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The Biden administration on Wednesday proposed changing how asylum claims are handled, aiming to reduce a huge backlog of cases from the U.S.-Mexico border that has left people waiting years to find out whether they will be allowed to stay in America.

Under the proposal, routine asylum cases no longer would automatically be referred to the overwhelmed immigration court system managed by the Justice Department but would be overseen by asylum officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security Department.

Advocates for the change see it as a way to help those with legitimate claims for protection while allowing officials to more quickly deal with people who do not qualify for asylum or are taking advantage of the long delay to stay in the United States.

“Individuals who are eligible will receive relief more swiftly, while those who are not eligible will be expeditiously removed,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

The proposal must go through a public comment period before it can be adopted as a new policy.

The immigration court system has an all-time high backlog of about 1.3 million cases. The Trump administration tried to deal with the issue in part by imposing stricter criteria for asylum and forcing people to seek protection in Mexico and Central America. President Joe Biden’s proposal would streamline the system.

The reason for the change is that more people have been seeking asylum under U.S. law, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years.

As the system works now, people who present themselves at the border or are apprehended by the Border Patrol and identify themselves as asylum-seekers must pass what is known as a “credible fear” interview. A USCIS asylum officer determines whether they meet the criteria of someone facing persecution in their homeland because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.


The Ohio Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case filed by news media groups seeking school records about the man who gunned down nine people in Dayton last August.

The media groups, including The Associated Press, argue the student records could provide information on whether authorities properly handled early warning signs from slain gunman Connor Betts.

The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools district argues Betts’ records are protected by state and federal privacy laws. Ohio GOP Attorney General Dave Yost will argue they should be released.

Betts was killed by police 32 seconds after he opened fire Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton’s crowded Oregon District entertainment area. Armed with an AR-15-style gun with an extended ammunition magazine, Betts killed nine, including his sister, and injured dozens more.

The Supreme Court took the case after an appeals court ruled in favor of the district and its denial of access to Betts’ high school files.



The coronavirus pandemic has put on indefinite hold a major portion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, including a multibillion-dollar clash between software giants Google and Oracle Corp. and cases that could affect President Donald Trump’s reelection chances.

What was supposed to have been a drama-filled spring at the high court has instead become a season of waiting, especially for the lawyers and litigants in 20 arguments that had been scheduled for March and April. The court has postponed 11 of those cases and could do the same soon for the remaining nine.

The cases include fights over congressional and grand jury subpoenas for Trump’s financial records — clashes that need to be resolved in the court’s current term to give the president’s critics any chance of seeing the documents before the November election. Also on hold is a clash over the Electoral College for presidential elections and an $8 billion copyright dispute between Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Oracle.

It’s not clear whether the justices are still hoping to resolve those cases in their current term, possibly by forgoing argument or by breaking tradition and hearing arguments by phone or online. Lawyers say they’ve received no guidance from the court on the subject, though briefing deadlines are still in force. The term normally ends in late June, although that time frame is now in doubt as well.

“As far as oral arguments go, we’re just waiting upon the court,” said Jay Sekulow, the lead lawyer for Trump in the president’s bid to block a New York grand jury subpoena for the president’s financial information. The case had been set for argument March 31.


The most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse took his appeal to Australia’s highest court Wednesday in potentially his last bid to clear his name.

Cardinal George Pell was sentenced a year ago to six years in prison for molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral while he was the city’s archbishop in the late 1990s.

He was convicted by the unanimous verdict of a Victoria state County Court jury in December 2018 after a jury in an earlier trial was deadlocked.

A Victoria Court of Appeal rejected his appeal against his convictions in a 2-1 majority decision in August last year.

Pope Francis’ 78-year-old former finance minister is arguing before the High Court that the guilty verdicts were unreasonable and could not be supported by the whole of the evidence from more than 20 prosecution witnesses who include priests, altar servers and former choirboys.

Seven judges are hearing the case over two days.

