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Supreme Court To Set Guidelines For Trump Treatment Of Non-Citizens

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court will decide three cases in coming months that could help or hinder President Donald Trump’s efforts to ramp up border security and accelerate deportations of those in the country illegally.

The three cases, which reached the court before Democratic President Barack Obama left office, all deal broadly with the degree to which non-citizens can assert rights under the U.S. Constitution. They come at a time when the court is one justice short and divided along ideological lines, with four conservatives and four liberals.

The justices will issue rulings before the end of June against the backdrop of high-profile litigation challenging the lawfulness of Trump’s controversial travel ban on people traveling from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The most pertinent of the three cases in terms of Republican Trump administration priorities involves whether immigrants in custody for deportation proceedings have the right to a hearing to request their release when their cases are not promptly adjudicated.

The long-running class action litigation, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of thousands of immigrants detained for more than six months, includes both immigrants apprehended at the border when seeking illegal entry into the United States and legal permanent residents in deportation proceedings because they were convicted of crimes. The case also could affect long-term U.S. residents who entered the country illegally and have subsequently been detained.

The Trump administration has said it wants to end the release of immigrants facing deportation and speed up the process for ejecting them from the country. A decision in the case requiring additional court hearings could have very direct implications for the administration’s plans, said ACLU lawyer Ahilan Arulananthan, especially since immigration courts currently have a backlog of more than 500,000 cases.

The ACLU estimates that up to 8,000 immigrants nationwide at any given time have been held for at least six months. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official was unable to immediately confirm data on length of detention, but said that in fiscal year 2016 the average daily count of detainees was just under 35,000.

“If Trump wants to put more people in deportation but does not increase the number of immigration judges, then people are going to have to wait longer and longer to get a hearing,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law professor at Cornell Law School.

The Trump administration has pledged to sharply curtail illegal immigration, with initiatives such as building a wall along the U.S-Mexican border and hiring thousands of federal agents to police the border in order to arrest and deport immigrants who live in the United States but entered the country illegally. Trump has also threatened to withhold federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities” that offer protections to immigrants who could face deportation.

CROSS-BORDER SHOOTING

The other immigration cases to be decided concern whether U.S. government officials can be sued over mistreatment of non-citizens in two separate contexts.

One will decide whether the family of 15-year-old Mexican teenager Sergio Hernandez, who was killed while on Mexican soil by a U.S. agent firing from across the border in Texas, can sue under the U.S. Constitution.

It is a scenario that the lawyers for Hernandez’s family say could become more frequent if the Trump administration acts on its proposal to increase the number of border guards by 5,000, raising the prospect of similar confrontations. The court hears arguments in that case on Feb. 21.

The second is a civil lawsuit brought by immigrants, mainly Muslims, who were detained in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and claim they were mistreated.

The group of Muslim, Arab, and South Asian non-U.S. citizens say they were held as terrorism suspects based on race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status, and abused in detention before being deported.

The long-running case focuses on whether senior officials in the administration of Republican President George W. Bush can be sued for their role in directing the action.

The Obama administration argued that the court should be wary of extending liability to the actions of senior officials, especially when it implicates national security and immigration.

Based on the skepticism of the justices during the Jan. 18 oral argument, the court seems likely to rule against the detainees. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern that permitting such lawsuits against senior U.S. officials would become “a way of challenging national policy” through litigation seeking monetary damages against the individuals who implemented the policy.

The three cases are separate from litigation over the legality of Trump’s travel ban, which could also ultimately be decided by the high court. The key case on that front is now pending before an appeals court in San Francisco after a three-judge panel upheld a lower court decision to put the ban on hold.

Language in the upcoming rulings that address the rights of non-citizens and analyzes how courts should review government action on immigration and national security could have relevance in that case, legal experts say.

Anil Kalhan, an immigration law professor at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, said the furor over the treatment of non-U.S. citizens affected by the travel ban could bleed over into how the court approaches the cases.

