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California fight on Trump birth control rules goes to court
Topics | 2019/01/09 07:20
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.



Court orders mediation in Maryland desegregation case
Legal Network | 2019/01/06 23:33
A federal appeals court has ordered a fourth attempt at mediation in a long-running dispute over the state of Maryland’s treatment of its historically black colleges.

The black colleges say the state has underfunded them while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly compete with them and drain prospective students away.

In 2013, a judge found that the state had maintained an unconstitutional “dual and segregated education system.” The judge said the state allowed traditionally white schools to replicate programs at historically black institutions, thereby undermining the success of the black schools.

Despite three previous tries at mediation, the two sides have been unable to agree on a solution.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Maryland’s higher education commission and the coalition to begin mediation again to try to settle the 12-year-old lawsuit.


High court to take new look at partisan electoral districts
Topics | 2019/01/04 07:35
The Supreme Court is plunging back into the issue of whether electoral districts can be too partisan.

Disputes have arisen in cases involving North Carolina's heavily Republican congressional map and a Democratic congressional district in Maryland, and the justices said Friday they will hear arguments in March.

The high court could come out with the first limits on partisan politics in the drawing of electoral districts, but also could ultimately decide that federal judges have no role in trying to police political mapmaking.

The court took up the issue of partisan gerrymandering last term in cases from Wisconsin and the same Maryland district, but the justices failed to reach a decision on limiting political line-drawing for political gain.

Justice Anthony Kennedy had said he was open to limits. He has since retired, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh has taken Kennedy's seat. He has no judicial record on the issue.

The court again has taken one case in which Democrats are accused of unfairly limiting Republicans' political power and one in which Republicans are the alleged culprits. The court also has the entire North Carolina congressional map before it, but only the one Maryland district.

In both cases, however, lower courts have found that the party in charge of redistricting — Republicans in North Carolina, Democrats in Maryland — egregiously violated the rights of voters in the other party.


GOP candidate asks North Carolina court to declare he won
Court Watch | 2019/01/03 07:35
The Republican in the nation's last undecided congressional race asked a North Carolina court Thursday to require that he be declared the winner because the now-defunct state elections board didn't act.

A lawsuit by GOP candidate Mark Harris claims the disbanded elections board had been declared unconstitutional, so its investigation into alleged ballot fraud by an operative hired by the Republican's campaign was invalid.

The elections board was dissolved Dec. 28 by state judges who in October declared its makeup unconstitutional but had allowed investigations to continue. A revamped board doesn't officially come into existence until Jan. 31.

"Time is of the essence," Harris' lawsuit states. Because the new elections board won't be created for weeks, "the uniform finality of a federal election is endangered by the State Board's actions and the citizens of the 9th District have no representation in Congress."

State elections staffers on Wednesday said a planned Jan. 11 evidentiary hearing to outline what investigators have found since November's election had to be postponed due to the lack of a board authorized to subpoena witnesses and hold hearings.

The investigation is continuing, however, with Harris being interviewed for two hours Thursday as all other U.S. House winners were sworn into office in Washington.

"We certainly want to help in any way we can with any investigation to get to the bottom of it, but we believe that, again, that I should be certified," Harris said. "We don't believe that the number of ballots in question would change the outcome of this election and we believe, again, that that is the standard ultimately that the board of elections looks to."

Harris narrowly led Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial vote counts, but the elections board refused to certify him as the winner amid an unusually large number of unused absentee ballots and a large advantage in absentees favoring the Republican in two of the 9th congressional district's rural counties.


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