Georgia’s 20-week Abortion Ban to be Enforced

In a release hot off the press, the Georgia Life Alliance sent this statement about a half hour ago:

ATLANTA – On June 19, 2017, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a challenge to Georgia’s 20-week fetal pain abortion bill that had kept the 2012 law passed by the Georgia General Assembly from being enforced for the last five years.  The fetal pain bill, so named because an unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks, made most abortions after 20-weeks illegal.  During the lawsuit that lasted for the last five years, enforcement of this law has been on hold; but with the decision today, the law banning abortions after a fetus can feel pain is now the law of Georgia.

Camila Zolfaghari, executive director of Georgia Life Alliance said, “This is a victory for human life and human dignity. No child should have to feel the pain of being ripped apart, limb by limb in an abortion.”  The 20-week ban makes it a felony for a doctor to abort a fetus after 20 weeks.

The court dismissed the case on grounds of sovereign immunity stating that the Georgia Constitution bans lawsuits against the state except in cases where the state decides to waive that immunity.  In doing so, the Georgia Supreme Court avoided any decisions one way or the other about the constitutionality of the 20-week ban and the Court expressly noted other legal avenues that the plaintiffs could challenge the law’s constitutionality.

“We understand that life has triumphed today, but we still have a long way to go before every life, born and unborn, is fully valued and protected,” said Zolfaghari.  “Still we rejoice that the protection of human life grew just a little stronger today.  Every single life has value.”

Georgia Life Alliance is the Georgia affiliate of National Right to Life.

Worth County High School Students Sue Sheriff’s Office Over Invasive Search of Entire Student Body

Have you heard the one about the sheriff who walked into a high school? He frisked 900 students without a warrant and (in the majority of cases) without probable cause.

No, that’s not a joke, and no, that’s not the least bit funny. Unfortunately, it’s the reality of every student present at Worth County High School on April 14, 2017.

I first came across this situation this weekend in The Washington Post, though WALB has been covering it steadily in southwest Georgia for months. It seems that last March, some high school students were arrested on drug charges stemming from an incident that happened off campus. They told the sheriff, Jeff Hobby, that there were drugs at Worth County High School. Sheriff Hobby contacted the Sylvester Police Department, and the interim police chief, Gary Price, conducted a search on March 17. Chief Price found no drugs.

Unsatisfied and undeterred, Sheriff Hobby contacted Worth County High School to let them know there would be a search by his office “after spring break.” This brings us to April 14.

Sheriff Hobby told the school he would be searching 13 students who were suspected of trafficking drugs. Only three were at school that day, so they were called to an administrator’s office and searched. All of this was completely legal (and pretty standard).

Here’s where it goes awry. Continue reading “Worth County High School Students Sue Sheriff’s Office Over Invasive Search of Entire Student Body”

ACLU wins battle over “made up” last name for baby

Two Georgia parents are cheering after winning a dispute over the last name chosen to appear on their child’s birth certificate.  The pair chose “Allah” as the last name of their now toddler daughter, despite a state law which mandates a child’s last name must be one of the parents or a combination of the two.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit in March on behalf of Elizabeth and Bilal Walk. The pair named their child “ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah,” but the state would not issue the birth certificate because the name was not in compliance with state law.

The family alleged the denial was a violation of the First Amendment and their civil rights while the Georgia Department of Public Health lawyer argued that the state law should supersede a choice last name. Oddly, the state previously issued birth certificates with the last name “Allah” for two older sons.

Continue reading “ACLU wins battle over “made up” last name for baby”

You don’t need to know the law to be above the law

I have been a resident of South Georgia for nearly two years now and, in that time, I have seem some real circus shows in government. But few things top what is happening in Tattnall County right now.

I am not exactly sure what my job title is. Writer, pot stirrer, transparency guru, whatever the name of the day may be, I spend my days examining local governments. I was recently contacted by someone who asked me to look into a matter in the county magistrate judges’ office, one that seemed extremely simple if I spent some time sifting through paperwork at the county courthouse.

Wrong.

Continue reading “You don’t need to know the law to be above the law”

NWGA courts utilize MySpace platform for public information portal

My day job today brought me to an issue in the far reaching corners of northwest Georgia. In my search, I was directed to the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit webpage, but in order to access any information, I had to travel back in time to the 1980s – and for a brief moment, the 1960s.

Continue reading “NWGA courts utilize MySpace platform for public information portal”

Senate Judiciary hears Marsy’s Law Again

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Marsy’s Law which would place crime victims’ rights into the constitutions of states that haven’t done so. Georgia is one of 15 states that has yet to do this with North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana passing the law overwhelmingly in November. State Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) sponsored the bill with 20 co-sponsors to include President Pro tem David Shafer, Sen. Jeff Mullis, Sen. William Ligon, Sen. John Albers, and Sen. Nan Orrock. The legislation would add seven new rights to the Georgia Constitution in regards to crime victims and their ability and right to be heard during court proceedings involving their perpetrator, alleged or convicted. And while Georgia currently boasts a Victim’s Bill of Rights, Senator Kennedy’s Senate Resolution 146 would place the language in the Georgia Constitution, giving teeth to laws that Marsy’s Law advocates have testified to not existing.

Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to be heard in court, the right to notifications of judicial proceedings, parole hearings, change of custody status, etc. And while it may seem obvious that these things are in place, a spokesperson for Marsy’s Law says that, in fact, they are not. “One mother’s son was murdered, the killer let out of prison and she was never notified. She found out on social media and had to work for weeks to convince the powers that be that he had been wrongfully released before his term was up,” says the spokesperson. “Another mom’s daughter was killed by a distracted driver. She was never notified of court proceedings and the driver never served time; her daughter wasn’t even mentioned in the court transcript. Another is a mom whose young daughters were molested and she can’t get answers for why the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested despite physical evidence.”