“It might be the atmospherics of what’s going on now might lead to a closer look from the justices,” he said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Sue Horton and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: The Supreme Court stands in Washington May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 

Democrats Question Independence Of Trump Supreme Court Nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. senators on Monday sharpened a potential line of attack against Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court by questioning whether he would be sufficiently independent as a justice in light of President Donald Trump’s vigorous use of unilateral presidential power including his travel ban.

Their comments came after Trump criticized James Robart, the U.S. district court judge who put on hold the Republican president’s Jan. 27 order temporarily barring entry into the United States of people from seven Muslim-majority nations and halting the U.S. refugee program. Trump called Robart a “so-called judge” who made a “ridiculous” decision.

Democrats have expressed worry that Gorsuch, nominated by Trump last week, could act as a rubber stamp for the Republican president’s policies on a nine-seat Supreme Court poised to revert to a conservative majority.

“It’s a serious concern with a president who attacks the judiciary and seems to not respect the rule of law and the Constitution that you have a really independent justice,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, set to meet with Gorsuch on Tuesday, told Reuters.

Gorsuch, continuing a series of private meetings with senators ahead of his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, met on Monday with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s top Democrat, at her Senate office.

Afterward, she said Gorsuch is “clearly very smart, caring, and he’s well thought of in Colorado,” where he serves as a federal appeals court judge. But Feinstein said she will make up her mind after the hearing about whether or not to support his confirmation.

“What we would like to see is an independent judge, and the hearing will determine that,” Feinstein told Reuters.

Gorsuch must be confirmed by the Senate to the lifetime post on the high court.

“It’s incumbent upon Judge Gorsuch to make it clear to the American people that he does not believe in ‘so-called judges,’ that he thinks it’s imperative that the judiciary has to be respected as an independent one-third of our government,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

“I would look forward to hearing him speak out on that issue,” Sanders added.

Conservative lawyers and Republican senators who are favorable toward Gorsuch cite his record of supporting limited federal powers and his skepticism about courts deferring too much to executive branch interpretations of the law when issuing regulations as signs he would be willing to stand up to Trump.

“I have zero concerns about his independence being compromised,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, another Republican, said Gorsuch “has a trail of decisions and publications a mile long that suggest how talented he is, that are instructive as to how he would rule on any number of issues.”

With four liberals and four conservatives now on the court, Gorsuch’s confirmation would restore the conservative majority that had existed for decades until the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Gorsuch’s supporters point in particular to a recent case in which Gorsuch criticized a landmark high court ruling known as Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. That 1984 ruling directed judges nationwide to defer to federal agencies’ interpretation of laws that may be ambiguous.

Gorsuch in a concurring opinion called that doctrine the “elephant in the room” that concentrates federal power “in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution.”

If Gorsuch is confirmed to serve on a court that would have five conservatives and four liberals, Democrats have expressed concern about setbacks for their positions on divisive issues such as abortion, gun control, environmental regulation, and transgender rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham)

IMAGE: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch arrives for a meeting with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump Faces Uphill Battle To Overcome Court’s Hold On Travel Ban

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump faces an uphill battle to overcome a federal judge’s temporary hold on his travel ban on seven mainly Muslim countries, but the outcome of a ruling on the executive order’s ultimate legality is less certain.

Any appeals of decisions by U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle face a regional court dominated by liberal-leaning judges who might not be sympathetic to Trump’s rationale for the ban, and a currently shorthanded Supreme Court split 4-4 between liberals and conservatives.

The temporary restraining order Robart issued on Friday in Seattle, which applies nationwide, gives him time to consider the case in more detail, but also sends a signal that he is likely to impose a more permanent injunction.

The Trump administration has appealed that order. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said late on Saturday that it would not decide whether to lift the judge’s ruling, as requested by the U.S. government, until it receives briefs from both sides, with the administration’s filing due on Monday.

Appeals courts are generally leery of upending the status quo, which in this case – for now – is the suspension of the ban.

The upheaval prompted by the new Republican administration’s initial announcement of the ban on Jan. 27, with travelers detained at airports upon entering the country, would potentially be kickstarted again if Robart’s stay was lifted.

The appeals court might also take into account the fact that there are several other cases around the country challenging the ban. If it were to overturn the district court’s decision, another judge somewhere else in the United States could impose a new order, setting off a new cascade of court filings.

