Category Archives: legal news

All-GOP Texas Supreme Court follows the law!

A ruling by the Texas Supreme Court denying a Republican Party appeal over the cancellation of its state convention is a really big deal.

Here’s why.

The state’s highest civil appeals court, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, comprises partisan politicians who run for election to the office on partisan ballots. That means they might be subject to intense political pressure to favor one party over the other.

The Texas Supreme Court, in a 7-1 ruling, said “no” to the Texas Republican Party’s appeal seeking to stage its convention in Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had canceled the convention, citing extreme risk caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The GOP wanted to meet in the George Brown Convention Center. Turner said that’s a non-starter, so he invoked his power as mayor to keep Texans safe from the killer virus.

The case went immediately to the Supreme Court of Texas, which has put the kibosh on the GOP’s appeal.

The state Supreme Court is made up entirely of Republican judges, which makes this decision damn near spectacular.

It goes to show that on occasion even partisan judges can do the right thing, which is what occurred with the Texas Supreme Court’s decision stiffing the Republican Party’s desire to expose thousands of convention attendees to a potentially deadly virus.

SCOTUS justices provide satisfaction

I took more than a little bit of satisfaction from this week’s stunning decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that no president is above the law.

My satisfaction came in the form of two justices’ decision to side with the 7 to 2 majority that declared that Donald Trump cannot invoke presidential immunity no matter what, that a Manhattan, N.Y., prosecutor is entitled to obtain Trump’s financial records in a probe that could result in some serious criminal indictments.

Those two justices happen to Donald Trump’s two nominees to the highest court in America: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Let’s presume Trump’s ignorance of the law and the Constitution for a moment and conclude that the president had hoped Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would stand with him. I mean, Trump does demand loyalty even from members of an independent and co-equal branch of the federal government. The justices didn’t do as Trump no doubt wanted.

This gives me hope on at least one important matter. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh likely will sit in their high offices long after Trump leaves his office. Trump said he wanted to appoint rock-ribbed, true-blue conservatives to the federal judiciary, which is another way of saying he wants judges who will vote in his favor at all costs.

Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh saw the question arising from the Trump finances case differently. They interpreted the law with no regard to how it might affect Trump’s continuing refusal to release his financial records to prosecutors.

I cannot predict whether Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will continue to demonstrate their judicial independence on future cases. The Supreme Court term has ended; justices will return to the bench in October, just ahead of the November presidential election.

I am hoping the election will deliver a new president who then will take over the appointment powers from a president who doesn’t grasp that the concept of an independent judiciary is inscribed in our nation’s governing document.

I am going to hope that the men who ended up on the court because Donald Trump nominated them will continue to exhibit the independence they showed in determining that no one — not even the president of the United States — is immune from criminal prosecution.

Commutation, not a pardon, for Roger Stone

This is among the most unsurprising stories of the Donald Trump administration: Trump commuted the sentence of one of his closest confidants and political fixers.

Roger Stone was facing a 40-month prison sentence. Until today, when Trump commuted his sentence.

Now, in a way I am somewhat heartened that Trump didn’t issue a blanket pardon for Stone, a decision that would have wiped the record of his conviction for lying under oath off the books. With a commutation, the guilty verdict stands … for whatever it’s worth.

Stone has been a longstanding pal of Trump. He’s been an even more longstanding Republican Party dirty trickster/operative.

He had lied about what he knew about Donald Trump’s campaign shenanigans. According to the Business Insider: A jury convicted Stone of seven felony counts in November, none of which included collusion or conspiracy. The former strategist was convicted of five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice.

Stone won’t serve any time behind bars. Does this mean a pardon is out of the question? Hardly. Trump might pardon Stone before leaving office, which I hope is very soon … as in January 2021.

But this decision — or a form of it — was expected all along.

It’s all part and parcel of the way Donald Trump rolls.

SCOTUS provides wonderful civics lesson

Dear readers of High Plains Blogger, I am happy to report to you that our U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling that sparkles on a number of fronts.

It ruled 7-2 that the president of the United States is not above the law. The ruling said that Donald Trump’s financial records are open to grand jury scrutiny in Manhattan, New York City, which is examining potential criminal conduct from the president.

The ruling demonstrated the value of having an “independent federal judiciary.” Two justices who joined the majority were nominated by Donald Trump. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh sided with Justices Elana Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chief Justice John Roberts in this seminal ruling

Why is that important? It’s because the federal judiciary has become the target of partisans who worry that the SCOTUS has tilted too far to the right, that it will bend to the will of a president who demands loyalty at all levels … even from members of the federal judiciary.

Federal judges get appointed for life. The founders intended for them to be free of political pressure. Today’s ruling suggests to me that the nation’s highest court is delivering on the founders’ promise.

It’s not clear whether the nation will see Trump’s tax returns prior to the November presidential election. That’s really not the point, as I have thought about the ruling over the past few hours. Trump will bob and weave for as long as he can to keep them out of public view.

