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Republican claims that Democrats would expand the U.S. Supreme Court to undercut the conservative majority if they win the presidency and control of Congress has a familiar ring. It's a tactic the GOP already has employed in recent years with state supreme courts when they have controlled all levers of state political power.

Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia have signed bills passed by GOP-dominated legislatures to expand the number of seats on their states’ respective high courts. In Iowa, the Republican governor gained greater leverage over the commission that names judicial nominees.

“The arguments being advanced now by Republican leaders — that this is an affront to separation of powers, that this is a way of delegitimizing courts — those don’t seem to be holding at the state level,” said Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University who has written about efforts to expand state high courts.

President Donald Trump and the GOP have seized on the issue in the final weeks of the presidential race, arguing that Democratic nominee Joe Biden would push a Democratic Congress to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court and fill those with liberal justices.

Some on the left have floated the idea in the wake of Republicans' rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month.  Biden, for his part, has said he's not a fan of so-called “court packing,” and it's far from certain that Democrats can win back the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Arizona's governor, Republican Doug Ducey, said he opposes adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We shouldn’t be changing our institutions,” he told reporters recently. Yet Ducey signed a bill that did just that at the state level in 2016, expanding the Arizona Supreme Court from five seats to seven. As a result, Ducey has appointed more judges than any other governor in the state's history.

Ducey said the situations are not the same because Arizona’s system for selecting judges allows him to appoint them only from a list sent to him by a commission that interviews and vets candidates.




Absentee ballots must arrive by Election Day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension that had been ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in a battleground state. Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts. Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week said 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.

Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Stephens said there was “unrefuted evidence” about mail delivery problems because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the August primary. The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery woes “are not attributable to the state.”

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special boxes have been set up across Michigan.  The court also reversed another portion of Stephens’ decision, which would have allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Judge Mark Boonstra said in a separate, 10-page concurring opinion.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, had declined to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican-controlled Legislature to intervene.



Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett batted away Democrats’ skeptical questions Tuesday on abortion, health care and a possible disputed-election fight over transferring presidential power, insisting in a long and lively confirmation hearing she would bring no personal agenda to the court but decide cases “as they come.”

The 48-year-old appellate court judge declared her conservative views with often colloquial language, but refused many specifics. She declined to say whether she would recuse herself from any election-related cases involving President Donald Trump, who nominated her to fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and is pressing to have her confirmed before the the Nov. 3 election.

“Judges can’t just wake up one day and say I have an agenda ? I like guns, I hate guns, I like abortion, I hate abortion ? and walk in like a royal queen and impose their will on the world,” Barrett told the Senate Judiciary Committee during its second day of hearings.

“It’s not the law of Amy,” she said. “It’s the law of the American people.”

Barrett returned to a Capitol Hill mostly shut down by COVID-19 protocols, the mood quickly shifting to a more confrontational tone  from opening day. She was grilled by Democrats strongly opposed to Trump’s nominee yet unable to stop her. Excited by the prospect of a judge aligned with the late Antonin Scalia, Trump’s Republican allies are rushing ahead to install a 6-3 conservative court majority for years to come.

The president seemed pleased with her performance. “I think Amy’s doing incredibly well,” he said at the White House departing for a campaign rally.

Trump has said he wants a justice seated for any disputes arising from his heated election with Democrat Joe Biden, but Barrett testified she has not spoken to Trump or his team about election cases. Pressed by panel Democrats, she skipped past questions about ensuring the date of the election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power. She declined to commit to recusing herself from any post-election cases without first consulting the other justices.

“I can’t offer an opinion on recusal without short-circuiting that entire process,” she said.

A frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, all but implored the nominee to be more specific about how she would handle landmark abortion cases, including Roe v. Wade and the follow-up Pennsylvania case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which confirmed it in large part.




Supreme Court  nominee Amy Coney Barrett vows to be a justice “fearless of criticism” as the split Senate charges ahead with confirmation hearings on President Donald Trump’s pick to cement a conservative court majority before Election Day.

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, draws on faith and family in her prepared opening remarks for the hearings, which begin Monday as the country is in the grips of the coronavirus  pandemic. She says courts “should not try” to make policy, but leave those decisions to the government’s political branches. She believes she would bring “a few new perspectives” as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.

Trump chose the 48-year-old judge after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon. “I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Barrett says in her remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press obtained a copy of her statement on Sunday.

Barrett says she has resolved to maintain the same perspective as her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was “devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism.” Republicans who control the Senate are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election, in time to hear a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act and any election-related challenges that may follow the voting.

Another reason for moving quickly: It’s unclear whether the election results would make it harder to confirm Barrett before the end of the year if Democrat Joe Biden were to win the White House and Democrats were to gain seats in the Senate. The hearings are taking place less than a month after the death of Ginsburg gave Trump the chance to entrench a conservative majority on the court with his third justice.

Democrats have pressed in vain to delay the hearings, first because of the proximity to the election and now the virus threat. No Supreme Court has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election. The country will get an extended look at Barrett over three days, beginning with her opening statement late Monday and hours of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday.




Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett served as a “handmaid,” the term then used for high-ranking female leaders in the People of Praise religious community, an old directory for the group’s members shows.

Barrett has thus far refused to discuss her membership in the Christian organization, which opposes abortion and, according to former members, holds that men are divinely ordained as the “head” of both the family and faith, while it is the duty of wives to submit to them.

Portions of two People of Praise directory pages for the South Bend, Indiana, branch were shared with The Associated Press by a former member of the community on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue and because this person still has family members in People of Praise. A second former member, Gene Stowe, who left the South Bend branch on good terms several years ago, confirmed the authenticity of the directory pages. He said he could not say precisely what year the directory was from, but that it had to be 2013 or earlier because one of the people listed had by then moved to another state.

All the top leaders within People of Praise are male, but in each of the group’s 22 regional branches a select group of women is entrusted with mentoring and offering spiritual guidance to other female members. Until recently, these female leaders were called “handmaids,” a reference to Jesus’ mother Mary, who according to the Bible called herself “the handmaid of the Lord.” The organization recently changed the terminology to “woman leader” because it had newly negative connotations after Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” was turned into a popular television show.

The leaders run weekly men’s or women’s groups of about half a dozen people where they pray and talk together, and where the leaders offer advice and guidance. They will also organize to help others in the community, such as providing meals when someone gets sick. Under the organization’s rules, no female leader can provide pastoral supervision to a man, former members said.

The White House on Wednesday defended Barrett. “These allegations are offensive and driven by anti-religious bigotry. Judge Barrett is an independent jurist with an exceptional record,” spokesman Judd Deere said. People of Praise’s belief system is rooted in the Catholic Pentecostal movement, which emphasizes a personal relationship with Jesus and can include baptism in the Holy Spirit. As practiced by People of Praise, that can include praying in tongues to receive divine prophecies, heal the sick and cast out evil spirits, according to documents and former members.

Founded in 1971, the nonprofit organization has 22 branches across North America. It is not a church, but a faith community that includes people from several Christian denominations, though most of its roughly 1,800 adult members are Roman Catholic.

The existence of the directory listing Barrett’s name as a handmaid was first reported by The Washington Post late Tuesday. The AP reported last week that a 2006 issue of the group’s internal magazine, Vine & Branches, included a photograph showing that Barrett had attend a national conference reserved for top female leaders in People of Praise.


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