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A Pennsylvania appeals court judge ordered state officials on Wednesday to halt any further steps toward certifying election results, a day after Gov. Tom Wolf said he had certified Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election in Pennsylvania.

Wolf’s administration quickly asked the state Supreme Court to block the ruling from taking effect, saying there was no “conceivable justification” for it.

“Since the birth of our nation nearly 250 years ago, no court has ever issued an order purporting to interfere with a state’s ascertainment of its presidential electors — until today,” the administration said in its motion.

Commonwealth Court Judge Patricia McCullough, a Republican, had issued the order and set a hearing for Friday, but canceled it amid the appeal. It wasn’t immediately clear if she intended to hold up the certification of state and local contests on the ballot or interrupt the scheduled Dec. 14 meeting of the state’s 20 electors.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and others filed suit Saturday to challenge approximately 2.5 million mail-in ballots that were predominantly cast by Democrats. They said the GOP-controlled state Legislature had failed to follow proper procedure when they voted last year to expand mail-in voting.

The state Supreme Court has twice this month overturned Republican challenges over election issues.


A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Tennessee can begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as prohibit the procedure if it’s based on the race or gender of the fetus.

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee enacted the so-called “reason bans” earlier this year as part of a sweeping anti-abortion measure. The law gained national attention because it banned abortion as early as six weeks — making it one of the strictest in the country — but it included several other anti-abortion components.

The law was immediately blocked by a lower federal court just hours after Lee signed it into law.

However, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision will allow the state to enforce the reason bans while abortion rights groups continue their court battle against that law.

The plaintiffs, which include Tennessee abortion providers being represented by reproductive rights groups, had argued the ban was improperly vague, but the court disagreed.

Currently, more than a dozen states have similar reason bans in place.

“These bans are just another way anti-abortion politicians are attempting to limit the constitutional right to abortion care and to create stigma,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement. “Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy are best made by the individual and their family.”

The Attorney General’s office said in a statement that they “appreciate the Sixth Circuit lifting the lower court’s injunction” and looked forward to continuing defending the statute.

“Our law prohibits abortion based on the race, gender, or diagnosis of Down syndrome of the child and the court’s decision will save lives,” Lee said in a statement. “Protecting our most vulnerable Tennesseans is worth the fight.”

Immediately following the appeals court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a request in lower federal court for a temporary restraining order to block the reason bans once again, but this time argued the law illegally prohibits a patient from “obtaining constitutionally protected pre-viability abortion care.”

“(The) Sixth Circuit only addressed plaintiffs’ vagueness claims and explicitly declined to issue any ruling with respect to plaintiffs’ claims that the Reason Bans violate patients’ constitutional right to pre-viability abortion,” the attorneys wrote.

The court had not issued a ruling on that as of Friday evening.

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States — or about 6,000 a year — is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity.

The rarity of the condition has prompted abortion rights groups to paint the Down syndrome bans as part of yet another thinly veiled effort by lawmakers to continue chipping away at a patient’s right to an abortion.


Supreme Court  nominee Amy Coney Barrett vows to be a justice “fearless of criticism” as the split Senate charges ahead with confirmation hearings on President Donald Trump’s pick to cement a conservative court majority before Election Day.

Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, draws on faith and family in her prepared opening remarks for the hearings, which begin Monday as the country is in the grips of the coronavirus  pandemic. She says courts “should not try” to make policy, but leave those decisions to the government’s political branches. She believes she would bring “a few new perspectives” as the first mother of school-age children on the nine-member court.

Trump chose the 48-year-old judge after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon. “I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Barrett says in her remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press obtained a copy of her statement on Sunday.

Barrett says she has resolved to maintain the same perspective as her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was “devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism.” Republicans who control the Senate are moving at a breakneck pace to seat Barrett before the Nov. 3 election, in time to hear a high-profile challenge to the Affordable Care Act and any election-related challenges that may follow the voting.

Another reason for moving quickly: It’s unclear whether the election results would make it harder to confirm Barrett before the end of the year if Democrat Joe Biden were to win the White House and Democrats were to gain seats in the Senate. The hearings are taking place less than a month after the death of Ginsburg gave Trump the chance to entrench a conservative majority on the court with his third justice.

Democrats have pressed in vain to delay the hearings, first because of the proximity to the election and now the virus threat. No Supreme Court has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election. The country will get an extended look at Barrett over three days, beginning with her opening statement late Monday and hours of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday.



Six years ago, Colorado Democrats failed to convince enough voters to reject Cory Gardner’s bid for the U.S. Senate. Their warnings that the Republican could, someday, be the confirming vote for a Supreme Court justice who could overturn Roe v. Wade proved ineffective. Now Gardner, 46, is poised to be one of the votes that places President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court just before the election. And Democrats think they have the votes to punish him for it.

