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Trump administration backs PLO in victims' high court appeal
Topics | 2018/04/02 12:15
Despite its bumpy relationship with the Palestinians, the Trump administration is siding with the Palestine Liberation Organization in urging the Supreme Court to reject an appeal from American victims of terrorist attacks in the Middle East more than a decade ago.

The victims are asking the high court to reinstate a $654 million verdict against the PLO and Palestinian Authority in connection with attacks in Israel in 2002 and 2004 that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more.

The case was scheduled to be considered at the justices’ private conference on Thursday. A decision to reject the appeal could come as early as Monday. If the court decides to hear the case, it could say so by the middle of this month.

The federal appeals court in New York tossed out the verdict in 2016. It said U.S. courts can’t consider lawsuits against foreign-based groups over random attacks that were not aimed at the United States.

The victims sued under the Anti-Terrorism Act, signed into law in 1992. The law was passed to open U.S. courts to victims of international terrorism, spurred by the killing of American Leon Klinghoffer during a 1985 terrorist attack aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The victims argued that offices the Palestinians maintain in the nation’s capital to promote their cause in speeches and media appearances and to retain lobbyists were sufficient to allow the lawsuit in an American court. The appeals court disagreed.

In late June, the justices asked the administration to weigh in on the case, as they often do in cases with foreign policy implications. The Justice Department filed its brief eight months later, saying there was nothing in the appeals court ruling to “warrant this court’s intervention at this time.”

In unusually strong language for a Supreme Court filing, Theodore Olson, the lawyer for the victims, wrote, “The government is not being square with the court.” Olson said the administration was being cagey about its view of the law, even after the lower court cut back on its use by attack victims to try to hold groups financially liable.


Expensive, partisan Wisconsin high court race nears end
Law Center | 2018/04/02 12:14
An expensive and openly partisan race for Wisconsin's Supreme Court neared an end Tuesday, with voters choosing between a conservative appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a liberal who drew support from former Obama administration officials.

The race between Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet was nonpartisan in name only, with both sides eager to win the 10-year seat on a high court whose ideological split has been on public display in recent years.

Conservatives held a 5-2 majority going into the election, so control wasn't at stake. But Democrats hoped to build on a surprising victory in January in a special state Senate election, especially with two more special legislative elections coming this summer.

The race was closely watched as a potential bellwether of voter attitudes in Wisconsin ahead of the fall midterms, although results of past Supreme Court elections have not consistently proven to be predictive of what will happen in November. President Donald Trump won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2016.

Screnock, 48, was appointed circuit judge by Walker in 2015 and counted the conservative state chamber of commerce, a variety of anti-abortion groups and the National Rifle Association among his supporters.

Dallet, 48, was elected judge in 2008 after working 11 years as a prosecutor. She benefited from spending by a group started by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and was endorsed by trade and teacher unions, Planned Parenthood and more than 200 Wisconsin judges.

Both candidates argued the other couldn't be trusted to serve as an independent voice on the state's highest court because of partisan campaign support.

Spending on TV ads in the race was expected to approach $4.5 million, about what was spent on the 2016 race, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending on court races nationwide.

Dallet ran with a tough-on-crime message, focusing on her prosecutorial experience followed by 10 years working as a judge in Milwaukee. She argued that the conservative-controlled Supreme Court is "broken," and criticized the justices for not adopting a recusal rule forcing them to step down from cases involving large campaign donors.

Screnock said he was devoted to the rule of law and a strict interpretation of the Constitution, arguments that winning conservative candidates have used in recent state Supreme Court elections.



Drug companies want Supreme Court to take eye drop dispute
Court Watch | 2018/04/01 12:14
Eye drop users everywhere have had it happen. Tilt your head back, drip a drop in your eye and part of that drop always seems to dribble down your cheek.

But what most people see as an annoyance, some prescription drop users say is grounds for a lawsuit. Drug companies' bottles dispense drops that are too large, leaving wasted medication running down their faces, they say.

Don't roll your eyes. Major players in Americans' medicine cabinets — including Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Merck and Pfizer — are asking the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

On the other side are patients using the companies' drops to treat glaucoma and other eye conditions. Wasted medication affects their wallets, they say. They argue they would pay less for their treatment if their bottles of medication were designed to drip smaller drops. That would mean they could squeeze more doses out of every bottle. And they say companies could redesign the droppers on their bottles but have chosen not to.

