أرشيف الوسم: Court decisions

Key Atlantic Coast Pipeline permit heads to Supreme Court

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RICHMOND, Va. —
When plans for the 605-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline were first unveiled in 2014, supporters of the natural gas project brimmed with enthusiasm and promises.

The pipeline would bring natural gas from West Virginia to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina, and with it, would come economic development, thousands of jobs and reduced energy costs for consumers, supporters said.

A beaming Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called it a “win-win,”saying it would be good for the environment,too, because it would help speed up the closing of aging coal plants.

Since then, the project hasfaced one setback after another, with legal challenges brought by environmental groups — prompting the dismissal or suspension of eight permits and halting construction for more than a year.

Now,three yearsbehind schedule, with a price tag that has nearly doubled to $8 billion, the project is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a hearingMonday on a critical permit.

Backed by the Trump administration, the project developers — Dominion Energy and Duke Energy — will ask the high court to reverse a federal appeals court ruling that threw out a permit needed for the pipeline to cross two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, the historic footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sharply criticized the U.S. Forest Service for granting a special-use permit to build the pipeline through parts of the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, and to cross the Appalachian Trail.

The court found that the Forest Service did not have the statutory authority to approve the trail crossing and said the agency had “abdicated its responsibility to preserve national forest resources.”

The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Forest Service has authority to grant rights-of-way for gas pipelines through lands crossed by the Appalachian Trail within national forests.

The project developers, joined by U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, say the answer is yes, arguing the Forest Service is the agency that holds jurisdiction over land in the George Washington National Forest. But the environmental groups say the answer is no because the 2,200-mile (3,540-kilometer) scenic trail is considered a unit of the National Park System and only Congress can approve such a crossing.

Under plans for the project, a 0.1-mile segment of the pipeline would cross about 700 feet (213 meters) beneath the Appalachian Trail.

That tiny segmentis a key component of the pipeline project’s route.

“It’s important because Dominion has really bet its project on this crossing point,” said Greg Buppert, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued on behalf of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

Dominion spokeswoman Ann Nallo said the company chose that crossing point after consulting with federal agencies to determine the best route for the pipeline.

“Part of the determination involved the impact on the environment,” Nallo said.

In its ruling, the 4th Circuit found that the Forest Service had “serious environmental concerns” about the project that were “suddenly, and mysteriously, assuaged in time to meet a private pipeline company’s deadlines.”

Environmental groups say the pipeline would scar pristine landscapes, put numerous rivers and streams at risk of increased sedimentation and harm sensitive species.

The stakes are high for lead developer, Dominion, a dominant corporate power in Virginia politics and favorite landing spot for government officials. U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr spent a decade on the company’s board before joining the Trump administration.

The company is counting on the project to help balance its books after aggressive purchases of other energy companies in recent years.

“Make no mistake, if that pipe is canceled, it certainly is balance sheet destructive, and it will impact Dominion’s growth rate,” said Shar Pourreza, an analyst who follows Dominion as Guggenheim Partners’ managing director for North American power and utilities.

Dominion has some heavy-hitters on its side, with support from 18 state attorneys general, more than 60 members of Congress, trade associations and labor unions.

A host of environmentalists, land owners and communities along the pipeline route have urged the Supreme Court to uphold the 4th Circuit’s ruling.

Dominion says the pipeline will bring a critical new gas supply to Virginia and North Carolina to support the shift away from coal and toward intermittent natural resources like solar. The company also says greater availability of natural gas will attract manufacturing businesses.

Critics question the assertion that the gas is needed.

In a brief filed with the Supreme Court, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said recent analyses indicate the demand for natural gas will remain flat or decrease for the foreseeable future.

In an earnings call with investment analysts earlier this month, Dominion CEO Tom Farrell said the company is “optimistic” that the Supreme Court will issue an order reversing the 4th Circuit ruling in May or June. He said Dominion is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a separate permit related to endangered species and then anticipates resuming construction “across major portions of the pipeline.”

But opponents of the project emphasize that six other permits have been revoked or suspended, including a permit to build a gas compressor station in the historic African American community of Union Hill in Virginia.

“The bottom line is, no matter what happens on Monday, there are others issues,” said Lew Freeman, executive director of the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of 51 organizations opposing the pipeline.

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Pennsylvania excessive courtroom declines to overview Sandusky resolution

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Jerry Sandusky will not get a contemporary probability to argue in state courtroom he ought to get a brand new trial, seven years after the previous Penn State assistant soccer coach was convicted of molesting 10 boys.

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Courtroom on Wednesday turned down Sandusky’s request that it overview a Superior Courtroom resolution earlier this yr rejecting most of his arguments.

His lawyer says he was stunned and disillusioned by the justices’ resolution.

“We’re very disillusioned. We have been very hopeful the Supreme Courtroom would hear our enchantment, as a result of it is a very robust enchantment,” Sandusky protection lawyer Al Lindsay mentioned.

