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Iraq's federal court rules against prime minister's reforms - 2016/10/15

Iraq's federal court ruled on Monday that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's move to abolish the largely ceremonial posts of the country's vice president and deputy prime minister is unconstitutional. Under Iraq's constitution, abolishing the posts would require the approval of an absolute majority in parliament followed by a national referendum, the court said in a statement. The decision, which is binding for the Iraqi government, was a slap for al-Abadi, who canceled the posts last year as part of a wide-ranging reform plan that was approved by his Cabinet and passed by Parliament. It was intended to shore up public support for his government in the face of widespread protests. The cancellations were also an apparent attempt to consolidate power under al-Abadi's government in order to combat corruption and tackle the country's ballooning budget crisis, sparked in part because of a plunge in the price of oil over the past two years, government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said. "The return of the (vice president and the deputy prime minister) will affect the expenses of the state," al-Hadithi said. The decision underscores the government's enduring weakness as Iraqi forces prepare to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. While the U.S.-led coalition has closely supported Iraq's security forces in the military fight against IS, coalition officials say the Iraqi government is responsible for enacting political reforms that will prevent IS from growing in power in Iraq once again.

Court enters default judgment in Kansas voting rights case - 2016/10/13

A federal court clerk entered a default judgment Tuesday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for failing to file a timely response to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law requiring prospective voters to prove they are U.S. citizens. It remains unclear whether U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson will give Kobach more time to respond. If the judgment stands it would apply to all voters in all federal, state and local elections ? effectively ending the state's proof-of-citizenship requirement. Kobach did not immediately return a cellphone message, but spokeswoman Desiree Taliaferro said he would comment. Kobach faces four separate lawsuits challenging various aspects of Kansas' voter registration law. The law, which went into effect in January 2013, requires prospective voters to submit documentary proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport or naturalization papers. Kobach, a conservative Republican, has championed the proof-of-citizenship requirement as an anti-fraud measure that keeps non-citizens from voting, including immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Critics say such requirements suppress voter turnout, particularly among young and minority voters, and that there have been few cases of fraud in the past. Kobach could ask the judge to set aside the clerk's action, possibly on grounds that include "excusable neglect," said Mark Johnson, another attorney for the voter. But if the clerk's action stands, it means the proof-of-citizenship requirement can't be enforced, Johnson said. The lawsuit contends the requirement violates voters' constitutional right to right to due legal process and the right to freely travel from state to state by infringing on people's ability to vote and to sign petitions. It also contends the actions Kobach has taken to verify citizenship status discriminates against people who were born or got married in other states.

Dutch court: Wilders hate speech trial will go ahead - 2016/10/12

A Dutch court on Friday rejected an appeal by firebrand anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders to throw out his hate speech prosecution before it goes to trial this month. "Prosecuted for what millions of people believe," Wilders tweeted in his first reaction to the decision. Wilders and his lawyers have branded his prosecution a political witch hunt and did not attend the brief hearing at The Hague District Court. Clearing the trial to start on Oct. 31, Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the court "rejects the defense's objections." The case against Wilders, who was previously acquitted in 2011 of insulting Islam, centers on comments made before and after Dutch local elections in 2014. At one party meeting he asked supporters whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, drawing them into the chant of "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" "We'll take care of it," he replied. The trial comes just months before parliamentary elections due in March, which could see Wilders' Freedom Party emerge as the largest party. An Oct. 5 poll of polls had the Freedom Party narrowly behind the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who will be seeking his third term at the elections. The court said Friday that previous cases in European courts have established that politicians must be given a wide-ranging freedom of expression, but at the same time should "avoid public statements that feed intolerance. Where the border lies between the two will be debated in this Dutch trial." The court also rejected Wilders' argument that he should not be prosecuted now as he had not been prosecuted in the past for similar statements about Moroccans.

Former Ohio officer charged with murder due back in court - 2016/10/07

A former college police officer charged with murder in the fatal traffic-stop shooting of a black man is due back in court. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Megan Shanahan set a Friday pretrial hearing, ahead of the planned start of jury selection on Oct. 25. Twenty-six-year-old Ray Tensing faces charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 2015 shooting of 43-year-old Sam DuBose. The white officer, who has since been fired by the University of Cincinnati, pulled DuBose over near campus for a missing front license plate. Tensing has pleaded not guilty. His attorney has said that his client feared being dragged under the car as DuBose tried to drive away. Tensing is free on $1 million bond and hasn't attended earlier pretrial hearings this year.

Free-speech rights of panhandlers argued in court - 2016/10/06

A Lexington man's conviction for violating the city's ban on begging has reached the Kentucky Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case Friday. Police cited Dennis Champion, who was holding a homemade sign asking for money, for violating Lexington's panhandling ordinance during the holiday season in 2014. Champion's attorney, Linda Horsman, argued that the ordinance violates her client's free-speech rights. She said the ordinance singles out beggars, while people standing along roadways soliciting for charitable organizations are spared from citation. Assistant Fayette County Attorney Jason Rothrock said the ordinance was aimed at protecting the safety of motorists and panhandlers and ensuring the efficient flow of traffic. A day before the state's high court heard the Lexington case, Louisville's panhandling law was struck down by a district judge.