The companies, for their part, have said the patients shouldn't be able to sue in federal court because their argument they would have paid less for treatment is based on a bottle that doesn't exist and speculation about how it would affect their costs if it did. They point out that the size of their drops was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and redesigned bottles would require FDA approval. The cost of changes could be passed on to patients, possibly resulting in treatment that costs more, they say.

Courts haven't seen eye to eye on whether patients should be able to sue. That's why the drugmakers are asking the Supreme Court to step in. A federal appeals court in Chicago threw out one lawsuit over drop size. But a federal appeals court in Philadelphia let the similar case now before the Supreme Court go forward. That kind of disagreement tends to get the Supreme Court's attention.

And if a drop-size lawsuit can go forward, so too could other packaging design lawsuits, like one by "toothpaste users whose tubes of toothpaste did not allow every bit of toothpaste to be used," wrote Kannon Shanmugam, a frequent advocate before the Supreme Court who is representing the drug companies in asking the high court to take the case.


Arkansas high court: Some execution drug info can be secret
Legal Interview | 2018/03/31 12:16
The Arkansas Supreme Court says the state prison system must continue to identify the manufacturers of its execution drugs but that it can conceal information that could identify those who obtain the drugs for the state.

Pharmaceutical companies won't sell their drugs for use in executions, which has led some states to obtain execution drugs through middle men or from made-to-order compounding pharmacies.

Arkansas prison officials insist secrecy is needed to ensure a steady supply of the drugs. They argued that secrecy for the middle men who obtain the drugs should also extend to manufacturers, but a Pulaski County judge said it should not and justices on Thursday agreed with that ruling.



Court hears case alleging unconstitutional 6th District gerrymander
Legal Interview | 2018/03/31 12:16
U.S. Supreme Court justices expressed frustration with partisan gerrymandering on Wednesday as they heard arguments in a case challenging Maryland’s 6th Congressional District.

The case, which alleges a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland at the same time justices are considering the constitutionality of an alleged Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin, has some legal experts wondering whether the justices might be on the verge of establishing a standard that would allow judicial intervention in partisan gerrymandering cases for the first time in the court’s history.

The 6th District challenge was brought by seven Maryland residents, including three from Frederick County, who argue that the district — which includes southwestern parts of Frederick County and the city of Frederick — was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Democrats and punish Republicans during the reapportionment process after the 2010 census.

The justices heard arguments in the Wisconsin political gerrymandering case in October, but have not yet released an opinion.

The Maryland and Wisconsin cases both focus on unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, but there are some important differences. The Maryland case challenges the redrawing of a single federal district to favor Democrats, while the Wisconsin case is based on the statewide redrawing of Wisconsin State Assembly districts to favor Republicans.

The two cases also allege different violations of voters’ rights: The Maryland case claims retaliation against Republican voters under a First Amendment framework, while the Wisconsin plaintiffs are alleging a violation of the equal protection clause under the 14th Amendment.




Stephen Reinhardt, liberal circuit court judge, dies at 87
Court Watch | 2018/03/30 12:17
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a liberal stalwart on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for nearly four decades, died Thursday in Southern California. He was 87.

Reinhardt died of a heart attack during a visit to a dermatologist in Los Angeles, court spokesman David Madden said.

"As a judge, he was deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions," 9th Circuit Chief Judge Sidney Thomas said in a statement. "He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench."

Reinhardt was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and went on to become the sixth longest-serving judge on the court.

He was considered to be one of the most liberal judges on the 9th Circuit and his rulings often placed him on the side of immigrants and prisoners. Reinhardt wrote a 2012 opinion striking down California's gay marriage ban.

He also wrote a 1996 opinion that struck down a Washington state law that prohibited doctors from prescribing medication to help terminally ill patients die.

Last year he wrote in an opinion that a Trump administration order to deport a man who entered the country illegally nearly three decades ago and became a respected businessman in Hawaii was "inhumane" and "contrary to the values of the country and its legal system."

Reinhardt was "brilliant - a great legal mind and writer - but he was equally hard working," said Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.

Villagra, who clerked for Reinhardt in 1995, said he once found the judge in his chambers at 11 p.m. on a Saturday writing a dissent to the court's decision not to rehear a death penalty appeal.



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