A federal judge has given Democrats a partial victory in the presidential battleground of Florida, extending the state's voter registration deadline one day and agreeing to consider a longer extension in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
The initial deadline was Tuesday, but Florida Democrats, with the support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, argued that would-be voters deserved more time. Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week urged 1.5 million residents to evacuate as the storm approached the southeastern United States.
District Judge Mark Walker issued a temporary order Monday afternoon extending the deadline through the close of business Wednesday. He set a hearing Wednesday at 10 a.m. for arguments for a longer extension. Judges grant temporary restraining orders in cases where a petitioner demonstrates irreparable harm would occur if the court took no action. The orders often portend victory once a judge considers the merits of the case.
Clinton had called on Scott, before the suit was filed, to extend the deadline himself using his emergency authority. The governor declined, saying Floridians "had enough time to register" before the Oct. 6 evacuation orders.
Though the case involves the highest stakes in a perennial presidential battleground, the judge called it "poppycock" to claim that "the issue of extending the voter registration deadline is about politics." The case, he wrote, "is about the right of aspiring eligible voters to register to have their votes counted."
The case comes as the two presidential campaigns try to resume their full activities in Florida and North Carolina, the two battlegrounds where Matthew left fatalities and wracked widespread damage.
Serving on the U.S. Supreme Court has been both a blessing and a curse and reaching decisions is harder than she ever expected, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Thursday during a visit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The court's first Hispanic justice told a packed campus theater that said she still marvels that she holds her position, noting she sits so close to the president at State of the Union addresses she can almost touch him. But the job comes with a heavy burden because every decision the court makes affects so many people and each ruling creates losers, she said, recalling moments in court where losing litigants have wept.
"I never forget that in every case, someone wins, and there's an opposite. Someone loses. And that burden feels very heavy to me," Sotomayor said. "I have not anticipated how hard decision-making is on the court. Because of that big win and lose on the court and we are affecting lives across the country and sometimes across the world, I'm conscious that what I do will always affect someone."
Sotomayor spoke for about an hour and a half, wandering up and down the theater's aisles and shaking hands with people as she answered questions from a pair of her former law clerks sitting on stage. She warned the audience that she couldn't talk about pending cases and the clerks never asked her about the Senate refusing to hold a hearing or vote on Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to replace the late Antonin Scalia as the court's ninth justice. The clerks instead gave her general questions about her experiences and thought processes. She kept her answers just as general.
Judge Merrick Garland found himself back on Capitol Hill on Thursday in a familiar place — meeting with a Democratic senator who used the visit to complain about Republicans' inaction on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. said he met with Garland to "see how he's doing." Nearly six months ago, Obama nominated Garland to fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. Republicans have said they won't act until the next president chooses a nominee.
"He's had to wait longer than any nominee ever has," Leahy told reporters. "We've got plenty of time. If they want to do their job, we could easily have the hearing and the confirmation in September."
Asked if he'd seen any signs that Republicans are wavering in their refusal to consider a nominee this year, Leahy said, "You'll have to ask them." The spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who's led GOP opposition to Garland, said nothing has changed.
"The majority leader has been clear: The next president will make the nomination for this vacancy," said spokesman Don Stewart.
Vice President Joe Biden also planned to be on Capitol Hill on Thursday to help turn up the pressure on McConnell.
It was Garland's first visit to Congress since he held dozens of individual meetings with senators in the spring.
The court is currently divided 4-4 between liberal- and conservative-leaning justices. Garland's confirmation would tip the court in the more liberal direction.
Both parties have appealed to voters by making the court's leaning a campaign issue, stressing that either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump will decide that by whomever they nominate.
Courts have dealt setbacks in three states to Republican efforts that critics contend restrict voting rights — blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas.
The rulings Friday came as the 2016 election moves into its final phase, with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton locked in a high-stakes presidential race and control of the U.S. Senate possibly hanging in the balance. North Carolina is one of about a dozen swing states in the presidential race, while Wisconsin has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections and Kansas has been solidly Republican.
The decisions followed a similar blow earlier this month to what critics said was one of the nation's most restrictive voting laws in Texas. The New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Texas' voter ID law is discriminatory and must be weakened before the November election.
Hillary Clinton's lawyer told a federal judge Monday that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has already answered enough questions about her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
David Kendall appeared at a hearing on whether a conservative legal group should be granted its request to interview Clinton under oath. The group, Judicial Watch, has filed multiple lawsuits seeking records related to Clinton's tenure as the nation's top diplomat from 2009 to 2013.
If allowed, a videotaped sworn deposition by Clinton would likely become fodder for attack ads in the presidential race. Republican officials have said repeatedly they plan to hammer the issue of her emails through the November election.
Kendall told U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that Clinton has previously testified under oath before the congressional committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks and was interviewed for hours as part of the FBI's recently closed criminal investigation. Both times Clinton said her choice to use a private server located in the basement of her New York home was motivated by convenience, not any attempt to thwart potential public-records requests.
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that work-related emails from a private account used by the White House's top science adviser are subject to disclosure under federal open records laws.
The ruling from the three-judge panel is a win for government watchdog groups and media organizations concerned that public officials may be skirting public disclosure requirements by relying on private email.
The court sided with a conservative think tank that had filed a lawsuit seeking emails from John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The decision overturns a lower court judge that said Holdren's office did not have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act request from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Puerto Rico can't use a local law to restructure the debt of its financially ailing public utilities as it tries to overcome a decade-long economic crisis, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The 5-2 ruling said that federal bankruptcy law bars Puerto Rico from enacting its own law to restructure about $20 billion in debt. The decision means the U.S. territory must wait for Congress to pass debt-relief legislation that would address its fiscal woes.
Puerto Rico lawmakers passed the law in 2014 to help cash-strapped utilities meet obligations to bondholders and creditors. Puerto Rico argued that it could enact its own measures since the island is precluded from using bankruptcy law. But lower courts struck down the law.
The commonwealth is mired in recession and cannot pay $72 billion in public debt.
Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said the plain text of the law bars Puerto Rico from enacting its own municipal bankruptcy schemes. He said Congress "would have said so" if it didn't want the exclusion to apply to the island.