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Kentucky’s Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a new state law that allowed participants in constitutional challenges to get the cases switched to randomly selected counties. The court said the legislature’s action on the assignment of court cases encroached on judicial authority.

The law, enacted this year over the governor’s veto, allowed any participants to request changes of venue for civil cases challenging the constitutionality of laws, orders or regulations. It required the clerk of the state Supreme Court to choose another court through a random selection.

Such constitutional cases typically are heard in Franklin County Circuit Court in the capital city of Frankfort. For years, Republican officials have complained about a number of rulings from Franklin circuit judges in high-stakes cases dealing with constitutional issues.

The high court’s ruling was a victory for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who in his veto message denounced the measure as an “unconstitutional power grab” by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto, sparking the legal fight that reached the state’s highest court.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office defended the venue law, which passed as Senate Bill 126. Cameron is challenging Beshear in the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election — one of the nation’s highest-profile campaigns this year.

Writing for the court’s majority, Chief Justice Laurance B. VanMeter said the new law amounted to a violation of constitutional separation of powers.

The measure granted “unchecked power to a litigant to remove a judge from a case under the guise of a “transfer,” circumventing the established recusal process, the chief justice wrote.

“It operates to vest a certain class of litigants with the unfettered right to forum shop, without having to show any bias on the part of the presiding judge, or just cause for removal,” VanMeter said.



U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez returned to Manhattan federal court Monday to challenge a new criminal charge alleging that he conspired to act as an agent of the Egyptian government when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Not guilty,” Menendez, 69, said when Judge Sidney H. Stein asked him for a plea to the charge. It was his first appearance before Stein, who is expected to preside over a trial tentatively scheduled for May.

Stein said the plea was the sole purpose for the hearing and adjourned the proceeding after less than five minutes. The New Jersey Democrat left the courthouse minutes later without speaking to reporters waiting outside. At an arraignment before a magistrate judge last month, Menendez was released on a $100,000 bond.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Menendez repeated his claim that the new charge “flies in the face of my long record of standing up for human rights and democracy in Egypt and in challenging leaders of that country.”

He again called it “as outrageous as it is absurd” and said he has been loyal only to the United States his entire life.

“The facts haven’t changed. The government is engaged in primitive hunting, by which the predator chases its prey until it’s exhausted and then kills it. This tactic won’t work,” he said. “I will not litigate this case through the press, but have made it abundantly clear that I have done nothing wrong and once all the facts are presented will be found innocent.”

Menendez was forced to step down from his powerful post leading the Senate committee after he was charged last month. Prosecutors said the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car over the past five years from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a variety of corrupt acts.

The other defendants entered not guilty charges to a superseding indictment last week. The senator was permitted to delay his arraignment so he could tend to Senate duties. He has said that throughout his life he has been loyal to the United States and that he will prove he is innocent.



Donald Trump returned Tuesday to the civil fraud trial that imperils his real estate empire, watching and deploring the case as an employee and an outside appraiser testified that his company essentially put a thumb on the scale when sizing up his properties’ value.

Incensed by a case that disputes his net worth and could strip him of such signature holdings as Trump Tower, the former president is due to testify later in the trial. But he chose to attend the first three days and came back Tuesday to observe — and to protest his treatment to the news cameras waiting outside the Manhattan courtroom.

Star witness Michael Cohen, a onetime Trump fixer now turned foe, postponed his scheduled testimony because of a health problem.

Instead, Trump company accountant Donna Kidder testified that she was told to make some assumptions favorable to the firm on internal financial spreadsheets. Outside appraiser Doug Larson said he didn’t suggest or condone a former Trump Organization comptroller’s methods of valuing properties.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Larson said of the way the ex-controller reached a $287.6 million value for a prominent Trump-owned retail space in 2013.

Trump, outside court, reiterated his insistence that he’s done nothing wrong and that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit is a political vendetta designed to drag down his 2024 presidential campaign as he leads the Republican field.

“We built a great company — a lot of cash, it’s got a lot of great assets, some of the greatest real estate assets anywhere in the world,” Trump said outside the courtroom. He dismissed the case as “a disgrace,” the legal system as “corrupt” and the Democratic attorney general as a “radical lunatic.”

James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and inflating his net worth on his financial statements.



A federal judge who previously overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons did it again on Thursday, ruling that the state’s attempts to prohibit sales of semiautomatic guns violates the constitutional right to bear arms.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego conceded that powerful weapons like AR-15 rifles are commonly used by criminals, but said the guns are importantly also owned by people who obey the law and feel they need firearms to protect themselves.

“The State of California posits that its ‘assault weapon’ ban, the law challenged here, promotes an important public interest of disarming some mass shooters even though it makes criminals of law-abiding residents who insist on acquiring these firearms for self-defense,” Benitez wrote. “Nevertheless, more than that is required to uphold a ban.”

The judge’s ruling is nearly identical to a 2021 decision in which he called California’s ban on assault weapons a “failed experiment.” Benitez has has repeatedly struck down multiple California firearms laws. Just last month, he ruled the state cannot ban gun owners from having detachable magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Benitez’s latest decision would overturn multiple state statutes related to assault weapons. The judge gave the state 10 days to seek a stay on the ruling as part of an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office had already filed a notice of appeal.

“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” Bonta said in a statement Thursday. “This has been state law in California for decades, and we will continue to fight for our authority to keep our citizens safe from firearms that cause mass casualties. In the meantime, assault weapons remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California.”

John Dillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued to overturn the law, cheered the judge’s ruling.



The Supreme Court on Monday ordered two internet sellers of gun parts to comply with a Biden administration regulation aimed at ghost guns, firearms that are difficult to trace because they lack serial numbers.

The court had intervened once before, by a 5-4 vote in August, to keep the regulation in effect after it had been invalidated by a lower court. No justice dissented publicly from Monday’s order, which followed a ruling from a federal judge in Texas that exempted the two companies, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group and Defense Distributed, from having to abide by the regulation of ghost gun kits.

Other makers of gun parts also had been seeking similar court orders, the administration told the Supreme Court in a filing.

“Absent relief from this Court, therefore, untraceable ghost guns will remain widely available to anyone with a computer and a credit card — no background check required,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, wrote.

The regulation changed the definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun, so they can be tracked more easily. Those parts must be licensed and include serial numbers. Manufacturers must also run background checks before a sale - as they do with other commercially made firearms.

The requirement applies regardless of how the firearm was made, meaning it includes ghost guns made from individual parts or kits or by 3D printers.

The regulation will be in effect while the administration appeals the judge’s ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and potentially the Supreme Court.



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