The trial of two Canadian men from a fundamentalist sect that allows men to have multiple wives opened Tuesday with not guilty pleas being entered on charges of practicing polygamy.
Winston Blackmore and James Oler each face one count of polygamy. Both men have served as bishops for the religious settlement of Bountiful, British Columbia which follows the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, often referred to as the FLDS.
Oler is accused of having four wives. He pleaded not guilty. Blackmore remained mute and Justice Sheri Ann Donegan said a not guilty plea would be entered on his behalf. Blackmore is accused of marrying 24 women over 25 years.
Blackmore's lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said outside court his client chose to say nothing for religious reasons.
"He doesn't want to deny his faith. He doesn't feel guilty," Suffredine said. "The technical way around that is don't say anything and they'll enter the plea not guilty."
Special prosecutor Peter Wilson told the court his case includes marriage records seized from the church's Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, which were used in 2010 to sentence leader Warren Jeffs to life in a U.S. prison for sexually assaulting two young girls.
Republicans invoked the "nuclear option" in the Senate Thursday, unilaterally rewriting the chamber's rules to allow President Donald Trump's nominee to ascend to the Supreme Court.
Furious Democrats objected until the end, but their efforts to block Judge Neil Gorsuch failed as expected. Lawmakers of both parties bemoaned the long-term implications for the Senate, the court and the country.
"We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court," said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
The maneuvering played out in an atmosphere of tension in the Senate chamber with most senators in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.
First Democrats mounted a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. Then Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.
McConnell was overruled, but appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.
A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday and he could then be sworn in in time to take his seat on the court later this month and hear the final cases of the term.
The maneuvering played out with much hand-wringing from all sides about the future of the Senate, as well as unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations as each side blamed the other. The rules change is known as the "nuclear option" because of its far-reaching implications.
A small protest by liberals outside Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly's downtown Indianapolis office this week could signal trouble for his 2018 re-election hopes.
Some of those who protested against Donnelly's decision to break with his party and to support Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court said they were uneasy about voting for him next year. That liberal pushback against the moderate Donnelly comes as he's already being targeted by national Republicans in a state that President Donald Trump carried by 19 percentage points.
Pamela Griffin, a retired Indianapolis elementary school teacher, said she was going to think "long and hard" about supporting Donnelly in next year's election, while acknowledging it was "kind of a fluke" he was elected in the Republican-dominated state in 2012.
"He's rubber-stamped some stuff that he shouldn't have for Trump," Griffin said. "I'm disappointed in him that he's not really doing what his party would want him to do."
Donnelly won his first Senate term in 2012 with just over 50 percent of the vote and is now the sole Indiana Democrat holding statewide office.
The National Rifle Association ran campaign-style ads in the past week questioning Donnelly's pro-gun stance if he wasn't willing to support Gorsuch, which he did on Thursday, joining three other Democrats who voted to end his party's filibuster. Two Republican U.S. House members, Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, have signaled they may challenge Donnelly for his seat next year.
Donnelly has tried to cultivate an independent image, highlighting his work on veterans issues and trying to stop the loss of Indiana factory jobs. He has supported some of Trump's Cabinet picks but he's also spoken out against the failed Republican health care bill.
Donnelly said Sunday that he would vote to confirm Gorsuch, whom he described as qualified and well respected. He and two of the other Democratic senators who support Gorsuch — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — are moderates from states that Trump won by big margins last November. The fourth, Sen. Michael Bennet from Gorsuch's home state of Colorado, said he wouldn't join the filibuster but hasn't said how he would vote on Gorsuch's confirmation.
Senate Democratic opposition to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee swelled Friday as Democrats neared the numbers needed for a filibuster, setting up a showdown with Republicans who have the votes to confirm Neil Gorsuch.
Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii became the latest Democratic senators to announce their opposition to Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appeals court judge in Denver whose conservative rulings make him an intellectual heir to the justice he would replace, the late Antonin Scalia.
McCaskill’s decision came a day after she said she was torn over the decision. She said she’s opposing the federal appeals court judge because his opinions favor corporations over workers and he’s shown “a stunning lack of humanity” in some of those decisions.
She also criticized Trump in her statement announcing her opposition, saying “the president who promised working people he would lift them up has nominated a judge who can’t even see them.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York warned Republicans against changing Senate rules, which could prove momentous for the chamber and would allow all future Supreme Court nominees to get on the court regardless of opposition from the minority party. He says President Donald Trump should just pick a new nominee if Gorsuch is blocked.
Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young plans to retire and return to his former law firm.
A statement from the court says Young announced his plans Wednesday during a meeting with fellow Michigan Supreme Court justices. The 65-year-old says his retirement from the court is effective April 30 or earlier. He’s going back to the Dickinson Wright firm.
Young served three years on the Michigan Court of Appeals and 18 years on Michigan’s highest court, including six years as chief justice. Young says he’s proud of his accomplishments, including helping to reduce acrimony among the court.
He says in a statement “we proved that good people who may differ in their opinions can come together and accomplish important things for the people we serve — and we do it amicably.”
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez’s appeal of his corruption indictment, setting the stage for a federal trial in the fall.
The justices let stand a lower court ruling that refused to dismiss charges including conspiracy, bribery and fraud against the Democratic lawmaker.
Menendez was indicted in 2015 after prosecutors said he took official action on behalf of a longtime friend who had given him gifts and campaign donations including flights aboard a luxury jet and a Paris vacation.
The friend, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, currently is on trial in Florida on multiple counts of Medicare fraud that are separate from the counts he faces in the Menendez indictment.
The indictment alleges Menendez used his official influence to set up meetings with government officials aimed at helping Melgen in a Medicare dispute and with a business interest involving port security in the Dominican Republic.
Menendez has contended he was seeking to influence future policy instead of advocating on behalf of his friend, and that the government is attempting to use the timing of campaign donations to create a quid pro quo between him and Melgen that he claims never existed.
Private businesses in Europe can forbid Muslim women in their employ from wearing headscarves if the ban is part of a policy of neutrality within the company and not a sign of prejudice against a particular religion, the European Court of Justice said Tuesday.
Such a ban doesn't constitute what Europe's high court calls "direct discrimination."
The conclusion by the highest court in the 28-nation European Union was in response to two cases brought by a Belgian and a French woman, both fired for refusing to remove their headscarves. It clarifies a long-standing question about whether partial bans by some countries on religious symbols can include the workplace.
The court's response fed right into the French presidential campaign, bolstering the platforms of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a leading contender in the spring election who wants to do away with all "ostentatious" religious symbols in the name of secularism, and conservative Francois Fillon, who hailed the court's decisions. France already bans headscarves and other religious symbols in classrooms as well as face-covering veils in streets.
However, critics quickly voiced fears that the decision risks becoming a setback to all working Muslim women.
"Today's disappointing rulings ... give greater leeway to employers to discriminate against women — and men — on the grounds of religious belief," said a statement by Amnesty International. "At a time when identity and appearance has become a political battleground, people need more protection against prejudice, not less."
The Open Society Justice Initiative, which submitted a brief supporting the women, expressed disappointment.
"The group's policy officer, Maryam Hmadoum, contended that the decision "weakens the guarantee of equality that is at the heart of the EU's antidiscrimination directive," which the Court of Justice cited in weighing the cases.