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Those backing a plan to put an independent commission in charge of Oregon’s redistricting process will get additional time to gather signatures and a lower threshold to qualify their initiative for the November ballot because of the pandemic, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had asked the federal appeals court last week to step in to halt the effort, after a federal judge in Eugene ordered Secretary of State Bev Clarno to either accept the signatures the campaign gathered by the deadline or give organizers more time and a lower bar to qualify for the ballot.

Clarno, who is a Republican, opposed the People Not Politicians campaign’s request for more time and a lower signature requirement but she chose the option of lowering the threshold to 58,789 valid signatures by Aug. 17. The normal requirement was 149,360 valid signatures by July 2.

Rosenblum, a Democrat, appealed U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane’s decision to the 9th Circuit. The two appeals court judges appointed by Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton who upheld McShane’s order did not explain their reasoning, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Only Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, appointed by President George W. Bush, explained her dissent, writing that “adherence to Oregon’s constitutionally mandated signature threshold for ballot initiatives either does not implicate the First Amendment at all or does not do so in a way” that does not violate the People Not Politicians campaign’s free speech rights.

Oregon’s Legislature is in charge of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district lines once a decade, with the secretary of state handling it when lawmakers are unable to finish. Secretaries of state have completed Oregon’s redistricting process nearly every time over the last century, according to the City Club of Portland.

Initiative Petition 57 would transfer the job of carving up Oregon’s electoral map from the Legislature to a new 12-member commission. Supporters include groups such as the League of Women Voters, business associations and branches of the NAACP. They have argued lawmakers face a conflict in setting the boundaries of their own electoral districts.

“We are thrilled that our people-powered campaign to make redistricting in Oregon fair and transparent has scored another victory in court,” said Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon which is part of the campaign.



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 Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared likely to reject President Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office. But the court seemed less clear about exactly how to handle subpoenas from Congress and the Manhattan district attorney for Trump’s tax, bank and financial records.

The court’s major clash over presidential accountability could affect the  2020 presidential campaign, especially if a high court ruling leads to the release of personal financial information before Election Day.

The justices heard arguments in two cases by telephone Tuesday that stretched into the early afternoon. The court, which includes six justices age 65 or older, has been meeting by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was no apparent consensus about whether to ratify lower court rulings that the subpoenas to Trump’s accountant and banks are valid and should be enforced. The justices will meet by phone before the end of the week to take a preliminary vote on how those cases should come out, and decisions are expected by early summer.

On the same day Trump’s lawyers were telling the court that the subpoenas would be a distraction that no president can afford, Trump found the time to weigh in on a long string of unrelated issues on Twitter, about Elon Musk reopening Tesla’s California plant in defiance of local authorities, the credit he deserves for governors’ strong approval ratings for their handling of the virus outbreak, the anger Asian Americans feel “at what China has done to our Country,” oil prices, interest rates, his likely opponent in the November election and his critics.

The justices sounded particularly concerned in arguments over congressional subpoenas about whether a ruling validating the subpoenas would open the door to harassing future presidents.

“In your view, there is really no protection against the use of congressional subpoenas for the purpose of preventing the harassment of a president,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Douglas Letter, the lawyer for the House of Representatives.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he worried about a “future Sen. McCarthy,” a reference to the Communist-baiting Wisconsin senator from the 1950s, with subpoena power against a future president.

But in the case involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Trump’s taxes, the justices showed little interest in the broadest argument made by Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, that a president can’t be investigated while he holds office.


On the evening before he was to argue a case before the Supreme Court years ago, Jeffrey Fisher broke his glasses. That left the very nearsighted lawyer with an unappealing choice. He could wear contacts and clearly see the justices but not his notes, or skip the contacts and see only his notes.

It wasn’t hard to decide. “I couldn’t imagine doing argument without seeing their faces,” Fisher said.

He won’t have a choice next month. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the high court is, for the first time in its 230-year history, holding arguments by telephone. Beyond not being able to see the justices’ nods, frowns and hand gestures, the teleconference arguments in 10 cases over six days present a range of challenges, attorneys said, but also opportunities.

The unprecedented decision to hold arguments by phone was an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. Most of the justices are at risk because of their age; six are over 65. And hearing arguments by phone allows them to decide significant cases by the court’s traditional summer break.

The attorneys arguing  before the court include government lawyers as well as those in private practice. Three of the 25 are women. Most have made multiple Supreme Court arguments and are familiar to the justices, although seven are giving their first arguments before the court. The Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, will argue twice.

The cases the justices are hearing include fights over subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records  and cases about whether presidential electors are required to cast their Electoral College ballots for the candidate who won their state.

Justices have long said that the written briefs lawyers submit are vastly more important to the cases’ outcomes than what’s said in court. But the arguments also help them resolve nagging issues and occasionally can change a justice’s vote.



The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected a petition to prohibit the city of Fredericksburg from moving a historic slave auction block.

The sandstone block was installed in the city’s downtown in the 1840s. After years of debate the city council voted to moved the block to a museum.

A judge upheld the move after business owners in the city sued to keep the stone where it is. But in February the judge delayed implementation of the order so the Supreme Court could take up the case.

City officials say plans to move the block are currently on hold because of the coronavirus.



Utilities cannot charge customers who produce some of their own energy more than other customers, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday in a decision that strikes down proposed rates from two companies.

The state's highest court found the proposals by Westar and Kansas Gas and Electric constitute price discrimination against residential customers who use solar panels or windmills to generate some or all of their electricity.

The opinion, written by Justice Caleb Stegall, said such price discrimination undermines the policy preferences of the Legislature. It notes lawmakers codified into state law the goal of incentivizing renewable energy production by private parties.

Calling the utility companies' proposal unlawful, the state Supreme Court reversed a lower appeals court ruling that had upheld it and ruled the Kansas Corporation Commission erred in approving the discriminatory rate. It sent the matter back to the commission for further proceedings.




Juul Labs, the nation’s largest electronic-cigarette company, donated tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of state attorneys general in an effort to build relationships with these powerful officials and potentially head off legal challenges over how it promoted and sold its vaping products.

But the company’s approach hasn't stopped officials from taking action. Thirty-nine states announced late last month that they will investigate whether Juul’s early viral marketing efforts illegally targeted teens and made misleading claims about the nicotine levels in its devices.

Health officials have declared underage vaping an epidemic, largely driven by the discrete, high-nicotine, fruity flavored pods that Juul sold until late last year.

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