SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Case of AZ man freed from prison turned away

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that a man freed after more than 40 years in prison can't sue for damages.

The high court on Monday turned away a lawsuit by Louis Taylor. Taylor was convicted of starting a 1970 fire at the Pioneer Hotel in Tucson, Arizona, that killed nearly 30 people. He was serving a life sentence when he was freed in 2013 after an expert determined the fire was not arson, a finding the government disputed.

In order to be released, Taylor entered a no contest plea to the original charges against him. Lower courts ruled that because of the no contest plea Taylor could not sue for damages.

As is usual, the Supreme Court did not comment in turning away the case. The high court announced its decision not to hear the case and many others in an order posted online. The court previously postponed arguments that had been scheduled for this week and next because of the coronavirus and closed the Supreme Court to the public.


States can bar insanity defense

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can prevent criminal defendants from pleading insanity without violating their constitutional rights. The decision could prompt states across the country to toughen standards for defendants who wish to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

The justices' 6-3 decision came in a case from Kansas, where James Kraig Kahler was sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, two teenage daughters and his wife's grandmother.

Kahler wanted to mount an insanity defense, but Kansas is one of four states that eliminated a defendant's ability to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Idaho, Montana and Utah are the others. Alaska also limits the insanity defense.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that "Kansas takes account of mental health at both trial and sentencing. It has just not adopted the particular insanity defense Kahler would like. That choice is for Kansas to make - and, if it wishes, to remake and remake again as the future unfolds," Kagan wrote in upholding a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court.

Kagan's three liberal colleagues dissented. Kansas "has eliminated the core of a defense that has existed for centuries: that the defendant, due to mental illness, lacked the mental capacity necessary for his conduct to be considered morally blameworthy," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.


Justices toss decision in media mogul's case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling in favor of a black media mogul and comedian who's suing cable giant Comcast alleging racial discrimination.

The justices agreed unanimously that an appeals court applied the wrong legal standard in allowing business owner Byron Allen's $20 billion suit against Comcast to go forward. Allen has a separate $10 billion suit against Charter Communications that the justices' decision also affects.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco had said that Allen needed to show that race was among the factors in Comcast's decision not to offer him a contract. But the Supreme Court said that Allen has to show that race was the decisive factor in the cable companies' refusal to carry his television channels. Comcast has said it declined to carry the channels because the programming isn't very good.

Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, said in a statement it was pleased with the justices' decision.

Allen's lawyer had said previously he would go forward with the case no matter what the Supreme Court decided Allen needed to show. In a statement Monday, Allen called the ruling "harmful to the civil rights of millions of Americans."

Allen's Los Angeles-based Entertainment Studios has several television networks including Cars.tv, Comedy.tv, Pets.tv, Recipe.tv and JusticeCentral.tv. Allen also owns The Weather Channel and a movie distribution company.

The Supreme Court announced its decision in an opinion posted online. Typically the justices take the bench to announce opinions, which are then made available online, but the justices didn't take the bench Monday because of the coronavirus. The court previously announced that arguments scheduled for this week and next would be postponed because of the virus. And the court building is currently closed to the public.


Airport runway appeal declined

By Dave Collins
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Connecticut's appeal of a ruling that overturned a state law limiting the length of Tweed-New Haven Airport's main runway, handing the small airport a victory in its attempts to expand airline service.

The justices gave no reason Monday for the decision, under their normal practice.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in July that the 2009 state law is pre-empted by federal aviation law, overturning a 2017 ruling by a federal magistrate judge in Hartford who upheld the state law.

Officials at the public airport argued the state law that limited the main runway to its current 5,600 feet has prevented the airport from drawing more commercial airlines and flights, because the runway is too short for most commercial planes to take off. The runway is one of the shortest commercial airport runways in the country. Officials have proposed lengthening Runway 2/20 to about 7,200 feet on existing airport property.

At Tweed, American Airlines currently offers daily flights to and from Philadelphia and weekly flights to and from Charlotte, North Carolina.

"After ten years of limitations, Tweed-New Haven Airport is finally free to pursue expanding our runway within our existing property lines and to meet the growing demand for more frequent air service in southern Connecticut," Sean Scanlon, the airport's executive director, said in a written statement.

"We are very excited about what this will mean in terms of new air service in New Haven and to our local economy and we look forward to working with all local stakeholders including our neighbors to determine how best to move forward now that this case is finally over," he said.

State Attorney General William Tong's office had defended the state law.

"We vigorously pursued our case to the U.S. Supreme Court," Tong said in a statement. "We respect the court's decision."

In 2002, the state and the Federal Aviation Administration approved a master plan for Tweed that included extending the main runway to 7,200 feet. The 2009 state law was passed as part of a large state budget bill - without a public hearing - as New Haven-area lawmakers said they were concerned a longer runway and more air traffic at Tweed would harm nearby residents' quality of life and the environment.

New Haven officials and area business leaders had praised the decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying area residents deserve better airline services. Many of the region's residents travel out of either Bradley International Airport north of Hartford or the airports in New York and New Jersey.

Tweed-New Haven Airport lies in both New Haven and East Haven along Long Island Sound and is run by an airport authority appointed by mayors of both municipalities.

Published: Wed, Mar 25, 2020

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