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The Supreme Court on Thursday turned away pleas from anti-abortion activists to make it easier for them to protest outside clinics, declining to wade back into the abortion debate just days after striking down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.

The justices said in a written order that they would not hear cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion activists had challenged ordinances that restrict their behavior outside clinics.

As is usual, the justices did not comment in turning away the cases. The order from the court noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.

The Supreme Court has since the late 1990s heard several cases involving demonstration-free zones, called buffer zones, outside abortion clinics. Most recently, in 2014, the justices unanimously struck down a law that created a 35-foot protest-free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. The court said Massachusetts’ law, which made it a crime to stand in the protest-free zone for most people not entering or exiting the clinic or passing by, was an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

On Thursday, one of the two cases the court declined to take up involved an ordinance passed by the city counsel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, in 2012 that made it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a zone 20 feet from a health care facility. Anti-abortion activists sued, arguing that the ordinance violates their free speech rights. Lower courts have upheld the ordinance, however, ruling it doesn't apply to “sidewalk counseling,” where individuals who oppose abortion offer assistance and information about alternatives to abortion to those entering a clinic.


The biggest cases of the Supreme Court term so far have a surprising common thread. On a court with five Republican appointees, the liberal justices have been in the majority in rulings that make workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people illegal, protect young immigrants from deportation and, as of Monday, struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion providers.

As surprising, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative nominated by President George W. Bush who has led the court for nearly 15 years, has joined his liberal colleagues in all three. Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Roberts has played a pivotal role in determining how far the court will go in cases where the court's four liberals and four conservatives are closely divided.

Here's a look at where Roberts stood in the abortion, immigration and LGBT cases, his history on the court and what's at stake in coming decisions in which Roberts could play a key role:

On Monday, Roberts joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in striking down Louisiana's Act 620. The justices ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But Roberts' reason for siding with the liberals had less to do with his feelings on abortion than with his feelings on whether the court should do an abrupt about-face. Four years ago the court's four liberal members and Justice Kennedy struck down a Texas law nearly identical to Louisiana's. At the time, Roberts was a vote in dissent. But with Kennedy's retirement and replacement by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many conservatives had hoped the result in the Louisiana case would be different. Not so, Roberts wrote: “The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago."



A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that a law that requires doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The outcome is far from the last word on the decades-long fight over abortion with dozens of state-imposed restrictions winding their way through the courts. But the decision was a surprising defeat for abortion opponents, who thought that a new conservative majority with two of President Donald Trump’s appointees on board would start chipping away at abortion access.

The key vote belonged to Roberts, who had always voted against abortion rights before, including in a 2016 case in which the court struck down a Texas law that was virtually identical to the one in Louisiana.

The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided, but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.

“The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote. He did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday’s decision, and his position left abortion-rights supporters more relieved than elated.

The case was t he third in two weeks in which Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, joined the court’s liberals in the majority. One of the earlier decisions preserved the legal protections and work authorization for 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The other extended federal employment-discrimination protections to LGBT Americans, a decision that Justice Neil Gorsuch also joined and wrote.


A divided Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics, reasserting a commitment to abortion rights over fierce opposition from dissenting conservative justices in the first big abortion case of the Trump era.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his four more liberal colleagues ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

The Louisiana law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the court struck down in 2016. But Roberts, who had dissented in that Texas case, did not join the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer for the other liberals in Monday’s decision, and his position left abortion-rights supporters more relieved than elated.

The chief justice explained that he continues to think the Texas case was wrongly decided, but believes it’s important for the court to stand by its prior decisions.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Today a majority of the Court perpetuates its ill-founded abortion jurisprudence by enjoining a perfectly legitimate state law and doing so without jurisdiction.”

President Donald Trump’s two appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were in dissent, along with Justice Samuel Alito. The presence of the new justices is what fueled hopes among abortion opponents, and fears on the other side, that the Supreme Court would be more likely to uphold restrictions.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Monday’s decision by no means ends the struggle over abortion rights in legislatures and the courts.


After her son was arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at police during a protest over racial injustice, Tanisha Brown headed to the courthouse in her California hometown to watch her son's arraignment.

She was turned away, told the courthouse was closed to the public because of coronavirus precautions. A day later, the Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield posted a notice on its website explaining how the public could request special permission from judicial officers to attend court proceedings.

But problems with public access have persisted, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of Brown and several others who have been unable to watch court sessions.

The situation in Kern County highlights the challenges courts across the U.S. are facing as they try to balance public health protections with public access to their proceedings amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a public trial, but some courts have held arraignments and other pretrial hearings without the public watching or listening. In some cases, the public had no means of participating. In other cases, the defendant's family members, friends or other interested residents weren't aware how to gain access to special video feeds.

"The courtrooms are supposed to be fully public, anybody who’s interested is supposed to be able to watch, and they have not been doing that,” said Sergio De La Pava, legal director of New York County Defender Services, a nonprofit public defenders office in Manhattan.


The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request by Texas Democrats to allow all of the state’s 16 million registered voters to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.

The denial is not the end of the ongoing battle over mail-in voting in Texas, but it remains a loss for Democrats who made the emergency ruling request while the original case is tied up at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor urged the lower court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election.” Voting by mail in Texas is generally limited to those 65 or older or those with a “sickness or physical condition” that prevents voting in person.

For months, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has fought expanding mail-in balloting during the pandemic, saying fear of contracting the virus is an insufficient reason. A federal judge in Texas sided with Democrats in May, but that decision is on hold pending appeal.

Early voting in Texas begins Monday for primary runoff elections that had been postponed to July over coronavirus fears, but Texas is now one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots as confirmed cases reach record levels and Gov. Greg Abbott reimposes restrictions.


The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a case over whether a federal agent should face a third trial over a fatal 2011 shooting in a Waikiki McDonald's restaurant.

The refusal means prosecutors can't pursue a manslaughter charge against U.S. State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy. “The impact of this is that the manslaughter charge is now dismissed permanently and that Mr. Deedy cannot be tried again on it,” Deedy's defense attorney Thomas Otake said in an email Thursday.

The case isn't over, said Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney's office. A statement from the office called the decision “regrettable" but said the state will continue to pursue a trial for first-degree assault.

Prosecutors pursing a third trial took their quest to the Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a wider panel of judges to hear the case. A panel ruled that if prosecutors want to try Deedy a third time, it can only be for assault, not manslaughter.

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