Law

Stories about law and politics in the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Law and Justice reporter, Paula Wissel.

David Nogueras / KPLU

Washington state law protects reproductive rights, such as emergency contraception, but that doesn’t always mean you can go to your local hospital in an urgent situation and get what you need. Advocates hope a new website will help patients navigate the fine print.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told NPR's Nina Totenberg that earlier comments she made about presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump were "incautious."

As the Supreme Court's term comes to an end, here are some takeaways:

The Supreme Court this week delivered its strongest affirmation of a women's right to abortion in years. By a margin of 5-3, it struck down two key provisions of a Texas law restricting the procedure.

Almost at the last minute, a federal judge has declared a controversial Mississippi law unconstitutional.

The law, HB 1523, would have protected religious objections to gay marriage, extramarital sex and transgender identities. The judge says it favors some religious beliefs over others and would codify unequal treatment of LGBT people.

The state's governor has said he looks forward to an appeal, but Mississippi's attorney general has expressed hesitation over appealing the case.

As the presidential election nears, a number of important voting law cases are still up in the air. And that can be confusing — for voters trying to figure out what they do or don't need to cast their ballots, for election officials trying to figure out how to run elections, and for politicians trying to make sure supporters get out and vote.

Here's a brief guide on where some of the big cases stand, as of the end of June. More rulings are expected, although courts are reluctant to make major voting law changes too close to Election Day.

Marijuana is legal in Colorado — as long as you're 21 or older. It's still illegal for kids to possess, so juveniles are coming to dominate the marijuana arrests in Colorado. But another startling trend also has developed: Arrest rates have risen dramatically for young blacks and Latinos.

Ricky Montoya isn't surprised that's happening. He's standing outside Courtroom 4F in Denver's City and County Building, where he was just ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for his third marijuana possession offense.

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

"There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. "But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government's boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute."

In a decision striking down key aspects of a Texas abortion law Monday, the Supreme Court cast doubt on similar laws in nearly two-dozen states.

The Supreme Court has overturned a Texas law requiring clinics that provide abortions to have surgical facilities and doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law was predicted to close many clinics and further reduce availability of abortion in Texas; the court has ruled the law violated the Constitution.

As the U.S. Supreme Court heads into the homestretch of its current term, Donald Verrilli, the federal government's chief advocate, will not be there.

After five years as solicitor general, he is turning over the reins to his successor, leaving a job he describes as "reaching the mountaintop" of American law.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the University of Texas' affirmative action program.

"The race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of petitioner's application is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause," the court held.

A federal judge in Wyoming has struck down the Obama administration's regulations on hydraulic fracturing, ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management doesn't have the authority to establish rules over fracking on federal and Indian lands.

In the ruling on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl said Congress had not granted the BLM that power, and had instead chosen to specifically exclude fracking from federal oversight.

Alexandra Kocik / Northwest News Network

The CEO of Washington’s biggest state-run psychiatric facility will not have to report to jail on Wednesday. The case relates to a man awaiting admission to Western State Hospital.

Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams had ordered CEO Cheryl Strange to either admit the man to Western State or surrender herself to authorities. Now the commissioner has agreed to push back his deadline to June 21. The delay comes after the state Attorney General’s office filed a motion on Monday for the commissioner to reconsider.

A federal appeals court in California ruled today that local authorities have the right to require people to obtain permits before carrying concealed weapons in public.

Federal prosecutors say they intend to retry Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley after his first trial ended in April with the jury voting to acquit on one count and deadlocked on 14 others.

Lead prosecutor Andrew Friedman revealed the government’s intentions at a Tuesday morning status conference in the case at the federal courthouse in Tacoma. District Judge Ronald Leighton set a March 13, 2017 trial date.

On a day when all things Trump seem to be in the news, the Supreme Court got into the act too on Tuesday.

The justices let stand lower court rulings in favor of Trump Entertainment Resorts and against 1,000 unionized casino workers.

In 2014, Trump Entertainment Resorts, including the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., was in dire straights financially. When the company filed for bankruptcy protection, it won a ruling from a federal bankruptcy judge stripping the casino workers of their health insurance and payments to the pension fund.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a black Georgia man convicted of murder by an all-white jury should have a new trial because the prosecution deliberately excluded African-Americans from the jury based on their race.

The court's decision reversed as "clearly erroneous" an earlier ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, which had said the defendant had not proved racial discrimination in the selection of his jury.

An Arizona judge has ruled that Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," is in civil contempt of court. Judge G. Murray Snow says Arpaio has repeatedly and knowingly disobeyed his orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos that he says amount to systemic racial profiling.

You might assume that if you go to court and secure a civil sexual assault protection order against an assailant the protection order will be permanent. But, that's not the case in Washington even though protection orders in domestic violence, harassment and stalking cases in the state are. Advocates for victims have been trying to change the law that says sexual assault protection orders are only good for two years.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in a case that tests the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

At issue is a great deal more than one case.

The federal government contends that if the Supreme Court voids the conviction, it could cripple enforcement of laws against public corruption. The defense counters that if the conviction is upheld, it would turn ordinary political acts into crimes.

Accidents happen, and if they are someone else's fault, you can go to court to try to get compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. If you win, though, the pot of gold you receive may be considerably smaller than you expect. Your health plan may claim some — or all — of the award as reimbursement for money it spent on your medical care.

While voters went to the polls in five states Tuesday, electoral politics in a different context were on the Supreme Court's mind too.

The court has long held that the government cannot generally punish employees for exercising their constitutional right to free speech. But what if an employee was mistakenly perceived as taking a political position, when in fact he was doing nothing of the sort? That's what happened to a Paterson, N.J., policeman, who on Tuesday won the right to sue for a wrongful demotion.

 

A conference solely dedicated to the topic of hate crimes is happening in Burien next week. The Hate Crimes Conference is being organized by a Seattle police officer whose job involves bridging trust between police and the city’s LGBTQ community.

 

(This post was last updated at 6:55 p.m. EDT.)

The Supreme Court handed Iran's central bank a loss on Wednesday, saying Congress acted constitutionally when it passed a law saying nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds should be turned over to Americans who U.S. courts had found were victims of Iranian terrorist attacks.

Twenty-one years ago, the nation was rocked by the largest domestic terrorism attack it had ever experienced. A bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, including 19 children in a day care center on the ground floor.

President Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration were challenged in the Supreme Court on Monday.

While it's impossible to glean how the court will ultimately decide the case, the eight justices seemed evenly split along ideological lines during oral arguments, leaving a real possibility of a 4-4 tie.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

A year ago this month, a young man named Keaton Farris was found naked on the floor of his jail cell in Coupeville on Whidbey Island.

He was dead. The cause was dehydration and malnutrition.

In the wake of that terrible loss, his family has made it their mission to make sure nothing like that ever happens again at the jail. And they still await word on whether a prosecutor will file criminal charges against the people who were responsible for his care.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that the federal government cannot, before trial, seize the assets of the accused if those assets are unrelated to the crime and are needed to pay a defense attorney.

The court's ruling came in the case of a Miami woman named Sila Luis, who was accused of Medicare and banking fraud. Prosecutors charged that she used kickbacks and other schemes to fraudulently obtain $45 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court has deadlocked on a 4-4 vote in a major labor case. The court, without further comment, announced the tie vote Tuesday. The result is that union opponents have failed, for now, to reverse a long-standing decision that allows states to mandate "fair share" fees from nonunion workers.

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