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Sheldon challenging Bondi for Attorney General on “character” issue

Monday, October 21st, 2013 by John Kennedy

A former top deputy under Bob Butterworth, Florida’s last Democratic attorney general, announced Monday that he will challenge Republican Pam Bondi next year.

George Sheldon, who recently stepped down as an assistant secretary in the Obama administrations’ Health and Human Services Dept., said he plans to return “character” to the attorney general’s office.

“Taking on predatory lenders, human traffickers, and those who engage in deceptive practices is the job of the Attorney General…not working full time trying to deny health insurance to children and anyone with preexisting conditions,” Sheldon said.

“This race is about character.  Who has the experience and character to use the office of attorney general for general good rather than as a personal, political, partisan platform,” he added.

Bondi spearheaded the lawsuit brought by two-dozen states unsuccessfully seeking to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  She also recently caught heat for rescheduling a planned execution because it conflicted with a fund-raiser heralding the kickoff of her re-election campaign.

Sheldon served as Florida’s Department of Children & Families secretary under then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist, now a Democrat, is likely to run for governor and share next year’s ballot with Sheldon.

Sheldon earlier was deputy attorney general under Butterworth and is a former state representative. He sought the nomination for attorney general in 2002, finishing third behind current Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. Dyer lost to Crist that year.

Bondi’s campaign said the incumbent was ready for the challenge.

“As Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi has fought hard to defend and protect the people by making Florida a zero tolerance state for pill mills, taking on human trafficking, and pursuing consumer relief from both, mortgage and Medicaid fraud, ” said Pablo Diaz, Bondi’s campaign manager.

“Pam Bondi and George Sheldon have very different credentials and points of view, and we welcome the opportunity to show the voters in Florida that they will have a clear choice between two distinctly different candidates.,” he added.

 

High court asked to settle Georgia-Florida water war

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi said Tuesday they have filed suit with the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to resolve Florida’s water war with Georgia.

Justices are being asked to take up the rare state versus state case that is the culmination of two decades of regulatory and lower court wrangling over Georgia’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins. A recent court ruling involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers favored Georgia’s side in the clash, sending Scott looking to the U.S. Supreme Court for the next round of action.

“Georgia has refused to fairly share the waters that flow between our two states, so to stop Georgia’s unmitigated consumption of water we have brought the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court. Georgia’s over-consumption of water threatens the existence of Apalachicola Bay and the future economic development of the region,” Scott said.

Georgia’s water consumption, driven mostly by demands in the Atlanta area, have reduced fresh water flow into Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, dramatically reducing the region’s important oyster harvest.

Historically low water levels stemming from Georgia’s consumption have caused oysters to die because of higher salinity in the bay and increased disease and predator intrusion. Oysters in the Bay account for 90 percent of Florida’s oyster supply and 10 percent of the nation’s oyster supply, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Scott’s fellow Republican, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, last month called Florida’s plan to bring the case to the nation’s highest court a “frivolous waste of time and money.” Deal said Georgia has taken strides in the past year to conserve water and hinted that Scott’s move was aimed at appealing to voters in next year’s elections.

Dust-up in Dixie: Florida to sue Georgia over water use

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday that Florida will sue Georgia over that state’s water consumption which is reducing flows into the Apalachicola Bay and damaging the oyster industry.

Florida and Alabama have battled Georgia before over the state’s water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins for more than two decades. A recent ruling involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, sided with Georgia, sending Scott looking to the U.S. Supreme Court for the next round of action.

“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing – fighting for the future of Apalachicola,” said Scott, who was joined by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a hearing Tuesday in the Gulf Coast city of Apalachicola. “This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia. We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake.”

Georgia’s daily consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons by 2035, with Atlanta’s population largely blamed by Florida officials.

Historically low water levels stemming from Georgia’s consumption have caused oysters to die because of higher salinity in the bay and increased disease and predator intrusion. Oysters in the Bay account for 90 percent of Florida’s oyster supply and 10 percent of the nation’s oyster supply, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“Gov. Scott has done all anyone could to resolve this issue with the state of Georgia,” said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.  “We don’t like to sue our neighbors but their intransigence has left us no other course.”

