SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Court rejects delay request in redistricting case

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request from Virginia Republicans to block a federal court from approving new legislative district boundaries.

The order was issued Tuesday, two days ahead of a scheduled lower court hearing in Richmond on proposed new state legislative maps.

A federal judicial panel has ordered a new map after ruling that lawmakers racially gerrymandered 11 state House districts by packing black voters into them.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case some time this year.

Republicans said having a lower court approve a new map only to have it discarded later by the Supreme Court would confuse voters and candidates.


Kavanaugh's first opinion is unanimous, resolves question

WASHINGTON (AP) - Justice Brett Kavanaugh has written his first majority opinion for the Supreme Court, a unanimous decision in an arbitration case.

Kavanaugh's eight-page opinion Tuesday resolves a narrow question in a dispute between two businesses in a soured relationship involving dental equipment.

The case involved whether the dispute would head to arbitration or a lawsuit, and who would decide which path.

The court is not answering those questions, but it is rejecting a lower-court ruling in favor of a lawsuit. Kavanaugh says courts must stick to the text of the Federal Arbitration Act and "are not at liberty to rewrite the statute passed by Congress and signed by the President."

Kavanaugh's is the first opinion to be issued from the two-week session of the court that began in late October.


Vindictive prosecution claim leads to review of murder plea

By Matthew Barakat

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to review the case of a northern Virginia drug dealer who says his guilty plea in a 2001 murder was coerced by vindictive prosecutors.

Justin Wolfe was just 19 when he was charged with murder in the death of another dealer, Daniel Petrole, to escape a $60,000 debt. Wolfe, who spent several years on death row, has seen his case bounce through the courts for nearly 18 years.

A federal judge tossed out a jury's death sentence in 2012 and accused prosecutors of misconduct. A different prosecutor retried Wolfe, who in 2016 admitted having Petrole killed. Wolfe was sentenced to 41 years in prison.

Wolfe now says he pleaded guilty only because prosecutors brought even more severe charges against him than were originally filed.

Wolfe's attorney, Marvin Miller, said Tuesday that he expects the Virginia Supreme Court will now send the case to a lower court to consider the merit of Wolfe's arguments.

"They did wrong to get a conviction," Miller said of prosecutors who handled Wolfe's case. "And when it was sent back for review, they did him wrong again to avoid dealing with it. ... If Virginia deals with this case squarely, he'll get relief."

The Virginia attorney general's office, which is handling the appeals, declined comment Tuesday.

The Supreme Court's order Monday remanding the case comes in the wake of a 2018 ruling that gives defendants more leeway to challenge their convictions after a guilty plea.

Back in 2001, Wolfe was a top dog in a suburban drug ring that sold millions of dollars' worth of high-grade marijuana. Prosecutors say he conspired with another man, Owen Barber, to kill Petrole, his supplier.

Barber struck a plea deal and testified against Wolfe, who was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to death. At his initial 2002 trial, Wolfe acknowledged he was a drug dealer but denied any role in Petrole's murder.

Barber later recanted his testimony against Wolfe and ultimately vacillated multiple times about whether he shot Petrole at Wolfe's behest.

A federal judge, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk, vacated Wolfe's death sentence and ordered a new trial. For the retrial, Prince William County Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert recused himself, and Fairfax County prosecutor Ray Morrogh was brought in.

Morrogh brought death penalty charges again and additional charges that had not been included at the initial trial. He secured a plea deal that took the death penalty off the table but included a requirement sought by the Petrole family for Wolfe to admit in his own words what he did.

Wolfe now says that confession was coerced.


Court declines involvement in state egg law cases

By David A. Lieb
Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to get involved in a legal dispute in which 15 states are seeking to strike down laws in California and Massachusetts that require larger living areas for some farm animals.

The attorney general's office in Missouri, which spearheaded one of the lawsuits, vowed Tuesday to continue fighting for local farmers and consumers and said it was considering the next step.

President Donald Trump's Department of Justice had urged the Supreme Court not to accept original jurisdiction over the states' lawsuits. It said the dispute over interstate commerce was best suited for a district court.

The Supreme Court didn't cite a reason for rejecting the lawsuits in a brief order Monday, although it noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have granted the motions.

The high court on Monday also declined to hear an appeal of California's 2004 law banning a poultry product known as foie gras, a liver delicacy made by force-feeding ducks and geese. The issue has been simmering in courts since shortly after lawmakers passed the ban, which also prohibits liver produced out of state from entering California.

The multi-state egg lawsuit against California was led by former Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican who won election as a U.S. senator in November. He was replaced as attorney general last week by former state treasurer Eric Schmitt, a fellow Republican who pledged Tuesday to continue the fight to protect farmers and consumers from "burdensome regulations."

California voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 requiring that caged hens spend most of their day in spaces large enough to lie down, stand up, turn around and extend their limbs. The measure gave farmers until 2015 to comply. After California egg farmers raised concerns that they would be put at a competitive disadvantage, state legislators in 2010 expanded the law to bar the sale of eggs from any hens that were not raised in compliance with California standards requiring at least 116 square inches of floor space per chicken.

The lawsuit claimed the California law cost consumers nationwide up to $350 million annually because of higher egg prices since the requirements took effect in 2015.

California voters in November approved an even more aggressive law. It will require all eggs sold in the state to come from cage-free hens by 2022. It also bans the sale of pork and veal from animals that are not raised according to new minimum living space requirements.

The other multi-state lawsuit, led by Indiana, challenged a law approved by Massachusetts voters in 2016 that requires minimum living spaces for pigs and calves and also mandates that all eggs come from cage-free hens by 2022.

Both lawsuits alleged violations of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution for effectively imposing one state's regulatory standards on people in other states.

The states involved in both lawsuits included Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Iowa and Nevada were plaintiffs only in the lawsuit against California. South Carolina and West Virginia were plaintiffs only in the lawsuit against Massachusetts.

Published: Thu, Jan 10, 2019

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