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High court rejects appeal of killer of 4 people in Omaha
Court Watch | 2019/07/18 04:36
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the convictions and death sentence of a man who killed four people in Omaha, seemingly at random, shortly after his release from prison in 2013.

Nikko Jenkins pleaded no contest in 2014 to four counts of first-degree murder and multiple weapons counts for three separate, deadly attacks around Omaha. He was sentenced to death  in 2017 after years of delays over concerns regarding his mental health. The high court’s opinion addressed combined direct appeals on Jenkins’ behalf.

Among the arguments Jenkins’ attorneys made is that the trial court abused its discretion in accepting his no-contest pleas in a death penalty case. In a no-contest plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but concedes there is enough evidence for a conviction. The plea has the same effect as a guilty plea.

The Douglas County Public Defender office also argued that the court was wrong to allow Jenkins to represent himself and that, because it believes Jenkins is mentally ill, sentencing him to death violated the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.


Validity of Obama health care law at issue in appeal hearing
Court Watch | 2019/07/07 01:41
An appeals court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether Congress effectively invalidated former President Barack Obama’s entire signature health care law when it zeroed out the tax imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance.

It’s unclear when the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel will rule in a case that appears destined for the Supreme Court, which has reviewed the law, and its coverage and insurance protections for millions of Americans, before. The ultimate outcome will affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansions covering roughly 12 million people, and subsidies that help about 10 million others afford health insurance.

Tuesday’s arguments are the latest in a lawsuit filed by Republican officials in 18 states, led by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It was filed after Congress ? which didn’t repeal the law, despite pressure from President Donald Trump ? reduced to zero the unpopular tax imposed on those without insurance.

In challenging the law anew, “Obamacare” opponents noted the 2012 ruling of a divided Supreme Court that upheld the law. Conservative justices had rejected the argument that Congress could require everyone to buy insurance under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose a tax on those without insurance.

With no tax penalty now in effect, the Texas lawsuit argues, the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law must fall without it. Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed in a December ruling. The law’s supporters appealed.

In addition to the 18 states, two individual taxpayers are part of the lawsuit. The Trump administration is not defending the law and has filed arguments in favor of O’Connor’s ruling.

California’s attorney general represents a coalition of mostly Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia seeking to overturn O’Connor’s ruling and uphold the law. The House of Representatives has joined them. Among the arguments by the law’s supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren’t harmed by a penalty that doesn’t exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax’s legal structure still exists; and that, even if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that does not affect the rest of the law known as the Affordable Care Act.


Kansas court OKs school funding law but keeps lawsuit open
Court Watch | 2019/06/12 23:28
The Kansas Supreme Court signed off Friday on an increase in spending on public schools that the Democratic governor pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature, but the justices refused to close the protracted education funding lawsuit that prompted their decision.

The new school finance law boosted funding roughly $90 million a year and was enacted in April with bipartisan support. The court ruled that the new money was enough to satisfy the Kansas Constitution but also said it was keeping the underlying lawsuit open to ensure that the state keeps its funding promises.

"The State has substantially complied with our mandate," the court said in its unsigned opinion, referencing a decision last year that the state wasn't spending enough.

Gov. Laura Kelly had hoped the Supreme Court would end the lawsuit, which was filed by four local school districts in 2010. The districts' attorneys argued the new law would not provide enough new money after the 2019-20 school year and wanted the court to order additional increases.

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year on its public schools — about $1 billion more than it did during the 2013-14 school year — because of the court's decisions. Some Republican lawmakers, particularly conservatives, have complained that the court has infringed on lawmakers' power under the state constitution to make spending decisions.



Washington Supreme Court weighing legislative records case
Court Watch | 2019/06/11 23:30
Washington Supreme Court justices had pointed questions Tuesday for lawyers representing the Legislature and a media coalition who argued that lawmakers have been violating the law by not releasing emails, daily schedules and written reports of sexual harassment investigations.

The high court heard oral arguments on the appeal of a case that was sparked by a September 2017 lawsuit from a coalition led by The Associated Press. The group sued to challenge lawmakers' assertion they are not subject to the law that applies to other elected officials and agencies.

A Thurston County superior court judge in January 2018 ruled that the offices of individual lawmakers are in fact subject to the Public Records Act, but that the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not.

The media coalition's lawsuit had named the individual entities of the Legislature, as well as four legislative leaders. The Legislature has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the legislative offices, and the media coalition has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the Legislature, House and Senate.

The Public Records Act was passed by voter initiative in 1972. The Legislature has made a series of changes in the decades since, and lawyers for the House and Senate have regularly cited a 1995 revision in their denials to reporters seeking records.


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