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A third federal judge has blocked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to opt out of school mask mandates.

The decision, handed down by U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw late Friday, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over Lee’s order launched by parents and advocates alarmed over the spike in coronavirus cases in Tennessee’s schools.

Lee issued the order in August after a handful of Republican lawmakers demanded the governor call a special session so the GOP-dominant General Assembly could halt mask mandates in schools and other COVID-19 safety measures. Many students have been attending classes without masks ever since as pediatric hospitalizations reached record highs.

Crenshaw’s order only applies to Williamson County, an affluent region just south of Nashville. Earlier that day, a separate judge halted Lee’s executive order in Knox County. A week prior, another judge indefinitely banned Lee’s order after families argued the governor’s executive order endangered their children.

All three lawsuits claimed that Lee’s order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public educational programs and activities. Children with certain disabilities are more vulnerable to serious illness or death if they get COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

“Based on the record before the court, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in Williamson County, including at plaintiffs’ schools, along with a significant number of students who have opted out, plaintiffs have likewise been denied access to a safe, in-person education experience,” Crenshaw wrote in his 18-page decision.

“Gov. Lee has offered no affidavits, declarations, or any other factual predicate to support his assertion that universal mask mandates would require significant resources,” the judge added.

Lee told reporters Friday that he couldn’t talk about the specific litigation but pointed out that there had been multiple lawsuits against mask mandates.

“There are very strong opinions on both sides of this. I think that’s why the strategy we took, which allowed districts to provide a requirement but gave parents an opt-out, was a good way forward,” Lee said. “And we still believe that’s the right direction.”

Crenshaw’s ruling is in effect until Oct. 5, the same day Lee’s order is set to expire. The governor has not said if he’ll extend it.


The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday ruled that a sheriff’s office did not have to turn over records about a fatal shooting by a deputy, a ruling that broadly interpreted an exemption for investigative records and prompted a sharply worded dissent by the court’s chief justice.

“With one sweeping stroke, today’s decision spells the end of public access to law-enforcement records that are connected in any way to an investigation,” Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote. “I cannot sit idly by while this Court shrinks a legal right of the people of Alabama to the vanishing point. And I especially cannot do so when that shrinkage flies in the face of text and precedent,” he added. Parker was the lone dissent to the ruling

Lagniappe, a weekly news outlet, had filed a lawsuit after being denied records related to the 2017 shooting of motorist Jonathan Victor. The incident was investigated by the Baldwin County Major Crimes Unit and a grand jury cleared Baldwin County Sheriff’s Deputy, Cpl. Matt Hunady in the shooting. Hunady shot Victor after a one-car accident in which Victor ran off the interstate.

Officials did show video taken from the body camera of the deputy who shot Victor and video from a bystander to news outlets after the grand jury decision. FOX10 reported Victor continued to approach Hunady and several other deputies while in a shooting stance despite multiple commands to stand down. No gun was found on Victor or in his car, but he had a pair of scissors and investigators said his wrists were bleeding.

Justices on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the Baldwin County sheriff’s office denying the records to Lagniappe. Justices ruled the records fall under an exemption for investigative records.

Lagniappe had sought records including dash cam, body cam, and third-party video; the audio from any 911 calls or radio communications; photographs from the scene; autopsy records; and communications such as emails, text messages, and other forms of messaging.

The investigation had ended without an indictment, but the court majority wrote that the records were covered by the investigative exemption.

“All materials requested by Lagniappe are related to the incident regarding Cpl. Hunady, which was the subject of a criminal investigation. The very wording of Lagniappe’s request, seeking all the “records related to the shooting,” seeks such investigative material. ... Thus, the investigative-privilege exception applies,” justices wrote.


The retired conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 presidential election released a video Monday threatening to subpoena election officials who don’t comply and saying the intent was not to overturn President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the battleground state.

The unusual six-minute video from Michael Gableman comes after election clerks were confused by an email his office sent last week that was flagged in at multiple counties as junk, a possible security risk and not forwarded to municipal clerks as he wanted.

