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The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld a 2015 law limiting State Auditor Rebecca Otto's duties.

Wednesday's unanimous decision ends Otto's years of challenges and mounting legal fees. A district court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals had previously ruled against Otto, triggering her appeal to the Supreme Court.

The legal saga began after the Legislature passed a law allowing more counties to hire private firms for annual financial audits. Otto has argued that law was a constitutional breach of her duties that significantly downgraded the state's oversight of county finances.

But the state's high court disagreed. Wednesday's ruling maintained that the law left the auditor's oversight of those private audits intact. A spokesman for Otto did not immediately return a request for comment.


Pennsylvania's highest court will decide whether a woman's use of illegal drugs while pregnant qualifies as child abuse under state law.

The Supreme Court recently took up the case of a woman who tested positive for suboxone and marijuana at the time she gave birth early last year at Williamsport Hospital.

A county judge ruled that did not qualify as child abuse under the state's Child Protective Services Law, but the intermediate Superior Court said drug use while pregnant can make bodily injury to a child likely after birth.

Court records indicate the child spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug dependence, exhibiting severe withdrawal symptoms.

"Mother's actions were deplorable but this court must follow the law," wrote Clinton County Judge Craig Miller in May, ruling the county child welfare agency had not established child abuse occurred.

The mother's lawyers argue lawmakers never intended the child protection law to apply to acts during pregnancy.

"No one thinks using drugs while pregnant is good, but using the criminal justice system and the civil child abuse system to punish people for doing so just makes a bad situation much, much worse," said the woman's lawyer, David S. Cohen.

Amanda Beth Browning, lawyer for the Clinton County Department of Children and Youth Services, declined comment.

In a filing with Supreme Court, the woman's lawyers said most states, with a few exceptions, "have taken a non-punitive approach to the issue."

"Almost every major medical and public health organization has recognized that punishing women for drug use during their pregnancies is counterproductive to public and private health," wrote lawyers for the mother, identified by initials in court records.


The Supreme Court is leaving in place a ruling that revived two federal lawsuits stemming from the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to get involved in the cases, leaving in place a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The appeals court ruled in July 2017 that a federal trial court had improperly dismissed federal civil rights claims in the lawsuits, which were brought by Flint residents. The trial court ruled that a federal law called the Safe Drinking Water Act precluded those claims, but the appeals court disagreed.

The Supreme Court's decision not to get involved means the cases will return to the trial court to move forward. Other similar lawsuits are also at the trial court level.


The survival of one of the nation's largest virtual charter schools is on the line when the Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case that could have broader impact on accountability for other e-schools.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow challenges how Ohio tallied students' participation to determine the online school should repay $60 million or more.

The state says ECOT didn't provide data from students' online work to justify the school's full public funding in recent years.

ECOT argues that state law calls for calculating charter-school funding based on enrollment, not participation, and that Ohio's Department of Education effectively changed the criteria without legal authority.

After the state started recouping funding, the e-school of some 12,000 students was abruptly closed last month as it ran out of money.


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state's widely criticized congressional map Monday, granting a major victory to Democrats who alleged the 18 districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Republicans and setting off a scramble to draw a new map.

In the Democratic-controlled court's decision, the majority said the boundaries "clearly, plainly and palpably" violate the state's constitution and blocked the boundaries from remaining in effect for the 2018 elections with just weeks until dozens of people file paperwork to run for Congress.

The justices gave the Republican-controlled Legislature until Feb. 9 to pass a replacement and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf until Feb. 15 to submit it to the court. Otherwise, the justices said they will adopt a plan in an effort to keep the May 15 primary election on track.

The decision comes amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases, including some that have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democrats cheered the decision to toss out a Republican-drawn map used in three general elections going back to 2012. The map, they say, gave Republicans crucial help in securing 13 of 18 seats in a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 5 to 4.

"We won the whole thing," said David Gersch of the Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C., which is helping represent the group of registered Democrats who filed the lawsuit last June.

The defendants — top Republican lawmakers — said they would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to step in and put the decision on hold. The state court's decision lacks clarity, precedent and respect for the constitution and would introduce chaos into the state's congressional races, they said.

The Senate's top Republican lawyer, Drew Crompton, called the timeline to draw new districts "borderline unworkable," but said Republicans will do everything they can to comply.


Three Hong Kong activists will have to wait to learn the outcome of their final appeal Tuesday to overturn prison sentences for their roles in sparking 2014's massive pro-democracy protests in the semiautonomous Chinese city.

Judges at Hong Kong's top court said they would issue their decision at a later, unspecified date following the appeal hearing for Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow against the sentences of up to eight months. Bail for the three was extended.

The three were initially let off with suspended or community service sentences after they were convicted of taking part in or inciting an unlawful assembly by storming a courtyard at government headquarters to kick-off the protests.

But the case sparked controversy when the justice secretary requested a sentencing review that resulted in stiffer sentences, raising concerns about rule of law and fears that the city's Beijing-backed government is tightening up on dissent.

The trio's lawyers said the lower court overstepped its boundaries and put too much emphasis on the need for deterrence in handing down the revised harsher sentence.

"Laying down a heavy sentence will have a deterrent effect, but a balance has to be held between a deterrent and stifling young idealistic people," Law's lawyer, Robert Pang, told the judges.


The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take on a major dispute over the government's authority to force American technology companies to hand over emails and other digital information sought in criminal probes but stored outside the U.S.

The justices intervened in a case of a federal drug trafficking investigation that sought emails that Microsoft keeps on a server in Ireland. The federal appeals court in New York said that the emails are beyond the reach of a search warrant issued by an American judge.

The Trump administration and 33 states told the court that the decision is impeding investigations into terrorism, drug trafficking, fraud and child pornography because other courts are relying on the ruling in preventing U.S. and state authorities from obtaining information kept abroad.

The case is among several legal clashes that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other technology companies have had with the government over questions of digital privacy and authorities' need for information to combat crime and extremism.

Privacy law experts say the companies have been more willing to push back against the government since the leak of classified information detailing America's surveillance programs.

The case also highlights the difficulty that judges face in trying to square decades-old laws with new technological developments. In urging the high court to stay out of the case, Microsoft said Congress needs to bring the law into the age of cloud computing.

In 2013, federal investigators obtained a warrant under a 1986 law for emails from an account they believe was being used in illegal drug transactions as well as identifying information about the user of the email account.

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