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

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When State Attorney Aramis Ayala, a Democrat, announced in March that she would no longer seek the death penalty in capital cases, Republican Gov. Scott took away more than 20 murder cases in her jurisdiction. Now, Ayala is suing Scott to get them back.

At issue is whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to remove cases from a state attorney who refuses to seek capital punishment.

The state Supreme Court is considering where the power resides.

Standing at the kitchen counter in his spotless town house near the Baltimore airport, Reddy Annappareddy heated up some water to make his lawyer a coffee and contemplated his hard fall from grace.

Twenty-five years ago, the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified — nearly two centuries after it was written. The improbable story of how that happened starts with the Founding Fathers themselves and winds up at the University of Texas. And it's a heartening reminder of the power of individuals to make real change.

The city of Miami can sue Wells Fargo and Bank of America for damages under the Fair Housing Act, the Supreme Court says, allowing a lawsuit to continue that accuses the big banks of causing economic harm with discriminatory and predatory lending practices.

The 5-3 vote saw Chief Justice John Roberts form a majority with the court's more liberal justices. Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely seen as the court's "swing" justice, sided with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The court's newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, wasn't involved in the case.

Arkansas, which has been in a race to execute death-row inmates before a key lethal drug expires, plans to hold its final execution in the series Thursday night.

Attorneys for the condemned men have put forth arguments about their innocence, intellectual abilities, mental states and about the execution procedure.

But what happens to those debates after an execution?

Ledell Lee was the first inmate executed this month in Arkansas. There was scant physical evidence tying him to the murder he was convicted of, and he was never given a DNA test before his execution.

As a hurry-up execution schedule plays out in Arkansas this week, the U.S. Supreme Court and Arkansas Supreme Court have stepped in to block two of the eight executions initially scheduled for an 11-day period.

In a time of high drama over executions in Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could determine the fate of two of the condemned men in the Razorback state, as well as others on death row elsewhere.

At issue is whether an indigent defendant whose sanity is a significant factor in his trial, is entitled to assistance from a mental health expert witness who is independent of the prosecutors.

Updated at 2 a.m. ET

Arkansas has carried out its first execution since 2005, just minutes before the expiration of the inmate's death warrant.

Ledell Lee was executed by lethal injection minutes before midnight Friday Central time in Grady, Ark. at the Cummins Unit facility, shortly before the warrant was set to expire.

Lee was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Thursday, NPR member station KUAR Public Radio reports.

A clear majority of justices at the U.S. Supreme Court seemed troubled Wednesday by a Missouri grant program that bars state money from going to religious schools for playground improvement.

Thirty-nine states have state constitutional provisions that bar taxpayer funds from going to religious schools — provisions that have been a major obstacle for the school choice movement. The Missouri case is an attempt to lower that wall separating church and state.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments Wednesday in a Missouri case with the potential to open grant programs to parochial schools.

Ed Ronco / KNKX

 

Every time there’s an election, Washington voters are faced with a list of candidates for various offices. But they also usually have to decide on initiatives.

 

Since 1912, Washington state has allowed citizens to propose laws for enactment by voters, or by the Legislature. The same process gives us the referendum, which essentially lets voters have veto power over the Legislature.

 

Teacher Kimberly Hively alleged Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Ind., denied her a full-time job because she is a lesbian. On Tuesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said such discrimination violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 8-3 ruling is the first by a federal appeals court to recognize the law as protecting workplace rights of LGBT employees.

Two anti-abortion rights activists who covertly recorded themselves discussing fetal tissue with Planned Parenthood staff are facing felony charges in California, for allegedly violating state law by filming people without their permission.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on Tuesday, saying the state "will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations."

School districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious" progress, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in an 8-0 ruling.

The decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District could have far-reaching implications for the 6.5 million students with disabilities in the United States.

Tina Fineberg / AP Photo

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court suggested Tuesday that it is sympathetic to Microsoft Corp. in a dispute with disgruntled owners of the Xbox 360 video-game system who sued saying the console has a design defect that scratches game discs.

The justices heard arguments Tuesday in a case that involves the Xbox 360 owners' attempts to get class action status for their lawsuit, which was filed several years ago in the state of Washington, where Microsoft is headquartered.

