The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal from General Motors Co. seeking to block dozens of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that could expose the company to billions of dollars in additional claims.
The justices without comment left in place a lower court ruling that said the automaker's 2009 bankruptcy did not shield it from liability in the cases.
A federal appeals court ruled last year that GM remains responsible for ignition-switch injuries and deaths that occurred pre-bankruptcy because the company knew about the problem for more than a decade but kept it secret from the bankruptcy court.
The company had argued that well-established bankruptcy law allowed the newly reorganized GM to obtain the old company's assets "free and clear" of liabilities.
GM recalled 2.6 million small cars worldwide in 2014 to replace defective switches that played a role in at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries, according to a victims' fund set up by GM and administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg.
The automaker has paid nearly $875 million to settle death and injury claims related to the switches. That includes $600 million from Feinberg's fund and $275 million to settle 1,385 separate claims. It also has paid $300 million to settle shareholder lawsuits. But many others are pursuing their claims in court.
After it emerged from the government-funded bankruptcy, the company referred to as New GM was indemnified against most claims made against the pre-bankruptcy company, known as Old GM. A bankruptcy court sided with the company in 2015, ruling that most claims against Old GM could not be pursued.
But the appeals court in Manhattan overturned most of that decision and said hundreds of pre-bankruptcy claims could go forward.
The Supreme Court has turned away an appeal seeking to force the CIA to release the full 2014 Senate report about the agency's use of harsh interrogation tactics.
The justices on Monday let stand an appeals court ruling that said the 6,900-page report prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee was not subject to Freedom of Information laws.
The committee previously released a lengthy summary of the report to the public, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued to obtain the full version. The ACLU argued that the report became subject to disclosure laws after the committee sent it around to several federal agencies for review.
The appeals court said Congress clearly intended to retain control of the report.
Indiana's next state Supreme Court justice will complete the remaking of the bench, as all five justices will be white and will have been appointed since 2010 by Republican governors.
The state's Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday chose three finalists to succeed Justice Robert Rucker, who is retiring May 12. Once the names of the finalists — Judges Vicki Carmichael, Christopher Goff and Matthew Kincaid — are sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb, he'll have 60 days in which to choose one to succeed Rucker.
Here is some background on the finalists, Rucker and the court.
Carmichael, 54, has been a Clark Circuit Court judge in the Ohio River county just north of Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. She would be the high court's third female justice ever, including its current chief justice, Loretta Rush. Carmichael, who's married and has an adult daughter in college, was a city court judge in Jeffersonville for six years before becoming a county judge. Unlike the other two finalists, who are Republicans, Carmichael is a Democrat. She previously was in private practice and served as a public defender. She's a graduate of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.
Goff, who turns 45 on Tuesday, has served as a Wabash Superior Court judge since 2005. In his application for the high court seat, he wrote that the courts in Wabash County, located in northeastern Indiana, are among the state's busiest based on the number of cases assigned to each judge. Goff, who is married and has two daughters, previously worked in private practice. He's a graduate of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
Kincaid, 46, has been a Boone Superior Court judge in the county just northwest of Indianapolis since 2003. Like the other finalists, before becoming a judge he was a lawyer in a private practice. This is Kincaid's second time as a finalist for the state Supreme Court. The Judicial Nominating Commission also selected him last year as one of three finalists to succeed Justice Brent Dickson. Then-Gov. Mike Pence chose Indianapolis attorney Geoffrey Slaughter for that vacancy. Kincaid, who is married with three children, is a graduate of the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.
Rucker, 70, announced in January that he would retire this spring, five years before reaching the court's mandatory retirement age. His last day on the bench is May 12. Rucker was named to the bench in 1999 by Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon, becoming only its second black justice ever. His departure will leave the court with only white justices, and all three finalists for his vacancy are white. Rucker is the court's only remaining Democratic appointee.