He mentioned it’s seemingly Sandusky will search assist from the federal courts, and he expects to satisfy with Sandusky later this week on the State Correction Establishment at Laurel Highlands.

Jacklin Rhoads, spokeswoman for the state lawyer common’s workplace, mentioned prosecutors have been happy with the excessive courtroom’s resolution.

Superior Courtroom had additionally ordered Sandusky be resentenced as a result of obligatory minimal tips have been improperly utilized. Rhoads mentioned the resentencing, on maintain pending the excessive courtroom resolution concerning the enchantment, can now proceed.

Sandusky’s November 2011 arrest led to the firing of his longtime boss, head soccer coach Joe Paterno, and the forcing out of then-university president Graham Spanier.

Paterno died in 2012, months earlier than Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of kid sexual abuse.

Sandusky had filed a multifaceted enchantment that argued the investigation, trial and sentencing have been replete with errors, however the three-judge Superior Courtroom panel was largely unswayed in February, adopted by the one-page order issued Wednesday.

Sandusky had argued his personal legal professionals ought to have stored him from giving a TV interview after his arrest, that his failure to testify was improperly cited by a prosecutor and that he ought to have been given details about adjustments to victims’ tales earlier than trial.

Sandusky, 75, was sentenced in 2012 to 30 to 60 years. Spanier and two retired Penn State directors, vp Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley, have been convicted in 2017 of kid endangerment for failing to inform authorities in 2001 of a grievance about Sandusky and a boy in a staff bathe.

A federal choose in April threw out Spanier’s misdemeanor conviction, lower than a day earlier than Spanier had been attributable to flip himself in to start serving a jail sentence. The lawyer common’s workplace is interesting the Spanier ruling.

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German nurse who murdered 87 patients given life sentence

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Niels Hoegel liked to bring about cardiac arrests in his patients by injecting them with overdoses of heart medication and other drugs because he enjoyed the feeling of being able to resuscitate them. Sometimes he succeeded in bringing them back, but in at least 87 cases they died, making him what is believed to be modern Germany’s most prolific serial killer.

A court in the northwestern city of Oldenburg on Thursday found the 42-year-old nurse guilty of murdering 85 patients, aged 34 to 96, and sentenced him to life in prison. He had earlier been convicted of two other killings.

“Your guilt is incomprehensible,” presiding judge Sebastian Buerhmann said as he handed down the verdict. “I felt like an accountant of death.”

Hoegel worked at a hospital in Oldenburg between 1999 and 2002 and another hospital in nearby Delmenhorst from 2003 to 2005, and the killings took place between 2000 and 2005, the dpa news agency reported.

Hoegel was convicted in 2015 of two murders and two attempted murders and is already currently serving a life sentence. There are no consecutive sentences in the German system, but Buerhmann noted in his verdict the “particular seriousness” of Hoegel’s crimes, a finding that all but ensures he will remain incarcerated after the standard 15-year term is up.

During his first trial, Hoegel said he intentionally brought about cardiac crises in some 90 patients in Delmenhorst because he enjoyed the feeling of being able to resuscitate them. He later told investigators that he also killed patients in Oldenburg.

That prompted a wider investigation involving both hospitals, and police and prosecutors reviewed more than 500 patient files and hundreds more hospital records. They also exhumed 134 bodies from 67 cemeteries, and questioned Hoegel multiple times, concluding that he had used a variety of drugs to attempt resuscitation of his patients, and was fully aware they might die.

Prosecutors noted that many of Hoegel’s victims were not terminally ill patients, but were on the path to recovery.

“The fact is sometimes the worst fantasy is not enough to describe the truth,” Buehrmann said.

In all, Hoegel was tried in Oldenburg on 100 counts of murder, but the court found him not guilty on 15 counts for lack of evidence, which Buerhmann noted with regret to the family members present.

“We were not able to shine light through part of the fog that lay over this trial,” Buehrmann said. “That also fills with a certain sadness.”

Frank Brinkers, whose father was thought to have been killed by Hoegel, was one of those left wondering because the court could not definitively prove culpability.

“That is very, very bitter,” Brinkers said after the verdict. “I have gone through hell and that is hard to bear.”

Pleas are not entered in the German system but during the seven-month trial, Hoegel admitted to 43 of the killings, disputed five and said he couldn’t remember the other 52.

Hoegel testified that he had a “protected” childhood, free of violence. He said his grandmother and his father, who were both nurses, had been his role models for going into the profession.

“Now I sit here fully convinced that I want to give every relative an answer,” Hoegel said during the trial. “I am really sorry.”

An expert testified during the trial that while Hoegel suffered from personality disorders, he was psychologically competent to stand trial and serve his sentence.

In his closing statement to the court on Wednesday, Hoegel reiterated his earlier apology, expressing shame and remorse, and saying he realized how much pain and suffering he had caused with his “terrible deeds.”