UPDATE:

Scott’s fellow Republican, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, called the Florida move a “frivolous waste of time and money.” Deal said Georgia has taken strides in the past year to conserve water and hinted that Scott’s move is aimed at appealing to voters.

“Gov. Scott’s threat to sue my state in the U.S. Supreme Court greatly disappoints me after I negotiated in good faith for two years,” Deal said. “More than a year ago, I offered a framework for a comprehensive agreement. Florida never responded. It’s absurd to waste taxpayers’ money and prolong this process with a court battle when I’ve proposed a workable solution.”

Democrat Rich pledges to repeal same-sex marriage ban

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich sent out a fund-raising appeal Tuesday pledging to erase Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.

Rich, who badly trails potential Democratic rivals Charlie Crist and Alex Sink in polls, targets Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s defense of the marriage ban in a blast email to supporters.

“The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision before Gov. Scott announced he supports continuing Florida’s ban of same-sex marriage,” Rich said. “Well…I do not.

“As governor, I will work to pass a new constitutional amendment that will allow Florida to join the rapidly growing ranks of marriage equality states,” she said.

Equal Marriage Florida last week began work on gathering the more than 680,000 petition signatures needed for a proposed constitutional amendment erasing the gay marriage ban approved by voters only five years ago.

The effort was launched just days before U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for California to become the 13th state in the nation where same-sex couples can legally marry.

Florida’s iniative faces enormous odds in even making it to the ballot. But if it did share space with the governor’s race on the November 2014 ballot, the proposed constitutional amendment is seen by many experts as likely driving Democratic turnout.

Another gay advocacy organization, Equality Florida, has warned against moving too quickly with a ballot proposal. Instead, Equality Florida has begun seeking same-sex couples willing to lend their name to a legal effort challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2008 ban.

Crist, the former Republican governor now a Democrat emerging as the front-runner to challenge Scott, lin May endorsed gay marriage – despite signing the 2006 petition for a constitutional ban and reaffirming his opposition in 2008.

 

U.S. Supreme Court strikes down key portions of Arizona immigration law

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Supreme Court struck down key portions of Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law, handing a partial victory to President Obama’s administration.

The majority ruled that that giving state or local law enforcement the power to detain and question people could result in “unnecessary harassment.”

The Arizona law (SB 1070) would have given law enforcement the power to detain and question the immigration status of someone they believed was in the country illegally. The court ruled that immigration matters are strictly a federal function. The Arizona law would have required police to check the immigration status of anyone who is arrested.

“Under state law, officers who believe an alien is removable by reason of some ‘public offense’ would have the power to conduct an arrest on that basis regardless of whether a federal warrant has issued or the alien is likely to escape,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-3 opinion.

“This would allow the State to achieve its own immigration policy. The result could be unnecessary harassment of some aliens (for instance, a veteran, college student, or someone assisting with a criminal investigation) whom federal officials determine should not be removed,” the ruling reads. “This is not the system Congress created.”

The court did uphold one of the most controversial portions of the law, that requires local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other laws if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally.

The justices also said that provision, however, could be subject to additional legal challenges. Civil liberties groups are challenging that portion of the law in Arizona courts, arguing that it could lead to racial profiling.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined Kennedy and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority. Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. Justice Elena Kagan, who served as Obama’s solicitor general, had recused herself from the Arizona case.

Florida Senate offers 100-page defense of its redistricting plan

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

A week before the Florida Supreme Court hears new arguments in the state’s redistricting case, the Florida Senate submitted Friday a 100-page defense of its plan for redrawing  its 40 district boundaries.

The new map is the Legislature’s second and final chance to complete a plan that meets constitutional standards, after a first attempt was ruled invalid by justices.

The Republican-ruled Senate urged justices Friday to respect the Legislature’s latest effort, and disregard an alternate plan provided earlier this week to the court by the Florida Democratic Party and allied organizations.

