Stories about law and politics in the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Law and Justice reporter, Paula Wissel.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a black Georgia man convicted of murder by an all-white jury should have a new trial because the prosecution deliberately excluded African-Americans from the jury based on their race.

The court's decision reversed as "clearly erroneous" an earlier ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court, which had said the defendant had not proved racial discrimination in the selection of his jury.

An Arizona judge has ruled that Joe Arpaio, who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," is in civil contempt of court. Judge G. Murray Snow says Arpaio has repeatedly and knowingly disobeyed his orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos that he says amount to systemic racial profiling.

You might assume that if you go to court and secure a civil sexual assault protection order against an assailant the protection order will be permanent. But, that's not the case in Washington even though protection orders in domestic violence, harassment and stalking cases in the state are. Advocates for victims have been trying to change the law that says sexual assault protection orders are only good for two years.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in a case that tests the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

At issue is a great deal more than one case.

The federal government contends that if the Supreme Court voids the conviction, it could cripple enforcement of laws against public corruption. The defense counters that if the conviction is upheld, it would turn ordinary political acts into crimes.

Accidents happen, and if they are someone else's fault, you can go to court to try to get compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering. If you win, though, the pot of gold you receive may be considerably smaller than you expect. Your health plan may claim some — or all — of the award as reimbursement for money it spent on your medical care.

While voters went to the polls in five states Tuesday, electoral politics in a different context were on the Supreme Court's mind too.

The court has long held that the government cannot generally punish employees for exercising their constitutional right to free speech. But what if an employee was mistakenly perceived as taking a political position, when in fact he was doing nothing of the sort? That's what happened to a Paterson, N.J., policeman, who on Tuesday won the right to sue for a wrongful demotion.


A conference solely dedicated to the topic of hate crimes is happening in Burien next week. The Hate Crimes Conference is being organized by a Seattle police officer whose job involves bridging trust between police and the city’s LGBTQ community.


(This post was last updated at 6:55 p.m. EDT.)

The Supreme Court handed Iran's central bank a loss on Wednesday, saying Congress acted constitutionally when it passed a law saying nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds should be turned over to Americans who U.S. courts had found were victims of Iranian terrorist attacks.

Twenty-one years ago, the nation was rocked by the largest domestic terrorism attack it had ever experienced. A bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people, including 19 children in a day care center on the ground floor.

President Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration were challenged in the Supreme Court on Monday.

While it's impossible to glean how the court will ultimately decide the case, the eight justices seemed evenly split along ideological lines during oral arguments, leaving a real possibility of a 4-4 tie.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

A year ago this month, a young man named Keaton Farris was found naked on the floor of his jail cell in Coupeville on Whidbey Island.

He was dead. The cause was dehydration and malnutrition.

In the wake of that terrible loss, his family has made it their mission to make sure nothing like that ever happens again at the jail. And they still await word on whether a prosecutor will file criminal charges against the people who were responsible for his care.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Wednesday that the federal government cannot, before trial, seize the assets of the accused if those assets are unrelated to the crime and are needed to pay a defense attorney.

The court's ruling came in the case of a Miami woman named Sila Luis, who was accused of Medicare and banking fraud. Prosecutors charged that she used kickbacks and other schemes to fraudulently obtain $45 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court has deadlocked on a 4-4 vote in a major labor case. The court, without further comment, announced the tie vote Tuesday. The result is that union opponents have failed, for now, to reverse a long-standing decision that allows states to mandate "fair share" fees from nonunion workers.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who was convicted of corruption in 2011 after infamously trying to sell an appointment to the vacant Senate seat once occupied by President Obama.

On Monday the justices let stand an appeals court ruling that found Blagojevich had crossed the line when he sought money in exchange for naming someone to fill the seat, The Associated Press reports. The news service adds:

The rights of the religious and the secular clash again Wednesday at the Supreme Court, this time in the controversial context of Obamacare and birth control.