If the appeals court upholds the order, the administration could immediately ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. But the high court is generally reluctant to get involved in cases at a preliminary stage, legal experts said.

The high court is short one justice, as it has been for a year, leaving it split between liberals and conservatives. Any emergency request by the administration would need five votes to be granted, meaning at least one of the liberals would have to vote in favor.

“I think the court’s going to feel every reason to stay on the sidelines as long as possible,” said Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

Trump last week nominated a conservative appeals court judge, Neil Gorsuch, to fill the vacancy, but he will not be sitting on the Supreme Court for at least two months. Gorsuch’s vote, if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, could come into play if the case were to reach the court at a later stage of the litigation.

Once the case proceeds past the injunction stage of the litigation and onto the merits of whether the order is legally sound, legal experts differ over how strong the government’s case would be.

Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan Law School, said the administration could struggle to convince courts that the ban was justified by national security concerns.

The Supreme Court has previously rejected the idea that the government does not need to offer a basis for its actions in the national security context, including the landmark 1971 Pentagon Papers case, in which the administration of President Richard Nixon tried unsuccessfully to prevent the press from publishing information about United States policy toward Vietnam.

“The government’s argument so far in support of the order is pretty weak,” Primus said.

Jonathan Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said the administration has legal precedent on its side, with the courts generally deferential to executive action on immigration.

However, he said it is unusual for the courts to be asked to endorse “a policy that appears to have been adopted in as kind of haphazard and arbitrary way as this one appears to have been.”

(Reporting By Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski and Nathan Layne; Editing by Amy Stevens and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump looks up after signing an executive order rolling back regulations from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on Wall Street reform at the White House in Washington February 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Trump Treating Supreme Court Pick Like An Episode Of ‘The Apprentice’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump was set to unveil his pick for a lifetime job on the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as Democrats, still fuming over the Republican-led Senate’s refusal to act on former President Barack Obama’s nominee last year, girded for a fight.

Trump has announced he would reveal his choice to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February, at the White House at 8 p.m.

The court is ideologically split with four conservative justices and four liberals, and Trump’s pick can restore its conservative majority.

A source involved in the selection process said Trump has made his choice between two conservative U.S. appeals court judges — Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman. Both were appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush.

CNN, citing an unnamed source, said Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been told he is the likely nominee.

Adding an element of drama to what is normally a sober announcement, CNN said both Gorsuch and Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had been brought to Washington ahead of Tuesday’s announcement.

A senior Senate Republican aide said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already been informed of Trump’s pick, which the senator described as an “outstanding choice.”

William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had earlier been mentioned as a possible nominee.

Under the Constitution, a president’s Supreme Court nomination requires Senate confirmation.

A Supreme Court justice can have influence for decades after the president who made the appointment has left office and Trump’s appointee could be pivotal in cases involving abortion, gun, religious and transgender rights, the death penalty, and other contentious matters.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said polls had shown that the composition of the Supreme Court was important for many voters at last year’s presidential election.

“I can assure you that this individual will make those voters and every American very, very proud,” Spicer told reporters. “This particular choice is one the president takes very seriously.”

CONSERVATIVE CREDENTIALS

William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had earlier been mentioned as a possible Trump nominee.

All three men have strong conservative credentials.

Gorsuch, 49, joined an opinion in 2013 saying that owners of private companies can object on religious grounds to a provision of the Obamacare health insurance law requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control for women.

Hardiman, 51, has embraced a broad interpretation of the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms and has backed the right of schools to restrict student speech.

Pryor, 54, has been an outspoken critic of the court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, calling it “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.”

Amid partisan tension since Trump took office, Democrats remain enraged because Republican Leader McConnell refused last year to allow the Senate to consider Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant seat. That action has little precedent in U.S. history.

Gambling that Republicans would win the presidency in the Nov. 8 election, McConnell argued that Obama’s successor should get to make the pick. The move paid off with Trump’s victory, but the court has run shorthanded for nearly a full year.