Gardner has long been considered both one of the nimblest Republican politicians and also one of the most vulnerable. His 2014 run was praised as the best Senate campaign that year for defusing Democratic attacks about his role in a “war on women” and staying on message. But he’s also a Republican in a state that has shifted sharply to Democrats since Trump was elected — the president lost the state by 5% in 2016 and then Democrats won the governorship by 11% and every other statewide race in 2018. Gardner has struggled to escape the president’s long shadow.

“Luck and timing are everything in politics, and Cory’s on the wrong end of all these elements,” said Mike Stratton, a Democratic strategist who advised the man Gardner ousted in 2014, Sen. Mark Udall. Gardner is now up against John Hickenlooper, a popular former two-term governor of Colorado and Denver mayor.

Gardner’s reelection hinges on convincing the state’s crucial slice of independent voters he’s a nonpartisan problem-solver who will look out for the state. On the campaign trail, he’s emphasized his work on state-centric, uncontroversial issues — moving the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to western Colorado, co-writing a bill to fund maintenance at national parks and creating a national suicide prevention number. “I vote 100% of the time for the people of Colorado,” Gardner said during a debate Friday evening..

But Gardner’s also been a reliable vote for his party under Trump. The president praised Gardner for being on his side “100% of the time” at a rally in February, and voters got another reminder of that when Gardner said he supports Barrett’s nomination. Republicans acknowledge that may be enough to prevent him from escaping Trump’s downward pull. “I’m saying a prayer he doesn’t get swept out by our president,” said Linda Heintz, 71, a registered Republican in suburban Denver who plans to vote early for Gardner. Heintz still hasn’t decided whether she can vote for Trump but figured Gardner was a no-brainer.

“He’s done nothing to not deserve reelection,” she said, acknowledging she doesn’t think many others in the state agree with her view.  Joan Kresek doesn’t. The 65-year-old graphic design professor is an independent-turned-Democrat who exemplifies Colorado’s transformation from a swing state into an increasingly blue bastion.  “Cory Gardner is attached to Trump, whom I’m 100% against,” Kresek said, saying Gardner’s support for a rapid replacement to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “is what he stands for.”

GOP pollster David Flaherty noted that the Barrett nomination is especially difficult for Gardner. The independents he needs to win aren’t just non-partisan, they’re anti-partisanship, disliking even “the impression of partisan decision-making,” he said. Republicans’ push to confirm Barrett before the election, when they thwarted Democrats’ attempt at a less-rushed confirmation four years ago, is a tough sell.

Laura Chapin, a Democratic operative who focuses on abortion rights, noted that Coloradans will also be voting on a ballot measure backed by conservatives that would ban abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy. They’re also facing the prospect that Barrett could vote to overturn the court decision protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion, and rule against the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, it was easy for Gardner to dismiss these scenarios as partisan fever dreams.

“We were dealing with hypotheticals,” Chapin said. “We’re not in the realm of the hypothetical anymore.” Gardner exemplifies the bind several Republicans have found themselves in during the Trump era. In 2016, he reluctantly endorsed Trump, only to withdraw his endorsement after the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed Trump had boasted about sexually assaulting women.

But once Trump was elected, Gardner tied himself to the president. In 2018, he lead the GOP’s effort to win Senate seats, and advocated for candidates to tout their support of the president. He’s carefully expressed displeasure at some of Trump’s more controversial statements, such as the statement that there were “good people” on both sides of a white supremacist march in Charlottesville. At Friday’s debate, Gardner without hesitation condemned the extremist group known as the Proud Boys and white supremacism — two things Trump would not do on the debate stage last week.

But Gardner has generally been a reliable vote for Trump’s top priorities, including repealing the Affordable Care Act. He has voted to confirm conservative judges and against removing the president from office following his impeachment. Gardner swiftly endorsed Trump’s reelection in early 2019, and during the rally in late February, Trump returned the favor. “Cory is a champion for the people of Colorado,” Trump told a packed arena in the conservative stronghold of Colorado Springs.

Democrats have repeatedly tied that around Gardner’s neck. “Cory Gardner has stood beside him 100% of the time, he has supported Donald Trump 100% of the time,” Hickenlooper said at a recent debate, where he also repeatedly noted Gardner’s support of Barrett’s confirmation. Hickenlooper also repeatedly dismissed barbed attacks from Gardner as “typical Washington” and said “new blood” is needed in the capitol. It’s an ironic echo of how Gardner won in 2014, when he tied the incumbent Udall to then-unpopular President Barack Obama, portrayed himself as a fresh face and promised in one ad that “when my party is wrong, I’ll say it.” Stratton, the Udall strategist, was bemused by the parallels. “Six years later, Gardner is Udall to some extent,” he said.



