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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to fight for his freedom in a British court after a decade of legal drama, as he challenges American authorities’ attempt to extradite him on spying charges over the site’s publication of secret U.S. military documents. Lawyers for Assange and the U.S. government are scheduled to face off in London Monday at an extradition hearing that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

American prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges adding up to a maximum sentence of 175 years. His lawyers say the prosecution is a politically motivated abuse of power that will stifle press freedom and put journalists at risk.

Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson said the case “is fundamentally about basic human rights and freedom of speech.” “Journalists and whistle-blowers who reveal illegal activity by companies or governments and war crimes – such as the publications Julian has been charged for – should be protected from prosecution,” she said.

American prosecutors say Assange is a criminal, not a free-speech hero. They allege that Assange conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also say he conspired with members of hacking organizations and sought to recruit hackers to provide WikiLeaks with classified information.

“By disseminating the materials in an unredacted form, he likely put people -- human rights activists, journalists, advocates, religious leaders, dissidents and their families -- at risk of serious harm, torture or even death,” James Lewis, a British lawyer acting for the U.S. government, told a hearing in February.

Assange argues he is a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection, and says the leaked documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing. Among the files released by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

His lawyers argue the prosecution is an abuse of process by a Trump administration that wants to make an example of Assange. They say he would be held in inhuman conditions and would not get a fair trial in the United States.

Journalism organizations and human rights groups have called on Britain to refuse the extradition request. Amnesty International said Assange was “the target of a negative public campaign by U.S. officials at the highest levels.”

“If Julian Assange is prosecuted it could have a chilling effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to self-censor in fear of retaliation,” said Amnesty’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks.

The four-week extradition hearing is part of a twisting saga rife with competing claims of hacking, spying and subterfuge. Assange’s lawyers claim the U.S. intelligence services directed a private security firm to spy on him while he was living in Ecuador’s London embassy -- a case currently being heard in a Spanish court.

Assange also alleges he was offered a pardon by the Trump administration if he agreed to say Russia wasn’t involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails that were published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. The White House denies that claim.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. He refused to go to Stockholm, saying he feared extradition or illegal rendition to the United States or the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


France called on the United States on Thursday to withdraw sanctions levelled on top officials of the International Criminal Court, saying they are a “grave attack” on the court and put into question the independence of justice.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions on Wednesday against the chief prosecutor of the court, based in The Hague, and a top aide, for investigations into the United States and its allies. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the U.S. or subject to U.S. law and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.

The court is, notably, investigating allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.

The United States has never been party to the court, and Pompeo said the U.S. would not tolerate “its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the sanctions are “a grave attack against the court … and beyond that a questioning of multi-lateralism and the independence of the judiciary. France calls on the United States to withdraw the announced measures.”


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority by appointing a constitutionally ineligible person to the Florida Supreme Court, but the high court said in a ruling Thursday that it won't undo the appointment.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson asked the court to invalidate the appointment of Judge Renatha Francis because the state constitution requires Supreme Court appointees to have served as a member of the Florida Bar for at least 10 years.

The Supreme Court said Thompson is right that Francis was ineligible for the appointment, but said she asked the court for a remedy that was not legally available, and that it would not undo the appointment on its own.

DeSantis appointed Francis on May 26, but said at the time she would not take office until Sept. 24 when she will have been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years. The Supreme Court said that's not how appointments of justices work, and the governor is not able to appoint an ineligible justice and hold the position for a future date.

The governor chooses appointees from a list provided to him by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. Thompson asked the Supreme Court to invalidate Francis's appointment, throw out the list provided by the commission and force the governor to pick an eligible appointee from the new list.

But the court ruled that Thompson waited too long to challenge the list and that the proper remedy would be to have the governor immediately pick an appointee from the original list.

“It is not enough for the Petitioner to establish that the Governor exceeded his authority by appointing Judge Francis. To prevail in this action, the Petitioner also must have sought proper relief. This is where the Petitioner’s case fails,” the court wrote.

Thompson's office did not immediately reply to a phone message and emails seeking comment. DeSantis's office said it was preparing a written statement on the ruling.

If Francis takes her oath next month, she will be the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Florida court.

Francis has served as a circuit court judge since 2017. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult after graduating from the University of the West Indies in 2000. Francis graduated from Florida Coastal Law School in 2010.


A federal appeals court in New Orleans upheld the constitutionality of the all-male military draft system Thursday, citing a 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In a decision that overturned a 2019 ruling by a Texas-based federal judge, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said “only the Supreme Court may revise its precedent.”

The case was argued in March  and was the result of a lawsuit by the National Coalition for Men and two men challenging the male-only draft. They argued that the 1981 case was decided at a time when women were largely absent from combat.