Directly after the testimony of the victims on Tuesday, Gwinnett DA Danny Porter and Prosecuting Attorneys Council director Chuck Spahos testified stating they have yet to hear a case where a victim needed constitutional rights because these rights are already in statute. 

DA Danny Porter Testimony

However, testimony shows there are problems in some places and when a victims’ rights aren’t carried out, the victim currently has no standing. Julie Allison, a victim advocate from Columbus who goes to the parole board every year to make sure her father’s killer isn’t released, testified that when she’s working on behalf of new victims, she’s often told their rights aren’t really enforceable.

Julie Allison-The Case for Marsy’s Law

Advocates for Marsy’s Law have been working with Prosecutors to reach an agreement on this legislation for over a year. Hours before Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors offered up revised language. The prosecutors argued that if Marsy’s Law was placed into the constitution, it would prevent advocates from strengthening victims’ rights in the future. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) pointed out that putting it in the constitution does no such thing noting the 2nd Amendment doesn’t prevent Congress from having laws about gun rights.

Thirty-five states have amended their constitutions to reflect Marsy’s Law. Amending the Georgia constitution would give teeth to the laws here at home that require victim notification, not just in general, but in a timely manner. Marsy’s Law being placed in the Georgia Constitution would ensure that victims are notified of court hearings, that they have right to provide input to prosecutors before pleas are made, the right to be heard and the right to restitution.

The law-abiding constituents of Georgia deserve the same rights as victims as are afforded to the criminals in our system. And at the very least, they deserve the right to have the measure put on the ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting today at 4pm with Marsy’s Law on the agenda once again.

Sen. Perdue on Judge Gorsuch

Sen. David Perdue met recently with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. He released the following statement:

“After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, it is abundantly clear that he is a principled jurist who will put the Constitution, and the rights of all Americans, at the forefront of any decision he makes. We discussed our country’s Founding Principles of economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty, and how these principles have made our nation exceptional throughout our history. Additionally, Judge Gorsuch has an impeccable academic and legal career that speaks for itself. Throughout our discussion today Judge Gorsuch’s intellect and profound commitment to the rule of law was evident. I have no doubt Judge Gorsuch will be an outstanding associate justice on the United States Supreme Court and he has my utmost support.”

Trump Nominates Gorsuch For SCOTUS; GA Senators Respond

President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. Georgia’s Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue released the following statements on the nomination:

Senator Isaskon:

“I have consistently said that the next Supreme Court justice should be someone who understands and values the Constitution of the United States of America, who will rule based on the law and who will not legislate through activist judicial decisions,” said Isakson. “I know that the president shares this view and based on his previous rulings, Judge Gorsuch shares the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s commitment to starting all constitutional analysis with the actual text of the Constitution. In addition, Judge Gorsuch’s distinguished service on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals provides vital, relevant experience for service on our nation’s highest court.

“As I argued following the untimely death of Justice Scalia last year, the American people deserved to have a voice in the process of selecting our next Supreme Court justice by allowing the next president to select Justice Scalia’s replacement. That day has arrived and the American people have spoken. President Trump’s nominee deserves fair and thorough consideration and an up-or-down vote by the Senate, and I look forward to Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process.”

Senator Perdue: Continue reading “Trump Nominates Gorsuch For SCOTUS; GA Senators Respond”

Speaker Ralston Appoints Richard Hyde To JQC

Speaker David Ralston has made his appointment to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, picking Richard Hyde of the firm Balch & Bingham. Hyde is not unfamiliar with the JQC, having previously served as an investigator and member of the body. He has the reputation of being somewhat of a “bulldog”, which is not a reference to that awesome school in Athens.

The appointment was made possible by the passing of November’s “Amendment 3”, which allocated appointments to the JQC to additional elected officials. Previously, Lt Governor Casey Cagle appointed Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam to the body.

The JQC conducts investigations and hearings with respect to complaints of ethical misconduct by Georgia judges and is also authorized to issue Advisory Opinions regarding appropriate judicial conduct. Mr. Hyde has previously served as an investigator and a member of the JQC. His appointment will expire on June 30, 2017.

Georgia Accounted For Nearly Half Of All Executions In 2016

Georgia has dethroned Texas. First when Georgia created a more business friendly environment and now in the number of executions.

America saw 20 executions in 2016, nine of which came from Georgia. That’s nearly half of the executions nationwide. It’s the most inmates Georgia has put to death in the 40 years since the Supreme Court allowed executions. Prior to this year, Georgia’s record was five executions in 1987.

There are a plethora of reasons for Georgia’s high number of executions, notably the backlog that exists in death row. An execution can be halted for months at time while courts answer legal questions. The backlog is also attributed to various pauses in executions. They were halted from July 2012 to February 2013 while Georgia changed its execution drug from three drugs to one drug. It again paused from July 2013 to May 2014 while legal questions swirled around the new execution drugs.

According to Attorney General Chris Carr, there are no inmates eligible for execution in Georgia at the moment.

While other states are decreasing their use of execution, Georgia is in a position to continue its use of the death penalty. If anything, leaders have made it easier to find an inmate on death row.

Correction: It had previously said there are no inmates on death row in Georgia. There are currently 68 death row cases; however, there are no inmates eligible for execution at the moment.