Supreme Court Notebook

Court: Amtrak like gov't agency in helping set rules

WASHINGTON (AP) - A unanimous Supreme Court says Amtrak is more like a part of the government than a private corporation when it helps federal agencies craft rules to keep trains running on schedule.

The justices ruled Monday that lower courts must consider Amtrak's status in deciding whether Congress can give the passenger rail company power to develop standards other private railroads must follow.

A 2008 law directs Amtrak to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to create standards that let Amtrak keep priority over freight trains along common railroad tracks. But a federal appeals court sided with the freight railroad industry, which said Amtrak was a private organization that could not regulate competitor's actions.

The Supreme Court reversed, saying Amtrak is like a government entity given the reality of federal controls.

Court to review how Fla. imposes death sentences

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has agreed to review a death sentence imposed by a judge on a Florida inmate though the jury had been divided on punishment.

The justices said Monday they will hear an appeal from inmate Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing his manager at a Popeye's restaurant in Pensacola and leaving her body in a freezer.

A jury had divided 7-5, in favor of the death sentence. The case also involves whether the jury should have considered evidence of Hurst's intellectual capacity when deciding on his sentence.

Florida is among only a few states in which judges retain significant sentencing power in capital cases, including overriding juries' sentencing decisions.

Since 2002, a series of high court rulings have limited judges' discretion in sentencing.

The case, Hurst v. Florida, 14-7505, will be argued in the fall.

Court declines to hear ex-Somali official's case

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a former top official in Somalia who was ordered to pay $21 million to Somali victims of human-rights abuses.

The justices did not comment Monday in letting stand lower court rulings against Mohamed Ali Samantar, who now near Washington. He had previously been a top official in dictator Siad Barre's regime in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Federal courts found that Samantar could be held liable for orchestrating a campaign of torture and killings and rejected claims that he should be immune because he was an official of a foreign government.

The Obama administration had argued that Samantar was not immune from suit.

Justices side with Labor Department in OT pay dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has sided with the Obama administration in upholding a rule making mortgage brokers eligible for overtime pay under federal labor law.

The justices unanimously agreed Monday to throw out a lower court ruling that faulted the administration for trying to change overtime rules without following proper procedures.

The case turned on rules put in place by the Department of Labor that would make the mortgage brokers eligible for overtime pay under federal labor law. The rules were changed twice in a four-year period that spanned the Bush and Obama administrations.

In 2006, the Labor Department said the mortgage brokers were like executives and thus not covered by the overtime provision. In 2010, the department reversed itself.

Court won't force release of Gitmo detainee images

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is allowing the Obama administration to keep secret photographs and videotapes of a Guantanamo Bay detainee identified as the would-be 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from a human rights group that argued the release of videotapes and photographs of the interrogation and confinement of Mohammed al-Qahtani would serve the public interest. The Center for Constitutional Rights has accused the FBI and military personnel of subjecting al-Qahtani to isolation and aggressive interrogation techniques in 2002.

The federal appeals court in New York agreed with the government that images of al-Qahtani could be used by anti-American extremists as propaganda to recruit members if made public.

The case is Center for Constitutional Rights v. CIA, 14-658.

Court won't block new trial in law school dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is declining to block a second trial over whether the University of Iowa law school improperly passed over a conservative scholar for a faculty position.

The justices on Monday rejected Iowa officials' plea to revisit a lower court ruling in favor of school employee Teresa Wagner. Wagner claims she was discriminated against by liberal professors because she is a Republican who previously worked for anti-abortion groups.

In 2012, a jury found that the school's former dean did not discriminate against Wagner, but a federal appeals court threw out the verdict because of a judge's mistake.

The appeals court said Wagner is entitled to a new trial.

The case is Jones v. Wagner, 14-615.

Published: Tue, Mar 10, 2015


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