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Supreme Court seems inclined to retain cross on public land
Law Firm News | 2019/03/08 02:18
The Supreme Court seemed inclined Wednesday to rule that a 40-foot-tall cross that stands on public land in Maryland is constitutional, but shy away from a sweeping ruling.

The case the justices heard arguments in is being closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. But the particular memorial at issue is a nearly 100-year-old cross that was built in a Washington, D.C., suburb as a memorial to area residents who died in World War I.

Before arguments in the case, it seemed that the memorial's supporters, including the Trump administration, had the upper hand based on the court's conservative makeup and its decision to take up the matter. On Wednesday, even liberal justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer suggested that they could join a narrow ruling upholding this particular memorial.

Kagan noted that the cross is a symbol linked with soldiers killed in World War I.

"When you go into a World War I battlefield, there are Stars of David there, but because those battlefields were just rows and rows and rows of crosses, the cross became, in people's minds, the pre-eminent symbol of how to memorialize World War I dead," she said, adding that there are no religious words on the Maryland cross and that it sits in an area with other war memorials. She asked, "So why in a case like that can we not say essentially the religious content has been stripped of this monument?"

Breyer, for his part, asked a lawyer arguing for the cross' challengers what she thought about saying that "history counts" and that "We're not going to have people trying to tear down historical monuments even here."

"What about saying past is past?" he said at another point during arguments conducted in a courtroom whose friezes include depictions of Moses and Muhammed and that began, as always, with the marshal's cry: "God save the United States and this honorable court."

The cross's challengers include three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association, a group that includes atheists and agnostics. They argue that the cross's location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They say the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a nonreligious monument such as a slab or obelisk. The group lost the first round in court, but in 2017 an appeals court ruled the cross unconstitutional.


Supreme Court rules for Alabama death row inmate
Court Watch | 2019/03/04 02:16
The Supreme Court is ordering a new state court hearing to determine whether an Alabama death row inmate is so affected by dementia that he can't be executed.

The justices ruled 5-3 on Wednesday in favor of inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985. His lawyers say he has suffered strokes that have left him with severe dementia.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in siding with Madison.

The high court ruling is not the end of the case. Justice Elena Kagan says in her majority opinion that, if the state wants to put Madison to death, an Alabama state court must determine that Madison understands why he is being executed.

The justices have previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

But Kagan, reading a summary of her ruling, said, "Based on our review of the record, we can't be sure that the state court recognized that Madison's dementia might render him incompetent to be executed."

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, who last year would have allowed the execution to proceed without hearing the case, dissented. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was not yet on the court when arguments took place in early October.


Dominion to ask Supreme Court to hear pipeline appeal
Law Firm News | 2019/02/28 02:13
Dominion Energy said Tuesday it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal after a lower court refused to reconsider a ruling tossing out a permit that would have allowed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

Lead pipeline developer Dominion said it expects the filing of an appeal in the next 90 days. On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a full-court rehearing from Dominion and the U.S. Forest Service.

A three-judge panel ruled in December that the Forest Service lacks the authority to authorize the trail crossing and had "abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources" when it approved the pipeline crossing the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, as well as a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trial.

The 605-mile (974-kilometer) natural gas pipeline would originate in West Virginia and run through North Carolina and Virginia.

The appellate ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of the Sierra Club, Virginia Wilderness Committee and other environmental groups. The denial "sends the Atlantic Coast Pipeline back to the drawing board," the law center and Sierra Club said in a joint statement on Monday.


Court upholds car rental tax imposed in Maricopa County
Legal Network | 2019/02/26 10:02
The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday upheld a car rental tax surcharge that’s imposed in Maricopa County to pay for building a professional football stadium and other sports and recreational facilities, marking the second time an appeals court has ruled the tax is legal.

Car rental companies had challenged the surcharge on the grounds that it violated a section of the Arizona Constitution that requires revenues relating to the operation of vehicles to be spent on public highways.

A lower-court judge had ruled in favor of the rental companies four years, saying the surcharge violated the constitutional provision and ordering a refund of the tax estimated at about $150 million to the companies.

But the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the decision last spring. The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday echoed the Court of Appeals’ ruling.

The surcharge partially funds the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority, an agency that uses the money to help pay off bonds for the stadium in Glendale where the Arizona Cardinals play, along with baseball spring training venues and youth sports facilities. The rest of the authority’s revenue comes from a hotel bed tax and payments for facilities usage.

The surcharge is charged on car rental companies, but the costs are passed along to customers.

Attorney Shawn Aiken, who represented Saban Rent-A-Car Inc. in the case, said in a statement that the challengers will evaluate in the coming weeks whether to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.


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