comes as a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Tenth Circuit takes up Utah’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples today.  The Deseret News reports that advocates rallied outside the courthouse in Denver beginning last night.  The case is the first to reach a federal appellate court since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor last summer.   (See Gavel Grab.)

“It is a review soon to be repeated around the country,” the Post reported, “the intermediate step in returning a question to the Supreme Court that the justices avoided the first time around — whether marriage is a fundamental right that under the Constitution may not be denied to same-sex couples.”

Meanwhile,  marriage equality is moving forward in a number of other states.  Judges in Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas and Michigan have ruled against bans on marriage for same-sex couples, while courts in Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky have ruled those states must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond is scheduled to hear arguments May 13 reviewing the ruling striking down  Virginia’s laws.

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Ninth Circuit Court Vacancy Filled After Nine Years

John_Owens_2013The longest vacancy on any federal circuit court was filled Monday after the Senate confirmed Los Angeles attorney John Owens to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The delay in filling the vacancy had more to do with a fight between two states than the usual partisan bickering that’s held up previous judicial seats. SFGate reports that Appeals court judgeships are informally apportioned among states in each circuit. Senators from both Idaho and California laid claim to the seat.

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Memo to Press: Don’t Identify Judges by President Who Named Them

Generally speaking, federal judges don’t “robotically do the bidding” of presidents who appointed them, and it is potentially misleading for reporters to identify judges by the chief executive who named them, Michael McGough writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

McGough notes that federal trial court judges are recommended to the president by home-state senators who sometimes make a deal between themselves, if one senator belongs to the president’s party and one doesn’t. And some judges, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, have been appointed to different benches by presidents of different parties.

The headline for McGough’s opinion asks, “A Reagan judge, a Clinton judge, a Bush judge: Does it really matter?”

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Jury Convicts Bin Laden Son-In-Law on Terror Charges

Mr. Ghaith

Mr. Ghaith

A federal court jury in New York has convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, on all three counts accusing him of conspiring to kill Americans and of giving material support to terrorists.

The jury returned its verdict on Wednesday, in its second day of deliberations. When Mr. Ghaith was initially charged, there was extensive debate over whether he should be prosecuted in civilian courts or before a military tribunal (see Gavel Grab).

A New York Times article about the jury verdict said it ”would seem to serve as a rejoinder to critics of the Obama administration’s efforts to try suspected terrorists in civilian court, rather than before a military tribunal.” Read more

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Affordable Care Act Appeals Heard in Two D.C. Courtrooms

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court

In two separate courtrooms in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, federal appellate judges heard challenges to different parts of the federal Affordable Care Act. Numerous news media outlets reported that at least in the oral arguments, the challengers found a majority open to their arguments.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, with protestors rallying outside, attorneys for for-profit companies contended the owners’ religious principles would be violated by the statute’s requirement that companies provide insurance coverage for contraception for employees (see Gavel Grab for background). “Justices, Divided, Appear to Favor Religious Claims in Contraception Case,” Legal Times reported.

A different case was argued at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. There, plaintiffs maintained that tax credits to help consumers pay Read more

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Utah Attorneys: Beware ‘Unprincipled Judicial Wrecking Ball’

Some of the most fiery language directed at court rulings continues to be aimed at decisions about marriage for same-sex couples. In one of the latest instances, attorneys for Utah challenged in the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a decision by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby; he had found Utah’s ban on unions for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. The attorneys decried the consequences if Judge Shelby’s ruling were affirmed.

It would not be “a narrow decision enforcing a clear Fourteenth Amendment command against one type of naked racial discrimination,” they said, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Loving v. Virginia ruling that struck down racial intermarriage bans. “Rather, it would be more like … an unprincipled judicial wrecking ball hurtling toward an even more important arena of traditional State authority.” Read more

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