INDIANA'S REVAMPED COURT:
When Rucker's replacement is named, all five members of the state's highest court will have been appointed by Republican governors. Indiana University law professor Joel Schumm said that's the first time that's happened since Indiana voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1970 creating a commission to pick finalists for the governor to choose from. He said he doesn't think the change will be particularly significant because Indiana justices have a long tradition of not being politically ideological in their rulings. The governor's pick will join Rush, Justice Steven David, Justice Mark Massa and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter on the court. Given the ages of the justices, Schumm says they could be together on the court for about 15 years.
Republicans have put President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee on the bench, and they're now in a position to fill dozens more federal judgeships — and reshape some of the nation's highest courts.
Democrats have few ways to stop them.
The Republicans' opportunity comes with the GOP in control of Congress and the White House, about 120 vacancies in federal district and appeals courts to be filled and after years of partisan fights over judicial nominations.
Frustrated by Republican obstruction in 2013, then-majority Democrats changed Senate rules so judicial nominations for those trial and appeals courts are filibuster-proof, meaning it takes only 51 votes, a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, for confirmation.
Today, Senate Republicans hold 52 seats.
The Democratic rules change did not apply to Supreme Court nominations. But Senate Republicans are now in the majority, and they changed the rules in similar fashion this month to confirm federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the high court over Democratic opposition. As a result, the GOP can almost guarantee confirmation of future Supreme Court justices, as well, if there are more openings with Trump in office and Republicans are in the majority.
"The Trump administration does have an opportunity to really put its mark on the future of the federal judiciary," says Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society and an adviser to Trump on the Gorsuch nomination.
Reflecting a conservative judicial philosophy, Leo says the unusual number of vacancies that Trump is inheriting could reorient the courts of appeals, in particular, "in a way that better reflects the traditional judicial role, which is interpreting the law according to its text and placing a premium on the Constitution's limits on government power."
That philosophy was a priority for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch replaced, and Trump has said he wants the federal judiciary to reflect those values.
There are currently 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts, which are one step below the Supreme Court, and roughly 100 more in district courts, where cases are originally tried. Former President Barack Obama had around half that number of vacancies when he took office in 2009. Of the current vacancies, 49 are considered judicial emergencies, a designation based on how many court filings are in the district and how long the seat has been open.
As the White House has focused on the Gorsuch nomination, Trump has so far only nominated one lower-court judge, Amul R. Thapar, a friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The suspect in this week's racially motivated shooting rampage in Fresno shouted Friday that natural disasters will increasingly hit the United States as he was ushered into a cramped courtroom for his first appearance before a judge.
Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was supposed to be officially informed about the first-degree murder charge he is accused of in the shooting death of an unarmed security guard.
Authorities have said he then killed three more people in the rampage, targeting white victims, before he was caught.
But the reading of the charge never happened because Muhammad had another outburst, yelling "Let black people go" and a phrase similar to "in reparations" that was not clearly enunciated.
His court appointed lawyer, Eric Christensen, then told the judge: "I believe this gentleman may not be mentally competent to proceed."
Muhammad yelled again and the judge canceled the proceedings, setting bail at $2.6 million and ordering a mental evaluation for Muhammad.
Police have said Muhammad told them that learning he was wanted for the Williams' killing prompted him to try to kill as many white people as possible before he was caught.
He shot three other white men at random Tuesday, police said, including a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker sitting in a truck and two men who had come out of a Catholic Charities building.
The highest court in Massachusetts has formally approved the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug convictions that were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the final order from the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday marks the single largest dismissal of convictions in U.S. history.
The action by the court was expected after seven district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts submitted lists on Tuesday totaling 21,587 cases they would be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.
The cases were called into question when chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests. Dookhan pleaded guilty to perjury and other charges in 2013 and served a three-year prison sentence.
A white former South Carolina police officer charged in the death of an unarmed black motorist is expected in court as his federal trial approaches.
A motions hearing is scheduled Friday in the case against 35-year-old Michael Slager.
Slager's federal civil rights trial in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott starts next month. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday, when attorneys will discuss the admission of certain experts to testify.
Last month, a federal judge ruled prosecutors may show jurors video of the former North Charleston officer shooting Scott. The bystander's cellphone video was viewed millions of times around the world.
Slager also faces murder charges in state court, where his first trial ended in a hung jury. His retrial is scheduled for August.