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Raw power in North Carolina: governor, legislature in court
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/03/07 16:20
Lawyers for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's legislative leaders face off in court Tuesday over whether a series of new laws diminishing the governor's powers are constitutional.

A state panel of three trial judges will determine the outcome, though its decision can be appealed in a process that could last months.

The challenged laws require Cooper's picks to run 10 state agencies be approved by the GOP-led Senate, strip the governor's control over running elections, slash his hiring options and give civil service protections to hundreds of political appointees of former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

GOP lawmakers adopted the provisions reducing Cooper's powers during a surprise special legislative session two weeks before the Democrat took office Jan. 1.

The key argument raised by attorneys for state House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger is that North Carolina's legislature is — and should be — dominant in a state government where the three branches of government were designed to be separate, but not equal.

Cooper's attorneys contend that even if North Carolina's governor was established in the state constitution to be weak compared with most state executives across the country, the new laws encroach on the governor's powers and upset the balance of powers that have developed.

The determination of Republican lawmakers to shift Cooper's authority to legislative leaders continued last week in party-line votes. The House bills would eliminate Cooper's ability to choose board members at more than a dozen community colleges, and to fill vacancies on the state District Court, where most criminal and civil cases get heard.


Court: Missouri not required to name execution drug's source
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/02/20 14:10
A Missouri appellate court has ruled that the state's prison officials aren't obligated to publicly reveal the source of the drug used to execute prisoners.

The appellate court's Western District decided Tuesday to overturn a 2016 trial court ruling that found the state wrongly withheld documents that would identify pharmaceutical suppliers, The Kansas City Star reported.       

The appeals court agreed with the state that a law that protects the identity of the state's execution team applies to those who supply the execution drug pentobarbital.

Major drug companies for the past several years have refused to allow their drugs to be used in executions. Missouri and many other active death penalty states refuse to disclose the source of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies ? organizations that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.

The appeals court ruling said that disclosing the identities of "individuals essential to the execution process" could hinder Missouri's ability to execute the condemned.

Several states also are facing legal challenges to lethal injection practices. Just last month, a federal judge found Ohio's latest lethal injection procedure unconstitutional while Texas sued the Food and Drug Administration over execution drugs that were confiscated in 2015. In Oklahoma last year, a grand jury criticized state officials charged with carrying out executions, describing a litany of failures and avoidable errors.



Wisconsin Supreme Court to hear open meetings case
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/02/15 10:03
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is to hear arguments in a case that could give school boards and other governmental bodies a way around the open meetings law.

The case up for argument Wednesday focuses on whether meetings of a committee created by employees of the Appleton Area School District to review books for use in a ninth grade class should have been open to the public.

More broadly the court will examine whether committees created in the same way that the one in Appleton was brought together allows them to be exempt from the law.

John Krueger, whose son attends the Appleton district, argued in a lawsuit that the review committee broke the state open meetings law by not posting a public notice of its meetings or allowing the public to attend. But the Waupaca County Circuit Court and state appeals court both sided with the district, setting up Krueger's appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Krueger raised concerns in 2011 about references to suicide and sex in the book "The Body of Christopher Creed" that students in a freshman communications arts class read. Krueger requested that an alternative class be offered that included books that had no profanity, obscenities or sexualized content.

Appleton's superintendent, Lee Allinger, asked two members of the district's department that handles curriculum and instruction to respond to Krueger's concerns. Those employees formed a 17-member committee including district administrators, teachers and staff to evaluate books used in the course.


Court orders Wisconsin Legislature to redraw voting maps
Lawyer Blog Post | 2017/01/28 19:29
A panel of federal judges on Friday ordered the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw legislative boundaries by November, rejecting calls from those challenging the maps to have the judges do the work.

The ruling clears the way for the state to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review an earlier decision declaring the current maps unconstitutional, but the judges rejected Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s request to delay any work until after the Supreme Court decides whether to hear an appeal.

Schimel’s spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, promised the decision would be swiftly appealed to the Supreme Court. Democrats hailed the ruling and called for public hearings on new maps, but Republicans still control the drawing of district boundaries.

“I hope that legislative Republicans are more competent with their second chance,” said Democratic state Sen. Mark Miller, of Monona.

A dozen voters sued in 2015 over the Republican-drawn maps, alleging they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. The three-judge panel agreed in a 2-1 ruling in November, but didn’t order any immediate action.

In its Friday ruling, the judges ordered the Legislature to redraw the maps by November so they could be in place for the 2018 elections. They forbid the current legislative boundaries from being in effect for any future election. They also declined to do the work themselves, as the Democrats who filed the lawsuit wanted.



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