Gableman said Monday that if the state’s 1,900-plus municipal and county election officials did not cooperate with his investigation, he would “compel” them to comply. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he would sign subpoenas requested by Gableman as part of the investigation. Vos hired Gableman at a cost of nearly $680,000 in taxpayer money to conduct the investigation.

Vos declined to sign subpoenas sought by Rep. Janel Bandtjen, chair of the Assembly elections committee, seeking ballots, voting machines and other data in Milwaukee and Brown counties.

Gableman said local clerks who run elections in Wisconsin will be required to prove that voting was done legally.

“The responsibility to demonstrate that our elections were conducted with fairness, inclusivity and accountability is on the government and on the private, for-profit interests that did work for the government,” Gableman said. “The burden is not on the people to show in advance of an investigation that public officials and their contractors behaved dishonestly.”

Gableman, in his video where he appears to be standing in front of an image of the state Capitol, said his intent was not to challenge the results of the 2020 election that Biden won in Wisconsin by nearly 21,000 votes over former President Donald Trump. Some Republicans have called for a broader audit and said they believe there was widespread fraud, despite no evidence of that. Only two people out of about 3.3 million people who cast ballots have been charged with election fraud.

Those pushing for an audit similar to one done in Arizona’s Maricopa County have pushed the false claim that the election was stolen from Trump.


The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling Thursday in the fight over a ballot question about the future of policing in Minneapolis, but it didn’t settle the bigger question of whether the public will get to vote on the issue.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea’s ruling lifted a small part of a lower court’s order that rejected the ballot language approved by the City Council, saying that elections officials don’t have to include notes with ballots instructing people not to vote on the question and that any votes won’t be counted.

The order didn’t address the main issue in dispute — whether voters will get to decide on a proposed charter amendment that would replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a new Department of Public Safety that “could include” police officers “if necessary.”

The proposal has its roots in the “defund the police” movement that gained steam after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last summer, but it leaves critical details about the new agency to be determined later.

The Supreme Court was under pressure to rule quickly because early and absentee voting opens Friday in the Minneapolis municipal elections, and ballots have already been printed.

Terrance Moore, an attorney for the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign, which spearheaded the proposal, said he expects a ruling on the bigger question to come at some point later. The city attorney’s office agreed that the high court has yet to rule on the main issues.

Joe Anthony, an attorney for former City Council member Don Samuels and two other people who challenged the ballot language as misleading, called the order “a little mysterious.” He noted the lower court injunction barring counting and reporting votes was left in place, at least for the moment. There are a few possibilities for what could happen next, he said, including the Supreme Court taking time for fuller arguments, then deciding by Nov. 2 whether the votes cast would count.


The justices are putting the “court” back in Supreme Court. The high court announced Wednesday that the justices plan to return to their majestic, marble courtroom for arguments beginning in October, more than a year and a half after the in-person sessions were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices had been hearing cases by phone during the pandemic but are currently on their summer break. The court said that oral arguments scheduled for October, November and December will be in the courtroom but that: “Out of concern for the health and safety of the public and Supreme Court employees, the Courtroom sessions will not be open to the public.”

“The Court will continue to closely monitor public health guidance in determining plans,” the announcement said.

The court said that while lawyers will no longer argue by telephone, the public will continue to be able to hear the arguments live. Only the justices, essential court personnel, lawyers in the cases being argued and journalists who cover the court full-time will be allowed in the courtroom. The court that returns to the bench is significantly different from the one that left it.

When the justices last sat together on the bench at their neoclassical building across the street from the U.S. Capitol on March 9, 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the court’s most senior liberal and conservatives held a narrow 5-4 majority. But Ginsburg died in September 2020, and her replacement by conservative Amy Coney Barrett in the final days of the Trump administration has given conservatives a significant 6-3 majority.

Because of the pandemic, Barrett has yet to be part of a traditional courtroom argument, with the justices asking questions of lawyers in rapid succession, jockeying for an opening to ask what’s on their minds. The arguments the court heard by telephone were more predictable and polite, with the justices taking turns asking questions, one by one, in order of seniority. That often meant the arguments went longer than their scheduled hour.

