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The Supreme Court is holding its second week of arguments by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, with audio available live to audiences around the world.

The highest profile cases are up this week, including two on Tuesday involving the potential release of President Donald Trump’s  tax returns. On Monday, the justices heard two cases, including one from California about the appropriate separation between church and state.

The Supreme Court appears to be divided over how broadly Catholic schools and other religious employers should be exempt from certain lawsuits by employees.

The court heard arguments by telephone Monday because of the coronavirus. The case before the high court stems from a unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision in which the justices said the Constitution prevents ministers from suing their churches for employment discrimination. But the court didn’t rigidly define who counts as a minister.

Attorney Eric Rassbac representing two Catholic schools sued by former fifth grade teachers who taught religion and other subjects told the justices that the women count as ministers exempt from suing. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a member of the court’s liberal wing, told Rassbach that he was seeking an exception that was “broader than is necessary to protect the church.”

The court’s conservatives seemed more comfortable giving broad latitude to religious institutions in defining who is a minister.

The Supreme Court has has begun hearing arguments in Monday’s second case, a dispute involving a pair of former 5th grade Catholic school teachers and whether religious schools are exempt from anti-discrimination law.

The court ruled eight years ago that religious employees of a church cannot sue for employment discrimination, but did not define exactly who would be covered.

The Trump administration is siding with the Catholic schools in California in urging the court to rule that the teachers count as religious employees and should not be able to sue for employment discrimination.


Wisconsin Supreme Court challenger Jill Karofsky suggested Tuesday that Justice Daniel Kelly is corrupt because he repeatedly rules in favor of conservative groups, saying it makes no sense that the law could be on their side all the time.

Karofsky made the remarks at the candidates’ first debate. Karofsky and Kelly used the opportunity to paint each other as partisan and the third candidate, Ed Fallone, struggling to get a word in during their exchanges.

Kelly is part of the high court’s five-justice conservative majority. Karofsky went right at him as soon as the debate began, saying it’s “amazing” that a justice is being supported by right-wing special interest groups. Twice she implied that Kelly is corrupt, questioning why he repeatedly rules in conservative groups’ favor.

“What voters see is that you get support from special interests. You ignore the rule of law and you find in favor of those special interests over and over and over again, and that feels like corruption to people in the state of Wisconsin,” Karofsky said.

Kelly shot back that Karofsky scores the outcome of cases through a political lens. He said he applies the law fairly and uses hard logic to reach his decisions.


The British government and its opponents faced off Tuesday at the U.K. Supreme Court in a high-stakes legal drama over Brexit that will determine whether new Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law by suspending Parliament at a crucial time ahead of Britain’s impending departure from the European Union.

As pro-EU and pro-Brexit protesters exchanged shouts outside the court building on London’s Parliament Square, the government’s opponents argued that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the “improper purpose” of dodging lawmakers’ scrutiny of his Brexit plans. They also accused Johnson of misleading Queen Elizabeth II, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.

The government countered that, under Britain’s largely unwritten constitution, the suspension was a matter for politicians, not the courts.

Government lawyer Richard Keen said judges in a lower court had “nakedly entered the political arena” by ruling on the matter.

“The court is not equipped to decide what is a legitimate political consideration,” he said.

Johnson sent lawmakers home on Sept. 9 until Oct. 14, which is barely two weeks before the scheduled Oct. 31 Brexit day. A ruling against the government by the country’s top court could force him to recall Parliament.

Johnson hasn’t said what he will do if the judges rule the suspension illegal. He told the BBC on Monday he would “wait and see what they say.”

Keen promised that “the prime minister will take any necessary steps to comply with any declaration made by the court.” But he had no answer when judges asked if Johnson might recall Parliament on the court’s order, only to suspend it again.



Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Saturday she’s “alive” and on her way to being “very well” following radiation treatment for cancer.

Ginsburg, 86, made the comments at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington. The event came a little over a week after Ginsburg disclosed that she had completed three weeks of outpatient radiation therapy for a cancerous tumor on her pancreas and is now disease-free.

It is the fourth time over the past two decades that Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, has been treated for cancer. She had colorectal cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009 and lung cancer surgery in December. Both liberals and conservatives watch the health of the court’s oldest justice closely because it’s understood the Supreme Court would shift right for decades if Republican President Donald Trump were to get the ability to nominate someone to replace her.