A state Supreme court decision Thursday gives a Washington tribe the right to transport goods and services across state lines without taxation. Attorneys and tribal members said the case is a win on the side of tribal sovereignty.

With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to open hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, the game of confirmation cat and mouse is about to begin. Senators will try to get a fix on Gorsuch's legal views — and the nominee will try to say as little as possible.

Supreme Court scholars and practitioners on the right and left may disagree about whether they want to see Gorsuch confirmed, but in general there is little doubt about the nominee's conservatism. Indeed, his conservative pedigree is the reason he was picked.

The man at the heart of the legal resistance to the Trump agenda works in an unfinished office a block away from the White House.

David Cole, the new national legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, hasn't had time to hang pictures on the wall or remember to bring a mug to hold his morning tea.

"I get to wake up every morning and I get paid to think about how to respond in ways that will preserve our basic rights and liberties," Cole said. "That's a tremendous privilege."

In a reversal, the Supreme Court will not decide Gavin Grimm's lawsuit over a school policy that requires students to use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. The court was scheduled to hear the case this month.

A measure under consideration in the Oregon Legislature would allow juries to award unlimited damages in lawsuits alleging negligence.

Juries can already award unlimited damages that are tied to actual economic harm done to victims. But the state has a $500,000 cap on non-economic damages, sometimes referred to as "pain and suffering."

In 2010, Lester Packingham was convicted of having a Facebook account. That's a crime in North Carolina, which bars registered sex offenders from "accessing" certain social media sites, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether that law violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Packingham contends the statute, instead of being narrowly targeted, encompasses a "vast amount" of speech that is protected by the Constitution.

With security at the U.S.-Mexico border at the center of a seething controversy, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed torn at oral arguments on Tuesday — torn between their sense of justice and legal rules that until now have protected U.S. Border Patrol agents from liability in cross-border shootings.

Thirty-three states have passed criminal justice reform in an attempt to reduce prison populations and save money.

But although voters in Oklahoma approved ballot initiatives enacting reforms in November, some lawmakers have filed bills to repeal the reforms.

Prisons in Oklahoma are at a 109 percent capacity, creating safety issues and budget problems. There's no money for treatment, and things are so dire, many inmates are sleeping in makeshift spaces like the cafeteria.

Bellamy Pailthorp / knkx

Washington state is suing the nation's largest student loan company, joining the federal government and the state of Illinois in alleging unfair and deceptive practices with lending and debt collection.

A top Egyptian court has ruled against the government's bid to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

It's an embarrassing ruling for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who has argued that the islands of Trian and Sanafir are historically Saudi. The Supreme Administrative Court disagreed, saying that they are Egyptian sovereign territory.

"It's enshrined in the court's conscience that Egypt's sovereignty over Tiran and Sanafir is beyond doubt," presiding judge Ahmed al-Shazli told the court, according to The Associated Press.

On Jan. 20, 2016, exactly a year before a new president would be sworn into office, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia announced the court's 8-to-1 decision reinstating the death penalty for two Kansas brothers.

It was the last time the 79-year-old Scalia would announce an opinion. Three weeks later, on a hunting trip in Texas, the conservative icon died in his sleep.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a jury verdict finding that State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. defrauded the federal government after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

In the years before the hurricane, State Farm issued both federal government-backed flood insurance policies and general homeowners policies. After the hurricane, the company ordered its claims adjusters to misclassify wind damage as flood damage to shift liability to the government and spare the insurance company's coffers.

The Supreme Court has weighed in on a patent battle between Samsung and Apple, siding with Samsung by declaring that the patent infringement for an element of a design should be treated differently from the infringement of an entire design.

The dispute between the two tech giants isn't about whether Samsung violated Apple's patents, but rather about how much money it's reasonable for Samsung to pay for the infringement.

Granting the request of relatives of victims of the Newtown school shootings, Connecticut's Supreme Court has accepted their lawsuit against Remington Arms, maker of the rifle that killed 20 students and six teachers in 2012.

Congress had a full seven months to block a rule change for federal courts that lets judges authorize the hacking of digital devices well beyond their districts.

But after a September attempt in the Senate to vote on the measure failed, opponents on Capitol Hill waited until the day before the rule change was to take effect to introduce three motions aimed at shooting it down or at least delaying its implementation.

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