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Supreme Court agrees to hear Maryland cross memorial case
Court Issues | 2018/11/05 06:24
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case about whether a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped war memorial located on a Maryland highway median violates the Constitution's required separation of church and state, a case that could impact hundreds of similar monuments nationwide.

A federal appeals court in Virginia had previously ruled against the approximately four-story-tall cross. The judges said that it "has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion."

But the Maryland officials who maintain the memorial told the Supreme Court that the monument's context and history show it is intended to convey a secular message of remembrance, not a religious message. They said the appeals court's decision would "compel the removal or dismemberment of a cherished war memorial that has served as a site of solemn commemoration and civic unity for nearly a century." In urging the high court to take the case, officials argued that the lower court's decision puts at risk hundreds of other monuments nationwide.

The approximately 40-foot-tall cross at the center of the case is located in Bladensburg, Maryland, about 5 miles from the Supreme Court. Sometimes called the "Peace Cross," it was completed in 1925, and it honors 49 men from the surrounding county who died in World War I. A plaque on the cross' base lists the names of those soldiers, and both faces of the cross have a circle with the symbol of the American Legion, the veterans organization that helped raise money to build it.

Today, responsibility for the cross falls to a Maryland parks commission that took over ownership and maintenance of it in 1961 because of traffic safety concerns. The massive concrete structure could be dangerous to motorists if it were to fall or crumble.



Heated congressional, court races on Arkansas midterm ballot
Press Release | 2018/11/04 14:25
A push by Democrats to flip a Republican-held congressional seat that represents the Little Rock area and a state Supreme Court race that has drawn heavy spending by a conservative interest group have drawn the most attention in Arkansas' midterm election.

The campaigns for the 2nd Congressional District and state Supreme Court seats became increasingly bitter and expensive in the run-up to Tuesday's election, especially from outside groups that have been airing attack ads and sending mailers. The races have overshadowed an election in which Democrats face long odds of making gains in the solidly Republican state.
 
The secretary of state's office hasn't predicted how many of Arkansas' nearly 1.8 million registered voters will cast ballots in the election, but more than 350,000 had voted early through Friday.

Republicans have a solid hold on Arkansas' four U.S. House seats and President Donald Trump easily won the state two years ago, but Democrats believe they have a chance to flip a Little Rock-area district by focusing on the incumbent's vote to repeal the federal health care law.

Democrat Clarke Tucker is trying to unseat two-term Republican Rep. French Hill in the 2nd Congressional District, which represents Little Rock and seven surrounding counties. Tucker is a state legislator who regularly talks about his battle with bladder cancer and his support for the Affordable Care Act, especially its protections for those with pre-existing conditions


Attorney files challenge to eastern Iowa judge appointment
Court Watch | 2018/11/02 13:22
An Iowa attorney has filed documents in state court challenging the validity of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointment of an eastern Iowa judge.

Lawyer Gary Dickey says Reynolds failed to appoint Judge Jason Besler within 30 days as required by the Iowa Constitution.

Reynolds filed the paperwork to appoint Besler in June five days after the deadline had passed. She says she made the appointment by the deadline verbally to her chief of staff but acknowledges no documentation exists to prove it.

Dickey, who served as former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack’s chief attorney, filed documents Thursday seeking permission of the court to challenge Besler’s appointment.

Dickey also seeks to move it from eastern Iowa, where Besler sits as a judge, to Des Moines to avoid having fellow district judges ruling on his status.

In October Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady said the governor’s word that the appointment was timely deserves respect unless resolved differently through the legal proces



S. Korea court upholds conscientious objection to military
Law Firm News | 2018/11/01 13:20
South Korea's top court ruled Thursday that South Korean men can legally reject their mandatory military service on conscientious or religious grounds without punishment.

The landmark ruling is expected to affect the cases of more than 930 conscientious objectors on trial. Hundreds of young South Korean men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses, are imprisoned every year for refusing to serve in the military.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve about two years in the military under a conscription system aimed at coping with potential aggression from North Korea. The court broke with its own 2004 verdict that rejecting military service because of religious faith was illegal, saying at the time that confrontation with the North made South Korea's draft an indisputable necessity.

The ruling was great news for Jehovah's Witnesses and others who call for improved individual rights and freedom of opinion in South Korea. But many conservatives are likely to criticize it, saying it inadequately considers the North Korean threat.

When South Korea's Constitutional Court ruled in June that the government must provide alternative social service for conscientious objectors by 2019, a heated debate erupted over whether it is the proper time for such a measure because North Korea's nuclear threat remains unchanged. There are also worries that some might exploit alternative service to evade the draft.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court said it quashed a lower court's sentencing of a conscientious objector to 18 months in prison. It said it ordered the lower court to review its earlier verdict. Supreme Court officials said there is little chance the lower court would not abide by the decision.

The majority opinion of a panel of Supreme Court judges is that "conscientious objection of military duty ... can be a valid reason" to avoid military service, the top court said in a statement.

"Forcing a military duty ... with criminal punishment or other punitive measures is an excessive restraint of freedom of conscience," the majority opinion read. "Free democracy can have its legitimacy when it tolerates and embraces minorities though it is run by the principle of majority rule."

Supreme Court officials said lower courts are not officially required to make the same ruling when they handle other cases of conscientious objections, but they are widely expected to do so.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has sent about 19,350 Jehovah's Witnesses to prison for refusing to serve in the military. In recent years, about 500-600 Jehovah's Witnesses went to prison every year and spent 18 months behind bars on average. According to the group and the Supreme Court, Thursday's ruling won't apply to 96 Jehovah's Witnesses currently in prison.


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