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Supreme Court Rules Florida's Death Penalty Law is Unconstitutional

Florida's death penalty law has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports. The reason? Allowing judges, instead of juries, to impose the death penalty violates the Sixth Amendment. The court ruled 8-1 that only a jury, not a judge, can decide the "aggravating circumstances" that would lead to the decision that execution is the appropriate sentence for a defendant.

 A judge in murderer Timothy Hurst's case independently decided to impose capital punishment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, opined that the Sixth Amendment requires Florida to base Hurst's sentence on a jury verdict, not judicial factfinding.

Florida Supreme Court Halts Execution Over Lethal Drug Cocktail

The Florida Supreme Court stopped an execution scheduled this week because of questions over whether the state's lethal drug cocktail constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, Huffington Post's Kim Bellware reports. The execution has been halted pending the outcome in a U.S. Supreme Court case over whether a similar cocktail used in Oklahoma is unconstitutional.

Supreme Court Divided Over a Judge's Free Speech Rights

Reuters' Lawrence Hurley reports that the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to be closely divided over a Florida judge's challenge to a law that bars judicial candidates from soliciting campaign contributions. Notably, the case was heard just about five years after the Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the Citizens United opinion, is likely to be the swing vote, Hurley reports. The liberal justices appeared to favor keeping a law that tries to safeguard the judiciary from political influence, while the conservative justices appeared to favor the First Amendment interests tamped down by the law.


Judge Finds 'Constitution Requires' Same-Sex Marriage Throughout Florida

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle has clarified that marriage licenses should be issued throughout Florida, not just in the county in which he ruled that it was unconstitutional not to give a same-sex couple permission to get married, BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner reports. The judge, however, said his current injunction applies only to couples who sued to have the right to marry, but he warned court clerks that "'the constitution requires" the issuance of marriage licenses and they could face more lawsuits in which plaintiffs could recover attorney fees and costs.

Florida Conservatives Sue to Block Same-Sex Marriage

A conservative group called Florida Family Action is asking a judge to prevent Orlando's mayor, a county clerk of courts and other officials from officiating over same-sex nuptials or issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when Florida's ban on same-sex marriage is set to expire next week, the Associated Press reports. Those officials are the only ones who have publicly said they plan to issue same-sex marriage licenses or preside over same-sex weddings.

FFA argues that the ban has only lifted in Washington County in Florida's Panhandle, where the lawsuit challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage found success. Lawyers for the attorney general's office argued that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle's decision only applies to the couple seeking a marriage license in Washington County and that instructions were never issued to all 67 court clerks, who are "independent constitutional" officers, across Florida, Christian Science Monitor reported.

The judge is expected to issue a clarifying order before the ban expires next week.

Florida Uses High Fees to Squelch Access to Judicial Records

Florida's 17th judicial circuit wanted to charge $132,000 to search for records pertinent to the Center for Public Integrity 's request to access procedures and policies regarding foreclosure cases. "Charging high fees for access to public information can undermine public records laws and serve as a back-door way for government agencies to avoid releasing information they want kept private," the center notes. The center is seeking reconsideration of the bill, which it says are excessive.

Another Ban Goes: Florida's Prohibition on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

Florida's ban on same-sex marriage was struck down today by Florida Circuit Judge Luis M. Garcia, the Associated Press reports. Garcia characterized the issue as one of equal protection for a powerless minority: "'Whether it is ... when Nazi supremacists won the right to march in Skokie, Illinois, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood; or when a black woman wanted to marry a white man in Virginia; or when black children wanted to go to an all-white school, the Constitution guarantees and protects ALL of its citizens from government interference with those rights."

Florida's ban prohibited both same-sex marriages and domestic partnerships, the AP reports.


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