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The US Senate is gearing up for a rare weekend session as Republicans race to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court and cement a conservative majority before election day despite Democratic efforts to stall President Donald Trump’s nominee.

Democrats used time-consuming procedural hurdles to delay the start of Friday’s Senate session until midday, but the party has no realistic chance of stopping Ms Barrett’s advance in the Republican-controlled chamber. Ms Barrett, a federal appeals court judge, is expected to be confirmed on Monday and quickly join the court.

“It’s hard to think of any nominee we’ve had in the past who is any better than this one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told Fox News late on Thursday.

Ms Barrett, 48, presented herself in public evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a neutral arbiter of cases on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and presidential power, issues soon confronting the court.

At one point she suggested: “It’s not the law of Amy.”  But Ms Barrett’s past writings against abortion and a ruling on the Obama-era health care law show a deeply conservative thinker.

Mr Trump said this week he is hopeful the Supreme Court will undo the health law when the justices take up a challenge on November 10, the week after the election. The fast-track confirmation process is like none other in US history so close to a presidential election.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Friday that the Republican push to seat Ms Barrett was “the most partisan, hypocritical, least legitimate process in the history of the nation”. “We’re not going to have business as usual,” Mr Schumer said as he forced one procedural vote after another.

At the start of Mr Trump’s presidency, Mr McConnell engineered a Senate rules change to allow confirmation by a majority of the 100 senators, rather than the 60-vote threshold traditionally needed to advance high court nominees over objections.


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.



A German arrest order for two Panamanian lawyers whose firm was at the center of an international tax evasion scandal faces a substantial obstacle: Panama’s constitution prohibits the extradition of its citizens.

Juergen Mossack and Ramón Fonseca are sought by Cologne prosecutors on charges of being an accessory to tax evasion and forming a criminal organization.  “They have constitutional protection,” Alvin Weeden, a lawyer in Panama, said Wednesday. “Technically, there’s no possibility.”

Mossack and Fonseca already face prosecution in Panama and are prohibited from leaving the country while out on bond after spending two months in jail. That case stems from allegations they helped create a corporation to hide money used for bribes by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht as well as fallout from the so-called Panama Papers scandal.

The Panama Papers include a collection of 11 million secret financial documents leaked in 2016 that illustrated how some of the world’s richest people hide their money. It brought scrutiny to a number of world leaders and was a hit to Panama’s reputation.

Interpol’s office in Panama did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it had received an alert from German authorities about the case in Germany against Mossack and Fonseca.

In a statement, Mossack and Fonseca said their firm had sold corporations to a German bank that later resold them to clients. They said they had nothing to do with subsequent transactions.

“If one these ultimate beneficiaries evaded taxes in their country or committed some other crime using a corporation created by us, that is totally out of our control and knowledge,” said the statement issued by their lawyer in Panama, Guillermina McDonald. “We follow all of the processes required by regulators of our industry in their moment.”

Mossack and Fonseca announced the closure of their offices in Panama and elsewhere in the world in March 2018.

In the statement Tuesday night, they said they were willing to continue collaborating with investigations in any part of the world. McDonald said she did not know if they would be willing to appear before German authorities. Mossack and Fonseca maintain the German case is part of continuing efforts by the European Union to discredit them. In February, the European Union again included Panama on a list of countries that are tax havens.


Republican claims that Democrats would expand the U.S. Supreme Court to undercut the conservative majority if they win the presidency and control of Congress has a familiar ring. It's a tactic the GOP already has employed in recent years with state supreme courts when they have controlled all levers of state political power.

Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia have signed bills passed by GOP-dominated legislatures to expand the number of seats on their states’ respective high courts. In Iowa, the Republican governor gained greater leverage over the commission that names judicial nominees.

“The arguments being advanced now by Republican leaders — that this is an affront to separation of powers, that this is a way of delegitimizing courts — those don’t seem to be holding at the state level,” said Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University who has written about efforts to expand state high courts.

President Donald Trump and the GOP have seized on the issue in the final weeks of the presidential race, arguing that Democratic nominee Joe Biden would push a Democratic Congress to increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court and fill those with liberal justices.

Some on the left have floated the idea in the wake of Republicans' rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to fill the seat of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal icon who died last month.  Biden, for his part, has said he's not a fan of so-called “court packing,” and it's far from certain that Democrats can win back the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Arizona's governor, Republican Doug Ducey, said he opposes adding seats to the U.S. Supreme Court. "We shouldn’t be changing our institutions,” he told reporters recently. Yet Ducey signed a bill that did just that at the state level in 2016, expanding the Arizona Supreme Court from five seats to seven. As a result, Ducey has appointed more judges than any other governor in the state's history.

