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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Texas Appeal Over Voter ID Law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by Texas seeking to revive the state’s strict Republican-backed voter-identification requirements that a lower court found had a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic people.

The justices let stand a July 2016 decision by a lower court that found that the 2011 Texas statute ran afoul of a federal law that bars racial discrimination in elections and directed a lower court to find a way to fix the law’s discriminatory effects against minorities.

There were no noted dissents from the high court’s decision not to hear the case from any of the eight justices, but Chief Justice John Roberts took the unusual step of issuing a statement explaining why the case was not taken up, noting that litigation on the matter is continuing in lower courts.

Roberts said that although there was “no barrier to our review,” all the legal issues can be raised on appeal at a later time.

The law, passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor, had been considered one of the strictest of its type in the United States. It was challenged in court by the U.S. Justice Department under former President Barack Obama, civil rights groups and individual voters.

Critics including the Obama administration had said the Texas law and similar statutes enacted in other Republican-governed states were tailored to make it harder for minorities including black and Hispanic voters, who tend to support Democrats, to cast ballots. Backers of these laws have said they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, despite little evidence of such fraud.

The seven types of government-issued identification permitted under the law as proof of identity included a driver’s license, a concealed handgun license, a military ID card and a U.S. passport but not state university ID cards or identification issued to obtain welfare benefits.

A special 15-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 9-6 that the Texas law had a discriminatory effect and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The judges were divided differently on other parts of the ruling.

The appeals court directed a federal district court to examine claims by the plaintiffs that the law was actually intended to be discriminatory, rather than merely having a discriminatory effect.

A hearing on that part of the case was scheduled for Tuesday but has now been delayed following a request from President Donald Trump’s administration. While Obama’s administration had backed the challenge to the Texas requirements, the Trump administration could change course.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office launched the appeal, said he was disappointed by the court’s action.

“Texas enacted a common sense voter ID law to safeguard the integrity of our elections, and we will continue to fight for the law in the district court, the Fifth Circuit, and if necessary, the Supreme Court again,” Paxton said in a statement.

Challengers of the Texas law have said that up to 600,000 people would be unable to vote if the law were fully in effect because of the large number of voters who lack the limited types of permissible identification.

After the appeals court ruling, Texas and the plaintiffs struck a deal for a short-term remedy to be used for the November 2016 election.

The Texas law is one of several passed by Republican legislatures since 2010. A similar law in North Carolina was struck down by a federal appeals court in July 2016.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)

IMAGE: U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Obama Starts Interviewing Candidates For Supreme Court Vacancy: NPR

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has started to interview candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, National Public Radio reported on Tuesday, citing sources close to the process.

Among the interviewees are Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Judge Sri Srinivasan of the same court; Judge Paul Watford of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco; Judge Jane Kelly of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals based in St. Louis; and U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who serves in Washington, D.C., NPR reported.

The first three of these individuals are considered the leading contenders, NPR said.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch earlier on Tuesday asked not to be considered as a nominee, the Justice Department said in a statement. Lynch had been rumored to be under consideration.

The process of filling the spot that was held by Scalia, one of the court’s most conservative justices, has ignited a partisan battle in Washington.

Republicans who control the U.S. Senate do not want to see the court shift ideologically to the left and have said they will not hold a vote on Obama’s nominee. All appointees by the president to the Supreme Court are subject to approval by the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Julia Edwards; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama carries a binder containing material on potential Supreme Court nominees as he walks towards the residence of the White House in Washington February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Supreme Court Sides With Lesbian Over Parental Rights

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday overturned an Alabama judicial ruling that had refused to recognize a gay woman’s parental rights over three children she adopted with her lesbian partner and raised from birth.

The court took the relatively unusual step of reversing the Alabama Supreme Court without hearing oral arguments in the case. Cases are decided in that fashion when a lower court ruling is considered to be particularly counter to Supreme Court precedents. None of the eight justices dissented.

The adoptive mother, identified in court papers as V.L, said she was overjoyed with the ruling.

“When the Alabama court said my adoption was invalid and I wasn’t their mother, I didn’t think I could go on. The Supreme Court has done what’s right for my family,” she said in a statement.

The court said in an unsigned opinion that the Alabama court was required to recognize the woman’s parental rights because they had been legally endorsed by a court in Georgia.

The ruling said the Alabama court’s interpretation of the law was “not consistent” with prior Supreme Court decisions. Under the U.S. Constitution, state courts are required to recognize judgments issued by courts in other states.

The Alabama Supreme Court, led by outspoken conservative Chief Justice Roy Moore, has a history of hostility to gay rights. For example, it dragged its feet in implementing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last June legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

The Supreme Court had already intervened in the case once before. In December, the court ordered that the Alabama ruling be put on hold while the woman filed a formal appeal of Alabama Supreme Court’s September ruling.

Lawyers for the woman say the Alabama ruling had “effectively stripped V.L. of parental rights over the children she had raised since they were born.”

V.L. was formerly in a relationship with a woman identified as E.L., who is the birth mother of the three children, a 13-year-old and 11-year-old twins.

In 2007, a court in Georgia granted V.L.’s petition to adopt the children in a move that E.L. agreed to at the time. The couple split in 2011 and disagreed over custody arrangements.

V.L. filed papers in Alabama seeking joint custody. Lower courts ruled in her favor before the state’s high court ruled in favor of her former partner.

The state appeals court said it did not have to endorse the Georgia court’s adoption order. But the Alabama Supreme Court said that the Georgia court did not have jurisdiction to issue the adoption order.

The two women were not married.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley)

Photo: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

No Breakthrough In Supreme Court Dispute Between Obama, Republicans

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican leaders of the Senate on Tuesday rebuffed President Barack Obama’s appeal for hearings and a vote on his U.S. Supreme Court nominee during a face-to-face meeting that failed to budge them from their vow to block any nominee he offers.

Obama, planning to name a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia in the coming weeks, huddled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in the White House Oval Office for less than an hour.

“Senator Grassley and I made it clear that we don’t intend to take up a nominee or to have a hearing,” McConnell told reporters after the meeting.

The meeting failed to produce any progress on how to proceed with finding a replacement for Scalia, a long-serving conservative justice who died on Feb. 13.

McConnell and Grassley are insistent that Obama not pick a nominee and leave the decision to his successor, who takes office next January after the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. Obama is insistent that it is the Republican-led Senate’s constitutional duty to act on his nominee.

“They made clear in their meeting with the president that they’re not going to change their mind just because the president says so,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said of the Republicans.

Earnest said Obama still believes it was worthwhile to consult with the lawmakers before making his nomination.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Obama stated during the meeting he would be willing to consider candidates for the Supreme Court proposed by the Republicans, but McConnell and Grassley offered no names.

“We killed a lot of time talking about basketball and other stuff,” said Reid, who attended along with the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Patrick Leahy.

Under the Constitution, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and the Senate must confirm them. Without Scalia, the court has four conservative and four liberal justices, meaning any potential Obama nominee could tip the court to the left for the first time in decades.

McConnell and Grassley have said allowing the next president to pick the new justice would let voters have a say in the selection when they elect a new president.

“Whether everybody in the meeting today wanted to admit it, we all know that considering a nomination in the middle of a heated presidential campaign is bad for the nominee, bad for the court, bad for the process and ultimately bad for the nation,” Grassley said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (3rd R) meets with the bipartisan leaders of the Senate to discuss the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, at the White House in Washington March 1, 2016. From L-R: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Vice President Joe Biden, Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). REUTERS/Yuri Gripas