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Challenge to Georgia election system faces first court test
Law & Politics | 2019/04/28 04:55
A sweeping lawsuit challenging the way Georgia elections are run is being put to its initial test Monday as state election officials try to persuade a federal judge to toss it out.

The lawsuit was filed weeks after Republican Brian Kemp narrowly beat Democrat Stacey Abrams, in a governor's race that focused national scrutiny on Georgia's outdated voting machines and on allegations of voter suppression by Kemp, who was the state's top election official during the race.

Kemp has adamantly denied allegations of wrongdoing. He signed legislation earlier this month that provides specifications for a new voting system, which the current secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, says he'll implement in time for the 2020 election cycle.

The lawsuit accuses the secretary of state and election board members of mismanaging the 2018 election in ways that deprived some citizens, particularly low-income people and minorities, of their constitutional right to vote. It seeks substantial reforms and asks that Georgia be required to get a federal judge's approval before changing voting rules.

The suit was filed by Fair Fight Action, an organization founded by Abrams, and Care in Action Georgia, a nonprofit that advocates for domestic workers. Several churches, including Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., joined the suit in February.



Supreme Court to take up LGBT job discrimination cases
Law & Politics | 2019/04/20 22:57
The Supreme Court is taking on a major test of LGBT rights in cases that look at whether federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The justices said Monday they will hear cases involving people who claim they were fired because of their sexual orientation and another that involves a funeral home employee who was fired after disclosing that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The cases will be argued in the fall, with decisions likely by June 2020 in the middle of the presidential election campaign. The issue is whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, but federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.

The big question is whether the Supreme Court, with a strengthened conservative majority, will do the same. The cases are the court's first on LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the court's major gay rights opinions. President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices had been weighing whether to take on the cases since December, an unusually long time, before deciding to hear them. It's unclear what caused the delay.


California fight on Trump birth control rules goes to court
Law & Politics | 2019/01/09 07:12
A U.S. judge will hear arguments Friday over California's attempt to block new rules by the Trump administration that would allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women.

Judge Haywood Gilliam previously blocked an interim version of those rules — a decision that was upheld in December by an appeals court. But the case is before him again after the administration finalized the measures in November, prompting a renewed legal challenge by California and other states.

Gilliam was not expected to rule immediately. At issue is a requirement under President Barack Obama's health care law that birth control services be covered at no additional cost. Obama officials included exemptions for religious organizations.

The new rules set to go into effect on Monday would allow more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to back out of the requirement by claiming religious objections. They would also allow small businesses and other employers to object on moral grounds.

The rules "protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs," the U.S. Department of Justice said in court documents.

The states argue that millions of women could lose free birth control services, forcing them to seek contraceptive care through state-run programs and leading to unintended pregnancies.

Attorneys for California and the other states said in court documents the new rules were very similar to the interim measures. One difference is a suggestion in the new rules that women can seek contraceptive coverage through federal family planning clinics for low-income people, according to the states.



EU court adviser: Britain could change its mind on Brexit
Law & Politics | 2018/12/04 17:41
A top official at the European Union's highest court advised Tuesday that Britain can unilaterally change its mind about leaving the European Union, boosting hopes among to pro-EU campaigners in the U.K. that Brexit can be stopped.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government insists it will never reverse the decision to leave, but May faces a tough battle to win backing in Parliament before lawmakers vote next week on whether to accept or reject the divorce agreement negotiated with the bloc. Defeat would leave the U.K. facing a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit and could topple the prime minister, her government, or both.

Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona told the European Court of Justice that a decision by the British government to change its mind about invoking the countdown to departure would be legally valid. The advice of the advocate general is often, but not always, followed by the full court.

The court is assessing the issue under an accelerated procedure, since Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29. The final verdict is expected within weeks.



Condemned inmate's last meal includes pancakes
Law & Politics | 2018/10/25 12:41
A South Dakota inmate facing execution has received a last meal that included pancakes, waffles, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and French fries.

South Dakota's attorney general says the state Supreme Court has rejected two motions to stop the execution of a man who killed a prison guard in a failed 2011 escape attempt.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says there are currently no court orders to stop or delay Rodney Berget's execution, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday. One motion was filed by a woman whose son is serving a life sentence, the other by an attorney without Berget's support.

Berget is to be put to death for the slaying of Ronald "R.J." Johnson. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

He's to be put to death for the slaying of prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson in a failed 2011 escape attempt. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

Robert was executed in October 2012. Berget in 2016 appealed his death sentence, but later asked to withdraw it.


UN court hears case over strategic Indian Ocean islands
Law & Politics | 2018/09/02 12:55
Officials from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius told United Nations judges Monday that former colonial power Britain strong-armed its leaders half a century ago into giving up territory as a condition of independence, a claim that could have an impact on a strategically important U.S. military base.

Judges at the International Court of Justice began hearing arguments for an advisory opinion the U.N. General Assembly requested on the legality of British sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. The largest island, Diego Garcia, has housed the U.S. base since the 1970s.

"The process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete as a result of the unlawful detachment of an integral part of our territory on the eve of our independence," Mauritius Defense Minister Anerood Jugnauth told judges.

Mauritius argues that the Chagos archipelago was part of its territory since at least the 18th century and taken unlawfully by the U.K. in 1965, three years before the island gained independence. Britain insists it has sovereignty over the archipelago, which it calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Jugnauth testified that during independence negotiations, then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson told Mauritius' leader at the time, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, that "he and his colleagues could return to Mauritius either with independence or without it and that the best solution for all might be independence and detachment (of the Chagos Islands) by agreement."

Ramgoolam understood Wilson's words "to be in the nature of a threat," Jugnauth said.

British Solicitor General Robert Buckland described the case as essentially a bilateral dispute about sovereignty and urged the court not to issue an advisory opinion.


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