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Senate GOP 'goes nuclear,' clearing way for Trump court pick
Attorney News | 2017/04/10 16:26
Republicans invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate Thursday, unilaterally rewriting the chamber's rules to allow President Donald Trump's nominee to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Furious Democrats objected until the end, but their efforts to block Judge Neil Gorsuch failed as expected. Lawmakers of both parties bemoaned the long-term implications for the Senate, the court and the country.

"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

The maneuvering played out in an atmosphere of tension in the Senate chamber with most senators in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats mounted a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. Then Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday and he could then be sworn in in time to take his seat on the court later this month and hear the final cases of the term.

The maneuvering played out with much hand-wringing from all sides about the future of the Senate, as well as unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations as each side blamed the other. The rules change is known as the "nuclear option" because of its far-reaching implications.



Baldwin's Supreme Court nominee fight is early flashpoint
Law Firm News | 2017/04/06 23:29
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's support for a filibuster to block President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court has become an early flashpoint as she faces re-election next year.

While Baldwin and Republicans, including her Wisconsin colleague Sen. Ron Johnson, trade barbs over the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, voters back home in a state that went for Trump in November worry about the continued erosion of bipartisanship and increasing polarization in Washington.

"Nobody is making any concessions and I think this is going to be the downfall of both parties," said Anna Street, a 56-year-old nurse from West Allis, on Tuesday.

Baldwin voted Thursday to support a Democratic filibuster in an attempt to stop Gorsuch's nomination to the nation's highest court, while Johnson voted to end debate. Baldwin argues that Trump should put forward someone who could get enough bipartisan support to garner 60 votes and overcome any filibuster.

But Republicans, on a party-line vote with Johnson in support and Baldwin opposed, changed Senate rules on Thursday to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, a move labeled the "nuclear option" because it would unravel Senate traditions that have led to reaching bipartisan consensus.

"Republicans and Democrats ought to get to a point where they're talking to each other and not go on with this," said Roger Sunby, a retired public education administrator from Mount Horeb. He said Gorsuch would be confirmed no matter what action Democrats take.

Republicans see Baldwin's opposition to Gorsuch as a vulnerability. Johnson, Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans have been attacking Baldwin as being out of the "mainstream" because of her opposition to Gorsuch.

Baldwin argues that it's not her, but Gorsuch, who is out of the mainstream, citing his rulings "against disabled students, against workers, and against women's reproductive health care."

Baldwin said in a statement after her votes Thursday that she has "deep concerns" about Gorsuch's record and that she wants a justice who will serve as a check on the executive branch.

"Based on his record and the many questions he has chosen to leave unanswered, I don't have confidence Judge Gorsuch would be that justice and I oppose his confirmation to our highest court," she said.

Baldwin backers argue that her support for a filibuster will only further bolster her bona fides among liberals as someone willing to stand up to Trump.


US court ruling could bring more suits over Nazi-looted art
Court News | 2017/04/05 23:29
The heirs of Nazi-era Jewish art dealers have spent nearly a decade trying to persuade German officials to return a collection of medieval relics valued at more than $250 million.

But they didn't make much headway until they filed a lawsuit in an American court.

The relatives won a round last week when a federal judge ruled that Germany can be sued in the United States over claims the so-called Guelph Treasure was sold under duress in 1935.

It's the first time a court has required Germany to defend itself in the U.S. against charges of looted Nazi art, and experts say it could encourage other descendants of people who suffered during the Holocaust to pursue claims in court.

The case also is among the first affected by a law passed in Congress last year that makes it easier for heirs of victims of Nazi Germany to sue over confiscated art.

"It open all kinds of other claims based on forced sales in Nazi Germany to jurisdiction in U.S. courts if the facts support it," said Nicholas O'Donnell, an attorney representing the heirs.

The collection includes gold crosses studded with gems, ornate silverwork and other relics that once belonged to Prussian aristocrats. The heirs of the art dealers — Jed Leiber, Gerald Stiebel, and Alan Philipp — say their relatives were forced to sell the relics in a coerced transaction for a fraction of its market value.

The consortium of dealers from Frankfurt had purchased the collection in 1929 from the Duke of Brunswick. They had managed to sell about half of the pieces to museums and collectors, but the remaining works were sold in 1935 to the state of Prussia, which at the time was governed by Nazi leader Hermann Goering.

Following the sale, Goering presented the works as a gift to Adolf Hitler, according to court documents. The collection has been on display in Berlin since the early 1960s and is considered the largest collection of German church treasure in public hands.

German officials claim the sale was voluntary and say the low price was a product of the Great Depression and the collapse of Germany's market for art. In 2014, a special German commission set up to review disputed restitution cases concluded it was not a forced sale due to persecution and recommended the collection stay at the Berlin museum.


New Ohio lethal injection process rejected by appeals court
Legal News | 2017/04/04 23:29
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Ohio's new three-drug lethal injection process, jeopardizing the upcoming executions of several condemned killers.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found the proposed use of a contested sedative, midazolam, unconstitutional. The court also ruled that Ohio's planned use of two other drugs the state abandoned years ago prevents their reintroduction in a new execution system.

After repeatedly saying it would no longer use those drugs — pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — "but now attempting to execute condemned inmates with these very drugs, the State had taken directly contradictory positions," Judge Karen Nelson Moore ruled for the majority.

The court also favored arguments by attorneys for death row inmates that use of another drug altogether — pentobarbital — is still an option, despite Ohio's arguments that it can't find supplies of that drug.

An appeal is likely. Options including asking the full appeals court to consider the case or appealing straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office.

The ruling was a blow to the state, which hoped to begin executing several condemned killers next month. The first of those, Ronald Phillips, is scheduled to die May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

Allen Bohnert, a lawyer for death row inmates challenging Ohio's lethal injection system, applauded the decision, saying the appeals court was correct in rejecting the execution process.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014, when inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die under a never-before-tried two-drug method that began with midazolam. The same drug was involved in a problematic execution later that year in Arizona.

Ohio announced its three-drug method in October and said it had enough for at least four executions, though records obtained by The Associated Press indicated the supply could cover dozens of executions.

The drugs are midazolam, rocuronium bromide — like pancuronium bromide, a drug used to paralyze inmates — and potassium chloride.

The prison system used 10 milligrams of midazolam on McGuire. The new system calls for 500 milligrams. The state said there's plenty of evidence proving the larger amount will keep inmates from feeling pain.

Ohio also said the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in 2015 in a case out of Oklahoma.

The court on Thursday said arguments by death row inmates that even 500 milligrams of midazolam could lead to a risk of pain were more convincing than counterarguments from the state.


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