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A divided Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged state limits on attendance at worship services that have been imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Over the dissent of the four more conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberals in turning away a request from the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area.

The church argued that limits on how many people can attend their services violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and had been seeking an order in time for services on Sunday. The church said it has crowds of 200 to 300 people for its services.

Roberts wrote in brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, “appear consistent" with the First Amendment. Roberts said similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.” Kavanaugh pointed to supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries and other businesses that are not subject to the same restrictions. Lower courts in California had previously turned down the churches' requests.
 
The court also rejected an appeal from two churches in the Chicago area that objected to Gov. Jay Pritzker’s limit of 10 worshipers at religious services. Before the court acted, Pritzker modified the restrictions to allow for up to 100 people at a time. There were no recorded dissents.


The Supreme Court seemed concerned Wednesday about the sweep of Trump administration rules that would allow more employers who cite a religious or moral objection to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women as required by the Affordable Care Act.

The justices were hearing their third day of arguments conducted by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic. The first of two cases before them Wednesday stemmed from the Obama-era health law, under which most employers must cover birth control as a preventive service, at no charge to women, in their insurance plans.

The Supreme Court’s four liberal justices suggested they were troubled by the changes, which the government has estimated would cause about 70,000 women, and at most 126,000 women, to lose contraception coverage in one year.

Chief Justice John Roberts, a key vote on a court split between conservatives and liberals, suggested that the Trump administration’s reliance on a federal religious freedom law to expand the exemption was “too broad.”

And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who joined the conversation from a Maryland hospital where she was being treated for an infection caused by a gallstone, gave the government’s top Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Noel Franciso, what sounded like a lecture.

“You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential, that is that women be provided these .... services with no hassle, no cost to them,” said Ginsburg, who was released from the hospital later Wednesday.


A liberal challenger on Monday ousted a conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice endorsed by President Donald Trump, overcoming a successful push by Republicans to forge ahead with last week’s election even as numerous other states postponed theirs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joe Biden also emerged victorious, as expected, in the state’s Democratic presidential primary. Biden’s easy victory became academic when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropped out, one day after Wisconsin held in-person voting.

But the absentee-ballot-fueled victory by liberal Supreme Court candidate Jill Karofsky was a huge win for Democrats. It reduced conservative control of the court to 4-3, giving liberals a chance to take control in 2023.

Karofsky will now be on the court when the Republican-controlled Legislature tackles redistricting next year, a fight many expect to be decided by the state Supreme Court.

Her win will also certainly be seen as a bellwether in battleground Wisconsin ahead of the November presidential election. Trump barely carried the state four years ago, and both parties see it as critical this year.


The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments in a lawsuit that claims state policy on fossil fuels is harming the constitutional right of young Alaskans to a safe climate.

Sixteen Alaska youths in 2017 sued the state, claiming that human-caused greenhouse gas emission leading to climate change is creating long-term, dangerous health effects.

The lawsuit takes aim at a state statute that says it’s the policy of Alaska to promote fossil fuels, said Andrew Welle of Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural systems for present and future generations.

“The state has enacted a policy of promoting fossil fuels and implemented it in a way that is resulting in substantial greenhouse gas emissions in Alaska,” Welle said in a phone interview. “They’re harming these young kids.”

A central question in the lawsuit, as in previous federal and state lawsuits, is the role of courts in shaping climate policy.


The involuntary manslaughter conviction of a young woman who encouraged her boyfriend through dozens of text messages to kill himself was upheld Wednesday by Massachusetts' highest court.

The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court judge who found that Michelle Carter caused Conrad Roy III's death when she told him to "get back in" his truck that was filling with toxic gas after he told her he was scared. The judge said Carter had a duty to call the police or Roy's family when she knew he was killing himself.

"And then after she convinced him to get back into the carbon monoxide filled truck, she did absolutely nothing to help him: she did not call for help or tell him to get out of the truck as she listened to him choke and die," Justice Scott Kafker wrote in the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling.

Carter's lawyers noted the only evidence she instructed Roy to get back in the truck was a long, rambling text she sent to a friend two months later in which she called Roy's death her fault.

Carter was 17 when Roy, 18, was found dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014. Carter, now 22, was sentenced to 15 months in jail, but has remained free while she pursues her appeals.

Prosecutors had argued Carter could have stopped Roy from killing himself, but instead bullied him into going through with his plan through text messages that became more insistent as he delayed.



The Supreme Court is declining to revive a lawsuit by Olivia de Havilland over the FX Networks miniseries "Feud: Bette and Joan," which centered on the rivalry between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

The high court on Monday said it would not take the actress's case. That means a California appeals court's decision throwing out the lawsuit stands. The appeals court unanimously ruled in 2018 that California law and the First Amendment required the lawsuit's dismissal.

The 102-year-old de Havilland had objected to her depiction on the eight-part miniseries. She said her likeness was illegally used and her character, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, came across as a vulgar gossipmonger.

As is its usual practice, the Supreme Court did not say anything about the case in declining to hear it.


After 21 years on the Mississippi Supreme Court and 10 years as chief justice, Bill Waller Jr. says it's time for someone else to take the helm.

Waller's court has at times questioned problems with forensic evidence, but passed when asked to rule on the legality of Mississippi's cap on punitive damages. He said his biggest regret is not getting a statewide system of county courts.

Gov. Phil Bryant has announced that he will replace Waller with Court of Appeals Chief Judge Kenny Griffis, while Presiding Justice Michael Randolph will become the next leader of the nine-member Supreme Court, based on seniority. The outgoing chief justice, son of the late Gov. Bill Waller Sr., a Democrat who served from 1972 to 1976, said he still might run for governor himself.

Waller came on to the court in a different time, before the new judicial building was started, when most record-keeping was on paper and when a hot political battle was waging over limiting damages on civil lawsuits. Another change has been improvements in how inmates are represented in appeals, with the creation of the Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel and then the Office of Indigent Appeals.


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