Neighbors' efforts to block the reopening of a mine in a historic Nevada mining town have unearthed a legal question about whether emails kept by elected officials on their personal devices are public records.
The Comstock Residents Association wants the Nevada Supreme Court to order Lyon County to release communications between county commissioners and Comstock Mining Inc. ahead of a January 2014 decision to allow mining again at Silver City.
The question focuses on whether the public has a right to government information contained on personal electronic devices and in personal email accounts.
Senior Washoe County District Court Judge Steven Kosach rejected the request earlier this year, ruling records on personal devices and accounts are outside the public agency's control and aren't covered under the Nevada Public Records Act.
The judge also found the communications were not official actions. But he acknowledged his ruling "may cause public employees to skirt the provision of the (public records law) by conducting business on their personal devices," the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Barry Smith, director of the Nevada Press Association, said the lower court ruling allows the "electronic version of the old backroom deal."
"Officials could avoid the open-records law by conducting public business through their private phones and email accounts," Smith said.
In a brief filed Nov. 7 with the state high court, association attorney Luke Busby said the court's decision would provide "critical guidance" to public officials about access to public records.
In court filings, Busby noted that then-Commissioner Vida Keller said at the January 2014 commission meeting that she had contacted her colleagues outside the public meeting regarding the land-use change.
"As it turned out, Commissioner Keller and other members of the Lyon County Commissioners used their personal devices or email accounts to conduct official business," Busby said. "An otherwise public record does not lose public status simply because it was created, received or stored on a personal device or personal account."
A Lexington abortion clinic has asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court ruling that closed the clinic.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reports the Kentucky Court of Appeals on June 15 reversed a Fayette Circuit Court ruling and granted the Bevin administration's request to close the EMW Women's Clinic of Lexington until it receives a license from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services or until a final judgment is rendered in the case.
The clinic, represented by attorney Scott White, asked the highest court for a reversal Tuesday. White says the clinic is basically "shut down."
At issue is whether the clinic may operate as an unlicensed doctor's office that performs abortions, as it has for years, or whether it is a full abortion clinic that requires state licensing.
Kentucky's only licensed abortion clinic is in Louisville.
The Supreme Court has rejected another challenge to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
The justices on Tuesday left in place lower court rulings that dismissed a lawsuit against the national health care law. The suit argues that the law violates the provision of the Constitution that requires tax-raising bills to originate in the House of Representatives.
The court has twice turned back major challenges to the law, in opinions written by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2012 and in June. The court also has allowed family-owned businesses with religious objections to opt out of paying for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans. The Pacific Legal Foundation backed the latest lawsuit, filed on behalf of small-business owner Matt Sissel.
The federal health care law doesn't infringe on the religious freedom of faith-based nonprofit organizations that object to covering birth control in employee health plans, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled Tuesday.
The case involves a group of Colorado nuns and four Christian colleges in Oklahoma.
Religious groups are already exempt from covering contraceptives. But the plaintiffs argued that the exemption doesn't go far enough because they must sign away the coverage to another party, making them feel complicit in providing the contraceptives.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The judges wrote that the law with the exemption does not burden the exercise of religion.
"Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of plaintiffs' beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme ... does not substantially burden their religious exercise," the three-judge panel wrote.
The same court ruled in 2013 that for-profit companies can join the exempted religious organizations and not provide the contraceptives. The U.S. Supreme Court later agreed with the 10th Circuit in the case brought by the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain.
The Iowa Supreme Court has struck down a restriction that would have prevented doctors from administering abortion-inducing pills remotely via video teleconferencing, saying it would have placed an undue burden on a woman's right to get an abortion.
Iowa is one of only two states that offers so-called telemedicine abortions — Minnesota offers them on a smaller scale — and doctors at Iowa's urban clinics that perform abortions had been allowed to continue offering the remotely-administered abortions while the ruling was pending.
Planned Parenthood's local affiliate, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, had sued the Iowa Board of Medicine over its 2013 decision that would have required a doctor to be in the room with a patient when dispensing abortion-inducing medication.
The board cited safety concerns when it passed the rule requiring a physical examination, but Planned Parenthood and other critics said it was just another attempt by abortion rights opponents to make it harder for women to get abortions. They said the Iowa board's restriction particularly would have made it harder for women in more rural areas who don't live near the few urban clinics where doctors who perform abortions are based.
The party that wins the impending Supreme Court decision on President Barack Obama's health care law could be the political loser.
If the Republican-backed challenge to the law's subsidies for lower-earning Americans prevails, the GOP would have achieved a paramount goal of severely damaging "Obamacare." But Republican lawmakers would be pressured to help the millions of Americans who could suddenly find government-mandated medical coverage unaffordable — and they'd face blame from many voters if they failed to provide assistance.
"If you win the case you actually have people who lost their insurance. You now share the responsibility for fixing it," said former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who once led the House GOP campaign committee. "And you've got a lot of pissed off people. That hurts you."
Should the Obama administration win, relieved Democrats would crow that Obama's foremost domestic achievement had stood unscathed. But some say they'd have lost a potentially powerful cudgel for the 2016 campaigns: Being able to accuse Republicans of ending the assistance and disrupting health coverage for many.
If Democrats lose in court, "It completely reverses the issue and puts us back on offense on health care," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., one of his party's chief message crafters.
Supreme Court justices peppered opponents of President Barack Obama's health care law with skeptical questions during oral arguments Wednesday on the latest challenge to the sweeping legislation.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote is seen as pivotal, suggested that the plaintiffs' argument raises a "serious" constitutional problem affecting the relationship between states and the federal government.
The plaintiffs argue that only residents of states that set up their own insurance markets can get federal subsidies to help pay their premiums.
Millions of people could be affected by the court's decision. The justices are trying to determine whether the law makes people in all 50 states eligible for federal tax subsidies to cut the cost of insurance premiums. Or, does it limit tax credits only to people who live in states that created their own health insurance marketplaces?
During oral arguments, the courts' liberal justices also expressed doubts. In an earlier case involving the law, however, Kennedy was on the opposite side, voting to strike down a key requirement.
A ruling that limits where subsidies are available would have dramatic consequences because roughly three dozen states opted against their own marketplace, or exchange, and instead rely on the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's healthcare.gov. Independent studies estimate that 8 million people could lose insurance coverage.