Ducey said the situations are not the same because Arizona’s system for selecting judges allows him to appoint them only from a list sent to him by a commission that interviews and vets candidates.



The Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold a lower court order that would have permitted curbside voting in Alabama in November.

The justices' vote was 5-3, with the court's three liberals dissenting. As is typical when the Supreme Court acts on an emergency basis, the justices in the majority did not explain their decision. It was not clear how many counties might have offered curbside voting, allowing people to vote from their car by handing their ballot to a poll worker.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent joined by Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan, described the lower court's order allowing curbside voting in November as “modest,” and she said she would not have put it on hold.

“It does not require all counties to adopt curbside voting; it simply gives prepared counties the option to do so. This remedy respects both the right of voters with disabilities to vote safely and the State’s interest in orderly elections,” she said, noting that 28 states permit curbside voting.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed on behalf of voters with health issues who were concerned about the risk of COVID-19 at the polls.

The state’s Republican attorney general and secretary of state sought to block a lower court's ruling in the case that would have let counties offer curbside voting. Lawyers for the state argued that since Alabama does not have a law expressly permitting curbside voting, that it should not be allowed.

“I am very enthusiastic that the Supreme Court of the United States has seen fit to secure Alabama’s election integrity by ruling as to the letter and the spirit of the law," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said in a telephone interview.


The Supreme Court will allow Pennsylvania to count mailed-in ballots received up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, rejecting a Republican plea in the presidential battleground state. The justices divided 4-4 on Monday, an outcome that upholds a state Supreme Court ruling that required county election officials to receive and count mailed-in ballots that arrive up until Nov. 6, even if they don’t have a clear postmark, as long as there is not proof it was mailed after the polls closed.

Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s campaign, have opposed such an extension, arguing that it violates federal law that sets Election Day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and that such a decision constitutionally belongs to lawmakers, not the courts. The state Republican Party chairman, Lawrence Tabas, said the party disagrees with the decision and, noting the 4-4 decision, “it only underscores the importance of having a full Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

“To be clear, the Supreme Court decided not to grant a stay - which does not mean the actions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would withstand a legal challenge to their judicial overreach should the court hear the case,” Tabas said. Nancy Patton Mills, chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, accused Republicans of trying to sow confusion and disenfranchise eligible voters. “This is a significant victory for Pennsylvania voters,” Mills said in a statement.

The Democratic majority on the state’s high court had cited warnings that postal service delays could invalidate huge numbers of ballots and surging demand for mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic to invoke the power, used previously by the state’s courts, to extend election deadlines during a disaster emergency. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the three liberal justices to reject Pennsylvania Republicans’ call for the court to block the state court ruling.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas would have required the state to stop accepting absentee ballots when the polls close on Nov. 3. There were no opinions accompanying the order, so it is impossible to say what motivated either group of justices. The conservative justices have been reluctant to allow court-ordered changes to voting rules close to an election.




The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases involving Trump administration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border: one about a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings and a second about the administration's use of money to fund the border wall. The justices’ decision to hear the cases continues its practice of reviewing lower court rulings that have found President Donald Trump's immigration policies illegal over the past four years.
Most notably, the high court reviewed and ultimately upheld Trump's travel ban on visitors from some largely Muslim countries. In June, the court kept in place legal protections for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The justices will not hear either new case until 2021, and the outcome of the presidential election could make the cases go away, or at least reduce their significance. If Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House, he has pledged to end “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump considers a cornerstone policy on immigration.

In the border wall case, much of the money has already been spent and wall constructed. It is unclear what could be done about wall that has already been built if the administration loses, but it could conceivably be torn down. Biden has said he would cease wall construction if elected but would not tear down what was built under Trump’s watch. The court has allowed both policies to continue even after they were held illegal by lower courts, a sign the challengers could face long odds when the justices ultimately decide the cases.

The Trump administration policy known informally as “Remain in Mexico” began in January 2019. It became a key pillar of the administration’s response to an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families from Central American countries at the border, drawing criticism for having people wait in highly dangerous Mexican cities. Lower courts found that the policy is probably illegal. But earlier this year the Supreme Court stepped in to allow the policy to remain in effect while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy. The Justice Department estimated in late February that there were 25,000 people still waiting in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. Those hearings were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement after the high court agreed to take the case, Department of Justice spokeswoman Alexa Vance said the administration is pleased the court agreed to hear the case, calling the program “a critical component of our efforts to manage the immigration crisis on our Southern Border.”

Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the policy, called the policy “illegal and depraved.” “The courts have repeatedly ruled against it, and the Supreme Court should as well,” she said in a statement. The high court also agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling that it improperly diverted money to build portions of the border wall with Mexico.


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