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Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda
Legal Interview | 2017/11/15 06:05
To get the Supreme Court's attention these days, try saying your speech rights are being violated.

Whether the underlying topic is abortion, elections, labor unions or wedding cakes, the First Amendment is starting to dominate the Supreme Court's agenda.

The court on Monday granted three new speech cases, including a challenge to a California law that requires licensed pregnancy-counseling clinics to tell patients they might be eligible for free or discounted abortions. The nine-month term now features six cases, out of 44 total, that turn on the reach of the Constitution's free speech guarantee.

Several will be among the term's most closely watched. They include a high-profile fight over a Colorado baker who refuses to make cakes for same-sex weddings and a challenge to the requirement in some states that public-sector workers pay for the cost of union representation. Both of those cases offer the prospect of ideological divides that could put the court's five Republican appointees in the majority, backing free speech rights.

Free speech also plays a central role in what could be a watershed case involving partisan voting districts. The court's liberals could join with Justice Anthony Kennedy to allow legal challenges to partisan gerrymanders for the first time. During arguments in October, Kennedy suggested those challenges would be based on the First Amendment's protections for speech and free association.

The free speech clause has had a special resonance with the court's conservative wing under Chief Justice John Roberts. The court invoked the First Amendment in the landmark 2010 Citizens United decision, which said corporations could spend unlimited sums on political causes. Writing for the five-justice majority, Kennedy equated federal spending restrictions with using "censorship to control thought."

The court has also backed speech rights with more lopsided majorities in cases involving violent video games, depictions of animal cruelty, abortion-clinic buffer zones and anti-homosexual protesters.



Trump choosing white men as judges, highest rate in decades
Legal Interview | 2017/11/12 06:05
President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America's federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation's diversity.

So far, 91 percent of Trump's nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of Trump's most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and Trump has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges. That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country. The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.



Ohio court won't hear case in seizure of exotic animals
Legal Interview | 2017/10/25 01:29
Another court has dealt a blow to an Ohio man who is trying to get his six tigers and several other exotic animals back from the state.

The Ohio Supreme Court earlier this month said it would not hear an appeal in the case involving the owner of a roadside animal sanctuary near Toledo.

Ohio took custody of 11 animals from Kenny Hetrick in January 2015 after officials say he ignored warnings that he needed a permit.

Hetrick argues he was treated differently than other exotic animal owners and has asked the courts to force the state to give him a permit and return the animals.

The tigers, bear, leopard and cougar are now being kept in out-of-state sanctuaries during the state's appeal.


Court: Movie theaters must accommodate deaf-blind patrons
Legal Interview | 2017/10/03 15:28
Federal disability law requires movie theaters to provide specialized interpreters to patrons who are deaf and blind, an appeals court said Friday.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Cinemark, the nation's third-largest movie chain, in a case involving a Pennsylvania man who wanted to see the 2014 movie "Gone Girl" and asked a Cinemark theater in Pittsburgh to supply a "tactile interpreter." The theater denied his request.

The plaintiff, Paul McGann, is a movie enthusiast who reads American Sign Language through touch. He uses a method of tactile interpretation that involves placing his hands over the hands of an interpreter who uses sign language to describe the movie's action, dialogue and even the audience response.

The federal appeals court concluded Friday that tactile interpreters are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that public accommodations furnish "auxiliary aids and services" to patrons with vision, hearing and speech disabilities.


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