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Unsuccessful in an earlier bid for an emergency injunction, a Nevada church is asking the U.S. Supreme Court again to consider its challenge of coronavirus restrictions on religious gatherings as a test case for others brought by churches across the country arguing their First Amendment rights are being violated.

“This case is an ideal vehicle to solve the nationwide problem of government discrimination against churches in ad hoc COVID-19 orders,” lawyers for Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley wrote in the unusual new filing Thursday.

In a sharply divided 5-4 decision in July, the high court refused the church’s request for a temporary order blocking enforcement of Nevada’s 50-person cap on religious gatherings while its appeal is pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The appellate court has scheduled oral arguments Dec. 8 on the merits of the appeal of a ruling by a U.S. judge in Reno upholding Gov. Steve Sisolak’s 50-person cap on attendance at indoor church services to help slow the pandemic’s spread.

Calvary Chapel argues the cap is an unconstitutional violation of their religious freedoms partly because casinos and other businesses are allowed to operate at 50% of capacity.

“There is no constitutional right to gamble, but there is one that protects attending worship services,” said David Cortman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom representing the church.

The Christian church in rural Lyon County wants to allow as many as 90 people to attend services at the same time — with masks required, spaced 6 feet apart — at the sanctuary east of Reno with a capacity of 200.

Other secular businesses allowed to operate at half capacity include restaurants, gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys.

The new filling is a “petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment” seeking review despite the pending appeal. Such petitions are rare and their approval rarer, even though they require approval by only four justices.

Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the 5-4 majority turning back Calvary Chapel’s request this summer before the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The opening on the bench recently was filled by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who seems likely to align herself with the four conservative justices who sided with the church in July.

“There is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesars Palace over Calvary Chapel,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote then in one of three strongly worded dissents.

“That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing,” Justice Samuel Alito added.

Nevada’s lawyers will have at least a month to respond to the new request. Neither Sisolak nor the state attorney general’s office had any immediate comment, their spokespersons said on Friday.


President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.



Families and survivors had their first chance to confront the white supremacist who slaughtered 51 worshippers in a mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques as his four-day sentencing hearing began Monday.

“You killed your own humanity, and I don’t think the world will forgive you for your horrible crime,” said a tearful Maysoon Salama, the mother of 33-year-old Atta Elayyan, who was killed in March 2019 attacks. “You thought you can break us. You failed miserably.”

The gunman, 29-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, pleaded guilty in March to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism — the first terrorism conviction in New Zealand’s history. He could become the first person in New Zealand to be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, the toughest sentence available.

Tarrant was brought into the Christchurch High Court shackled and wearing a gray prison outfit. In the dock, unshackled and surrounded by five officers, he showed little emotion throughout the hearing. He occasionally looked around the room, tapped his fingers, and watched the survivors as they spoke.

The courtroom was only half full due to coronavirus distancing requirements, while many others watched from adjacent courtrooms where the hearing was streamed. Survivors and family members occasionally wept and comforted each other.

Two dozen victims and family members told the court about the pain of losing husbands, wives, sons and brothers. Some had family members around them for support, others spoke through translators or on pre-recorded videos from abroad.


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been discharged from a hospital in New York City and has returned home, the Supreme Court said Friday.

The court said Ginsburg, 87, is doing well, two days after undergoing a minimally invasive procedure on Wednesday to “revise a bile duct stent” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The stent had originally been placed last August, when Ginsburg was treated for a cancerous tumor on her pancreas.

The procedure is common and was done to minimize the risk of future infection, according to her doctors, the court said in a statement.

The procedure follows  another one earlier this month at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to clean out the stent.  Ginsburg had gone to the hospital after experiencing fever and chills and was treated for a possible infection.

Ginsburg, the oldest justice on the nine-member court, announced on July 17  that she is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer. The liberal justice, who has had four earlier bouts with cancer, said her treatment so far has succeeded in reducing lesions on her liver.


President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have tried to make it clear: Given the chance, they would push through a Supreme Court nominee should a vacancy occur before Election Day.

The issue has taken on new immediacy with the disclosure Friday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is receiving chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer after four earlier bouts with the disease. The 87-year-old liberal, who apologized in 2016 for her pointed public criticism of Trump during his first campaign, says she has no plans to retire.

The development has focused even more on what’s at stake this election, with the winner in position to help shape the trajectory of the court for years to come.

Trump administration officials have underscored that Trump would not hesitate to fill an opening before voters have their say Nov. 3, less than four months away, on whether to give him a second term.

Four years ago, also in a presidential election year, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing or vote when President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated federal judge Merrick Garland to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia after his death in February. Nine months before that year’s election, McConnell said voters should determine who would nominate the person to fill that seat.

Fast forward to this past week. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told reporters: “I can’t imagine that if he had a vacancy on the Supreme Court that he would not very quickly make the appointment and look for the Senate to take quick action.”

Meadows spoke shortly after the court said Ginsburg was briefly hospitalized, but before the justice announced she had a recurrence of cancer and has been treated with chemotherapy since May 19.

Ginsburg is the oldest justice, followed by Stephen Breyer, 81, Clarence Thomas, 72, and Samuel Alito, 70.

Trump sees his efforts at reshaping the judiciary as a signature achievement of his presidency. Last month he marked his 200th judicial appointment. Earlier in his term, he won confirmation of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the high court.

The president has sought to remind fellow Republicans that should he win a second term, he would have the chance to push the Supreme Court and lower courts further to the right.


President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was returned to federal prison Thursday, after balking at certain conditions of the home confinement he was granted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Records obtained by The Associated Press said Cohen was ordered into custody after he “failed to agree to the terms of Federal Location Monitoring” in Manhattan.

But Cohen’s attorneys disputed that, saying Cohen took issue with a condition of his home confinement that forbid him from speaking with the media and publishing a tell-all book he began working on in federal prison. The rules also prohibited him from “posting on social media,” the records show.

“The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community,” the document says.

Cohen has written a tell-all book that he had been preparing to publish about his time working for the Trump Organization, his lawyers said.

“Cohen was sure this was written just for him,” his attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said of the home confinement conditions. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

A Justice Department official pushed back on that characterization and said Cohen had refused to accept the terms of home confinement, specifically that he submit to wearing an ankle monitor. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

Cohen legal adviser Lanny Davis called that “completely false,” adding that “at no time did Michael ever object to the ankle bracelet.”

Cohen later agreed to accept all of the requirements of home confinement but was taken into custody nevertheless, Davis said. “He stands willing to sign the entire document if that’s what it takes” to be released.



Johnny Depp’s lawyers have failed to stop the American actor’s ex-wife, Amber Heard, from attending his libel trial against the British tabloid newspaper The Sun until she is called to give evidence.

In a court order published on Saturday, trial judge Andrew Nicol said that excluding Heard from the London courtroom before she testifies in the case “would inhibit the defendants in the conduct of their defense.”

Depp, 57, is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and Executive Editor Dan Wootton over a 2018 article claiming the actor was violent and abusive to Heard. He strongly denies the allegations.

Depp’s lawyers had asked the judge to keep Heard from attending the trial until the 34-year-old actress and model appears to give evidence, arguing that her testimony would be more reliable if she were not present in court when Depp was being cross-examined.

The judge noted it is News Group and Wootton, and not Heard, that are defending the claim, while conceding they will be relying “heavily” on what Heard says.

The trial, which was postponed from March because of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled to start Tuesday and to last three weeks.

Other witnesses are likely to include Depp’s ex-partners Vanessa Paradis and Winona Ryder, who have both submitted statements supporting the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star.

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