The ruling, though, does establish a clear legal concept that presidents of the United States cannot invoke their incumbency as a shield against prosecutors.

I doubt it will prevent Donald Trump from trying every dodge he can find to keep those records out of public view.

Still, I am heartened to see the strength of an independent federal judiciary show itself in front of the nation.

SCOTUS delivers needed gut punch to POTUS

Well now, this is judicial independence at its finest.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a stunning 7-2 ruling, has told Donald John “Lawbreaker in Chief” Trump that he is not above the law and that a New York-based prosecutor is on solid legal footing in seeking Trump’s financial records as part of an ongoing investigation.

Why is this so remarkable? Two conservative justices nominated by Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, sided with the majority in declaring that the president of the United States is “not above the law.”

What does this mean? Well, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. gets to proceed with a probe into whether Trump broke the law when he wrote a stripper a $130,000 check to buy her silence over an allegation that she and Trump had a one-night affair prior to Trump taking office as president.

Vance is going to obtain Trump’s complete financial record as part of his probe and then we might learn about those mysterious tax returns that Trump has refused to release to the public for its review.

Donald Trump has been fighting all of this hammer and tong, as you might expect. He staked his argument on a notion that a president is not subject to grand jury inquiry. The high court said “no so fast, Mr. President.” Indeed, Justice Kavanaugh made the specific point that the president is not above the law.

The next question now is whether Cyrus Vance will move quickly in obtaining that information and will it become known prior to the Nov. 3 presidential election. I won’t offer a prediction, but instead will express my desire that the public is given a chance to review Donald Trump’s financial dealings prior to deciding whether he deserves another term in office.

The matter now rests in Cyrus Vance’s hands.

Let’s get busy, Mr. Prosecutor.

Let’s put the AG on trial … finally!

While the nation has been watching the machinations of a corrupt president and his minions, many of us in Texas have forgotten we have an attorney general who’s fighting criminal charges of his own.

Good news, fans and foes of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: A judge has ruled that the case should be returned to Collin County, where the Republican AG was indicted initially on allegations of securities fraud.

Have you forgotten about that? Yeah, me too … almost. The indictment occurred in 2015. That’s five yeas ago. The state and Paxton’s defense team have been kicking the case around ever since. Prosecutors succeeded in moving the case to Harris County because, they said, they couldn’t get a fair trial in Collin County.

Sure they could. A Collin County grand jury indicted Paxton, after all, which would appear to make it possible that prosecutors could secure a conviction of the attorney general were he to stand trail in the county he represented in the Legislature before being elected to statewide office.

As the Texas Tribune has reported: Paxton has been fighting charges that he misled investors in a financial services company from before his time as attorney general. Paxton has pleaded not guilty to all the allegations and was cleared in a similar civil case at the federal level. But when the Texas State Securities Board reprimanded him for soliciting clients without being properly registered, he signed a disciplinary order without disputing its findings.

This matter needs a resolution. I happen to be one Texas resident who doesn’t like our state attorney general operating under a cloud of criminal allegations. These things tend to inhibit the man’s credibility whenever he opens his mouth.

William Barr: a profound disappointment

It is time for some disclosure on my part.

Jeff Sessions’ departure as U.S. attorney general was maddening in one respect: Even though I didn’t approve of his selection in the beginning, he did follow the law by recusing himself from the Russia investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign; when Trump fired him, he did so only because Sessions did the right thing and it spoke volumes about the corrupt intent within Trump.

Then came the appointment of William Barr. I was glad to see Barr get nominated. Why? He served as AG during President George H.W. Bush’s term in office and acquitted himself well in the early 1990s. I had hoped that Trump had found another grownup to join the Cabinet.

It didn’t take long for Barr to prove to me that he swilled the Trump Kool-Aid and would become a shill for the Carnival Barker in Chief rather than representing the best interests of the nation he took an oath to protect. How about that sham summary he provided after Robert Mueller issued his findings on collusion with the Russians during the 2016 campaign. You get my drift, right?

The firing this past week of the Southern District of New York U.S. attorney, Geoffrey Berman, sealed the deal for me. Berman was canned because he was investigating Trump’s business affairs. You can’t have that going on, Barr seemed to suggest. He fired Berman, who had refused to resign. Or maybe Trump told Barr to do it. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The clumsy and ridiculous display of obvious political a**-covering exposed Barr once again as a toadie for Donald Trump.

My understanding of U.S. attorney appointments is that they are recommended by U.S. senators or House members to the Justice Department, which then passes the nomination on to the Senate, which confirms the appointment. The firing of Berman was done far outside the lines of propriety.

So, the drama continues and it will continue to unfold for as long as Donald Trump pretends to be president of the United States.

We need to get him out of the Oval Office … and be sure he takes William Barr with him.