Pell’s lawyer Bret Walker told the judges that there had been a “reversal of onus” in which Pell was expected to prove the offending didn’t happen instead of prosecutors proving the crimes were committed beyond reasonable doubt.

“That is a wrong question which sends the inquiry onto a terribly damaging wrong route,” Walker said.

Walker said the allegations that Pell had molested the two boys in a priests’ sacristy moments after a Mass could not be proved if the jury had accepted the evidence of sacristan Maxwell Potter and Monsignor Charles Portelli.

Potter had testified that the sacristy was kept locked during Masses and Portelli had given evidence that he was always with Pell while he was dressed in his archbishop’s robes.


For a Supreme Court that says it has an allergy to politics, the next few months might require a lot of tissues.

The court is poised to issue campaign-season decisions in the full bloom of spring in cases dealing with President Donald Trump’s tax and other financial records, abortion, LGBT rights, immigration, guns, church-state relations and the environment.

The bumper crop of political hot potatoes on the court’s agenda will test Chief Justice John Roberts’ insistence that the public should not view the court as just another political institution.

“It’s interesting that all of this is coming together in an election year. The chief justice has made it clear that people should view the court as a nonpolitical branch of government and people tend to have the opposite view when they see these big cases,” said Sarah Harrington, who has argued 21 cases in front of the high court.

The justices are gathering on Friday for the first time in nearly a month to put the finishing touches on opinions in cases that were argued in the fall and decide what new cases to take on. Most prominent among the possibilities is the latest dispute over the Obama-era health care overhaul.


A Scottish court dealt another blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans Wednesday, ruling that his decision to suspend Parliament less than two months before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union was an unlawful attempt to avoid democratic scrutiny.

The government immediately said it would appeal, as the political opposition demanded Johnson reverse the suspension and recall lawmakers to Parliament.

With Brexit due in 50 days, the court ruling deepened Britain’s political deadlock. Johnson insists the country must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.

Their case got a boost late Wednesday as the government gave in to a demand from lawmakers and published a document showing that a hard exit could lead to logjams for freight, shortages of some foods and medicines, major travel disruptions and possible rioting.

The document’s release was the day’s second setback for Johnson and followed the surprise judgment by Scotland’s highest civil court, which found that the government’s action suspending lawmakers was illegal “because it had the purpose of stymieing Parliament.”

Johnson claims he shut down the legislature this week so that he can start afresh on his domestic agenda at a new session of Parliament next month. But the five-week suspension also gives him a respite from rebellious lawmakers as he plots his next move to break the political impasse over Brexit and lead Britain out of the EU by Oct. 31, “do or die.”


Court officials and lawyers in North Dakota say few people have tried to undo convictions for refusing DUI blood tests in the year since a state Supreme Court opinion offered a narrow pathway for doing so.

The North Dakota high court ruled in 2018 that a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision found it unconstitutional to criminalize refusal of a warrantless blood draw applies retroactively. The 2016 decision was based on cases in North Dakota and Minnesota involving alcohol testing.

The North Dakota justices said in their ruling that any post-conviction relief applies "in very limited circumstances" such as time of the conviction and the "legal landscape" as it existed at the time of each case. Even so, Bismarck attorney Dan Herbel, who argued in both the 2016 and 2018 cases, said it doesn't appear many people are taking advantage of the state ruling.

"I don't know if a lot of people are even aware that they have the option of vacating a prior conviction based upon these cases," Herbel told The Bismarck Tribune.

The Minnesota Supreme Court in late 2018 also ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court case applies retroactively.

Attorney Jonathan Green, of Wahpeton, said he's sent letters to people he can find who have convictions for refusing warrantless blood draws. He's received phone calls from about a dozen people and has filed petitions for about half. Judges earlier this month vacated Burleigh County convictions for a Fargo woman and a Bismarck man for whom Green sought relief under the state Supreme Court ruling.

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