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California fight on Trump birth control rules goes to court
Law & Politics | 2019/01/09 07:12
A U.S. judge will hear arguments Friday over California's attempt to block new rules by the Trump administration that would allow more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women.

Judge Haywood Gilliam previously blocked an interim version of those rules — a decision that was upheld in December by an appeals court. But the case is before him again after the administration finalized the measures in November, prompting a renewed legal challenge by California and other states.

Gilliam was not expected to rule immediately. At issue is a requirement under President Barack Obama's health care law that birth control services be covered at no additional cost. Obama officials included exemptions for religious organizations.

The new rules set to go into effect on Monday would allow more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to back out of the requirement by claiming religious objections. They would also allow small businesses and other employers to object on moral grounds.

The rules "protect a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs," the U.S. Department of Justice said in court documents.

The states argue that millions of women could lose free birth control services, forcing them to seek contraceptive care through state-run programs and leading to unintended pregnancies.

Attorneys for California and the other states said in court documents the new rules were very similar to the interim measures. One difference is a suggestion in the new rules that women can seek contraceptive coverage through federal family planning clinics for low-income people, according to the states.



EU court adviser: Britain could change its mind on Brexit
Law & Politics | 2018/12/04 17:41
A top official at the European Union's highest court advised Tuesday that Britain can unilaterally change its mind about leaving the European Union, boosting hopes among to pro-EU campaigners in the U.K. that Brexit can be stopped.

Prime Minister Theresa May's government insists it will never reverse the decision to leave, but May faces a tough battle to win backing in Parliament before lawmakers vote next week on whether to accept or reject the divorce agreement negotiated with the bloc. Defeat would leave the U.K. facing a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit and could topple the prime minister, her government, or both.

Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona told the European Court of Justice that a decision by the British government to change its mind about invoking the countdown to departure would be legally valid. The advice of the advocate general is often, but not always, followed by the full court.

The court is assessing the issue under an accelerated procedure, since Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29. The final verdict is expected within weeks.



Condemned inmate's last meal includes pancakes
Law & Politics | 2018/10/25 12:41
A South Dakota inmate facing execution has received a last meal that included pancakes, waffles, breakfast sausage, scrambled eggs and French fries.

South Dakota's attorney general says the state Supreme Court has rejected two motions to stop the execution of a man who killed a prison guard in a failed 2011 escape attempt.

Attorney General Marty Jackley says there are currently no court orders to stop or delay Rodney Berget's execution, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Monday. One motion was filed by a woman whose son is serving a life sentence, the other by an attorney without Berget's support.

Berget is to be put to death for the slaying of Ronald "R.J." Johnson. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

He's to be put to death for the slaying of prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson in a failed 2011 escape attempt. Berget and fellow inmate Eric Robert beat Johnson with a pipe and covered his head in plastic wrap.

Robert was executed in October 2012. Berget in 2016 appealed his death sentence, but later asked to withdraw it.


UN court hears case over strategic Indian Ocean islands
Law & Politics | 2018/09/02 12:55
Officials from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius told United Nations judges Monday that former colonial power Britain strong-armed its leaders half a century ago into giving up territory as a condition of independence, a claim that could have an impact on a strategically important U.S. military base.

Judges at the International Court of Justice began hearing arguments for an advisory opinion the U.N. General Assembly requested on the legality of British sovereignty over the Chagos Islands. The largest island, Diego Garcia, has housed the U.S. base since the 1970s.

"The process of decolonization of Mauritius remains incomplete as a result of the unlawful detachment of an integral part of our territory on the eve of our independence," Mauritius Defense Minister Anerood Jugnauth told judges.

Mauritius argues that the Chagos archipelago was part of its territory since at least the 18th century and taken unlawfully by the U.K. in 1965, three years before the island gained independence. Britain insists it has sovereignty over the archipelago, which it calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Jugnauth testified that during independence negotiations, then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson told Mauritius' leader at the time, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, that "he and his colleagues could return to Mauritius either with independence or without it and that the best solution for all might be independence and detachment (of the Chagos Islands) by agreement."

Ramgoolam understood Wilson's words "to be in the nature of a threat," Jugnauth said.

British Solicitor General Robert Buckland described the case as essentially a bilateral dispute about sovereignty and urged the court not to issue an advisory opinion.


Prosecutor to press court to release church abuse report
Law & Politics | 2018/07/02 00:02
Pennsylvania's highest court is being pressed to publicly release a major grand jury report on allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six of the state's Roman Catholic dioceses.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro will ask the court to swiftly decide lingering legal issues before it, his office said Friday. He expects to make that request Monday.

"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to see the report, know who is attempting to block its release and why, and to hear the voices of the victims of sexual abuse within the Church," Shapiro said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court is blocking the release of the report as the result of legal challenges filed under seal by people apparently named in the report. The court has declined to make those filings or dockets public, or name the people who filed the challenges.

The Supreme Court's chief justice, Thomas Saylor, declined comment through a spokeswoman, and lawyers for the unnamed people challenging the report did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, seven news organizations, including The Associated Press, on Friday filed a motion to intervene in the case in a bid to argue that the court should release the report, contending that it is required by law. If the court decides it needs more time to consider the legal challenges, it could immediately order the report's release with only those parts that are in question shielded from view, lawyers for the news organizations wrote.

The court also should be consistent with practice in other grand jury matters and make public the filings and dockets in the case, with redactions if necessary, the news organizations wrote.

Victim advocates have said the report is expected to be the largest and most exhaustive such review by any state. The grand jury spent two years investigating allegations of child sex abuse in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, churches with some 1.7 million members.


Georgia officer to appear in court after deadly shooting
Law & Politics | 2018/06/27 00:03
A white Georgia police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter after shooting a fleeing black man is set to make his first court appearance.

Kingsland Police Officer Zechariah Presley's hearing will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Camden County, Georgia.

Presley was charged after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his body camera recording and other evidence in the death of Anthony Green in the small south Georgia town of Kingsland.

Presley's lawyer, Adrienne Browning, said her client is looking forward to his day in court and declined further comment. The killing has enraged Green's family and friends. They plan to hold a news conference with their lawyers at 11:30 a.m. Friday.


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