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Denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a Japanese high court says
Court News | 2024/03/14 13:49
A Japanese high court ruled Thursday that denying same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and called for urgent government action to address the lack of any law allowing for such unions. Plaintiffs and the LGBTQ+ community in Japan cheered it as a landmark decision that gives them hope for change toward equality.

The court does not have the power to overturn the current marriage law, which has been interpreted to restrict marriage as between a man and a woman. Government offices may continue to deny marriage status to same-sex couples unless the existing law is revised to include LGBTQ+ couples or a new law is enacted that allows for other types of unions.

The Sapporo High Court ruling said that not allowing same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same benefits as straight couples violates their fundamental right to equality and freedom of marriage. The case was brought by three same-sex couples who appealed three years ago after a lower court recognized the unconstitutionality of excluding same-sex couples from marriage equality but dismissed compensation claims for their suffering.

A lower court issued a similar ruling earlier Thursday, becoming the sixth district court to do so. But the Tokyo District Court ruling was only a partial victory for Japan’s LGBTQ+ community calling for equal marriage rights, as it doesn’t change or overturn the current civil union law that the government says defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Five previous court decisions in various cities said Japan’s policy of denying same-sex marriage is either unconstitutional or nearly so. However, unlike the Sapporo ruling Friday, none of the district-level courts clearly deemed the Japanese government’s existing policy to reject same-sex couples unconstitutional.

Sapporo High Court Judge Kiyofumi Saito said the constitutional freedom of marriage is about partnership between two human beings, and the right to marry should equally protect couples of different and same sexes. With their exclusion, same-sex couples have experienced significant disadvantages, suffering or loss of identity, the judge said.

“Disallowing marriage to same-sex couples is a discrimination that lacks rationality,” the ruling said. But allowing same-sex marriage creates no disadvantage or harm to anyone, it said.

A plaintiff, Eri Nakaya, said the traditional definition of marriage repeatedly made her feel that same-sex couples are treated as if they do not exist.

“The ruling clearly stated that same-sex couples have the same right as others and deserve to live in this country, and reminded me it’s okay just to be me,” she said.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Seven nations that still excludes same-sex couples from the right to legally marry and receive spousal benefits.


Trump wants N.Y. hush money trial to wait for Supreme Court immunity ruling
Court News | 2024/03/12 11:09
Donald Trump is seeking to delay his March 25 hush money trial until the Supreme Court rules on the presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

The Republican former president’s lawyers on Monday asked Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan to adjourn the New York criminal trial indefinitely until Trump’s immunity claim in his Washington, D.C., election interference case is resolved. Merchan did not immediately rule.

Trump contends he is immune for prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. His lawyers argue some of the evidence and alleged acts in the hush money case overlap with his time in the White House and constitute official acts.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments April 25, a month after the scheduled start of jury selection in Trump’s hush money case. It is the first of his four criminal cases slated to go to trial as he closes in on the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. Prosecutors are expected to respond to Trump’s delay request in court papers later this week.

Trump first raised the immunity issue in his Washington, D.C., criminal case, which involves allegations that he worked to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump’s lawyers argue that some evidence Manhattan prosecutors plan to introduce at the hush money trial, including messages he posted on social media in 2018 about money paid to Cohen, were from his time as president and constituted official acts.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

A federal judge last year rejected Trump’s claim that allegations in the hush money indictment involved official duties, nixing his bid to move the case from state court to federal court. Had the case been moved to federal court, Trump’s lawyers could’ve tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official duties.


China’s top court, prosecutors report surging cyberscams
Legal Interview | 2024/03/08 16:21
China saw large increases in arrests and cases of phone and internet scams last year, according to reports presented Friday to the National People’s Congress that stressed the ruling Communist Party’s determination to safeguard national security and public order.

A report issued by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said the number of cases of computer crimes including social media fraud jumped 36.2% in 2023 and involved 323,000 people.

The sharp increase likely reflects a doubling down on cross-border computer fraud that has resulted in thousands of people, some of them victims of human traffickers who forced them to work for crime rings in remote areas of Myanmar and other neighboring countries, being returned to China.