In its brief filed Friday, attorneys for the Senate argued that justices defer to the plan drawn by lawmakers. The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the authority of plans drawn by lawmakers earlier this year, ruling in a Texas case.

“This court has expressed its reluctance to drawing a plan itself, noting that such an obligation is ‘the course of last resort,’” Senate lawyers wrote.  “Not only that:  it would be the first time in this state’s history that this court draws a reapportionment plan where the Legislature did not decline to do so.”

Indeed, the court’s 5-2 decision last month rejecting the Senate plan — but upholding new House district lines — marked the first time Florida  justices overturned a legislative redistricting plan.

But Florida Democrats offered their own proposal, contending the Legislature’s latest try resulted in a redrawn plan which still “reveals an intent to favor incumbents and contains multiple districts that plainly and directly violate constitutional standards.”

While the Senate plan includes 23 Republican-leaning districts and 17 favoring Democrats, the Democratic proposal creates a 20-20 voting balance.

But Senate lawyers said that approach conflicts with what analysts say is the state’s natural bias toward Republicans.

Although Democrats hold an almost 500,000 voter advantage statewide, research by Stanford University and University of Michigan political scientists concluded that Democratic voters tend to cluster in Florida cities — allowing Republicans to become the dominant party in a majority of legislative districts.

Most of all, Senate attorneys argued against the Democratic proposal, concluding, ”An alternative proposal does not invalidate the actual plan, even if it is ‘better’ or more nearly approximates constitutional ideals.”

Federal court tosses Virginia federal health care lawsuits

Thursday, September 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal appeals court tossed two Virginia lawsuits Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law’s insurance requirement, also known as the individual mandate.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed both lawsuits, ruling that neither the state’s attorney general Ken Cuccinelli or Liberty University had standing to challenge the law. The three-judge panel’s decision overturned a lower-court ruling invalidating the insurance requirement.

Thursday’s ruling now leaves an even score on other appellate rulings on the health care law. First, a three-judge panel in Cincinnati ruled in favor of the law. A more recent decision last month from an Atlanta three-judge panel ruling in a multi-state lawsuit headed by Florida that the individual mandate portion of the law was unconstitutional but left the remainder of the law intact.

And it heightens the importance of the Florida lawsuit, which observers say will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gov. Rick Scott, who made his fortune in the health care industry, launched his foray into politics more than two years ago with an effort to keep the proposed health care reforms from going into law. Scott is an outspoken critic of the law and once said fighting against it was one of the reasons he ran for governor.

Yesterday, lawmakers approved a request from Scott’s administration for a $3.4 billion grant drawn from the federal Affordable Care Act. The Legislative Budget Commission signed off on taking the cash to provide home visitation services to at-risk families.

Federal court postpones Manuel Valle execution

Friday, September 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

A federal court in Atlanta has postponed the execution of convicted cop killer Manuel Valle until at least Thursday.

It’s the second time since Gov. Rick Scott signed Valle’s death warrant – the only one Scott has signed since taking office in January – earlier this year that his execution has been stayed.

Valle, who has spent more than three decades on Death Row, was slated to be put to death by lethal injection on Tuesday.

The Florida Supreme Court in July put his execution, originally set for Aug. 2, on hold after his lawyers raised objections to the state’s use of a new drug as part of the lethal injection formula. Department of Corrections officials substituted pentobarbital for a drug no longer manufactured as the first of the three-drug lethal injection “cocktail.”

Since his conviction for the 1978 killing of Coral Gables police officer Louis Pena, Valle has been sentenced to death and re-sentenced three times in legal wrangling that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned his death penalty in 1987. Courts later reaffirmed his death penalty conviction.

On Aug. 23, the Florida Supreme Court On Tuesday, the court approved the Department of Corrections’ new drug protocol, saying it did not pose a substantial risk of harm to the inmate.

Valle’s lawyers are also pursuing other appeals, including with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bondi asks U.S. Supreme Court to re-order execution

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to override the Florida Supreme Court’s stay on the execution of convicted cop killer Manuel Valle.

