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The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to block the Texas law banning most abortions, while they fight over the measure’s constitutionality plays out in the courts.

The administration also took the unusual step of telling the justices they could grant the Texas law full review and decide its fate this term, which already includes a major case about the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

No court has yet reached a decision on the constitutionality of the Texas law, and the Supreme Court rarely grants such requests.

The law has been in effect since September, aside from a district court-ordered pause that lasted just 48 hours, and bans abortions once the cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant.
The Justice Department asked the high court Monday to lift an order imposed by a conservative federal appeals court that has allowed Texas to continue enforcing the nation’s strictest curbs on abortion through a novel law that was written to make it hard to challenge in the federal court system. The department had announced its intentions last Friday.

The Texas law defies the Supreme Court’s major decisions on abortion rights “by banning abortion long before viability -- indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant,” the Justice Department wrote in its plea to the court.

“The question now is whether Texas’ nullification of this Court’s precedents should be allowed to continue while the courts consider the United States’ suit. As the district court recognized, it should not,” the Justice Department wrote.

The administration also said the court could short-circuit the usual process and rule on the law’s constitutionality this term, even though lower courts have yet to do so. The justices have done this only a handful of times in recent decades, the last occasion being a 2019 dispute over the Trump administration’s ultimately failed effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. In that case, a deadline for finalizing the census was fast approaching.

In this case, the administration said, Texas’ attempt to evade federal court review of its law and the possibility that other states could adopt similar measures justify the court’s early involvement.

The high court ordered Texas to respond by midday Thursday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Monday’s news briefing that President Joe Biden would protect abortion rights and that the Justice Department would lead efforts to ensure that women have “access to fundamental rights that they have to protect their own health.”

It’s not clear whether the administration will prevail at a Supreme Court with a conservative majority that has been fortified by three appointees of former President Donald Trump and already has agreed to hear a major challenge to abortion rights in a case from Mississippi.

The Trump appointees, joined by two other conservatives, have once before rejected a plea to keep the law on hold, in a separate lawsuit filed by abortion providers. There was no immediate timetable for Supreme Court action on this latest motion.

While courts have blocked other state laws effectively banning abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, roughly around 24 weeks, the Texas law has so far avoided a similar fate because of its unique structure that leaves enforcement up to private citizens, rather than state officials. Anyone who brings a successful lawsuit against an abortion provider for violating the law is entitled to claim at least $10,000 in damages.

In the 5-4 vote last month to allow the law to remain in effect, the high court acknowledged in an unsigned order that there were “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law” but also “complex and novel” procedural questions about whom to sue and whether federal courts had the power to stop the law from being enforced.

In a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that he would have put the “unprecedented” law on hold so that the court could consider “whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws” by handing off enforcement. The court’s three liberal justices also dissented.

The question now is whether the administration’s presence in the new lawsuit will make a difference. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals provided its answer late Thursday, extending its earlier order that allows the law to remain in effect. In a 2-1 vote, the court said it was siding with Texas for the same reasons the Supreme Court and a different 5th Circuit panel cited in the providers’ lawsuit — questioning whether anyone could march into federal court to challenge the law.

Texas sought help from the appeals court after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that the Justice Department did have the ability to sue and that he had the authority to stop the law from being enforced, writing that “women have been unlawfully prevented from exercising control over their lives in ways that are protected by the Constitution.”

The judge conceded, however, that “other courts may find a way to avoid this conclusion.”


A former Chicago-area obstetrician/gynecologist has been sentenced to three years in prison after admitting that he sexually abused two of his former patients during exams.

Dr. Fabio Ortega, 75, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty in Cook County Circuit Court to two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The charges stem from incidents in which the two women said Ortega sexually abused them during exams in 2017 and 2016 while he was employed with the NorthShore University HealthSystem, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Nine civil lawsuits involving similar accusations from other women have been consolidated in Cook County Circuit Court, said Tamara Holder, an attorney representing those women.
Some of those civil suits also name NorthShore and Swedish Covenant Hospital as defendants and allege that NorthShore failed to warn patients about allegations made against Ortega.

Ortega worked at Swedish before working at NorthShore, according to the suits, which allege that NorthShore permitted him to retire rather than fire him. Swedish has since become part of the NorthShore.

NorthShore said in a statement Tuesday that it was unable to comment on any litigation related to Ortega. The health system has also declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the end of his employment.

