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Supreme Court upholds audit law, ending Otto's lawsuit
U.S. Court News | 2018/04/16 12:49
The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a 2015 law limiting State Auditor Rebecca Otto's duties.

Wednesday's unanimous decision ends Otto's years of challenges and mounting legal fees. A district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals had previously ruled against Otto, triggering her appeal to the Supreme Court.

The legal saga began after the Legislature passed a law allowing more counties to hire private firms for annual financial audits. Otto has argued that law was a constitutional breach of her duties that significantly downgraded the state's oversight of county finances.

But the state's high court disagreed. Wednesday's ruling maintained that the law left the auditor's oversight of those private audits intact. A spokesman for Otto did not immediately return a request for comment.



Supreme Court dismisses Microsoft search case
Legal Line News | 2018/04/15 12:50
The Supreme Court has dismissed a dispute between the Trump administration and Microsoft over emails the government wanted as part of a drug trafficking investigation.

The justices on Tuesday agreed with both the administration and Microsoft that last month's passage of the Cloud Act as part of a spending bill resolves the dispute and makes the court's intervention unnecessary.

The legislation updated a 32-year-old law that governs how authorities can get electronic communications held by technology companies. The issue was whether Microsoft had to turn over emails that were stored on its server in Ireland.

The Cloud Act makes clear that the government can obtain the emails. The court says in an unsigned opinion that "no live dispute remains between the parties."


High court worries about abandoning online sales tax rule
U.S. Court News | 2018/04/14 12:50
The Supreme Court sounded concerned Tuesday about doing away with a rule that has meant shoppers don't always get charged sales tax when they hit "checkout" online.

The justices were hearing arguments in a case that deals with how businesses collect sales tax on online purchases at sites from Amazon.com to Zappos. Right now, under a decades-old Supreme Court rule, if a business is shipping a product to a state where it doesn't have an office, warehouse or other physical presence, it doesn't have to collect the state's sales tax. Customers are generally supposed to pay the tax to the state themselves if they don't get charged it, but the vast majority don't.

More than 40 states have asked the Supreme Court to abandon its current sales tax collection rule , saying that as a result of it and the growth of internet shopping, they're losing billions of dollars in tax revenue every year.

But several Supreme Court justices suggested during arguments Tuesday that they had concerns about reversing course.

"I'm concerned about the many unanswered questions that overturning precedents will create a massive amount of lawsuits about," Justice Sonia Sotomayor told South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who was arguing for the court to do away with its current rule.

Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to briefs suggesting the problem of sales tax collection "has peaked" and may be "diminishing rather than expanding." ''Why doesn't that suggest that there are greater significance to the arguments" that the court should leave its current rule in place, he asked.

The fact that Congress could have addressed the issue and has so far hasn't, Justice Elena Kagan said, "gives us reason to pause." Congress can deal with the issue in a more nuanced way than the court, she said, saying Congress is "capable of crafting compromises and trying to figure out how to balance the wide range of interests involved here."

Large retailers such as Apple, Macy's, Target and Walmart, which have brick-and-mortar stores nationwide, generally collect sales tax from their customers who buy online. But other online sellers that only have a physical presence in a few states can sidestep charging customers sales tax when they're shipping to addresses outside those states.


Dayton appoints Democratic Rep. Thissen to Supreme Court
Court News | 2018/04/14 12:50
Gov. Mark Dayton appointed longtime Democratic state Rep. Paul Thissen to the Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday, the latest in a long line of partisans to join the state's highest court.

Thissen is an attorney and Minneapolis lawmaker who has served eight terms in the House — including one as House Speaker and two as its Minority Leader — and had eyes on the governor's office until he suspended his campaign in February. He'll resign from his House seat on Friday and join the court soon after.

He replaces Justice David Stras, who was nominated by Donald Trump to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and recently confirmed. Thissen's addition means Dayton has picked five of the seven members on the state's highest court, and while the court has not been openly partisan, it's a mark that will long outlast the Democratic governor's tenure ending early next year.

The other two members were appointed by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"Judicial appointments are one of, if not the most, important appointments I make," Dayton said, noting he had emphasized increasing the diversity throughout state courts during his time in office.

Thissen was one of four finalists on the shortlist to replace Stras that also included Lucinda Jesson, Dayton's former commissioner at the Department of Human Services who he appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2016. Minnesota Tax Court Chief Judge Bradford Delapena and District Court Judge Jeffrey Bryan were also in the running.

Dayton and others said Thissen's blend of legal work and political experience made him the perfect choice for the Supreme Court.

"Under the intense pressures of end of session deal-making, he always stood firm on his own principled convictions and to the high standards of proper Minnesota governance," Dayton said.

Neither Dayton nor his predecessors have shied away from party allies when filling seats on the state's highest court. Dayton appointed longtime Democratic attorney David Lillheaug to the court in 2013. Lillehaug helped Dayton during his 2010 recount victory and also worked on former Sen. Al Franken's 2008 recount and other Democratic elections. Pawlenty named both his campaign attorney Christopher Dietzen and Minnesota Republican Party attorney Barry Anderson to the Supreme Court.


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