Some Democrats have said the Republicans effectively stole a Supreme Court seat from Obama by refusing to confirm Garland.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley has vowed to pursue a procedural hurdle called a filibuster for Trump’s nominee, meaning 60 votes would be needed in the 100-seat Senate unless its long-standing rules are changed. Trump’s fellow Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, meaning some Democratic votes would be needed to confirm his pick.

“We need to fight this Constitution-shredding gambit with everything we’ve got,” Merkley said in a statement.

McConnell on Monday warned Democrats that senators should respect Trump’s election victory and give the nominee “careful consideration followed by an up-or-down vote,” not a filibuster.

Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, said last week he would favor Senate Republicans eliminating the filibuster, a change dubbed the “nuclear option,” for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats block his pick.

Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group, said it would launch the first part of a $10 million media advertisement campaign on Tuesday night in favor of whomever Trump chooses. The effort will hold Senate Democrats who face election in 2018 “accountable for their choice” on the Supreme Court, the group said.

Since it had only eight members after Scalia’s death, the court has steered clear of some controversial issues. The most high-profile case currently under consideration is that of a female-born transgender high school student named Gavin Grimm, who identifies as male. He sued in 2015 to win the right to use the school’s boys’ bathroom in Virginia.

Depending on how quickly Trump’s nominee is confirmed by the Senate, he may be able to participate in some of the current term’s cases. If not, the court may have to consider setting new oral arguments and deciding them at a later date.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Ayesha Rascoe and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell; Editing by Susan Heavey and Bill Trott)

IMAGE: THE APPRENTICE — NBC Alternative Series — “Episode 306: The Writing on the Wall” — Pictured: Donald Trump — NBC Universal Photo: Kevin T. Gilbert

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

Supreme Court On Gerrymandering: ‘Is It Politics Or Race?’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday struggled over how to determine when states have unlawfully considered race in drawing legislative districts as they weighed cases in which Republicans in Virginia and North Carolina were accused of trying to dilute the clout of black voters.

Based on two hours of oral arguments in the cases before the eight justices, it appeared that the voters who challenged Virginia’s plan may win but the North Carolina case’s outcome was less clear. Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sided with the court’s liberals in a ruling last year involving Alabama legislative districts, could again be pivotal.

Race can be considered in redrawing boundaries of voting districts only in certain instances, such as when states are seeking to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. That law protects minority voters and was enacted to address a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in southern states.

In both cases before the justices, voters accused Republicans of packing black voters, who tend to back Democratic candidates, into certain districts to diminish their voting power and make surrounding districts more white and more likely to support Republicans.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to throw out a lower court’s decision upholding a Republican-backed state legislature redistricting plan in Alabama that crammed black voters into certain districts in a way critics claimed lessened their influence at the polls.

The Supreme Court has never said redistricting cannot be based on nakedly partisan aims like maximizing one party’s election chances.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the ruling in the Alabama case, acknowledged the difficulties in assessing when race has been taken into account appropriately in drawing voting districts.

“No one, I think, has a good answer to that question. There is just slightly better, slightly worse,” Breyer said.

Fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that “it’s real easy” for states to say mere politics motivated their decisions “even though there’s a lot of direct evidence that it really was race.”

Conservative justices, often skeptical about considering race in any context, expressed sympathy for the problems states face in trying to avoid lawsuits while also complying with the voting law.

“Maybe there’s no way around it, but isn’t this just an invitation for litigation in every one of these instances?” Justice Samuel Alito asked.

North Carolina appealed a February federal court ruling that found that Republicans who redrew U.S. House of Representatives districts after the 2010 census took race too much into consideration.

Virginia voters who challenged the way 12 state House of Delegates boundaries were drawn by Republicans after the 2010 census appealed an October 2015 federal district court ruling upholding the districts.

Rulings in both cases are due by the end of June.

IMAGE: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Supreme Court To Hear Appeal on 9/11 Detentions Lawsuit

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear an appeal by former senior officials during George W. Bush’s presidency seeking to block a lawsuit filed by immigrants, mainly Muslims, detained after the Sept. 11 attacks who said they faced abusive treatment.

The former officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Naturalization Services Commissioner James Ziglar, are aiming to reverse a 2015 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the long-running suit to move forward.