SCOTUS scores a win for DACA recipients

It looks for all the world as if the U.S. Supreme Court has been smitten by a case of humanity along with a touch of compassion.

The court issued a ruling, albeit a narrow 5-4 decision, that upholds the Obama administration’s executive order protecting the residency status of hundreds of thousands of folks who came here illegally, many of whom as children brought to the United States by their parents.

President Obama issued the order called Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. It protected about 650,000 immigrants from deportation. Donald Trump rescinded that order. The high court, though, today said “not so fast.”

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four progressive justices in siding with DACA recipients, writing the opinion that said Trump’s order lacked sufficient legal foundation.

This a good deal. Many, if not most, DACA recipients have known no other country but the United States. Many of them are unfamiliar with their country of birth. They speak English. They attend school here. They work here. They pay U.S. taxes. They live as de facto Americans. Except that they aren’t citizens.

Donald Trump sought to ship them out, send them back to a country with which they have no understanding or familiarity. Politico reports: Roberts, who has emerged in recent years as a semi-regular swing justice on the court, wrote the majority opinion concluding that the decision to phase-out the program was unlawful because it did not consider all the options to rein in the program and failed to account for the interests of those who relied on it.

So the fight continues. It appears that the Trump administration will be unable to craft a new order in time for the November election.

My hope is that if Trump loses the election that the new president, Joe Biden, will scrap the effort to eliminate the DACA program and allow these once-young immigrants to continue to pursue their dream of living in the land of opportunity … provided, of course, that they seek to legalize their standing as U.S. residents.

SCOTUS ruling on gay rights may reverberate … forever

It is hard to measure the long-term impact of today’s Supreme Court decision on gay rights so soon after the fact; these decisions need time to slow-cook.

However, it’s a major ruling that carries many implications … which are for the betterment of the nation.

The court ruled 6-3 today that the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits people from being fired from their jobs over their sexual orientation. It strikes a blow for LGBTQ rights and sticks it in the ear of those who continue to harp on the notion that gay Americans do not deserve the same constitutional protections under the law as every American.

What’s more, the decision was authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee. Three justices dissented: Clarence Thomas (appointed by President Bush 41), Samuel Alito (President Bush 43) and Brett Kavanaugh (Donald Trump). Joining Gorsuch, along with the four progressive justices was none other than Chief Justice John Roberts, another Bush 43 appointee.

The notion that Justice Gorsuch would side with the liberal wing of the court — plus the chief justice — suggests a potentially new and unseen direction for the court. Trump’s two picks, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, were seen as taking the court more sharply to the right. Today’s ruling suggests something else might be occurring.

It is that justices given lifetime appointments to the nation’s highest court are relatively free of political pressure, that they are able to view the Constitution through more a dispassionate lens.

Gorsuch’s decision reminds me of the kind of veering from predicted paths that other justices have demonstrated. I think of Chief Justice Earl Warren (appointed by Dwight Eisenhower), Justice Harry Blackmun (selected by Richard Nixon), justice John Paul Stevens (nominated by Gerald Ford) and Justice Byron White (picked by John F. Kennedy). Those presidents thought they were getting justices who would adhere more to their political leaning, only to get surprised … bigly!

As we digest the meaning of today’s decision, though, I am grateful that Justice Gorsuch — at least on this ruling — has become something other than the judicial bogeyman many of us had feared.

SCOTUS upholds LGBT protection! Wow!

What in the world is Donald J. Trump going to say about this ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court?

The court ruled today that protections written into the 1964 Civil Rights Act protect gay and transgender Americans from employment discrimination … meaning they cannot be fired because of their sexual orientation.

What is arguably the most astonishing aspect of this 6-3 ruling is that the majority opinion is authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of Trump’s two appointees to the highest court in the land.

Previous federal judicial rulings that have gone against Trump’s wishes have resulted in snarky comments from POTUS about “so-called judges.” I doubt he’ll say such a thing about Justice Gorsuch. Still, this ruling is a big … deal.

According to NBC NewsThe rulings were victories for Gerald Bostock, who was fired from a county job in Georgia after he joined a gay softball team, and the relatives of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who was fired after he told a female client not to worry about being strapped tightly to him during a jump, because he was “100 percent gay.” Zarda died before the case reached the Supreme Court.

The Trump administration had urged the court to rule that Title VII does not cover cases like those, in a reversal from the position the government took during the Obama administration.

Twenty-one states have laws protecting Americans against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The ruling today now imposes federal law on all states, meaning that no one can be fired because they happen to be gay, bisexual or transgender.

Indeed, the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause does stipulate that all citizens deserve to be protected under the law. Justice Gorsuch’s ruling recognizes that fundamental tenet.

What’s more, it goes to show us all that once more in graphic fashion that presidents might not always get the kind of court rulings they desire when they select men and women for these lifetime jobs as federal judges.

This is an outstanding decision by the Supreme Court.