Ortega’s medical license was suspended in 2018 for “engaging in sexual misconduct with (a) patient of his practice,” according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.


A federal appeals court dealt another blow to a lawsuit targeting Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers, resulting in an 11th-hour appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop the vaccine requirement, saying a lawsuit brought by opponents of the mandate was unlikely to succeed. The state is due to begin enforcing the vaccine requirement on Oct. 29.

The decision was dated Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court declined an emergency request to intervene.

But the Supreme Court left open the door for another appeal, and lawyers swiftly filed a request for a preliminary injunction Wednesday after the appeals court issued its final decision.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills praised the decision by the appeals court, saying Wednesday that vaccinations “are the best tool we have to protect the lives and livelihoods of Maine people.”

“This rule protects health care workers, their patients and our health care capacity in the face of this deadly virus. Just as vaccination defeated smallpox and vaccination defeated polio, vaccination is the way to defeat COVID-19,” she said in a statement.

The 1st Circuit decision came a week after a federal judge in Maine upheld the vaccination mandate for health workers.

“Maine’s interest in safeguarding its residents is paramount. While we do not diminish the appellants’ liberty of conscience, we cannot find, absent any constitutional or statutory violation, any error in the district court’s conclusion that the rule promotes strong public interests and that an injunction would not serve the public interest,” the 1st Circuit wrote.

The Liberty Counsel, which filed the lawsuit in federal court in Maine, claims to represent more than 2,000 health care workers who don’t want to be forced to be vaccinated.

Mat Staver, founder and chair of the Liberty Counsel, said Wednesday that it’s now up to the Supreme Court “to obtain relief for these health care heroes against Governor Janet Mills’ illegal edict.”

Most health care workers have complied but several dozen have opted to quit over the mandate, and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston already curtailed some admissions because of a shortage of nurses. Nearly 97% of Maine emergency medical workers are vaccinated against COVID-19, Maine Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

State agencies vowed to work with hospitals and nursing homes individually to address issues. That includes working with the facilities on recruitment and retention of workers, said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“We have seen significant improvements in the vaccine rates in our hospitals and long-term care facilities,” she said.


A federal judge has ruled that North Carolina’s flagship public university can continue to consider race as a factor in its undergraduate admissions, rebuffing a conservative group’s argument that affirmative action disadvantages white and Asian students.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled late Monday that the University of North Carolina has shown that it has a compelling reason to pursue a diverse student body and has demonstrated that measurable benefits come from that goal.

“In sum, the Court concludes that UNC has met its burden in demonstrating that it has a genuine and compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of diversity,” Biggs wrote.

Students for Fair Admissions sued UNC in 2014, arguing that using race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions violates the equal protection cause of the Constitution and federal civil rights law. The group contended that UNC had gone too far in using race as a factor in admissions and had thus “intentionally discriminated against certain of (its) members on the basis of their race, color, or ethnicity.”

The group’s president, Edward Blum, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that it would appeal by day’s end to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. His group already appealed a denial in a similar lawsuit against Harvard University. Blum said he hopes both cases get bundled together so that the U.S. Supreme Court rules simultaneously on private and public universities.

“Shame on Harvard, shame on UNC and shame on all universities who take federal funds from considering race as an element,” said Blum, who has long sought to rid college admissions of race-based admissions policies.

The Supreme Court in June asked the Justice Department to weigh in on Blum’s Harvard lawsuit, which was supported by former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s Justice Department also challenged Yale University ’s admissions practices in a suit President Joe Biden’s administration dropped earlier this year.

UNC countered in court that its admission practices are legally and constitutionally permissible and that race-neutral alternatives would not enable it to achieve its diversity goals. Of roughly 20,000 undergraduate UNC students this fall 2021 semester, approximately 56% are white, nearly 13% Asian, about 10% Hispanic, and 8.5% Black, the university said.

“This decision makes clear the University’s holistic admissions approach is lawful,” said an emailed statement from Beth Keith, a spokesperson for the university. “We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive.”

Judge Biggs wrote that she applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s University of Texas precedent, which established that schools may consider race in admissions in ways narrowly tailored to promote diversity.

She noted that UNC “offered a principled and reasoned explanation,” supported by research, for its pursuit of a diverse student body, citing a 2005 report by a UNC task force that its academic goals depend on “a critical mass” of students from underrepresented groups.