Valle’s death warrant, the first and only signed by Gov. Rick Scott since taking office in January, set his execution by lethal injection for Aug. 2. But the Florida Supreme Court yesterday put the execution off for a month until a hearing on a controversial new drug is held.

In a 4-3 ruling, the divided Florida high court ordered a Miami judge to hold a hearing on the new drug, pentobarbital sodium, an anesthetic Department of Corrections officials decided in June to replace sodium thiopental. Sodium thiopental’s manufacturer stopped making the drug early this year, leaving corrections officials in states like Florida scrambling to find a substitute.

But Lundbeck Inc., the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, recently announced that the drug is untested and unsafe for use in lethal injections. Lundbeck stopped selling the drug to distributors who intended to resell it for use in executions.

In her 12-page filing Tuesday, Bondi argued that the Florida justices “improperly granted the stay” because Valle’s lawyers failed to demonstrate that he would be subjected to a “substantial risk of harm,” the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in determining cruel or unusual punishment in a case called Baze v. Rees, known as “Baze.”

“In Baze, a plurality of this Court held that an inmate was required to show that the protocol created a ‘substantial risk of serious harm’ that was ‘objectively intolerable’ to demonstrate that a lethal injection protocol was unconstitutional,’” Bondi’s motion said. “It noted that the mere fact that an execution method ‘may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death’ did not meet this standard.”

Bondi also disputed the testimony of Valle’s expert witness, pediatric anesthesiologist David Waisel. A lower court had rejected Waisel’s testimony but the state Supreme Court ordered that it be taken into consideration in the hearing on the new drug. Part of Waisel’s testimony included a description of what may have been a botched execution in Georgia using pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal.

“Since the claim has already been rejected in Georgia and Florida’s protocol contains similar provisions for a consciousness
check and not continuing the protocol until an inmate is unconscious (as noted in Justice Cannady’s dissent in the Florida
Supreme Court), the Florida Supreme Court erred in finding that this assertion was sufficient to grant a stay. The stay should be vacated,” Bondi wrote.

Pensacola judge rules White House can carry on health care law, for now

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

President Obama’s administration can continue implementation of the federal health care act, a federal judge ordered today in the multi-state lawsuit led by Florida.

But, in a 20-page order issued today, Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida gave the White House one week to file its appeal.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, leading the charge in the case involving 25 other states, had insisted that Vinson’s ruling quashed the law and that the state no longer had to implement it.

But in his “clarification” issued today, Vinson today wrote that his January ruling striking down the federal law as unconstitutional did not force White House officials and states to stop implementing the law.

But, he wrote, that was because he expected the Justice Department to immediately file an appeal in the case, expected to ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The sooner this issue is finally decided by the Supreme Court, the better off the entire nation will be. And yet, it has been more than one month from the entry of my order and judgment and still the defendants have not filed their notice of appeal,” Vinson wrote.
(more…)

Swing time: Justice Kennedy of the Supremes to speak at Forum Club

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by George Bennett

Kennedy (front row, left) will be the fifth member of the current Supreme Court to speak to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, joining Scalia, Breyer, Stevens and Thomas. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was also a Forum Club speaker.

Kennedy (front row, left) will be the fifth member of the current Supreme Court to speak to the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, joining Scalia, Breyer, Stevens and Thomas. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was also a Forum Club speaker.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice and frequent swing vote Anthony Kennedy will speak at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch on May 14. Tickets are available only to members of the Forum Club and the Palm Beach County Bar Association.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and the retiring John Paul Stevens have spoken to the Forum Club in the past. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was a Forum Club speaker as well.

SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance: ‘It’s going to be the Wild Wild West’

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

A bitterly divided U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns right up until the day of the election and upsetting more than 60 years of restrictions will radicalize elections, critics of the opinion say.

“It’s going to be the Wild Wild West,” said Ben Ginsberg, a Republican attorney who has represented several GOP presidential campaigns. “If corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts … it means that the public debate is significantly changed with a lot more voices, and it means that the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.”

Read the story here.

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