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The Senate Judiciary Committee set Oct. 22 for its vote to advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court on Thursday as Democrats threw pointed objections but were unable to stop the Republicans’ drive to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick before the Nov. 3 election. The panel’s action clears a key hurdle to recommend Barrett’s nomination to the full Senate for a final vote by month’s end.

“A sham,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “Power grab,” decried Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “Not normal,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “You don’t convene a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, in the middle of a pandemic, when the Senate’s on recess, when voting has already started in the presidential election in a majority of states,” declared Sen. Chris Coon, D-Del.

But Republicans countered that Trump is well within bounds as president to fill the court vacancy, and the GOP-held Senate has the votes to push Trump’s nominee to confirmation. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he understands Democrats’ “disappointment, but I think their loss is the American people’s gain.” Barrett’s confirmation to take the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg  is on track to lock a conservative majority on the court for years to come. The shift would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court and would be the most pronounced ideological change in 30 years, from the liberal icon to the conservative appeals court judge.

The committee’s session Thursday was without Barrett after two long days of public testimony in which she stressed that she would be her own judge and sought to create distance between herself and past positions critical of abortion, the Affordable Care Act and other issues.  Facing almost 20 hours of questions from senators, the 48-year-old judge was careful not to take on the president who nominated her. She skipped past Democrats’ pressing questions about ensuring the date of next month’s election or preventing voter intimidation, both set in federal law, and the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

She also refused to express her view on whether the president can pardon himself. “It’s not one that I can offer a view,” she said in response to a question Wednesday from Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. When it came to major issues that are likely to come before the court, including abortion and health care, Barrett repeatedly promised to keep an open mind and said neither Trump nor anyone else in the White House had tried to influence her views.

“No one has elicited from me any commitment in a case,” she said. Nominees typically resist offering any more information than they have to, especially when the president’s party controls the Senate, as it does now. But Barrett wouldn’t engage on topics that seemed easy to swat away, including that only Congress can change the date that the election takes place.

She said she was not on a “mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” though she has been critical of the two Supreme Court decisions that preserved key parts of the Obama-era health care law. She could be on the court when it hears the latest Republican-led challenge on Nov. 10. Barrett is the most open opponent of abortion nominated to the Supreme Court in decades, and Democrats fear that her ascension could be a tipping point that threatens abortion rights.

There was no hiding her views in at least three letters and ads she signed over 15 years and her membership in Notre Dame’s Faculty for Life. So Republican senators embraced her stance, proudly stating that she was, in Graham’s words, an “unashamedly pro-life” conservative who is making history as a role model for other women.




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.



Two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising questions about the timing of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and whether additional senators may have been exposed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared the confirmation process was going “full steam ahead.”

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis and Utah Sen. Mike Lee both said Friday that they had tested positive for the virus. Both had attended a ceremony for Barrett at the White House on Sept. 25 with President Donald Trump, who announced Friday that he had tested positive and was later hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Lee, who did not wear a mask at the White House event, said he had “symptoms consistent with longtime allergies.” Tillis, who did wear a mask during the public portion of the event, said he had “mild symptoms.” Both said they would quarantine for 10 days — ending just before Barrett’s confirmation hearings begin on Oct. 12.

The positive tests come as Senate Republicans are pushing to quickly confirm Barrett in the few weeks they have before the Nov. 3 election. There is little cushion in the schedule set out by Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and McConnell, who want to put a third Trump nominee on the court immediately in case they lose any of their power in the election.

Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Barrett, seized on the virus announcements to call for a delay in the hearings.

“We now have two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have tested positive for COVID, and there may be more,” tweeted Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “I wish my colleagues well. It is irresponsible and dangerous to move forward with a hearing, and there is absolutely no good reason to do so.”

Several other members of the Judiciary panel attended the White House ceremony, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Blackburn said she tested negative after the event. Crapo said he “recently” had a negative test and a spokeswoman said he would be getting another one as soon as it could be arranged. A spokeswoman for Hawley said he was being tested Saturday, and the senator tweeted later that his coronavirus test came back negative.

Sasse tested negative, but said in a statement that he would work remotely from his home state and undergo further testing due to his “close interaction with multiple infected individuals,” his office said. He said he planned to to return to Washington in time for the confirmation hearing.



The Supreme Court said Friday it will review a 2016 Arizona law that bars anyone but a family member or caregiver from returning another person’s early ballot. The law itself, however, remains in effect through the presidential election and until the justices rule.

The court will begin hearing arguments again next week after a summer break. The Arizona case was one of four cases the court, now eight justices because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, agreed to hear in its new term that begins Monday. As is usual, the justices did not comment in taking the cases. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the justices will not be returning to the courtroom to hear arguments but instead will continue hearing arguments by telephone. The court has been closed to the public since March.

In the Arizona case, a federal appeals court ruled in January that Arizona’s law banning so-called “ballot harvesting” violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, but the court put its ruling on hold while the Supreme Court was asked to take the case.  The appeals court also found that Arizona’s policy of discarding ballots if a voter went to the wrong precinct violates the law. The court said both have a discriminatory impact on minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The high court in recent years has weakened the Voting Rights Act, throwing out the most powerful part of the landmark law in 2013. It could use the current case to go even further. The case began after Republicans in Arizona passed the law making it a felony to return someone else’s ballot to election officials in most cases and Democrats sued.

Both parties had used ballot collection in Arizona to boost turnout during elections by going door to door and asking voters if they have completed their mail-in ballot. Democrats used the method aggressively in minority communities and argued their success prompted the new GOP-sponsored law. Republicans argued the law was aimed at preventing election fraud. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a statement he is pleased the court will hear the case.

The justices also said Friday they will review a longstanding effort by the Federal Communications Commission to relax restrictions in individual media markets on ownership of different forms of media — TV stations and newspapers — over fears that it would leave fewer outlets controlled by minorities.  The court also will take up cases involving how immigration officials evaluate the claims of asylum seekers and a lawsuit by the city of Baltimore against BP Inc. and other energy companies seeking money for their contribution to climate change, although the issue before the justices is a technical one involving where the case should be heard.  The Supreme Court has already filled its argument calendar through December, so none of the cases will be argued before January 2021.




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