May 6th, 2014
05:19 AM ET

Justices Allow Public Prayers at New York Town's Council Meetings

The Supreme Court gave limited approval on Monday to public prayers at a New York town's board meetings, citing the country's history of religious acknowledgment in the legislature.

The 5-4 ruling came in yet another contentious case over the intersection of faith and the civic arena. It was confined to the specific circumstances and offered few bright-line rules on how other communities should offer civic prayers without violating the Constitution.

Two local women sued officials in Greece, New York, objecting to invocations at monthly public sessions on government property. The invocations, according to the plaintiffs, have been overwhelmingly Christian in nature over the years.

"The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, "and does not coerce participation by nonadherents."

Just moments before the opinion was announced from the bench, the high court began its public session as it has for decades: with the marshal invoking a traditional statement that ends, "God save the United States and this honorable court." The several hundred people in attendance, along with the justices, stood for the brief ceremony.

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READ: After Supreme Court ruling, do religious minorities have a prayer?

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January 23rd, 2014
06:32 AM ET

Convicted Cop killer Edgar Tamayo Arias Executed

A last-ditch push to keep a convicted cop killer alive failed Wednesday night when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a motion to stay his execution.

Edgar Tamayo Arias, a Mexican national, was executed at 9:32 p.m. CT, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said.

His execution marks the first of the year in Texas and the 509th in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Tamayo did not make a statement before his death, department spokesman Jason Clark said.

Mexico's government had been pushing to block Tamayo's execution, arguing that it would violate international law.

Lawyers for Tamayo criticized the Supreme Court's ruling.

"He will be executed tonight, despite the indisputable fact that his right to consular assistance was violated," attorneys Sandra L. Babcock and Maurie Levin said in a statement before Tamayo's lethal injection.

Tamayo, 46, was convicted of the 1994 murder of a Houston police officer.

Officer Guy Gaddis was fatally shot after arresting Tamayo and another man for robbery.

Tamayo's supporters say he was denied access to his consulate when arrested, as required by an international treaty.

In the past five years, Texas has executed two other Mexicans convicted of murder who raised similar claims. The Supreme Court refused to delay either of those executions, which took place in2008 and 2011.

Tamayo's lawyers argued the consulate access violation was more than a technicality - that Mexican officials would have ensured he had the most competent trial defense possible, if they had been able to speak with him right after his felony arrest.

Earlier Wednesday, the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Tamayo's clemency request.

The Bush and Obama administrations had urged Texas and other states to grant Tamayo and inmates in similar situations new hearings, fearing repercussions for Americans arrested overseas.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has also weighed in on Tamayo's case, arguing that setting an execution date is "extremely detrimental to the interests of the United States."

"I want to be clear: I have no reason to doubt the facts of Mr. Tamayo's conviction, and as a former prosecutor, I have no sympathy for anyone who would murder a police officer," Kerry wrote. "This is a process issue I am raising because it could impact the way American citizens are treated in other countries."

Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said the state was committed to enforcing its laws.

"It doesn't matter where you're from — if you commit a despicable crime like this in Texas, you are subject to our state laws, including a fair trial by jury and the ultimate penalty," she said.

Tamayo was one of 40 Mexican citizens awaiting the death penalty in U.S. prisons.

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December 16th, 2013
10:37 AM ET

Judge Strikes Down Part Of Utah Polygamy Law In 'Sister Wives' Case

A federal judge in Utah has struck down part of that state's law banning polygamy, after a lawsuit was brought by the stars of the television reality series "Sister Wives," reports CNN's Pamela Brown.

The ruling late Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups threw out the law's section prohibiting "cohabitation," saying it violates constitutional guarantees of due process and religious freedom.

But the judge said he would keep in place the ban on bigamy "in the literal sense - the fraudulent or otherwise impermissible possession of two purportedly valid marriage licenses for the purpose of entering into more than one purportedly legal marriage."

In other words, the ruling does not make polgamy legal. “It means families of multiple husbands or wives who live together but don't seek more  than one marriage license cannot be prosecuted," Brown reports.

Kody Brown, a Utah resident and his four wives - MeriJanelleChristine, and Robyn - who together have 17 children, and whose lives are chronicled on the TLC cable television program, are celebrating that because "plural families can now go out into public and be what they are and represent themselves for what they believe their faith demands,” says Jonathan Turley, attorney for Brown and his four wives. (SEE VIDEO BELOW)

"They will not be subject to threats that their children will be taken away from them."

The 91-page decision comes months after the Supreme Court struck down a separate federal law that defined marriage as between only one man and one woman, a major legal, political, and social victory for homosexual couples seeking recognition of their same-sex unions.

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December 4th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Supreme Court Appears Split Over Frequent Flyer Case

A Supreme Court dispute over frequent flyer programs was left up in the air Tuesday, as the justices appeared split during oral arguments over whether the airline or a well-traveled rabbi should prevail.

Binyomin Ginsberg claims his WorldPerks Platinum Elite membership was revoked after being told he had "abused" his privileges, repeatedly filing complaints for upgrades and other benefits.

Northwest Airlines, which was consumed by Delta Air Lines in a 2008 merger, said it had "sole judgment" over the program's general terms and conditions to make such determinations.

At issue is whether Ginsberg has a right under state law to bring his case or whether it is preempted by a 1970s-era federal law that deregulated the airline industry.

That law prohibits parties from bringing similar state claims against airlines relating to a "price, route, or service" of the carrier.
The court offered contrasting views in an energetic hour of arguments.

"If the airline has an unreviewable right to terminate this agreement for any reason or for no reason, then it's an illusory contract," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "If one party can get out willy-nilly, what kind of bargain is it" for the consumer?

But Justice Antonin Scalia said the statute in question was designed to preempt state laws. "The whole purpose of the (federal law) was to deregulate airlines," he said. "Let the free market handle it, and there be will be no state regulation."

Ginsberg runs an educational consulting firm for parents and schools in Minneapolis, and travels frequently to lecture and teach.

He joined Northwest's WorldPerks frequent flier program in 1999 and reached Platinum Elite status - the program's highest - in 2005.
But in June of 2008, Ginsberg claimed a Northwest representative called him and told him his status was being revoked on grounds that he "abused" the program, according to court papers.

He said the airline also took away the hundreds of thousands of miles accumulated in his account.

"I think I did exactly what they wanted and they should have said thank you for giving us this feedback," Ginsberg told CNN's "New Day" in an interview on Wednesday.

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