Rights group criticizes Polish law of weakening top court - 2016/10/05

An international human rights body on Friday criticized recently enacted legislation in Poland regulating the nation's top legislative court, saying the law "gives excessive power to parliament and the executive over the judiciary." The Venice Commission, a group of constitutional law experts with the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, issued its opinion during a meeting in Venice, Italy. The Polish government refused to send representatives to the meeting, accusing the commisison of political bias and of refusing to take Warsaw's position into account. It is the latest development in a long-running crisis in Poland surrounding the Constitutional Tribunal, which is charged with evaluating the constitutionality of disputed legislation. The court therefore plays a key role in Poland's system of democratic checks and balances. The European Union, United States and many Poles also have expressed concerns about the Polish government's attempts to change how the court works. The changes have effectively weakened the court's ability to strike down disputed new laws governing other matters, including police surveillance and government control of public media.

Polish prosecutors investigate court head for abuse of power - 2016/08/15

Polish prosecutors have opened an investigation into the head of the country's Constitutional Tribunal to determine if he abused his power in not allowing judges appointed by the ruling party to take part in rulings. The investigation into Andrzej Rzeplinski, which opened Thursday, is the latest development in an ongoing conflict between the Polish government and the constitutional court, whose role is similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. The government's conflict with the court has raised international concerns about the state of democracy in Poland, and the political opposition and other critics have slammed the investigation into Rzeplinski as an attack on the separation of powers. Amid the conflict, Rzeplinski has emerged as one of the key symbols of resistance against the right-wing government, which has moved to centralize power since winning elections last year. The investigation is seen by many as an attempt to discredit him since he enjoys, at least for now, immunity from prosecution. His term as head of the court also expires in December.

2 teens killed in Atlanta suburb: Man accused due in court- 2016/08/12

A man accused of killing two teenagers near Atlanta is set to appear in court for a preliminary hearing. Jeffrey Hazelwood is scheduled to appear Friday morning in Fulton County Magistrate Court. The 20-year-old is charged with murder and theft in the killings of Carter Davis and Natalie Henderson in Roswell. The 17-year-olds were shot in the head. An autopsy report says their bodies were found behind a grocery store and had been placed in distinct poses. Police have declined to discuss a possible motive for the slayings, or whether Hazelwood knew the teens. Hazelwood's attorney, Lawrence Zimmerman, has said he'll provide a vigorous defense. Henderson and Davis, who used to live in Rapid City, South Dakota, would have been seniors this year at their Georgia high schools.

'Whitey' Bulger asks US Supreme Court to hear his appeal - 2016/08/11

James "Whitey" Bulger has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal of his racketeering convictions for playing a role in 11 murders and committing a litany of other crimes. It is unclear if the high court will take up the Boston gangster's case. The court generally agrees to hear only a small percentage of the thousands of cases it's asked to review each year. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Bulger's 2013 convictions in March. A three-judge panel of the court found that Bulger had not shown that his right to a fair trial was violated when a judge barred him from testifying about his claim that a now-deceased federal prosecutor granted him immunity. The trial judge said Bulger had not offered any hard evidence that such an agreement existed. Bulger, now 86, led a notoriously violent gang from the 1970s through the early 1990s. He fled Boston in 1994 after an FBI agent tipped him that he was about to be indicted. Bulger remained a fugitive until 2011, when he was captured in Santa Monica, California. He is now serving a life sentence.

Court rejects Cosby's attempt to reseal testimony on affairs - 2016/08/10

A federal appeals court on Monday rejected Bill Cosby's effort to reseal his deposition testimony about extramarital affairs, prescription sedatives and payments to women, saying the documents are now a matter of public knowledge. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the comedian's appeal was moot. "The contents of the documents are a matter of public knowledge, and we cannot pretend that we could change that fact by ordering them resealed," the court wrote in an opinion. Cosby's attorneys hoped a ruling in their favor could help them keep the documents from being used in the criminal case against him in Pennsylvania and in the many lawsuits filed around the country by women who accuse him of sexual assault or defamation. Cosby gave the testimony in 2005 as part of a lawsuit brought against him by Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee who said he drugged and molested her at his home. She later settled for an undisclosed sum, and sensitive documents in the file remained sealed. In the nearly 1,000-page deposition, the married comic once known as "America's Dad" for his beloved portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on his top-ranked 1980s TV show, "The Cosby Show," admitted to several extramarital affairs and said he obtained quaaludes to give to women he hoped to seduce.

Ex-officer charged in death of black motorist back in court - 2016/08/05

A white former police officer charged in the shooting death of a black motorist is returning to a federal courtroom in South Carolina..S. District Judge David Norton has set a Friday hearing on the civil rights charges brought against former North Charleston officer Michael Slager. It's Slager's first appearance in federal court since his arraignment in May. The federal charges stem from the shooting death of Walter Scott, 50, in April of 2015. Scott, who was unarmed, was fleeing a traffic stop when he was shot. A bystander's video recording of Scott's shooting reignited the national debate about the treatment blacks face at the hands of white police officers. Slager faces a murder charge in state court in a trial set to begin in October. The federal indictment charges that Slager, while acting as a law officer, deprived Scott of his civil rights. A second count says he used a weapon, a Glock Model 21 .45-caliber pistol, while doing so. The third count, charging obstruction of justice, alleges Slager intentionally misled state investigators about what happened during the encounter with Scott.

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