The brief order noted that two justices, liberals Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, are not participating in the case, meaning that only six justices will be involved. The court is currently one justice short following the death of Antonin Scalia in February.

The civil rights lawsuit seeks to hold the former officials responsible for the racial and religious profiling and abuse in detention that the plaintiffs said they endured after being detained following the 2001 attacks by al Qaeda Islamic militants on the United States.

The suit was filed by a group of Muslim, Arab and South Asian non-U.S. citizens who, their lawyers said, were held as terrorism suspects based on their race, religion, ethnicity and immigration status and abused in detention before being deported.

The court will hear oral arguments and issue a ruling by the end of June.

The court on Tuesday also took up a separate case on a similar legal issue about whether the family of a Mexican teenager can sue the U.S. Border Patrol agent who fatally shot the 15-year-old from across the border in Texas in 2010.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

RBG Hopes ‘Cooler Heads’ Prevail On SCOTUS Vacancy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said on Wednesday she hoped “cooler heads will prevail” over the vacancy on the Supreme Court, suggesting that Republicans should act on President Barack Obama’s nominee.

Ginsburg’s comments at Georgetown Law Center came a day after Democrats in the Republican-controlled Senate renewed their push for a confirmation hearing for Obama’s pick, appeals court judge Merrick Garland.

The nomination has been pending for 175 days without Senate action, the longest ever to the high court.

Republicans have said the next president should get to make the appointment because the vacancy, created by the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February, came in the final year of Obama’s presidency.

“I do think that cooler heads will prevail, I hope sooner rather than later,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg, 83, a liberal appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, acknowledged that the Senate, which has the responsibility to confirm or reject judicial nominations, did not have to confirm the nominee. But she said it did have an obligation to at least consider Garland instead of taking no action at all.

“The president is elected for four years, not three years,” she said in relation to the president’s authority to make appointments in the final year of a term. “Maybe some members of the Senate will wake up and appreciate that that’s how it should be.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Democratic senators held a press conference outside the Supreme Court demanding action on the nomination.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far held firm to his pledge to take no action.

The nine-seat court has been one justice short since Scalia’s death. With four liberals and four conservatives now on the bench, an appointment by a Democratic president could end decades of conservative domination on the court.

Ginsburg has a long track record of making sometimes outspoken public remarks, in stark contrast to most of her colleagues. In July, she issued a statement in which she said she regretted comments she made in press interviews criticizing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

In one CNN interview she described him as a “faker.”

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg arrives to watch U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 20, 2015. Picture TAKEN January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

Democrats Launch New Push For Obama U.S. Supreme Court Nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Supporters of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court selection, on Tuesday launched a new push to persuade the Republican-led Senate to act on the nomination before the Nov. 8 presidential election, but their calls fell on deaf ears.

With senators returning to work after a seven-week summer recess, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid called the refusal of Republicans to consider Garland’s nomination “disgusting and repugnant.”

“Republicans have deadlocked our entire system of justice because of the Republican Senate’s dysfunction,” Reid said.

Obama’s nomination of the moderate appeals court judge has been pending without action for 174 days, longer than any other Supreme Court nominee in U.S. history.

The U.S. Constitution gives the Senate the job of confirming a president’s judicial nominees. In a move with little precedent in American history, Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have refused to take any action on Obama’s nominee, insisting that Obama’s successor make the pick.

“The Senate is returning from the longest recess in nearly half a century, and perhaps the Republican leadership was hoping that Americans had forgotten about the unprecedented obstruction of a Supreme Court nominee,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We Need Nine, a White House-allied group, will hold a news conference in front of the Supreme Court building on Wednesday with Democratic senators and lawyers who previously worked as clerks for Garland.

Republicans sounded unconvinced.

McConnell “has been crystal clear for the last seven months,” an aide to the senator said on Tuesday. “The next president will select the nominee.”

The nine-seat court has been one justice short since the February death of long-serving conservative Antonin Scalia. With four liberals and four conservatives now on the bench, an appointment by a Democratic president could end decades of conservative domination on the court.

The White House has called Garland’s confirmation a top priority for the legislative work period that began on Tuesday and ends in early October.

