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Appeals court weighs resuming pipeline project in Louisiana
Top Legal News | 2018/03/11 11:30
A company building a crude oil pipeline in Louisiana is asking a federal appeals court to allow it to resume construction work in an environmentally fragile swamp.

A three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday on Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's request. The company is seeking an "emergency stay" that would lift a court-ordered halt in pipeline construction in the Atchafalaya Basin.

On Feb. 23, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick sided with environmental groups and issued a preliminary injunction that suspended work in the basin until the groups' lawsuit is resolved. The judge concluded the project's irreversible environmental damage outweighs the economic harm that a delay brings to the company. And on Thursday, she refused to suspend her own ruling while the company appeals it.

In court filings, company attorneys claim Dick's ruling "fails the basic requirements" for issuing such an order. The basin accounts for approximately 23 miles (37 kilometers) of the pipeline's 162-mile-long (261-kilometer) path from Lake Charles to St. James Parish.

Dick's order only applies to the basin and doesn't prevent the company from working elsewhere along the route. The company said the work stoppage is costing it up to $500,000 per day in labor expenses and $6 million per month in lost revenue. The judge said the company's estimated losses aren't supported by the "underlying data."

Sierra Club and other environmental groups sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January, saying it violated the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws when it approved a permit for the project.

Former Trump campaign aide Nunberg at court for grand jury
Top Legal News | 2018/03/10 12:31
A former Trump campaign aide appeared for hours before a federal grand jury Friday, after he defiantly insisted in a series of news interviews just days earlier that he intended to defy a subpoena in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Sam Nunberg spent more than six hours inside the federal courthouse in Washington. He declined to speak with journalists on the way in or out of the building, and it was not immediately clear what testimony he offered to the grand jury or what documents he provided.

His appearance marked a turnabout from extraordinary public statements Monday when Nunberg, in multiple interviews, balked at complying with a subpoena that sought his appearance before the grand jury as well as correspondence with other campaign officials. In doing so, he became the first witness in the Mueller probe to openly threaten to defy a subpoena.

Nunberg said he worked for hours to produce the thousands of emails and other communications requested by Mueller, who is investigating whether Donald Trump's campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers are currently negotiating the terms and scope of a possible interview with Mueller's office.

GOP to take new congressional map to court
Top Legal News | 2018/02/13 14:53
Republicans say they’ll go to federal court this week to try to block new court-ordered boundaries of Pennsylvania’s congressional districts from remaining in effect for 2018’s elections.

Top Senate Republican lawyer Drew Crompton said Monday a separation of powers case will form the essence of the GOP’s argument. Crompton won’t say whether Republicans will go to a district court or the U.S. Supreme Court or what type of legal remedy they’ll seek.

But the case will involve making the argument the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures and governors, not courts, the power to draw congressional boundaries.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t stop the state court’s order to redraw congressional districts. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf calls the new map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is applauding the new boundaries of congressional districts being imposed by the state Supreme Court.

Wolf said in a statement Monday that Pennsylvanians “are sick and tired of gerrymandering.” He calls the court’s map an effort to remedy the state’s unfair and unequal congressional elections.

Wolf had backed the Democratic-majority state high court’s ruling last month to throw out Pennsylvania’s district boundaries. Republicans have won 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in three elections under the invalidated map, although statewide elections are often closely contested.

Court error unmasks person of interest in Las Vegas massacre
Top Legal News | 2018/01/31 18:42
A court error publicly revealed the name of a man identified as a person of interest in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Clark County District Court Judge Elissa Cadish acknowledged that a member of her court staff failed to black out the man’s name on one of 276 pages of documents released to news organizations including The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal.

After the error was recognized, lawyers for the news organizations were told to return the documents. The attorney representing AP and other media did so, but the other lawyer had already transmitted the documents and the Review-Journal published Douglas Haig’s name online.

Cadish later ordered the document not be published without redactions, but she acknowledged she couldn’t order the newspaper to retract the name.

Warrant dropped for professor who spoke Hawaiian in court
Top Legal News | 2018/01/12 02:47
A judge dropped an arrest warrant Thursday for a University of Hawaii professor who refused to respond in court to English and spoke Hawaiian instead.

Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court Wednesday facing a trial for charges connected to his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a solar telescope on top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui, Hawaii News Now reported .

When Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian instead of English.

Kobayashi said he couldn't understand Kaeo and issued a warrant for Kaeo's arrest, saying "the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo."

Kaeo, an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said he has appeared before the judge before and complained that "it was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn't like."

Kobayashi recalled the bench warrant Thursday, the state Judiciary said in a statement. Judiciary spokesman Andrew Laurence declined to answer questions about the recall, including what prompted it.

Kaeo faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a sidewalk. Kaeo, who also speaks English, requested a Hawaiian interpreter in the courtroom but prosecutors had objected, saying it was an unnecessary expense that would have caused delays.

Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda
Top Legal News | 2017/11/17 17:52
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.

Court agrees to take on US-Microsoft dispute over emails
Top Legal News | 2017/10/22 14:01
The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take on a major dispute over the government's authority to force American technology companies to hand over emails and other digital information sought in criminal probes but stored outside the U.S.

The justices intervened in a case of a federal drug trafficking investigation that sought emails that Microsoft keeps on a server in Ireland. The federal appeals court in New York said that the emails are beyond the reach of a search warrant issued by an American judge.

The Trump administration and 33 states told the court that the decision is impeding investigations into terrorism, drug trafficking, fraud and child pornography because other courts are relying on the ruling in preventing U.S. and state authorities from obtaining information kept abroad.

The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities' need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America's surveillance programs.

The case also highlights the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments. In urging the high court to stay out of the case, Microsoft said Congress needs to bring the law into the age of cloud computing.

In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for emails from an account they believe was being used in illegal drug transactions as well as identifying information about the user of the email account.

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