“The University has presented substantial evidence demonstrating its good faith in pursuing the educational benefits that flow from diversity,” the judge concluded.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented a racially diverse group of students who intervened in the case demanding that the university to even more to support minorities. Its statement said considering race in admissions helps ensure that talented applicants from historically marginalized groups aren’t overlooked.

“As our clients demonstrated with their trial testimony and evidence, race is an integral part of a students’ identity, and must be treated as such during the admissions process,” attorney Genevieve Bonadies-Torres said.


A federal judge on Monday agreed to push back until next year the sentencing for U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s friend who pleaded guilty earlier this year to sex trafficking and other charges.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell said sentencing for Joel Greenberg could be postponed from next month to next March during a hearing in federal court in Orlando. Greenberg’s attorney had asked for the delay so the former local tax collector can continue cooperating with federal authorities. Prosecutors agreed to the postponement.

Greenberg wasn’t present during the 20-minute hearing. The judge said he would set a new sentencing date in the future.

Greenberg is facing up to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty last May to six federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a child, identity theft, stalking, wire fraud, and conspiracy to bribe a public official.

Greenberg’s plea agreement with prosecutors requires continued cooperation with an ongoing probe into sex trafficking.

Gaetz, a Republican who represents much of the Florida Panhandle, was not mentioned in Greenberg’s plea agreement. But Greenberg’s cooperation could play a role in an ongoing investigation into Gaetz, who was accused of paying a 17-year-old girl for sex. Gaetz has denied the allegations and previously said they were part of an extortion plot.


A federal judge has limited the ability for now for the nonprofit running Oak Ridge National Laboratory to place employees on unpaid leave who receive exemptions to a COVID-19 vaccine requirement.

U.S. District Judge Charles Atchley in Knoxville issued the temporary restraining order Friday barring UT-Battelle from placing employees on indefinite unpaid leave or firing them after they receive a religious or medical accommodation to the vaccine.

The six workers who sued have argued they were told the unpaid leave would be indefinite. Their employer said in a court filing that the leave will last 60 days — with health benefits intact — and then will be reevaluated. Those with security clearances will maintain them for 90 days, the filing states.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory spokesperson Morgan McCorkle said Sunday that officials there “remain confident our policy is legal, in taxpayers’ interest, and necessary for the well-being of our workforce.”

The judge wrote that he will decide by Oct. 29 whether to let the order expire or keep it while the case plays out. He reasoned that “preventing their (employees’) placement on unpaid leave for a matter of two weeks simply will not harm” the organization, while the unpaid leave presents a “functional loss of employment” and other damages for the workers at the lab, which is about 25 miles west of Knoxville.

The judge wrote that the order shouldn’t be interpreted that he is inclined to block the order permanently, and instead was put in place to avoid the “risk of irreparable harm” until a full hearing can be held.

The employees sued earlier this month, saying they requested religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine and two of them also asked for a medical exemption. The lawsuit also seeks class-action status, arguing the unpaid leave policy breaches civil rights and disability discrimination protections.

The lawsuit says the workers were not offered alternatives, such as working remotely or periodic testing. All employees currently face a mask mandate at the lab.
The laboratory, which falls under the U.S. Department of Energy, announced on Aug. 26 that all staff needed to be vaccinated by Oct. 15, with a request that those who were seeking accommodations for religious or medical reasons to submit them by Sept. 15.

UT-Battelle had 145 employees request for accommodations for religious beliefs, and in 24 cases had in-person discussions with the workers. UT-Battelle received 75 requests for medical exemptions, granting 47 of them, denying 25, with three pending, a filing states.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory website, there are 5,700 staff workers at the facility.

“The risk posed by unvaccinated staff members was exemplified by the employees who tested positive on the day they were being interviewed about their religious accommodation requests,” UT-Battelle wrote.


Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is defending her authority to decide how the state will spend more than $1 billion federal pandemic aid — without the approval of the Legislature.

In a written court briefing Friday, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true today more broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.

Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque have asked the Supreme Court to intervene and rein in the governor’s authority to spend without legislative approval.

Lujan Grisham, who is running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief.

The ruling vacated approval of the pipeline, prompting FERC’s 90-day order allowing its continued operation.

Roberts handles emergency appeals to the Supreme Court in cases arising in the federal courts in Washington, D.C.

New Mexico’s state treasurer says a close reading of the state Constitution shows that the Legislature should help determine how to spend a recent round of pandemic relief signed by President Joe Biden in March.

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