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Trump administration backs PLO in victims' high court appeal
Legal Opinions | 2018/04/02 06:12
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.


Large Midwest energy project turns to ex-Missouri governor
Court Issues | 2018/04/02 06:12
Stymied by state regulators, a renewable energy company seeking to build one of the nation's longest power lines across a large swath of the Midwest has turned to a prominent politician in an attempt to revive its $2.3 billion project.

Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, now working as a private attorney after recently finishing 30 years in public office, is to argue Tuesday to the Missouri Supreme Court that utility regulators he appointed wrongly rejected the power line while relying on an incorrect court ruling written by a judge whom Nixon also appointed.

Should Nixon prevail in court, it could help clear a path for Houston-based Clean Line Energy Partners LLC to build a 780-mile (1,255-kilometer), high-voltage transmission line from the wind farms of western Kansas across Missouri and Illinois to Indiana, where it would feed into a power grid serving eastern states. Missouri had been the lone state blocking the project, until an Illinois appeals court in March also overturned that state's approval.


Arizona court to hear arguments on immigrant tuition case
Court Watch | 2018/04/01 06:13
The Arizona Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether young immigrants granted deferred deportation status under a program started by former President Barack Obama are eligible for lower in-state college tuition.

The hearing is set for Monday after the justices agreed in February to consider an appeal by the Maricopa County Community Colleges District, which won an initial ruling in 2015 that was overturned in June by the state Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals ruling said the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA did not confer legal status and each state can decide on optional benefits for DACA recipients.

Arizona law bars public benefits such as in-state tuition for students without legal status. Pima Community College and a teachers union support the Maricopa County district's appeal.


Court: Government can't block immigrant teens from abortion
Legal Network | 2018/03/31 06:13
A federal court in Washington has told the Trump administration that the government can't interfere with the ability of pregnant immigrant teens being held in federal custody to obtain abortions.

A judge issued an order Friday evening barring the government from "interfering with or obstructing" pregnant minors' access to abortion counseling or abortions, among other things, while a lawsuit proceeds. The order covers pregnant minors being held in federal custody after entering the country illegally.

Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, have said the department has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions. And the director of the office that oversees the shelters has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit on behalf of the minors, which the judge overseeing the case also Friday allowed to go forward as a class action lawsuit.

"We have been able to secure justice for these young pregnant women in government custody who will no longer be subject to the government's policy of coercion and obstruction while the case continues," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri after the judge's order became public.

The government can appeal the judge's order. A Department of Justice spokesman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday evening.

The health department said in a statement Saturday that it "strongly maintains that taxpayers are not responsible for facilitating the abortion of unaccompanied minors who entered the country illegally and are currently in the government's care." It said it is "working closely with the Justice Department to review the court's order and determine next steps."

The ACLU and Trump administration have been sparring for months over the government's policy. In a high-profile case last year, the ACLU represented a teen who entered the U.S. illegally in September and learned while in federal custody in Texas that she was pregnant.

The teen, referred to in court paperwork as Jane Doe, obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion and secured private funding to pay for it, but federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure.

The teen was ultimately able to get an abortion in October as a result of the lawsuit, but the Trump administration has accused the ACLU of misleading the government during the case, a charge the ACLU has denied.

The ACLU has since represented several other teens who have sought abortions while in custody, but the organization doesn't know of any others actively seeking abortions, Amiri said Friday night. The judge's order now covers any teens currently in custody or who come in to custody while the lawsuit goes forward.


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