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Trump travel ban is focus of Supreme Court's last arguments
Legal Network | 2018/04/25 17:33
President Donald Trump's ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries is the topic of arguments Wednesday at the Supreme Court, with a Trump administration lawyer facing questions during the first half of arguments.

The travel ban case is the last case the justices will hear until October.

A little over 20 minutes into arguments, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who was defending the ban, whether statements Trump made during the presidential campaign should be considered in evaluating the administration's ban. Francisco told the justices that they shouldn't look at Trump's campaign statements, which included a pledge to shut down Muslim entry into the U.S.

But Kennedy, whose vote is pivotal in cases that divide the court along ideological lines and whose vote the administration will almost certainly need to win, pressed Francisco on that point. Speaking of a hypothetical "local candidate," he asked if what was said during the candidate's campaign was irrelevant if on "day two" of his administration the candidate acted on those statements.

The Trump administration is asking the court to reverse lower court rulings striking down the ban. The policy has been fully in effect since December, but this is the first time the justices are considering whether it violates immigration law or the Constitution.

The court will consider whether the president can indefinitely keep people out of the country based on nationality. It will also look at whether the policy is aimed at excluding Muslims from the United States.

People have been waiting in line for a seat for days, and on Wednesday morning opponents of the ban demonstrated outside the court holding signs that read "No Muslim Ban. Ever." and "Refugees Welcome," among other things. In another sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. The last time the court did that was the gay marriage arguments in 2015.


Court weighs punishment for judge for courthouse affair
Legal Network | 2018/04/23 00:33
A Massachusetts judge who engaged in sexual acts with a social worker in his chambers has damaged the public's faith in the judicial system and can no longer command the respect necessary to remain on the bench, the head of the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct said Tuesday.

Howard V. Neff III, executive director of the commission, told the Supreme Judicial Court that an indefinite suspension that would allow lawmakers to decide whether to remove Judge Thomas Estes from the bench is the only proper punishment for behavior Neff called "egregious."

"Unless this court sets a precedent that makes it absolutely clear that this type of conduct will not be tolerated ... there is little hope that public trust in the administration of public justice in Massachusetts will be restored," Neff said.

Estes admits he had a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, who worked in the special drug court where he sat. But Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes, who's married and has two teenage boys, attended Tuesday's hearing but left the courthouse without speaking to reporters. The court did not immediately decide Estes' punishment. He is asking for a four-month suspension.


Clicking 'checkout' could cost more after Supreme Court case
Legal Network | 2018/04/17 12:35
The Supreme Court is hearing a case this week that could affect how much customers pay for online purchases.

At issue is a rule saying that businesses don't have to collect state sales taxes when those businesses ship to a state where they don't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence.

Large retailers with brick-and-mortar stores have to collect sales taxes nationwide, but smaller online sellers can often avoid doing so.

Large retailers say the rule puts them at a competitive disadvantage. States say they're losing out in billions of dollars in tax revenue.

But small businesses that sell online say the complexity and expense of collecting taxes nationwide could drive them out of business.


Retailers hope for certainty as Supreme Court hears tax case
Legal Network | 2018/04/13 19:11
Retailers are hoping for a resolution this year from the Supreme Court, which hears arguments Tuesday in a decades-old dispute: Whether companies must collect sales tax on items sold in a state where they don't have a store or other building.

If the court backs government officials who say they're losing billions of dollars in uncollected taxes, thousands of small companies could be forced to start charging their out-of-state customers for them. Some businesses fear that could alienate customers used to tax-free shopping. On the other side: Retailers who do collect sales tax and believe those who don't have an unfair advantage.

The justices will hear online retailers Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg challenging a South Dakota law enacted last May requiring out-of-state retailers that have sales of more than $100,000 or over 200 transactions a year in the state to collect sales tax. Their decision could have national implications on e-commerce, although Congress can pass legislation afterward that broadens or narrows the law.

It's not only about the money, says Stephanie Harvey, owner of exit343design in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. There are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States: 35 states, the District of Columbia, counties and municipalities.

"Adding this sales tax isn't just about the tax itself — it's about the cost of time to navigate and file (taxes) or the additional expense of hiring someone to do so on behalf of the business," says Harvey, whose design and printing company has an online store and sells merchandise to other retailers.

The justices are likely to rule by June on whether to overturn a 1992 decision, Quill v. North Dakota, that said companies cannot be forced to collect sales tax from customers in a state where they don't have a physical presence like a store or distribution center. Collecting tax from online sales hasn't been a question for big online retailers like Walmart or Macy's since they have physical stores in most or all states. They also have accounting systems and financial staffs to handle the work.

Small retailers have software options to help collect taxes and do the administrative work, but it's an added cost. Whether it's worth it may depend on how much revenue a seller gets from other states. The most comprehensive software can work with the programs retailers use to process sales transactions. The software sellers determine the correct sales tax rate and submit payments and reports to tax authorities.


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