Indictments of people for telecoms fraud jumped nearly 67% to about 51,000, the report said.

Overall, arrests surged 47% to 726,000 and indictments were up 17.3% to 168,800, the report said. China’s national congress serves mainly a ceremonial role, endorsing policies set by President Xi Jinping and other top leaders of the Communist Party. It is due to end its six-day session on Monday with approvals of reports by Premier Li Qiang and others that set the party’s plans for the year.

As China marks the 75th anniversary of the Oct. 1, 1949, founding of the People’s Republic of China, the party is stressing its determination to fortify its control and protect national security.


Supreme Court restores Trump to ballot, rejecting state attempts to ban him
Headline Legal News | 2024/03/05 12:37
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously restored Donald Trump to 2024 presidential primary ballots, rejecting state attempts to ban the Republican former president over the Capitol riot.

The justices ruled a day before the Super Tuesday primaries that states cannot invoke a post-Civil War constitutional provision to keep presidential candidates from appearing on ballots. That power resides with Congress, the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Trump posted on his social media network shortly after the decision was released: “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

The outcome ends efforts in Colorado, Illinois, Maine and elsewhere to kick Trump, the front-runner for his party’s nomination, off the ballot because of his attempts to undo his loss in the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The justices sidestepped the politically fraught issue of insurrection in their opinions Monday.

The court held that states may bar candidates from state office. “But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency,” the court wrote.

While all nine justices agreed that Trump should be on the ballot, there was sharp disagreement from the three liberal members of the court and a milder disagreement from conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett that their colleagues went too far in determining what Congress must do to disqualify someone from federal office.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson said they agreed that allowing the Colorado decision to stand could create a “chaotic state by state patchwork” but said they disagreed with the majority’s finding a disqualification for insurrection can only happen when Congress enacts legislation. “Today, the majority goes beyond the necessities of this case to limit how Section 3 can bar an oathbreaking insurrectionist from becoming President,” the three justices wrote in a joint opinion.

It’s unclear whether the ruling leaves open the possibility that Congress could refuse to certify the election of Trump or any other presidential candidate it sees as having violated Section 3.

Derek Muller, a law professor at Notre Dame University, said “it seems no,” noting that the liberals complained that the majority ruling forecloses any other ways for Congress to enforce the provision. Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, wrote that it’s frustratingly unclear what the bounds might be on Congress.


Supreme Court casts doubt on GOP-led states’ efforts to regulate social media
Legal Interview | 2024/03/01 11:11
The Supreme Court cast doubt Monday on state laws that could affect how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. The cases are among several this term in which the justices could set standards for free speech in the digital age.

In nearly four hours of arguments, several justices questioned aspects of laws adopted by Republican-dominated legislatures and signed by Republican governors in Florida and Texas in 2021. But they seemed wary of a broad ruling, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett warning of “land mines” she and her colleagues need to avoid in resolving the two cases.

While the details vary, both laws aimed to address conservative complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints, especially on the political right.

Differences on the court emerged over how to think about the platforms — as akin to newspapers that have broad free-speech protections, or telephone companies, known as common carriers, that are susceptible to broader regulation.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested he was in the former camp, saying early in the session, “And I wonder, since we’re talking about the First Amendment, whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what we have called the modern public square?”

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas appeared most ready to embrace arguments made by lawyers for the states. Thomas raised the idea that the companies are seeking constitutional protection for “censoring other speech.”

Alito complained about the term “content moderation” that the sites employ to keep material off their platforms.

“Is it anything more than a euphemism for censorship?” he asked, later musing that term struck him as Orwellian. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seemingly more favorable to the companies, took issue with calling the actions of private companies censorship, a term he said should be reserved for restrictions imposed by the government.

“When I think of Orwellian, I think of the state, not the private sector, not private individuals,” Kavanaugh said.

The precise contours of rulings in the two cases were not clear after arguments, although it seemed likely the court would not let the laws take effect. The justices posed questions about how the laws might affect businesses that are not their primary targets, including e-commerce sites like Uber and Etsy and email and messaging services.


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