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Crimes and Courts

It’s Chief Justice Roberts’ Court, but does he still lead?

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WASHINGTON (AP) — John Roberts is heading a Supreme Court in crisis.

The chief justice has already ordered an investigation of the leak this week of a draft opinion suggesting the court could be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case legalizing abortion nationwide. What comes next could further test Roberts’ leadership of a court where his vote already appears less crucial in determining the outcome in contentious cases.

“This is a time when the court is under siege, both externally and internally now,” said Roanoke College professor Todd Peppers, who writes about the court. “I just don’t think the spotlight has ever been brighter on the court in recent history.”

Speaking Thursday at a judicial conference in Atlanta, Roberts called the leak “appalling,” according to CNN.

Roberts’ court was facing challenges even before the leak, which the chief called a “betrayal of the confidences of the Court.”Polling has shown a notable decline in the public’s approval of the court. And there have been recent calls for term limits for the justices and for increasing the number of justices as well as for a code of ethics, particularly following reports that Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Virginia, implored Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff to act to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Confirmation hearings for the court’s newest justices have been contentious.

The addition of three conservative justices during Trump’s presidency also means there are now five conservative justices to Roberts’ right who no longer need his vote, and perhaps his moderating influence, to prevail in a case. The abortion decision could be another example of that, with the court’s other conservatives prepared to go further than Roberts.

Roberts, 67, has noted the limits of his position in the past. Asked during a 2018 appearance how it’s different to be chief, Roberts responded: “In many ways it’s different. In the most important it’s not. I have one vote. I participate in the decision-making of the court like any of the associate justices.”

Still, there’s a reason that the chief is called the “first among equals” and that historians refer to time periods at the court using the chief justice’s name: the Marshall Court, the Rehnquist Court, the Roberts Court. The chief is the first to speak when the justices discuss cases at their private conference and guides that discussion. The chief decides who writes the opinion of the court when the chief is in the majority.

Roberts, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has faced other challenging times in his 16 years as chief. He’s led the court through contentious cases on gay marriage, on President Barack Obama’s health law and on Trump-era policies including building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and the travel ban.

In 2020, Roberts was in the spotlight presiding over Trump’s first impeachment trial, though his role was modest. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he led the court through a period where it decided to postpone arguments for the first time in more than 100 years and then to conduct them by telephone for more than a year and a half.

Early in his tenure, in a speech at Georgetown’s law school graduation and elsewhere, Roberts explained his philosophy in guiding the court and his preference for decisions where there could be broad agreement on narrow grounds.

“There are clear benefits to a greater degree of consensus on the court. Unanimity or near unanimity promote clarity and guidance for the lawyers and for the lower courts trying to figure out what the Supreme Court meant,” he said in 2006. He added: “The rule of law is strengthened when there’s greater coherence and agreement about what the law is.”

Artemus Ward, a professor at Northern Illinois University who is one of the editors of a book of scholarly research on chief justices, said Roberts has been “trying to achieve consensus, trying to rule narrowly.” But following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, and her replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, “Roberts’ vote is less powerful” because there are five conservative votes even without him, Ward said.

There’s been some evidence of the impact of that already.

Before Ginsburg’s death, Roberts joined with the court’s four liberals to reject a challenge to attendance limits California imposed on religious services because of the coronavirus pandemic. But about a month after Barrett joined the court, the justices ruled 5-4 the other way in a case about similar limits in New York, with Roberts and the liberals in dissent.

In September of last year, the court decided 5-4 not to block a new Texas law banning most abortions in the state. The dissenters were once again Roberts and the three liberal justices.

It was the same lineup in February when the Supreme Court put on hold a lower court ruling that Alabama must draw new congressional districts before the 2022 elections to increase Black voting power. And in April when the court reinstated a Trump-era water rule.

“Roberts Has Lost Control of the Supreme Court,” was the title of an article written that month by professor Stephen I. Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law.

It remains to be seen how divided and how sweeping the court will be in other decisions, including a major gun ruling, that are still to be released before the court breaks for summer.

Unknown too is how closely the final opinion in the abortion case will mirror the leaked draft, which was written by Justice Samuel Alito and distributed to other members of the court in February. Politico reported that Alito had the votes of four other conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade and a later decision that reaffirmed a constitutional right to abortion services, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The three liberals planned to dissent, Politico said, while Roberts’ ultimate vote was unclear.

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Crimes and Courts

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested

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MIAMI (AP) — Federal authorities in Florida have charged 25 people with participating in a wire fraud scheme that created an illegal shortcut for aspiring nurses to get licensed and find employment.

Recently unsealed federal grand jury indictments allege the defendants took part in a scam that sold more than 7,600 fraudulent nursing degree diplomas from three Florida-based nursing schools, federal officials said during a news conference in Miami on Wednesday afternoon. Prosecutors said the scheme also involved transcripts from the nursing schools for people seeking licenses and jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses. The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.

“Not only is this a public safety concern, it also tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe.

Lapointe added that “a fraud scheme like this erodes public trust in our health care system.”

The fake diplomas and transcripts qualified those who purchased them to sit for the national nursing board exam. If they passed, they were able to obtain licenses and jobs in various states, prosecutors said.

The schools involved — Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute — are now closed.

Some of those who purchased degrees were from South Florida’s Haitian-American community, including some with legitimate LPN licenses who wanted to become registered nurses, the Miami Herald reported.

“Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money,“ acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough said Wednesday.

He said it’s particularly disturbing that more than 7,600 people around the country obtained fake credentials and were potentially in critical health care roles treating patients.