The lawyer for the first Black inmate scheduled to die this year as part of the Trump administration’s resumption of federal executions says race played a central role in landing her client on death row for slaying a young white Iowa couple and burning them in the trunk of their car.

One Black juror and 11 white jurors heard the 2000 federal case in Texas against Christopher Vialva, who is now 40 but was 19 at the time of the killings. Prosecutors portrayed Vialva as the leader of a Black street-gang faction and alleged he killed the deeply religious husband and wife, Todd and Stacie Bagley, to boost his status within the gang, attorney Susan Otto said.

But Otto contends there was no evidence Vialva, scheduled to be put to death Thursday, was even a full-fledged member — let alone a leader — of the 212 PIRU Bloods gang in his Killeen, Texas, hometown. She said the false claim only served to conjure up menacing stereotypes to prejudice the nearly all-white jury.

“It played right into the narrative that he was a dangerous Black thug who killed these lovely white people. And they were lovely,” Otto said in a recent phone interview. She added: “Race was a very strong component of this case.”

Questions about racial bias in the criminal justice system have been front and center since protests erupted across the country following the  death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.


Joe Biden on Sunday used the sudden Supreme Court vacancy to reinforce his argument that the upcoming election should be a referendum on President Donald Trump's handling of health care and the coronavirus.

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg jolted the presidential campaign just six weeks before the election and as several states are already voting. Trump has seized on the opportunity to nominate a new justice to motivate his most loyal voters. Biden kept the focus on health care, which has proven to be a winning issue for Democrats during previous elections and could be even more resonant amid the pandemic.

The Supreme Court will hear a Republican-led case seeking to throw out the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration supports, the week after the Nov. 3 election. Biden charged that Trump is seeking to undermine the protections for people with pre-existing conditions under the ACA, as well as its provisions covering preventative care for women.

“Millions of Americans are voting because they know their health care hangs in the balance," Biden said during remarks at Constitution Center in Philadelphia. “In the middle of the worst global health crisis in living memory, Donald Trump is before the Supreme Court, trying to strip health care coverage away from tens of millions of families.”

The Supreme Court could also hear cases on a few more particularly salient issues in the next few months: voting rights, and potentially who wins the November election.

Biden is expected to focus in the weeks ahead on the Democratic fight to prevent a nominee from being confirmed to the court, with a particular emphasis on the effect the court could have on health care and climate change. Biden aides stopped short of ruling out the possibility the campaign would advertise around the court fight, though that decision hadn’t been finalized.


Hoping to replicate a strategy long seen as key to his appeal among conservative voters, President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced he is adding 20 names to a list of Supreme Court candidates he's pledged to choose from if he has future vacancies to fill.

The list includes a trio of conservative Republican senators: Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri — all buzzed-about potential 2024 Republican presidential candidates — as well as Christopher Landau, the current ambassador to Mexico, and Noel Francisco, who argued 17 cases as the Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer.

“Every one of these individuals will ensure equal justice, equal treatment and equal rights for citizens of every race, color, religion and creed," Trump said as he made his announcement at the White House.

Trump tried to cast the list in contrast with judges who could be nominated if his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, wins in November, warning Biden would select “radical justices” who would “fundamentally transform America without a single vote of Congress," even though Biden has never outlined his list of potential picks and the Senate must confirm any nominee.

The release, less than two months before the election, is aimed at repeating the strategy that Trump employed during his 2016 campaign, when he released a similar list of could-be judges in a bid to win over conservative and evangelical voters who had doubts about his conservative bonafides.

The list includes a number of people who have worked for Trump's administration, including Gregory Katsas, whom Trump nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before that, Katsas served as a legal adviser on some of the president’s most contentious policies, including his executive orders restricting travel for citizens of predominantly Muslim countries and his decision to end a program protecting some young immigrants from deportation.

Francisco, the former solicitor general of the United States, also defended Trump’s travel ban, his unsuccessful push to add a citizenship question to the U.S. census and the decision to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation. He also argued that a landmark civil rights law didn’t protect gay, lesbian and transgender people from employment discrimination, a position the court ruled against 6-3 earlier this year.

Also on the list is Daniel Cameron, the Kentucky Attorney General who is currently deciding whether to criminally charge three Louisville police officers in the March shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency medical technician who was killed when officers entered her apartment with a no-knock warrant during a drug investigation.

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