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Court: Local Wisconsin heath departments can’t close schools
Court Watch | 2021/06/11 17:09
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday that local health departments do not have the authority to close schools due to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a win to private and religious schools that challenged a Dane County order.

The conservative majority of the court, in a 4-3 decision, also ruled that a school closure order issued last year by Public Health Madison & Dane County infringed on constitutional religious rights.

The ruling is another victory for conservatives who challenged state and local orders issued during the pandemic to close businesses and schools, limit capacity in bars, restaurants and other buildings and require masks to be worn. All of those restrictions have either expired or been rescinded by courts.

Friday’s ruling will have no immediate impact because the 2020-21 school year has ended, but it will limit the powers of health departments in the future by preventing them from ordering school closures.

“Even as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, the court’s decision provides a critical correction that ought to prevent future abuses of power in an emergency,” said Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. That group brought the lawsuit on behalf of five private schools and eight families in Dane County, School Choice Wisconsin Action and the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools.

Dane County Health Director Janel Heinrich said the ruling “hinders the ability of local health officers in Wisconsin to prevent and contain public health threats for decades to come.”

The lawsuit targeted an order issued in August by the county health department prohibiting in-person instruction for grades 3-12 at any public or private school. The Supreme Court in early September put that order on hold while it considered the case.

While many private and public schools in the county resumed in-person classes, Madison’s school district remained entirely virtual until March. Its school year ended this week.

The law in question allows local health departments to do what is “reasonable and necessary” to suppress a disease outbreak. It does not specifically grant authority to close schools. There is a law giving that power to the state Department of Health Services secretary.


Court nixes South Carolina’s lifelong sex offender registry
Court Issues | 2021/06/09 17:21
South Carolina’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a state law requiring sex offenders to register for life, without prior judicial review, is unconstitutional.

In a unanimous ruling, justices wrote that “requirement that sex offenders must register for life without any opportunity for judicial review violates due process because it is arbitrary and cannot be deemed rationally related to the General Assembly’s stated purpose of protecting the public from those with a high risk of re-offending.”

Justices set a 12-month timeline to implement the ruling, to give state lawmakers time to “correct the deficiency in the statute regarding judicial review.”

The case stems from a lawsuit originally brought by Dennis Powell, who was arrested in 2008 for criminal solicitation of a minor after authorities said he had graphic online conversations with someone he thought was a 12-year-old girl, but who was actually an undercover officer.

After pleading guilty, Powell was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender, which South Carolina’s statute mandates as a lifelong situation.

South Carolina’s sex offender statute requires biannual registration, in-person at a sheriff’s office, but provides for no periodic review by a judge, a situation the Supreme Court called “the most stringent in the country.”

“The lifetime inclusion of individuals who have a low risk of re-offending renders the registry over-inclusive and dilutes its utility by creating an ever-growing list of registrants that is less effective at protecting the public and meeting the needs of law enforcement,” justices wrote. “There is no evidence in the record that current statistics indicate all sex offenders generally pose a high risk of re-offending.”

The court ruled that Powell should be immediately removed from the state’s sex offender registry. Powell had also challenged a portion of the statute that permits the registry to be published online, which the court upheld.

Attorneys for both Powell and the State Law Enforcement Division did not immediately return text messages seeking comment on the ruling.


New Hampshire high court lifting mask requirement; theater reopening
Court Issues | 2021/06/06 22:37
The New Hampshire Supreme Court is allowing people to go without a mask in courts throughout the state as of Monday, with some exceptions.

The change revokes an order that was in place since July 2020.

People who are currently in a courtroom or jury room for trials or grand jury proceedings will still be required to wear masks through the month of June.

The court said the order doesn’t apply to common areas of a building used as a courthouse or a judicial branch workplace, if, and to the extent that, the building is owned by an independent organization that requires face coverings in common areas.

The court also revoked part of an order that had required people returning from international or cruise-ship travel to self-isolate for 14 days before entering state courthouses.

Meanwhile, the New Hampshire House has rejected an attempt to make infectious diseases like COVID-19 a qualifying condition for absentee voting.

Lawmakers made temporary changes last year to allow voters to cite the coronavirus as a reason for casting absentee ballots only for the September 2020 primary and November general election.

This year, the Senate passed a bill that would have allowed someone to vote absentee due to “medical conditions that pose a risk of infection to others or where infection from others carries significant health risk.” But the House removed that language Thursday in passing the bill, which also makes other changes to absentee ballot envelopes.



Appeals court upholds guilty verdicts in NCAA bribes case
Court Issues | 2021/06/04 17:50
The convictions of a sports business manager and an amateur basketball coach in a conspiracy to bribe top college coaches to get them to steer NBA-bound athletes to favored handlers were upheld Friday by an appeals court.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan affirmed the 2019 convictions of Christian Dawkins and youth basketball coach Merl Code on a single conspiracy count. Dawkins was also convicted of bribery. They were acquitted of some other charges.

The prosecution resulted from a criminal probe that exposed how financial advisers and business managers paid tens of thousands of dollars to college coaches and athletes’ families to steer highly regarded high school players to big-program colleges, sometimes with the help of apparel makers who signed sponsorship deals with schools.

During the trial, universities were portrayed by prosecutors as victims of greedy financial advisers and coaches while defense lawyers asserted that schools were complicit in any corruption that occurred in 2016 and 2017.

Circuit Judge William J. Nardini, writing for a three-judge panel, said the judges rejected arguments that the law used to convict the men was unconstitutionally applied and that various rulings about evidence and other matters by the trial judge were erroneous.

“We are unpersuaded by these arguments,” Nardini wrote, saying the judges did not agree with arguments that the federal law used to convict the men should be limited as it pertains to the universe of “agents” to be influenced or the business of the federally funded organizations involved.


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