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Court: Idaho nuclear waste documents won't be made public
Press Release | 2018/02/08 19:07
U.S. officials don't have to provide details about proposed shipments of extremely radioactive spent commercial nuclear fuel to the country's top government nuclear research laboratory in Idaho, a federal court has ruled.

The ruling was a major setback to a lawsuit filed by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who had a long history of legal battles with the Energy Department over nuclear waste entering the state and a firm belief that residents had a right to know the agency's plans.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Tuesday ruled the federal agency acted properly in withholding information sought by Andrus in a Freedom of Information Act request he filed in January 2015.

That decision means the documents will not be released to the public anytime soon, but they ultimately could be as another part of Andrus' argument has yet to play out and the case remains open.

Andrus, a Democrat who died in August at age 85, filed the lawsuit in September 2015 after receiving heavily blacked-out documents from the federal agency about the spent commercial nuclear fuel shipments. His daughter, Tracy Andrus, has been substituted with the court's approval as the plaintiff in the case.

The former governor's longtime aide, Marc Johnson, said he was disappointed with Tuesday's ruling in favor of the Department of Energy, "particularly after waiting so long to see what DOE really has in mind for further waste in Idaho."

The lawsuit seeks information about several hundred pounds of proposed research shipments of spent commercial nuclear fuel the federal agency wants to send to the Idaho National Laboratory, the nation's top federal nuclear research lab.

The shipments required a waiver to a nuclear waste agreement the Energy Department and Idaho signed in 1995 limiting nuclear waste shipments to Idaho. The agreement followed federal court victories by then Gov. Andrus at a time when he feared the state was becoming a repository for the nation's nuclear waste.

Andrus, before his death from complications from cancer, contended that signing such a waiver would open the state up to receiving tons of nuclear waste from around the nation, and is why he sought information about the Energy Department's plans.


Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda
Press Release | 2017/11/15 13:06
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.



Obama's power over immigration drives Supreme Court dispute
Press Release | 2016/04/14 22:52
The raging political fight over immigration comes to the Supreme Court on Monday in a dispute that could affect millions of people who are in the United States illegally.
 
The court is weighing the fate of Obama administration programs that could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation and grant them the legal right to hold a job.

Among them is Teresa Garcia of suburban Seattle, who has spent 14 years in the United States illegally after staying beyond the expiration of her tourist visa in 2002.

She's already gotten much of what she wanted when she chose not to return to her native Mexico. Her two sons are benefiting from an earlier effort that applies to people who were brought here illegally as children. Garcia's 11-year-old daughter is an American citizen.

Now, she would like the same for herself and her husband, a trained accountant who works construction jobs. Neither can work legally.

"To have a Social Security number, that means for me to have a better future. When I say better future, we are struggling with the little amount of money my husband is getting for the whole family. It makes for stress every day. We struggle to pay for everything," Garcia said.

The programs announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014 would apply to parents whose children are citizens or are living in the country legally. Eligibility also would be expanded for the president's 2012 effort that helped Garcia's sons. More than 700,000 people have taken advantage of that earlier program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The new program for parents and the expanded program for children could reach as many as 4 million people, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.


German court: former SS Auschwitz guard fit for trial
Press Release | 2015/11/02 09:37
A German court says a 93-year-old former SS sergeant charged with 170,000 counts of accessory to murder on allegations he served as an Auschwitz death camp guard has been declared fit for trial.
 
The Detmold state court said Monday a doctor determined that Reinhold H., whose last name wasn't given for privacy reasons, is fit to stand trial so long as sessions are limited to two hours per day.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors now have two weeks to submit responses to the expert opinion. The court will then decide whether to open a trial.

H. is accused of being an accessory to murders at Auschwitz from January 1943 to June 1944. The suspect says he was assigned to a part of the camp not involved in the mass murders.




Court Halts Execution Of Tyler Woman's Killer
Press Release | 2015/07/16 21:55
The Texas Court of Criminal of Appeals halted the scheduled lethal injection of Clifton Lamar Williams until questions about some incorrect testimony at his 2006 trial can be resolved.

Williams, 31, had faced execution Thursday evening for the killing of Cecelia Schneider of Tyler, about 85 miles east of Dallas. Investigators determined she had been beaten and stabbed before her body and her bed were set on fire.

In a brief order, the court agreed to return the case to the trial court in Tyler to review an appeal from Williams' attorneys. They want to examine whether incorrect FBI statistics regarding DNA probabilities in population estimates cited by witnesses could have affected the outcome of Williams' trial.

"We need time to look at this," said Seth Kretzer, one of Williams' lawyers. "No way we can investigate this in five hours.

"It requires some time, and the CCA saw that."

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a notice June 30 that the FBI-developed population database used by the crime lab in Texas and other states had errors for calculating DNA match statistics in criminal investigations. The Texas Attorney General's Office informed Williams' attorneys of the discrepancy on Wednesday.

Prosecutors in Tyler, in Smith County, had opposed Williams' appeal for a reprieve, telling the appeals court the state police agency insisted that corrected figures would have no impact. Williams is black, and prosecutors said the probability of another black person with the same DNA profile found in Schneider's missing car was one in 40 sextillion. Jurors in 2006 were told the probability was one in 43 sextillion. A sextillion is defined as a 1 followed by 21 zeros.



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