Thursday’s unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel acknowledged that “the factual underpinning of the controlling Supreme Court decision has changed. However, the judges noted, “that does not grant a court of appeals license to disregard or overrule that precedent.”

Plaintiffs in the case could seek a rehearing before the full 17-judge appeals court or go to the Supreme Court. Harry Crouch, president of the National Coalition for Men, said organization leaders will discuss their next move with attorneys. “All I can tell you is we will be moving the case forward,” he said.

The U.S. government stopped drafting young men into the military in 1973. But every male must still register for the draft when he turns 18. Earlier this year — after the arguments before the 5th Circuit — a federal commission recommended including women in the military draft system.

“The Commission concluded that the time is right to extend Selective Service System registration to include men and women, between the ages of 18 and 26. This is a necessary and fair step, making it possible to draw on the talent of a unified Nation in a time of national emergency,” the commission’s final report  said.

The 2019 district court decision declaring the male-only draft unconstitutional had been appealed by the Selective Service System, the federal agency that administers the draft. The appeal was argued during a series of 5th Circuit hearings at Tulane University. The judges were Carl Stewart, Don Willett and Jacques Weiner.

Arguing for the National Coalition for men was Marc Angelucci, an attorney who was shot to death in July. Authorities later linked the killing of Angelucci in California to Roy Den Hollander, 72, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on July 20, the day after an ambush shooting in New Jersey that killed U.S. District Judge Esther Salas’ 20-year-old son and wounded her husband.



The blockbuster Supreme Court term that just ended was a (nearly) unmitigated disaster for movement conservatives. Chief Justice John Roberts declined to overturn precedent on abortion rights. Conservative activist Justice Neil Gorsuch showed he would join the court’s liberals when the statutory text tells him to. The natural question then is, what’s next? What are the implications for the future of the court?

The short answer is that the court’s future direction is in flux like no other time in recent memory. And what happens next will be determined by the 2020 election and the justices’ health.

The first crucial point here is that, had Roberts and Gorsuch not crossed the court’s ideological lines in the most high-profile cases of the term, we would be looking at an extremely conservative court for the foreseeable future, regardless of the outcome of the November vote.

The court has five conservative justices who — until this term — seemed capable of acting as an unassailable voting bloc for the indefinite future. (The oldest, Justice Clarence Thomas, is only 72.) This bloc was formed after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate blocked a confirmation vote on Judge Merrick Garland during the Obama administration, allowing a newly elected President Donald Trump to appoint Gorsuch. The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing voter who repeatedly delivered liberal-friendly results on issues like gay rights, abortion and Guantanamo, then allowed Trump to appoint Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is (so far) a much more reliable conservative.

This conservative majority was the first on the court in nearly a century, and conservative activists anticipated that it would overturn Roe v. Wade and hold the line on cultural issues like transgender rights.


A group of elected officials in southwest Virginia violated the state's open government law during meetings about dissolving a public library system, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a case long delayed by a lawmaker's use of a privilege of his office.

State Del. Jeff Campbell, who is also an attorney in private practice, represented the Smyth County Board of Supervisors in the lawsuit brought by the head of a nonprofit that promotes the library.

The court ruled that the board had improperly entered into closed sessions and exceeded the scope of subjects it was allowed to discuss in closed meetings. The justices also found that the circuit court had erred by not awarding attorneys fees and costs to the group suing the board.

Paul Morrison, attorney for the president of the Friends of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library, said while he was pleased with the decision, the fact that the case took so long to come to a resolution means the board now has many new members. The ones who made the error won't have to face the fallout, he said.

“It sounds so cliché to say justice delayed is justice denied, but it’s really true,” he said.

Attorneys who serve in Virginia’s General Assembly or work there have broad discretion to obtain continuances in their cases “as a matter of right” under certain conditions. The Associated Press, citing court records obtained through a public records request, has previously reported that Campbell routinely uses that privilege to delay court proceedings, and has done so at least nine times in a domestic violence case against a former NASCAR driver.



The Supreme Court is passing for now on deciding whether juries must find all facts necessary to impose a death sentence or whether judges can play a role, an issue Nebraska and Missouri death row inmates had asked the court to take up.

The high court on Monday declined to hear appeals brought by Nikko Jenkins and Craig Wood. The court, as is usual, didn't comment in turning away the cases.

Wood is on death row in Missouri after being convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing 10-year-old Hailey Owens in 2014. The jury that convicted Would couldn’t decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison without parole. That left the decision up to the judge who oversaw Wood’s trial.

Jenkins is on death row in Nebraska after killing four people in Omaha shortly after his 2013 release from prison, where he had served 10 years for two carjackings. Jenkins pleaded no contest to the killings and a three-judge panel was appointed to sentence him. Jenkins waived his right to have a jury assess aggravating circumstances and the panel sentenced him to death.

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