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Congo's constitutional court is poised to rule on a challenge to the presidential election, with the government on Friday dismissing an unprecedented request by the African Union continental body to delay releasing the final results because of "serious doubts" about the vote.

Upholding the official results could spark new violence in a country hoping for its first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960. At least 34 people have been killed since provisional results were released on Jan. 10, the United Nations said.

The AU on Monday will send a high-level delegation to Congo to address the crisis in the vast Central African nation rich in the minerals key to smartphones and electric cars around the world. Its neighbors are concerned that unrest could spill across borders.

Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende called the matter one for the country's judicial bodies, and "the independence of our judiciary is no problem."

The declared runner-up in the Dec. 30 election, Martin Fayulu, has requested a recount, alleging fraud. He asserts that Congo's electoral commission published provisional results wildly different from those obtained at polling stations.

Fayulu welcomed the AU's stance and urged Congolese to support it.

Congo faces the extraordinary accusation of an election allegedly rigged in favor of the opposition. Fayulu's supporters have asserted that outgoing President Joseph Kabila made a backroom deal with the declared winner, Felix Tshisekedi, when the ruling party's candidate did poorly.



Millions of American women are receiving birth control at no cost to them through workplace health plans, the result of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to contraception.

The Trump administration sought to allow more employers to opt out because of religious or moral objections. But its plans were put on hold by two federal judges, one in Pennsylvania and the other in California, in cases that could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

The judges blocked the Trump policy from going into effect while legal challenges from state attorneys general continue.

Here's a look at some of the issues behind the confrontation over birth control, politics and religious beliefs:

Well into the 1990s many states did not require health insurance plans to cover birth control for women.

"Plans were covering Viagra, and they weren't covering birth control," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

By the time President Barack Obama's health law passed in 2010, employers and insurers largely began covering birth control as an important part of health care for women.

The ACA took that a couple of steps further. It required most insurance plans to cover a broad range of preventive services, including vaccinations and cancer screenings, but also women's health services. And it also required such preventive services to be offered at no charge.

Employers and insurers were required to cover at least one of each class of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That included costly long-acting contraceptives, generally more effective than birth control pills.

It's estimated that 55 million to more than 62 million women now receive birth control at no cost, with only a small share paying for contraception.

"The irony I find about this battle is that in the period of time this policy has been in effect, teen pregnancies have gone way down and the number of abortions has gone way down," said Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary under Obama.

While those rates were already going down before the health law, the trend does continue.


A union representing teachers and other school employees is taking a rare step by supporting a Republican for the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Education Association is recommending three candidates who are running for two seats on the court, including Justice Elizabeth Clement (Kla-MENT'). She was appointed to the Supreme Court last year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

The union also is recommending Sam Bagenstos and Megan Cavanagh, who were nominated by the Democratic Party. Voters can pick two of six candidates in the race. Party affiliations won't be listed on the ballot.

Public affairs director Doug Pratt says the MEA is pleased with some of Clement's decisions, including one that gives schools the authority to ban guns carried by visitors. It was a 4-3 opinion.


The New Mexico Supreme Court is blocking a ballot option that would have allowed voters to select candidates from one particular party in all races by marking a single box.

The court made its decision Wednesday after listening to oral arguments about a plan from the state's top elections regulator to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November general election.

The court found that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver did not have authority to impose such a change.

Critics of the practice say it primarily harms independent, minor-party and Republican candidates in a state dominated by registered Democrats.

They argued in court that state law doesn't clearly say whether authority to design ballot forms extends to substantive decisions about straight-party voting, and that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver should have consulted the public through the rulemaking process.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has indicated it will decide Wednesday whether voters should be allowed to select candidates from a particular party in all races by marking a single ballot box.

At issue is a plan from the state's top elections regulator to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November general election.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver argued she has authority over ballot forms, including the discretion to determine whether to include a straight-party voting option.

Critics questioned that authority Wednesday, saying such decisions should be made by the Legislature and should be informed by data on voting behavior. They also raised concerns that no public hearings were held before Toulouse Oliver announced the change.



Iran went to the United Nations' highest court Monday in a bid to have U.S. sanctions lifted following President Donald Trump's decision earlier this year to re-impose them, calling the move "naked economic aggression."

Iran filed the case with the International Court of Justice in July, claiming that sanctions the Trump administration imposed on May 8 breach a 1955 bilateral agreement known as the Treaty of Amity that regulates economic and consular ties between the two countries.

At hearings that started Monday at the court's headquarters in The Hague, Tehran asked judges at the world court to urgently suspend the sanctions to protect Iranian interests while the case challenging their legality is being heard — a process that can take years.

In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the legal move an attempt by Tehran "to interfere with the sovereign rights of the United States to take lawful actions, including re-imposition of sanctions, which are necessary to protect our national security."

Trump said in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran's nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Washington also threatened other countries with sanctions if they don't cut off Iranian oil imports by early November.

Trump said in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran's nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Washington also threatened other countries with sanctions if they don't cut off Iranian oil imports by early November.

Iranian representative Mohsen Mohebi told the court the U.S. decision was a clear breach of the 1955 treaty as it was "intended to damage, as severely as possible, Iran's economy."

Iran's 2015 nuclear deal imposed restrictions on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program in return for the lifting of most U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran.



A retired West Virginia Supreme Court justice is now a convicted felon.

Menis Ketchum pleaded guilty to a felony count of fraud related to his personal use of a state vehicle and gas fuel card in a scandal that has led to upcoming impeachment trials for the three remaining justices.

Ketchum entered the plea Thursday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced Ketchum's agreement to plead guilty soon after the 75-year-old justice retired in July. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Dec. 6.

The four other justices were impeached last week by the House of Delegates. Justice Robin Davis retired hours later. She and Justices Allen Loughry, Margaret Workman and Beth Walker face trial in the Senate.


A North Carolina Supreme Court candidate's lawsuit against Republican legislators over a law preventing him from having his party listed on November ballots is returning to court.

A judge scheduled a Wake County hearing Monday to consider requests by candidate Chris Anglin and a lower-court candidate also fighting the law finalized by GOP legislators earlier this month.

The law says a judicial candidate's party affiliation won't be listed next to the candidate's name if it was changed less than 90 days before filing for a race. Anglin says the law targets him — he was a registered Democrat three weeks before entering the race as a Republican.

Republicans accuse Anglin of trying to split the GOP vote with incumbent Justice Barbara Jackson to help Democratic opponent Anita Earls win.

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