It also meant that lawyers and the public heard from the previously reticent Justice Clarence Thomas in every telephone argument. Before the pandemic Thomas routinely went years without speaking during arguments and had said he doesn’t like his colleagues’ practice of rapid-fire questioning that cuts off attorneys. “I don’t see where that advances anything,” he said in 2012.

One change from the remote arguments will stay for now. The justices said they will continue their practice during the pandemic of allowing audio of oral arguments to be broadcast live by the news media. Before the pandemic, the court would only very occasionally allow live audio of arguments in particularly high profile cases.

That meant that the only people who heard the arguments live were the small number of people in the courtroom. The court releases a transcript of the arguments on the same day but, before the pandemic, only posted the audio on its website days after.


A prominent conservative attorney representing more than a dozen defendants charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is seriously ill and hasn’t appeared in court for more than a week, throwing some cases into disarray.

Attorney John Pierce has been sending an associate — who is not licensed to practice law — to appear before judges in his absence. Pierce’s illness has left some clients without counsel for the time being and is putting the cases at a “standstill,” prosecutors said in court papers this week.

On Thursday in one of Pierce’s cases in federal court in Washington, a judge said he would appoint an attorney who could advise the client in Pierce’s absence. That was after the associate at Pierce’s law firm, who is not licensed as a lawyer and faces criminal charges himself in another matter, was unable to say when Pierce might be able to return.

At a hearing later Thursday for Pierce’s newest client, Pierce’s associate was joined by a licensed attorney he said he had found to step in until Pierce returns.

Prosecutors repeatedly raised concerns this week that Pierce’s absence and the actions of his associate, Ryan Marshall, on the attorney’s behalf could cause problems in his cases, saying that Marshall had already done things he wasn’t allowed to do.

“Although Mr. Marshall has now appeared several times in Mr. Pierce’s place, he is not a licensed attorney and thus cannot appear in this Court, represent Mr. Pierce’s clients, or provide them with legal advice or services,” they wrote in one filing.

They also said it’s “unclear if and when Mr. Marshall will be able to obtain a bar license” since he is facing felony criminal charges including fraud in Pennsylvania state court.

Phone numbers for Pierce’s law firm did not appear to be working Thursday and it was not immediately clear how to reach Marshall.

Marshall told a judge Thursday in the case against a Kentucky man, Peter Schwartz, that Pierce remains hospitalized but is starting to feel better and expects to be released within a week. He didn’t elaborate on Pierce’s illness, but Marshall told a prosecutor last week that one of Pierce’s friends informed him that the attorney was sick with the coronavirus while another friend told him he was not, according to court documents.


A three-judge panel of federal judges has granted the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature’s request to intervene in a redistricting lawsuit brought by Democrats.

A request by the Legislature to intervene in a second similar redistricting case, brought by voting advocacy groups, is pending. The court said its preference would be to consolidate the two cases and asked those involved to show by Sept. 7 why that should not be done.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s five Republican congressmen also asked to intervene in the case brought by Democrats. The congressmen, just as the Legislature did, want the case to be dismissed. The motion was filed by U.S. Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Bryan Steil and Tom Tiffany.

A third redistricting lawsuit, brought by conservatives, is pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has not yet said whether it will take it or require it to first go through lower state courts.

The federal court on Friday granted the Legislature’s request to intervene in the lawsuit. It set a Sept. 13 deadline to respond to the Legislature’s request to dismiss the case.

In the order granting the Legislature’s request, the judges said federal courts have routinely allowed state lawmakers and legislatures to intervene in redistricting cases.

All three lawsuits say it’s unlikely the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will agree on new maps, so the courts should be prepared to draw them instead.

“If (Democrats’) prediction is correct, and Wisconsin fails to enact a law establishing new districts before the election, it’s hard to see how this court could proceed without input from the Legislature,” judges James Peterson, Amy St. Eve and Edmond Chang wrote.

Mel Barnes, an attorney with the group Law Forward that brought the other federal lawsuit on behalf of advocacy groups, said she expected the two cases to be consolidated with multiple parties asking for federal courts to draw maps.

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