“To each and every one of you I sincerely apologize for all that I have done,” he said.

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Kansas court bolsters abortion rights, blocks ban

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Kansas’ highest court declared for the first time Friday that the state constitution protects abortion rights, a sweeping ruling that blocks a ban on a common second trimester method for ending pregnancies and endangers other restrictions as well.

The state Supreme Court’s decision immediately roiled Kansas politics. Abortion opponents called for amending the state constitution but might wait to push for a change until next year, when all state lawmakers face voters.

The court’s decision was a big victory for abortion rights supporters in a state with a Republican-controlled Legislature long hostile to their cause. It also comes with other, GOP-controlled states moving to ban most abortions in direct challenges to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortions across the nation.

“I’m beyond elated,” said Julie Burkart, CEO and founder of the Trust Women Foundation, which operates a clinic providing abortions in Wichita. “This is what we were hoping for.”

The decision prevents the state from enforcing what was a first-in-the-nation 2015 law that could have greatly limited second trimester abortions. But even worse for abortion opponents, the ruling clears the way for legal challenges to a string of abortion restrictions approved by state lawmakers under Republican governors before last year’s election of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, an abortion rights supporter.

“It’s very extreme,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, the state’s most influential anti-abortion group. “It’s as bad as we could have imagined it and has potential to overturn pro-life laws.”

The court’s majority said vague language protecting “equal and inalienable rights” in the first section of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights grants a “natural right of personal autonomy” that includes the right to “control one’s own body” and to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.

The 6-1 majority rejected the state’s arguments that there is no protection for abortion rights because most abortions were illegal in Kansas Territory when the state constitution was written in 1859. The majority said at the time, women faced a “paternalistic attitude” and a lack of recognition that they had the same rights as men.

“True equality of opportunity in the full range of human endeavor is a Kansas constitutional value, and it cannot be met if the ability to seize and maximize opportunity is tethered to prejudices from two centuries ago,” the unsigned majority opinion said.

The court also declared that restrictions on abortion will face strict scrutiny, so the state must show that a law is narrowly drawn to deal with a “compelling” interest. That’s higher than the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard that under the federal constitution, restrictions must avoid placing an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortion.

The Kansas court’s dissenter was Justice Caleb Stegall, the only appointee of a conservative Republican governor. The court’s two most senior justices were appointed by a moderate Republican, and four by a Democrat. Conservative Republicans have long complained that the court is too liberal — and Kansans for Life tried in 2016 to oust four of the justices in Friday’s majority when voters ultimately decided that they should stay on the bench for another six years.

Stegall declared that “an important right of self-government has been stolen away” from Kansans residents and derided the majority for suggesting that “luminaries of the western legal tradition” would support “nearly unfettered abortion access.”

“In this imagined world, the Liberty Bell rings every time a baby in utero loses an arm,” Stegall wrote.

Top Republican legislators also quickly condemned the decision, saying it was out of step with the state’s values. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, even suggested the ruling had “breathtaking” implications beyond abortion and signaled “an ever-expanding role” for courts in setting policy.

Legislators could pursue a constitutional amendment after they reconvene Wednesday following an annual spring break. However, GOP leaders had wanted to wrap up business within a week, and Culp said Kansans for Life wants to make sure it is “as organized and strategic and successful” as possible for a push to amend the constitution.

The decision Friday came two years after the Kansas court heard arguments from attorneys, an unusually long delay for a ruling. Iowa’s Supreme Court issued a similar decision in 2018.

Kelly said she is pleased that the court has recognized a woman’s right to “make her own medical decisions.” Burkhart said Trust Women will be considering what other restrictions can be challenged.

In previous cases, Kansas’ highest court avoided the question of whether the state constitution protects abortion rights, allowing U.S. Supreme Court decisions to determine what restrictions would be allowed.

But when two providers sued over the 2015 law, a state district court judge blocked its enforcement and declared that the Kansas Constitution protects abortion rights.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court for a trial on the lawsuit but kept the judge’s injunction in place, saying the providers are likely to succeed in invalidating the law.

The law would bar physicians from using forceps or similar instruments on a live fetus to remove it from the womb in pieces, using the non-medical term “dismemberment abortion” to describe the procedure. Such instruments are commonly used in dilation and evacuation procedure, which the Center for Reproductive Rights has described as the safest and most common abortion procedure in the U.S. in the second trimester.

The Kansas law was model legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee. The group says similar bans have been enacted in 10 other states — Oklahoma, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, Ohio and North Dakota.

Abortion providers reported performing 484 dilation and evacuation procedures in Kansas in 2018, according to state health department statistics. That was 6.9% of the state’s total abortions; most pregnancies were terminated during the first trimester.

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Associated Press Writer Roxana Hegeman in Wichita also contributed.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna



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