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Supreme Court hanging up phone, back to in-person arguments
Court Issues | 2021/09/08 19:17
The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.


Holocaust researchers in Poland win libel case on appeal
Court Issues | 2021/08/18 00:20
An appellate court in Poland on Monday rejected a lawsuit brought against two Holocaust scholars in a case that has been closely watched because it was expected to serve as a precedent for research into the highly sensitive area of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II.

Poland is governed by a nationalist conservative party that has sought to promote remembrance of Polish heroism and suffering during the wartime German occupation of the country. The party also believes that discussions of Polish wrongdoing distort the historical picture and are unfair to Poles.

The Appellate Court of Warsaw argued in its explanation that it believed that scholarly research should not be judged by courts. But it appeared not to be the end: a lawyer for the plaintiff said Monday that she would appeal Monday’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

The ruling was welcomed by the two researchers, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, who declared it a “great victory” in a Facebook post.

“We greet the verdict with great joy and satisfaction all the more, that this decision has a direct impact on all Polish scholars, and especially on historians of the Holocaust,” they said.

Monday’s ruling comes half a year after a lower court ordered the two researchers to apologize to a woman who claimed that her deceased uncle had been defamed in a historical work they edited and partially wrote, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.”

Lawyers for the niece, 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska, argued that her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had harmed her good name and that of her family by suggesting the uncle was also involved in the killing of Jews.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that Leszczynska was “astonished” by the judgement and intends to file an appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.


Federal judge leaves CDC evictions moratorium in place
Court Issues | 2021/08/16 00:11
A federal judge is refusing landlords’ request to put the Biden administration’s new eviction moratorium on hold, though she made clear she thinks it’s illegal.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Friday said her “hands are tied” by an appellate ruling the last time courts considered the evictions moratorium in the spring.

Alabama landlords who are challenging the moratorium are likely to appeal.

Friedrich wrote that the new temporary ban on evictions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed last week is substantially similar to the version she ruled was illegal in May. At the time, Freidrich put her ruling on hold to allow the administration to appeal.

This time, she said, she is bound to follow a ruling from the appeals court that sits above her, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If the D.C. Circuit doesn’t give the landlords what they want, they are expected to seek Supreme Court involvement.

In late June, the high court refused by a 5-4 vote to allow evictions to resume. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, part of the slim majority, said he agreed with Friedrich, but was voting to keep the moratorium in place because it was set to expire at the end of July.

Kavanaugh said then that he would reject any additional extension without clear authorization from Congress, which has not been able to take action.

In discussing the new moratorium last week, President Joe Biden acknowledged there were questions about its legality, but said a court fight over the new CDC order would buy time for the distribution of some of the $45 billion in rental assistance that has been approved but not yet used.


40-year sentence upheld for man who killed his roommate
Court Issues | 2021/07/25 00:18
Maine’s supreme court has upheld a 40-year prison sentence imposed on a man who killed his roommate in Old Orchard Beach.

Dustan Bentley pleaded guilty to murder in the death of 65-year-old William Popplewell, who was beaten, stabbed and strangled with a ligature.

Police arrested Bentley as he was attempting to use a ratchet and strap to pull the body into the trunk of his car, which was lined with a shower curtain. An autopsy revealed the victim suffered multiple broken bones and had been stabbed up to 30 times.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that there was nothing in the record to indicate that the judge made a mistake.

“At no point did the court depart from sentencing principles or abuse its discretion in coming to or issuing its sentence,” the court said.

Bentley and Popplewell met at a Portland homeless shelter, and Bentley later moved into Popplewell’s apartment in Old Orchard Beach in December 2018. Popplewell was killed in March 2019.


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