The Supreme Court strongly suggested Monday that stun guns are protected by the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In 2008 the court, by a 5-4 vote, declared for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to own and keep a handgun in their homes for self-defense. But that decision in District of Columbia v. Heller left unresolved many questions about how much the government could regulate that right, and what weapons are included.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear Samsung's appeal of a Federal Circuit Court ruling in the company's patent infringement dispute with Apple.

At issue in the case: What portion of the profits is a design-patent infringer liable to pay?

Apple accuses the South Korean tech giant of copying patented aspects of the iPhone's design, such as the round-cornered front face and the colorful icon grid.

King County


Last year, nearly 1,800 King County  juveniles were booked into detention. Judges and attorneys say this can have a lasting, negative impact on a child.

President Obama's choice to serve as the newest Supreme Court justice is Merrick Garland, a moderate federal appeals court judge and former prosecutor with a reputation for collegiality and meticulous legal reasoning.

Garland, who has won past Republican support, has "more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history," a White House official said. "No one is better suited to immediately serve on the Supreme Court."

The Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning about the legality of anti-tax activist Tim Eyman's latest voter-approved initiative.

The Justice Department on Thursday filed its latest argument in the dispute with Apple over access to a locked iPhone, accusing Apple of "false" rhetoric and "overblown" fears in its public refusal to cooperate with a court order.

The Supreme Court on Friday blocked enforcement of a Louisiana law that could force all but one of the state's medical clinics that perform abortions to close, a sign that a similar law in Texas also could be in peril.

The Associated Press reports:

"The justices effectively reversed an order by the federal appeals court in New Orleans that allowed Louisiana to begin enforcing its 2014 clinic regulation law even as it is being challenged in the courts.

One day after congressional lawmakers grilled the FBI chief and Apple's top lawyer about government's access to encrypted data, another smaller, less spotlighted panel convened on Capitol Hill — to tackle the question of the government's warrantless geolocation tracking.

The fate of the controversial Texas abortion law is in the hands of the Supreme Court, and a decision isn't expected before June. But how this particular law reached the high court and how its opponents have gathered evidence to strike it down represent fresh twists in an acrimonious national debate stretching back to the 1970s.

After hearing oral arguments on what could be one of the most important abortion cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in decades, NPR's Nina Totenberg says that the only thing that is certain is that Justice Anthony Kennedy will cast the deciding vote.

As expected, Nina says, the three conservatives and four liberals on the court stuck to their positions for and against a Texas law that puts restrictions on abortions.

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow Tuesday to nascent efforts to track the quality and cost of health care, ruling that a 1974 law precludes states from requiring that every health care claim involving their residents be submitted to a massive database.

The arguments were arcane, but the effect is clear: We're a long way off from having a true picture of the country's health care spending, especially differences in the way hospitals treat patients and doctors practice medicine.

A magistrate judge in the U.S. District Court in New York has handed Apple a legal victory in a Brooklyn drug case where federal investigators asked for help getting into a locked iPhone.

Washington was actually talking about someone other than Donald Trump on Monday, and that someone was not another presidential candidate. It was Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

People were talking about Thomas because Thomas was talking. In the Supreme Court chamber, during oral arguments, the 67-year-old Thomas asked multiple questions. There might seem to be nothing out of the ordinary in that, except that Thomas had gone since February 2006 hearing hundreds of oral arguments without asking a single question.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas drew gasps on Monday when he asked several questions during oral arguments.

Thomas, who hadn't asked a question since Feb. 22, 2006, broke 10 years of near silence during a case, Voisine v. U.S., involving a federal law preventing people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning firearms.

The Supreme Court hears arguments Monday testing whether a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice violated the Constitution when he ruled in a death penalty case that he had been involved with as a prosecutor.

At issue is whether then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille, by refusing to recuse himself, denied the defendant, Terrance Williams, a fair hearing.