The selling and purchasing of nursing diplomas and transcripts to “willing but unqualified individuals” is a crime that “potentially endangers the health and safety of patients and insults the honorable profession of nursing,” said Special Agent in Charge Omar Pérez Aybar. Pérez said investigators have not found, however, that any of the nurses caused harm to patients.

The students paid a total of $114 million for the fake degrees between 2016 and 2021, the newspaper reported. About 2,400 of the 7,600 students eventually passed their licensing exams — mainly in New York, federal officials said. Nurses certified in New York are allowed to practice in Florida and many other states.

Many of those people may lose their certification but likely won’t be criminally charged, federal officials said.

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Crimes and Courts

Statement from Andrew Warren Following Ruling

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TAMPA, FL (January 20, 2023) – Andrew Warren gave the statement below to reporters following today’s ruling where a federal judge said Governor Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Warren “violated the Florida Constitution” and was “a violation of the First Amendment.”

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The trial was a search for the truth, and over the past five months the truth has come out. The truth is that Gov. DeSantis abused his power and suspended me not in the pursuit of justice but in the pursuit of politics. The truth is that this suspension was never about the job that I did. As the judge wrote, quote, “The actual facts, whether Mr. Warren actually had any blanket non-prosecution policies, did not matter.’’

The suspension was always a political stunt, a cheap trick to add one more misleading line to the governor’s stump speech. The truth is, for the past six years I’ve been a pragmatic, forward-looking state attorney, both tough and smart on crime, representing my own vision of criminal justice and the purple county that I so proudly serve. But DeSantis and his enablers didn’t care about the truth. They didn’t care about our office’s success. They didn’t care about the safety of our community, and they didn’t care about the will of the voters. They cared about scoring political points through a political stunt. Period.

From the day I was suspended, I’ve said that the suspension was illegal. And although a judge said he couldn’t put me back into the office to which I was twice elected, a federal judge confirmed that the suspension was illegal. The judge concluded that the governor violated federal law and state law. He violated my First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution by suspending me for speaking out on issues of public importance. He violated my First Amendment rights by suspending me because I am a Democrat. He violated the Florida Constitution by suspending me not because I had done anything wrong but because my vision as state attorney doesn’t fit with his political agenda. As the judge wrote, and I quote, “The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren. The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. This factual issue is not close.’’

From the beginning, I have said that this case was bigger than just me. The idea that a governor can break federal and state law to suspend an elected official should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares about free speech, the integrity of our elections or the rule of law, three core principles on which our democracy is built. When the governor announced the suspension, he stood up and proclaimed that our government is a government of laws, not a government of men. I couldn’t agree more. The judge wrote, quote, “If the facts matter. the governor can simply rescind the suspension.’’

Let’s see if the governor actually believes in the rule of law. Let’s see if the governor actually is a man of his word. Let’s see what kind of man the governor actually is. The governor is supposed to represent all Floridians. And if he wants to represent all Americans, then this is a golden opportunity for him to show our country what kind of man he truly is. This is not over. Thank you.

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Crimes and Courts

FAMU Commencement Speaker John Morgan Inspires Graduates With Humor & Wisdom

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Florida A&M University Commencement Speaker Attorney John Morgan exhorted fall 2022 graduates with a mixture of humor and wisdom.

 

Addressing approximately 600 graduates from the University’s dozen colleges and schools in the Al Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center on Friday evening, the founder of Morgan & Morgan shared time-honored aphorisms he hoped graduates would use as they made their way in the world.

 

“There’s a big difference in dreaming and living your dreams. My hope is that you get to live your dreams. Visionaries are a dime a dozen. The vision maker is the rarity; that is the person who lives their dreams,” said Morgan. “Living your dream is very hard. There are vision blockers who try to keep you still for many reasons. Some of our friends and relatives would rather a total stranger win the lottery than you.”

 

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Morgan moved with his parents and siblings to Orlando, Florida, where he attended high school. After graduating, Morgan enrolled in the University of Florida (UF). He graduated from the UF College of Law in 1983. Five years later, he founded Morgan& Morgan with the mission to represent the people, not the powerful.

 

Without question, John Morgan has established himself as a preeminent legal leader and a friend of FAMU,” said President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., who awarded Morgan the President’s Award.

During his 20-minute speech, Morgan regaled the audience with the story about the 1975 Muhammad Ali versus Joe Frazier heavyweight championship boxing match, “the Thrilla in Manila” and the lessons each fighter learned.

 

“When things get tough along the way and you don’t think you can go another step, remember that story and answer the bell,” Morgan said referring to Ali’s historic victory. Having led a successful national law firm for more than three decades, Morgan reminded graduates of the need to set their priorities straight.

 

“Your future is whatever you decide to make it,” Morgan said. “When money guides you, you make less money. Greed is not good. Be driven by purpose and passion. If you love what you do, the work the hours will just breeze by.”

Failure can be helpful, Morgan reminded graduates. He cited the experience of failing to get a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the first try with 58 percent of the vote, which was less than the two-thirds majority required for adoption. On the subsequent attempt, the measure garnered 72 percent of the vote. Morgan said he was inspired to push to legalize medical marijuana by the fate of his brother who was quadriplegic following an accident and endured years of debilitating pain.

 

“The lessons in a failed attempt are building blocks in your next adventure. In life, you need to accomplish success, but you must also seek significance. At the same time, failure can be your friend,” Morgan continued. “Go change the world; dare to be great; do good and do well; dream it and do it. Show up; be early; be great. Find purpose in your passion. And always answer the bell.”

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