In remarks last month, Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley indicated he could be persuaded by a large number of senators to take action on Garland in a “lame duck” session immediately after the election. His panel would hold any confirmation hearings.

Some conservatives worry that if Democrat Hillary Clinton defeats Republican Donald Trump in the election, she would nominate someone more liberal than Garland.

But in a statement on Tuesday, Grassley reiterated that “the next president should choose Justice Scalia’s replacement” and said his meetings with home-state voters during the recess “only bolstered the point that Iowans should have the opportunity to have a voice in the direction of the Supreme Court for the next 40 years.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan)

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland walks after a breakfast with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill Washington, April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Bid To Reinstate North Carolina Voting Limits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a bid by North Carolina to reinstate for November’s elections several voting restrictions, including a requirement that people show identification at the polls.

The court, divided in part 4-4, rejected a request made by Republican Governor Pat McCrory after an appeals court ruled last month that the 2013 law discriminates against minority voters. Five votes are needed for an emergency request to be granted.

The brief order noted that three of the court’s conservatives, including Chief Justice John Roberts, would have allowed the voter identification provision and limits on early voting to be in effect for the election. Justice Clarence Thomas agreed on that point, but was the only justice to say he would have also allowed a requirement blocking pre-registration of 16-year-olds to stay in place.

McCrory’s lawyers said the status quo should be maintained so close to the election, citing court precedent in their favor.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on July 29 that the law intentionally discriminated against minority voters. The same court refused to put its decision on hold for the Nov. 8 election.

Critics say such laws, passed in Republican-governed states, make voting harder for minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics, who tend to support Democrats. Backers say the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud.

The court is currently short one justice following the death of conservative Antonin Scalia in February.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Supreme Court Throws Out Virginia Ex-Governor McDonnell’s Corruption Conviction

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out Republican former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s corruption convictions in a ruling that could hem in federal prosecutors as they go after bribery charges against other politicians.

The court ruled 8-0 in overturning McDonnell’s conviction for accepting $177,000 in luxury gifts and sweetheart loans for him and his wife from a wealthy Richmond businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement, finding that it did not constitute a criminal act under federal bribery law. McDonnell was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to two years in prison but had remained free pending the outcome of his appeal.

The issue before the court was whether the gifts and money were part of an unlawful arrangement in which a sitting governor, in return for accepting them, employed the power of his office to benefit businessman Jonnie Williams.

The court ruled that the prosecution’s broad interpretation of the bribery law made it unclear whether McDonnell was convicted of conduct that was actually illegal. The court sent the case back to lower courts to determine if there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict McDonnell. He could still face a new trial.

Under the court’s new interpretation of what “official acts” can be constituted as bribery, “setting up a meeting, calling another public official or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an official act,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court.

 

Photo: Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell is surrounded by members of the media after his sentencing hearing in Richmond, Virginia January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Jay Westcott  

Supreme Court Strikes Down Restrictive Texas Abortion Law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to abortion rights advocates, striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities that its critics contended were specifically designed to shut down clinics.

The 5-3 ruling held that the Republican-backed 2013 law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to end a pregnancy established in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The normally nine-justice court was one member short after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently opposed abortion in past rulings.

Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined liberal members of the court in ruling that both key provisions of the law violate a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion.

By setting a nationwide legal precedent that the two provisions in the Texas law were unconstitutional, the ruling imperils laws already in place in other states.

Texas had said its law, passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2013, was aimed at protecting women’s health. The abortion providers had said the regulations were medically unnecessary and intended to shut down clinics. Since the law was passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, has dropped from 41 to 19.

Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration supported the challenge brought by the abortion providers.

The Texas law required abortion doctors to have “admitting privileges,” a type of formal affiliation that can be hard to obtain, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic so they can treat patients needing surgery or other critical care.

The law also required clinic buildings to possess costly, hospital-grade facilities. These regulations covered numerous building features such as corridor width, the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles, parking spaces, elevator size, ventilation, electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling and even the angle that water flows from drinking fountains.

The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.