On Saturday, Ginsburg, who came out with the book “My Own Words” in 2016, spoke to an audience of more than 4,000 at Washington’s convention center. Near the beginning of an hour-long talk, her interviewer, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg, said: “Let me ask you a question that everyone here wants to ask, which is: How are you feeling? Why are you here instead of resting up for the term? And are you planning on staying in your current job?”

“How am I feeling? Well, first, this audience can see that I am alive,” Ginsburg said to applause and cheers. The comment was a seeming reference to the fact that when she was recuperating from lung cancer surgery earlier this year, some doubters demanded photographic proof that she was still living.

Ginsburg went on to say that she was “on my way” to being “very well.” As for her work on the Supreme Court, which is on its summer break and begins hearing arguments again Oct. 7, Ginsburg said she will “be prepared when the time comes.”

Ginsburg, who was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, did not directly answer how long she plans to stay on the court. Earlier this summer, however, she reported a conversation she had with former Justice John Paul Stevens, who retired from the court in 2010.


Dozens of legal briefs supporting fired funeral director Aimee Stephens at the Supreme Court use “she” and “her” to refer to the transgender woman.

So does the appeals court ruling in favor of Stephens that held that workplace discrimination against transgender people is illegal under federal civil rights law.

But in more than 110 pages urging the Supreme Court to reverse that decision, the Trump administration and the Michigan funeral home where Stephens worked avoid gender pronouns, repeatedly using Stephens’ name.

Stephens’ case is one of two major fights over LGBT rights that will be argued at the high court on Oct. 8. The other tests whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation also violates the provision of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title 7, that prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex. The cases are expected to be decided by next spring, during the presidential election campaign.

Decisions about gender pronouns may seem minor, but they appear to reflect the larger issues involved in this high-stakes battle.

John Bursch, the Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer who will argue on behalf of Harris Funeral Homes, wrote, “Out of respect for Stephens and following this Court’s lead in Farmer v. Brennan ... Harris tries to avoid use of pronouns and sex-specific terms when referring to Stephens.” Farmer v. Brennan was a 1994 decision that did not use gender pronouns to describe a transsexual prison inmate who had been assaulted by other inmates.

The administration’s court filing arguing that Title 7 “does not prohibit discrimination against transgender persons based on their transgender status” offers no explanation for the absence of gender pronouns for Stephens. A Justice Department spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

“It’s sad that neither the funeral home nor the Department of Justice can bring themselves to be minimally respectful of Aimee. But the real tragedy is that our government is urging the Supreme Court to rule that firing workers because they are transgender is perfectly legal,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. The ACLU represents Stephens at the Supreme Court.

Many organizations, including The Associated Press, use the gender pronouns an individual prefers.

That was the case when the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Stephens’ favor. “We refer to Stephens using female pronouns, in accordance with the preference she has expressed,” Judge Karen Moore wrote.


Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the court's majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

In Flowers' sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. District Attorney Doug Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn't reach unanimous verdicts.

"The numbers speak loudly," Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. "We cannot ignore that history."

In dissent, Thomas called Kavanaugh's opinion "manifestly incorrect" and wrote that Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination."

Flowers has been in jail more than 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Flowers was arrested several months later, described by prosecutors as a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.



Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi who was ousted by the military in 2013 after a year in office, collapsed in court while on trial Monday and died, state TV and his family said.

The 67-year-old Morsi had just addressed the court, speaking from the glass cage he is kept in during sessions and warning that he had “many secrets” he could reveal, a judicial official said. A few minutes afterward, he collapsed in the cage, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

In his final comments, he continued to insist he was Egypt’s legitimate president, demanding a special tribunal, one of his defense lawyers, Kamel Madour told the Associated Press. State TV said Morsi died before he could be taken to the hospital.

Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood accused the government of “assassinating” him through years of poor prison conditions. In a statement, the group demanded an international investigation into Morsi’s death and called on Egyptians to protest outside Egypt’s embassy across the world.

Morsi, who was known to have diabetes, had been imprisoned since his 2013 ouster, often in solitary confinement and barred from visitors ? his family was allowed to visit only three times during that time.

Egypt’s chief prosecutor said Morsi’s body would be examined to determine the cause of his death. State TV, citing an unnamed medical source, said he died after suffering a heart attack.

It was a dramatic end for a figure who was central in the twists and turns taken by Egypt since its “revolution” ? from the pro-democracy uprising that in 2011 ousted the country’s longtime authoritarian leader, Hosni Mubarak, through controversial Islamist rule and now back to a tight grip under the domination of military men.

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