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

Washington Republicans have said the state Supreme Court’s sanction over school funding “presents a clear threat” to separation of powers. Now the chief justice of the Supreme Court is offering her perspective.

Courtesy of the city of Seattle

Massive amounts of human waste and trash, as well as dirty needles litter the green belt and dirt lots under and around a stretch of  I-5 known as The Jungle. These findings are laid out in a 24-page report that was put together in response to a shooting that killed two people and wounded three last month.

Most of the land, which covers 150 acres between South Dearborn and South Lucille Streets, is owned by the state. At a presentation of the report to Seattle City Council, Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said the situation under I-5 is a clear threat to public health.

When a federal judge ordered Apple earlier this week to unlock a phone used by one of the assailants in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., she cited a law from 1789. It could make you wonder if the nation's legal system is having a hard time keeping up with the fast pace of technological change. So, I asked a few legal experts if our old laws can apply to this particular situation.

A U.S. magistrate has ordered Apple to assist the government in unlocking the iPhone of San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook. The FBI is seeking information that may be on Farook's employer-issued phone as it investigates the Dec. 2 shootings that left 14 people dead.

At the time of the attack, Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, destroyed two personally owned cellphones and removed a hard drive from their computer.

The unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the looming face-off between the White House and the Senate over his replacement have revived proposals that would limit the tenure of U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Legal scholars from both political parties renewed a call Tuesday to reconsider how much time justices spend on the high court. Many of them cited, with disapproval, a bruising and protracted clash building between President Obama and the GOP-controlled Senate over when and how to fill Scalia's vacancy.

The U.S. Supreme Court next month is scheduled to hear its biggest abortion case in at least a decade, and the reach of that decision is likely to be impacted by the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend.

The Justice Department has named a veteran prosecutor from Philadelphia as the new leader of its pardon office, which is trying to review more than 9,000 petitions in the final year of the Obama presidency.

Robert Zauzmer, 55, has worked since 1990 at the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Justice Department leaders said Zauzmer represented a "natural choice" for the pardon job, in part because of his experience training prosecutors all over the country in how to evaluate prisoners' requests for early release.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided to review a challenge to President Obama's executive actions on immigration.

As we've reported, back in November 2014, Obama announced plans to shield from deportation up to 5 million immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Even before his plans got off the ground, lower courts put them on hold.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Marijuana laws in Washington are evolving. And pot is still illegal at the federal level, creating more uncertainty for businesses in states where it is legal.

Some University of Washington law students want to stay on top of all the changes.

After recreational pot was approved by voters, it was clear to UW law professor Sean O’Connor that there would be questions about how to run a business.

The U.S. Supreme Court tackles a case on Tuesday that can fairly be described as weird. The consequences, however, could be significant.

The Supreme Court has long held that the government cannot retaliate against its employees for exercising their First Amendment right of free speech or association. But what if the employee is mistakenly perceived as taking a political position, when in fact he was doing nothing of the sort?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Florida's process of allowing judges, not juries, to decide whether to impose the death penalty is unconstitutional.

The 8-1 vote — Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter — reverses a 2014 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the court's opinion, writing: "The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury's mere recommendation is not enough."

Paula Wissel / KPLU

A suspended Western Washington University student has pleaded not guilty to hate crime charges.

19-year-old Tysen Campbell appeared in Whatcom County Superior Court Friday after being charged with malicious harassment, under Washington's hate crime law, for allegedly writing "let's lynch her" on a social media post concerning a student leader at Western Washington University.

Paula Wissel

Police reform in Seattle isn’t happening quickly enough for some community groups in the city. The police department has been under a federal court order to overcome racially biased policing.

Anthony Bopp

A transgender Seattle man has won his battle against an insurance company over his medical treatment. Anthony Bopp, who works in the produce section at a local QFC grocery store, has health coverage through Sound Health and Wellness Trust, but the insurer has been refusing to pay for routine treatment Bopp needs.

A federal appeals court has upheld California's deliberative death penalty, which keeps prisoners on death row for decades.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that the long and dysfunctional process violated the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

As we reported at the time:

Nicholas K. Geranios / AP

More than 20 years ago, a drive-by shooting outside Ballard High School in Seattle left 16-year-old Melissa Fernandes dead. The perpetrator, Brian Ronquillo, also a teenager, was sent to prison for more than 50 years.

Now, the state Court of Appeals says the killer’s age should have been considered. It is another sign that courts are giving more weight to teenage brain development.

University of Washington's Center for Human Rights


The theft of a computer and hard-drive containing the names and stories of people who survived the war in El Salvador has human rights workers on edge. The break-in happened in Smith Hall, in the offices of the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights, or CHR.

A security breach at the Washington governor’s mansion on August 7, 2013 was more serious than first reported. Records obtained from the Washington State Patrol reveal the trespasser broke a window before he was arrested at gunpoint.

Noemie Maxwell

The deed that landed Paul Rivers in jail for the rest of his life wasn’t a murder, it was stealing $330 from an espresso stand in Seattle’s University District. It was his third felony under Washington’s three strikes law.

That was back in 1993. He was 21 years old. After more than two decades in prison Rivers said, "I am no longer a threat to society.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley has pleaded not guilty -- again. The indicted Democrat was arraigned Friday morning in federal court in Tacoma on a revised 17-count indictment.

People upset about the decision not to charge three Pasco, Washington, police officers after the fatal February shooting of Mexican orchard worker Antonio Zambrano-Montes are planning a vigil Thursday afternoon.

Three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a rock-throwing man in Pasco, Washington, last February will not face criminal charges.

A three-year-old Washington state law that allows whistleblowers to bring Medicaid fraud lawsuits is working. That’s according to a review by legislative auditors that urges lawmakers to renew the law before it expires next year.

Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley faces additional charges of money laundering and tax evasion. The U.S. Attorney’s office announced the new charges Thursday afternoon.

Rachel La Corte / AP

The Washington Supreme Court has ruled a lawsuit against can move forward. The lawsuit alleges Backpage was complicit in the sex trafficking of minors.

Anna King / Northwest News Network

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors over worker safety at Hanford. We bring you this Q&A from our Tri-Cities correspondent Anna King.

Ted S. Warren / AP

The Olympia police officer who shot two African-American brothers during a confrontation in May will not be criminally charged.

That was the announcement Wednesday afternoon from Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim. He is charging the two brothers with assault on the officer.

Paula Wissel

Could Marysville-Pilchuck High School have done more to prevent the deadly shooting there last year? The attorney representing the victim's families says it's possible. 

Brian Cox / City of Tacoma

The City of Tacoma has launched a program to improve the relationship between police and the community. Project Peace will involve a series of meetings to be held over the next several months. The plan is that, with the help of facilitators, people will sit down with police and brainstorm how best to improve trust.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Ferrians

Amid the arts and crafts and concerts of Hempfest in Seattle this weekend, there will be one group of people delivering a somber message. Friends and family of Keaton Farris, the young man who died of dehydration and malnutrition in an Island County jail earlier this year, will hand out water bottles with his picture on the label as a way to raise awareness about the disturbing circumstances of his death.