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Cemetery case puts property rights issue before high court
Legal Network | 2018/10/05 05:44
Rose Mary Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn't buy that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn't want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery.

Six years ago, however, Knick's town passed an ordinance that requires anyone with a cemetery on their land to open it to the public during the day. The town ordered Knick to comply, threatening a daily fine of $300 to $600 if she didn't. Knick's response has been to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in her case Wednesday.

"Would you want somebody roaming around in your backyard?" Knick asked during a recent interview on her Lackawanna County property, which is posted with signs warning against trespassing.

Her neighbors in Scott Township, the Vail family, say they just want to visit their ancestors' graves.

The Supreme Court isn't going to weigh in on whether there's a cemetery on Knick's land. Instead, it's considering whether people with property rights cases like Knick's can bring their cases to federal court or must go to state court, an issue groups nationwide are interested in.

Knick, 69, says her town's ordinance wouldn't protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers' decisions.



High court denies review of Grand Canyon-area mining ban
Legal Network | 2018/10/02 16:10
The U.S. Supreme Court won't review an Obama-era action that put land around the Grand Canyon off-limits to new mining claims, ending the legal battle as environmentalists keep a close eye on actions by the Trump administration that they fear could lead to more access for the mining industry.

The Obama administration put about 1,562 square miles (4,045 square kilometers) outside the boundaries of the national park off-limits to new hard rock mining claims until 2032. The 20-year ban was meant to slow a flurry of mining claims over concern that the Colorado River — a major water source serving 30 million people — could become contaminated and to allow for scientific studies.

The mining industry asked the Supreme Court in March to review the ban, saying it was based on an unconstitutional provision of federal law. The high court on Monday declined the request, leaving the ban in place.

"Clearly, we're disappointed," said Ashley Burke, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association. "There continues to be great risk to our domestic supply chain thanks to unwarranted withdrawals like this." Burke said the association will continue advocating for land access. The American Exploration and Mining Association also challenged the ban. Environmentalists hailed the court's decision but are worried the ban could be undone administratively.



Supreme Court term amid starts in shadow of Kavanaugh
Legal Network | 2018/10/01 10:31
It's the storm before the calm at the Supreme Court. Americans watched Thursday's high court nomination hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh with rapt attention. The televised spectacle was filled with disturbing allegations of sexual assault and Kavanaugh's angry, emotional denial.

On Monday, the court will begin its new term with the crack of the marshal's gavel and not a camera in sight. The term's start has been completely overshadowed by the tumult over Kavanaugh's nomination.

Republicans had hoped to have Kavanaugh confirmed in time for the court's first public meeting since late June, an addition that would cement conservative control of the court.

Instead, there are only eight justices on the bench for the second time in three terms, with a breakdown of four conservatives and four liberals. The court was down a member in October 2016, too, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Neil Gorsuch joined the court in April 2017, after all but about a dozen cases had been argued

It's unclear how long the vacancy created by Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July will last. Consideration of Kavanaugh's nomination by the Senate has been delayed while the FBI undertakes an investigation of Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in 1982.

An empty seat on the bench often forces a push for compromise and leads to a less exciting caseload, mainly to avoid 4-4 splits between conservatives and liberals.

The cases the court has agreed to hear so far this term look nothing like the stream of high-profile disputes over President Donald Trump's travel


Stand-ins to decide who sits on West Virginia Supreme Court
Legal Network | 2018/09/24 10:21
A group of judicial stand-ins representing West Virginia's Supreme Court was hearing challenges Monday to GOP Gov. Jim Justice's appointments of two Republican politicians to replace two departed justices.

Democrats have called the impeachments that imploded the state's highest court an unprecedented power grab by the West Virginia GOP. One of the petitions being heard on Monday says the choice of U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and ex-House speaker Tim Armstead violates "the clear will of the voters" who elected Democrats to their spots on the bench.

Justice appointed Jenkins and Armstead — who resigned as speaker of the House of Delegates in anticipation of his move to the court — to serve until a Nov. 6 special election in which both men are candidates.

Also on the November ballot is attorney William Schwartz, whose petition seeks to stop Jenkins and Armstead from temporarily serving on the court. His petition also accuses Jenkins of being ineligible because he hasn't actively practiced law recently. The state constitution requires justices to be admitted to practice law for at least 10 years prior to their election.

Jenkins and Schwartz are seeking to serve the remainder of retired Justice Robin Davis' term through 2024, while Armstead hopes to finish the term of retired Justice Menis Ketchum through 2020. Both Davis and Ketchum were elected as Democrats.

Ketchum resigned before the Republican-led House voted to impeach the remaining four justices. Davis then resigned in time to trigger an election for the remainder of her term. The others await Senate impeachment trials next month, including Allen Loughry, who is suspended, and Margaret Workman and Beth Walker, who recused themselves from hearing these petitions. Temporary Chief Justice Paul T. Farrell then appointed four circuit judges to hear the challenges.

According to Schwartz's petition, Jenkins voluntarily placed his West Virginia law license on inactive status in 2014 after he was elected to the U.S. House. But Jenkins said he's been admitted to practice law in the state for more than three decades. According to the bylaws of the State Bar, an inactive status means members are admitted to practice law but aren't taking clients or providing legal counseling.


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