Some U.S. states have pursued a variety of restrictions on abortion, including banning certain types of procedures, prohibiting it after a certain number of weeks of gestation, requiring parental permission for girls until a certain age, imposing waiting periods or mandatory counseling, and others.

Americans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipso online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal.

Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Adfam DeRose; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. Supreme Court Poised To Issue Major Abortion Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court is due on Monday to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies.

The court’s decision on whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion is one of three remaining cases for the court to decide on Monday, the last day of its term. The other major one involves whether the justices will overturn the corruption conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell.

The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.

Americans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipso online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal.

Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.

There has been a long decline in the U.S. abortion rate. The most recent data, from 2011, showed that there were an estimated 1.1 million abortions that year at a rate of 16.9 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion policy and supports abortion rights. The rate had peaked at 29 abortions per 1,000 women in 1981, the group said.

“We know that the recent abortion declines were primarily due to declines in unintended pregnancies. Improved contraceptive use is likely the key driver of the declines in both unintended pregnancy and abortion,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the institute.

The Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The law in Texas, one of a number of conservative states that have pursued restrictions on abortion, requires abortion doctors to have “admitting privileges,” a type of formal affiliation, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic. It also requires clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities.

The court is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives following the February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. The court could split 4-4, which would leave in place a lower court’s decision upholding the law.

In the Reuters/Ipsos poll, Americans were nearly evenly split on whether they backed laws like the one in Texas, with 43 percent generally opposed and 41 percent generally supportive. The poll had a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of about 2 percentage points.

 

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Supreme Court Upholds Race-Based College Admissions Program

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the practice of considering race in college admissions, rejecting a white woman’s challenge to a University of Texas affirmative action program designed to boost the enrollment of minority students.

The court, in a 4-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, decided in favor of the university in turning aside the conservative challenge to the policy, meaning a 2014 appeals court ruling that backed the admissions program was left intact.

The Supreme Court was weighing for the second time a challenge to the admissions system used by the University of Texas at Austin brought by Abigail Fisher, who was denied entry to the school for the autumn of 2008.

Affirmative action is a policy under which racial minorities historically subject to discrimination are given certain preferences in education and employment.

Fisher said the university denied her admission in favor of lesser-qualified black and Hispanic applicants. She maintained that the program violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Kennedy said that “considerable deference” is owed to universities when they are seeking to determine student diversity. He said that “it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”

But in the Texas case, the challengers had failed to show that the university could have met its needs via another process, he said. Kennedy noted that the university “tried and failed to increase diversity” through other race-neutral means.

The university has disputed whether Fisher would have gained admission under any circumstances. University officials contend that having a sizable number of minorities enrolled exposes students to varied perspectives and enhances the educational experience for all students.

The high court upheld a July 2014 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the university. That court endorsed the school’s “limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity.”

President Barack Obama’s administration backed the university in the dispute.

The university admits most freshmen through a program that guarantees admission to students in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school graduating classes. It uses other factors including race to admit the remainder. Fisher was not in the top 10 percent of her high school class.

The high court had considered Fisher’s case once before. In June 2013, it did not directly rule on the program’s constitutionality but ordered the appeals court to scrutinize it more closely.

‘SOMETHING STRANGE’

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito contended that the court’s majority had turned its back on principles from the first Fisher ruling, which he said required judges to give more scrutiny to racial admissions and defer less to university officials, and he opened his dissent remarking, “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case.”

“Here, UT (the University of Texas) has failed to define its interest in using racial preferences with clarity. As a result, the narrow tailoring inquiry is impossible, and UT cannot satisfy strict scrutiny,” Alito added.

Alito added that while the university’s stated goals are laudable, “they are not concrete or precise, and they offer no limiting principle for the use of racial preferences. For instance, how will a court ever be able to determine whether stereotypes have adequately been destroyed? Or whether cross-racial understanding has been adequately achieved?”

While the university’s program has resulted in a measure of racial and ethnic diversity, the percentage of black and Hispanic students on campus still remains lower than in the state’s overall population.

Fisher, now 26, graduated from her second choice college, Louisiana State University, and now works as a financial analyst in Austin. Fisher said she has stayed in the case to help others in similar positions.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the University of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action,” Fisher said in a statement.

