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•  Headline Legal News - Legal News


Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled it can take over the powers of congress in what opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro as well as foreign governments denounced as the latest step toward installing a dictatorship in this South American nation.

In a decision late Wednesday, the magistrates said that as long as lawmakers remain in contempt of past court rulings nullifying all legislation coming out of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, the high court can step in and assume congressional duties itself.

Peru's government immediately recalled its ambassador in protest while condemnations poured in from governments across Latin America. The head of the Organization of American States called for an emergency meeting to deal with what he called a "self-inflicted coup d'etat" by Maduro against the congress. Some hard-line Venezuelan opposition members went on social media to appeal for the military to intervene, and a few protests broke out in the capital.

The U.S. State Department reiterated its call for immediate elections to resolve Venezuela's political crisis, saying the decision to "usurp" the National Assembly's powers represented a "serious setback for democracy in Venezuela."

"This rupture of democratic and constitutional norms greatly damages Venezuela's democratic institutions and denies the Venezuelan people the right to shape their country's future through their elected representatives," the U.S. statement said.

While past decisions by the government-stacked Supreme Court had stripped power from congress, Wednesday's move allows Maduro to rule by fiat, said Julio Borges, the assembly's president. He joined opposition leaders in calling for a new round of demonstrations beginning with a march Saturday, although recent attempts to apply street pressure on the government have failed to attract a large following.



Senate Democrats on Monday forced a one-week delay in a committee vote on President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, who remains on track for confirmation with solid Republican backing.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced that, as expected, Democrats have requested a postponement. The committee vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch now will be held April 3.

As the committee readies to vote, three additional Democrats said they are likely to vote against the Denver-based appeals court judge. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said they will vote against Gorsuch, and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy tweeted that he still was undecided but inclined to oppose him. Leahy is a senior member of the Judiciary panel and a former chairman.

That means at least 17 Democrats and independents, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, have announced their opposition to the Denver-based appeals court judge, arguing that Gorsuch has ruled too often against workers and in favor of corporations.

The Democrats who have announced their opposition have also said they will try to block the nominee, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will have to hold a procedural vote requiring 60 votes to move forward. The Senate GOP has a 52-48 majority, meaning McConnell will need support from at least eight Democrats or independents.

It was unclear whether he would be able to get the 60 votes. If he doesn't, McConnell seems ready to change Senate rules and confirm him with a simple majority.

Republicans had hoped that they'd see some support from the 10 Democrats running for re-election in states won by Trump in the presidential election, but four of those senators — Nelson, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin — have already said they will oppose the nominee.

Leahy, however, signaled that he may be willing to break from Schumer and vote with Republicans on the procedural vote, while also signaling in a separate tweet he'd vote against Gorsuch in the final, up or down vote.



The International Criminal Court on Friday awarded symbolic reparations of $250 each to nearly 300 people who lost relatives, property or livestock or suffered psychological harm in a deadly attack on a Congolese village in 2003.

Judges also awarded collective reparations in the form of projects covering "housing, support for income-generating activities, education and psychological support" for victims.

The award followed the conviction in 2014 of Germain Katanga for crimes committed in the attack on Bogoro in the Ituri region of Congo in which some 200 people were shot or hacked to death.

Such reparation orders are a key part of the court's mandate to not only bring to justice perpetrators of atrocities but also to ensure that their victims are compensated.

Furaha Kiza, who lives in Bogoro, said the compensation allotted to victims amounted to very little.

"I lost my parents and our home because of Germain Katanga's militias," he said. "I live with a foster family now. I would like the ICC to review the amounts so that we feel more relieved."

The court estimated the "extent of the physical, material and psychological harm suffered by the victims" amounted to more than $3.7 million and said Katanga was responsible for $1 million. But it added that he is considered "indigent" and unlikely to be able to pay.




President Donald Trump's revised travel ban has suffered another federal court setback after a judge in Maryland rejected a revised measure that bans travel targeting six predominantly Muslim countries.

Judge Theodore Chuang ruled Thursday in Greenbelt, Maryland, in a case brought near the nation's capital by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups representing immigrants, refugees and their families. The groups argued that the underlying rationale of the ban was to discriminate against Muslims, making it unconstitutional.

Chuang granted a preliminary injunction on a nationwide basis. He declined to issue an injunction blocking the entire executive order, saying that the plaintiffs didn't sufficiently develop their argument that the temporary ban on refugees offends the establishment clause and didn't provide sufficient basis to establish the invalidity of the rest of the order.

He called Trump's own statements about intentions to impose a Muslim ban "highly relevant." Trump's second executive order does include changes from the first order, Chuang noted, such as the removal of a preference for religious minorities in the refugee process.

"Despite these changes, the history of public statements continues to provide a convincing case that the purpose of the Second Executive Order remains the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban," he said.

Details of the implementation of the orders also indicate that national security isn't the primary purpose of the ban, Chuang said.

"The fact that the White House took the highly irregular step of first introducing the travel ban without receiving the input and judgment of the relevant national security agencies strongly suggests that the religious purpose was primary and the national security purpose, even if legitimate, is a secondary, post hoc rationale," he said.




The state Supreme Court will hear arguments over the constitutionality of an Ohio student's backpack search that authorities say led first to the discovery of bullets and later a gun.

At issue before the high court is whether a second search of the backpack violated the student's privacy rights, which are generally weaker inside school walls.

The court scheduled arguments for Wednesday morning. Prosecutors in Franklin County appealed after two lower courts tossed out the evidence because of the second search.

A security official at a Columbus city high school searched the backpack in 2013 after it was found on a bus. The official conducted a second search after he recalled the student had alleged gang ties. That search led to finding a gun on the student.




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