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Supreme Court delays order for North Carolina to redraw maps
Court Watch | 2018/01/20 17:02
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday delayed a lower-court order that would have forced North Carolina Republican lawmakers to redraw the state's congressional districts by next week because of excessive partisan bias in current lines.

The justices announced the stay after legal briefs were filed for and against the GOP legislators' request for a delay. Their lawyers successfully argued that a three-judge panel's ruling last week declaring the state congressional map an illegal partisan gerrymander should be on hold while similar cases involving Wisconsin legislative districts and one Maryland congressional district before the Supreme Court are considered. The court has never declared that the inherently political process of redistricting can be too partisan.

Voter advocacy groups and Democratic voters who sued over the map — heavily weighted toward Republicans in a closely divided state — argued no delay was necessary because it would be struck down however the justices rule in the other cases.

The Supreme Court's order said the delay remains in place while the case is appealed. The request was considered by the entire court, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the request for the delay, according to the order.

GOP Rep. David Lewis and Sen. Ralph Hise, redistricting leaders at the state General Assembly, praised the intervention in a release. "We are grateful that a bipartisan U.S. Supreme Court has overwhelmingly halted the lower court's 11th-hour attempt to intervene in election outcomes" and restored certainty to voters about their districts, they said.


Hong Kong court to rule later on 3 activists' prison terms
Court Watch | 2018/01/16 18:06
Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong's top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city's Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio's lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

"Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people," Law's lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.


Court extends halt in Louisiana executions after judge dies
Court Watch | 2018/01/03 01:34
A court order blocking Louisiana from carrying out any executions has been extended indefinitely after the death of the federal judge who issued it.

A lawsuit challenging the state's lethal injection protocols has kept death sentences on hold since 2014. U.S. District Judge James Brady, who died Dec. 9 after a brief illness, oversaw the lawsuit and agreed to order the temporary stay of all executions.

Brady's order was due to expire next Monday, but U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed Thursday to extend it until another judge is assigned to the lawsuit.

Louisiana has 72 inmates on death row, according to state corrections department spokesman Ken Pastorick. The state's last execution was in January 2010, when it carried out a death sentence for Gerald Bordelon, who was convicted of killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter in 2002.

Drug shortages have forced the corrections department to rewrite its execution plan several times since 2010. Under the state's current execution protocols, its primary method is a single-drug injection of pentobarbital, a powerful sedative. The alternative method is a two-drug combination of the painkiller hydromorphone and the sedative midazolam.

The most recent order that Brady issued to halt executions — at the request of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry — is limited to death row inmates who are plaintiffs in the litigation. But others can join the lawsuit if an execution date is set by the courts.


Northern Indiana man 3rd generation caring for court clock
Court Watch | 2017/12/28 11:23
Out of habit, as the Elkhart County Courthouse clock struck 11 on a recent morning, Blake Eckelbarger took out his cellphone and compared the time.

The century-and-a-half-old mechanism in the middle of Goshen trailed the timekeeping of his GPS satellite-aided phone by a minute. Thankfully it's an easy fix, he explained as he tinkered with the brass-colored gears and pins of the green-painted machine his grandfather and great-grandfather once cared for - a minute fast would mean advancing the hands through 11 hours and 59 minutes to set it right.

It's not the time it takes that's the hassle, since that's only 20 minutes, but the fact that he has to stop and wait for the bell to ring as an hour goes by every 10 seconds. It's the same story when he has to advance it one hour along with everyone else's clocks one

"Now it should be OK for another couple months," he remarked, before going into the usual weekly routine of oiling and inspecting the mechanism. It's a job he's had since 2000, when he happily took the offer to bring it back into the Eckelbarger family.

Eckelbarger's great-grandfather, Zena Eckelbarger, took care of the clock from 1923 until his death in 1941. Eckelbarger's grandfather, Dan Eckelbarger Sr., then held the duty for the next 50 years, into his 80s.

He remembers going up there with his grandfather on occasion, but didn't really learn how the clock works until he trained for a couple years under Hosea Jump, who held the contract since 1991 and who asked if he wanted the job. He still had to rely on Jump's expertise for another four or five years whenever an issue needed troubleshooting.

His duties, in addition to the weekly checks, include periodically making sure the clock faces are free of things like leaves or dead birds and that the bell and hammer are in good shape. Once a year, he spends a whole day disassembling the clockworks so he can lubricate the shafts and polish the gears.


Appeals court: Trump exceeded authority with travel ban
Court Watch | 2017/12/26 11:24
A federal appeals court panel has ruled that President Donald Trump once again exceeded the scope of his authority with his latest travel ban, but the judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put their decision on hold pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning the ban involving six majority Muslim countries will remain in effect.

The 77-page ruling released late Friday says Trump's proclamation makes no finding whatsoever that simply being from one of the countries cited in the ban makes someone a security risk.

Hawaii, which is suing to stop the ban, has argued that it will be harmful because families will be separated and university recruitment will be hampered.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court lifted temporary lower court orders that had prevented the latest ban from taking effect.

The status quo was maintained when the 9th Circuit stayed its decision, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

The ruling was unusual, but it's a unique case, he said, noting the Supreme Court has not set argument dates because it has not yet decided to grant an appeal.

"Given the shockingly rapid volley of executive actions and court decisions, this is surely just the latest in a long series of battles to come." Mary Fan, a University of Washington law school professor, said about immigration ban litigation.



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