Edward Blum, a conservative activist who engineered Fisher’s challenge, said that racial classifications and preferences are among the most polarizing policies in America today.

“As long as universities like the University of Texas continue to treat applicants differently by race and ethnicity, the social fabric that holds us together as a nation will be weakened. Today’s decision is a sad step backward for the original, colorblind principles to our civil rights laws,” added Blum, the president of the conservative Project on Fair Representation.

 

Photo: University of Texas President Gregory Fenves speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 

Supreme Court, Split 4-4, Blocks Obama Immigration Plan

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt President Barack Obama a harsh defeat, splitting 4-4 over his plan to spare millions of immigrants in the country illegally from deportation and give them work permits, leaving intact a lower-court ruling blocking the plan.

The court, with four conservative justices and four liberals, appeared divided along ideological lines during oral arguments on April 18 in a case brought by 26 states led by Texas that sued to block Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration that bypassed Congress.

The 4-4 ruling was possible because there are only eight justices following February’s death of conservative Antonin Scalia.

Obama’s plan was tailored to let roughly 4 million people – those who have lived illegally in the United States at least since 2010, have no criminal record and have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents – get into a program that shields them from deportation and supplies work permits.

The court did not issue a ruling on the merits of the main legal question. Therefore, its action set no legal precedent to bind future presidents. The decision indicates that any major immigration policy change that would address the long-term situation of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally would have to be enacted by Congress.

This was not the first time that the Supreme Court determined the fate of an important Obama initiative. The justices in 2012 and 2015 issued high-profile rulings preserving his signature healthcare law that Republicans have long fought.

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge To State Assault Weapon Bans

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place gun control laws in New York and Connecticut that ban assault weapons like the one used in last week’s massacre at an Orlando nightclub, rejecting a challenge brought by gun rights advocates.

The court‘s action underlined its reluctance to insert itself into the simmering national debate on gun control. The justices have not made a major gun rights ruling since 2010.

The justices declined to hear an appeal of an October ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld laws prohibiting semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines in the two northeastern states.

The laws in New York and Connecticut, among the strictest in the nation, were enacted after a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle killed 20 young children and six educators in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The challengers had asserted that the laws violated the U.S. Constitution’s protection of the right to bear arms. The court denied the appeal with no comment or recorded vote.

The gunman in the June 12 attack at an Orlando gay night club that killed 49 people, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, used a semiautomatic rifle that would have been banned in New York and Connecticut.

In total, seven states and the District of Columbia ban semi-automatic rifles. A national law barring assault weapons expired in 2004, and congressional Republicans and some Democrats, backed by the influential National Rifle Association gun rights lobby, beat back efforts to restore it.

The United States has among the most permissive gun policies in the world. Because the U.S. Congress has been a graveyard for gun control legislation, some states and localities have enacted their own measures.

The U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, but there is a longstanding legal debate over its scope.

The Supreme Court issued important rulings in gun cases in 2008 and 2010 but has not taken up a major firearms case since.

In December, the court declined to hear a challenge to a Illinois town’s assault weapons ban. But the justices in March threw out a Massachusetts court ruling that stun guns are not covered by the Second Amendment and sent the case back to the state’s top court for further proceedings.

In the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case, the court held for the first time that the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual’s right to bear arms, but the ruling applied only to firearms kept in the home for self-defense. That ruling did not involve a state law and applied only to federal regulations. Two years later, in the case McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court held that the Heller ruling covered individual gun rights in states.

The court lost one of its strongest pro-gun rights members in February when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died.

The expired federal assault gun ban had barred the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic guns with military-style features as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The New York and Connecticut laws were challenged by pro-gun groups including the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association as well as individual gun owners. The appeals court consolidated the two cases and upheld the law.

The Connecticut challengers appealed to the Supreme Court while the New York ones did not. However, an individual gun owner, Douglas Kampfer, who had a parallel legal challenge to the New York law that also lost at the appeals court level asked the Supreme Court to hear his case.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: Security guards walk the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo dated October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing