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The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is considering President Joe Biden’s nomination of a Vermont judge who played a role in the state’s passage of the first-in-the-nation civil unions law, a forerunner of same-sex marriage, to become the first openly LGBT woman to serve on any federal circuit court.

At the start of the Tuesday hearing, Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, called the nomination of Beth Robinson, an associate justice on the Vermont Supreme Court, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit “truly historic.” The court’s territory includes Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

“She’s been hailed as a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mode of the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Leahy said as he introduced Robinson. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Beth helped Vermont and America more fully realizing the meaning of equality under the law.”

Robinson helped argue the case that led to Vermont’s 2000 civil unions law. She has served on the Vermont Supreme Court since 2011.

She “has built a reputation for her impartiality, and fair application of the law,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, in his introduction. “She treats people with respect and compassion and she understands the duty of the court to provide equitable justice.”

Robinson told the committee that she would be honored to continue her work promoting the rule of law as a judge on the 2nd circuit.


A retired Navy officer from Rhode Island has been sentenced to serve life in prison for sexually abusing a child for years.

U.S. District Judge John McConnell ordered retired Lt. Cdr. Ronald Zenga to serve the rest of his natural life in federal prison on Friday in Providence federal court, WPRI-TV reports.

Zenga tearfully apologized to the victim and others he’d hurt in court. His lawyer argued for leniency, saying he suffered from mental illness and was capable of rehabilitation.

But the victim’s mother described Zenga as manipulative and incapable of remorse.

Zenga, who had been stationed at the Naval War College in Newport, pleaded guilty to coercion and distributing and possessing child pornography last November. He’d previously pleaded not guilty to eight charges.

Authorities say Zenga used a Russian website to communicate with a law enforcement agent in England, where the case started, to graphically describe an ongoing sexual encounter with a child.

The federal indictment against him showed he had transported the underage victim across state lines and another country for sex over the course of nearly a decade.

Prosecutors say the abuse happened while he was actively serving and continued into his retirement from the Navy in 2017.


The road to a Texas law that bans most abortions in the state, sidestepping for now the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, began in a town called Waskom, population 1,600.

The Supreme Court’s decision this past week not to interfere with the state’s strict abortion law, provoked outrage from liberals and cheers from many conservatives. President Joe Biden assailed it. But the decision also astonished many that Texas could essentially outmaneuver Supreme Court precedent on women’s constitutional right to abortion.

Texas’ abortion law S.B. 8 follows a model first used in Waskom to ban abortion within its boundaries in 2019. The novel legal approach used by the city on Texas’ border with Louisiana is one envisioned by a former top lawyer for the state.

Right to Life East Texas director Mark Lee Dickson, 36, a Southern Baptist minister, championed Waskom’s abortion ban. Through his state senator, Bryan Hughes, he met Jonathan F. Mitchell, a former top lawyer for the state of Texas. Mitchell became his attorney and advised him on crafting the ordinance, Dickson said in an interview.

The ordinance shields Waskom from lawsuits by saying city officials can’t enforce the abortion ban. Instead, private citizens can sue anyone who performs an abortion in the city or assists someone in obtaining one. The law was largely symbolic, however, because the city did not have a clinic performing abortions.

Nearly three dozen other cities in the state followed Waskom’s lead. Among them is Lubbock, where a Planned Parenthood clinic stopped performing abortions this year as a result.

Mitchell has declined interviews, but Dickson called him a “brilliant guy” and said he was “extremely grateful” for his help. Hughes, who later became the author of the Texas law, echoed those sentiments. The two have known each other for years.

Though Hughes would not assign credit for Texas’ approach to a single person, saying many lawyers and law professors advised on the legislation, ultimately S.B. 8 followed the Waskom model in terms of how the law is enforced.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant. At least 12 other states have enacted bans early in pregnancy, but all have been blocked from going into effect.


South Carolina’s highest court on Thursday tossed out a school mask mandate in the state’s capital city, saying it contradicts a state budget measure aimed at preventing face covering requirements.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson had sued the city of Columbia after its City Council passed the ordinance requiring masks at elementary and middle schools. City leaders said the mask requirement, which carries a $100 violation fine, was meant to protect children too young to be approved for the coronavirus vaccine.

But Wilson argued the city’s mask rule conflicts with the budget requirement that went into effect July 1 and bans school districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided unanimously with the attorney general. The Columbia ordinance is written so that the burden of enforcing the mask rule falls on school employees, “all of whom have an obvious connection to state-appropriated funds,” wrote Justice John Kittredge.

That means school employees have to choose between violating state or city laws, the opinion reads.

“The City has made clear that every school employee is in the crosshairs,” Kittredge wrote. “Simply put, whether intentionally or inadvertently, the City threatens all school personnel with far-reaching and unknown legal liability unless all school personnel ensure obedience to the ordinances.”

Attorneys for Columbia had argued days prior that city and school authorities could draw from separate pots of money, such as local funds, to enforce mask-wearing. They also claimed the legislature overstepped constitutional boundaries by putting the mask rule — a policy unrelated to state finances — in the budget, which aims to raise and spend money.


An appellate court in Poland on Monday rejected a lawsuit brought against two Holocaust scholars in a case that has been closely watched because it was expected to serve as a precedent for research into the highly sensitive area of Polish behavior toward Jews during World War II.

Poland is governed by a nationalist conservative party that has sought to promote remembrance of Polish heroism and suffering during the wartime German occupation of the country. The party also believes that discussions of Polish wrongdoing distort the historical picture and are unfair to Poles.

The Appellate Court of Warsaw argued in its explanation that it believed that scholarly research should not be judged by courts. But it appeared not to be the end: a lawyer for the plaintiff said Monday that she would appeal Monday’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

The ruling was welcomed by the two researchers, Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking, who declared it a “great victory” in a Facebook post.

“We greet the verdict with great joy and satisfaction all the more, that this decision has a direct impact on all Polish scholars, and especially on historians of the Holocaust,” they said.

Monday’s ruling comes half a year after a lower court ordered the two researchers to apologize to a woman who claimed that her deceased uncle had been defamed in a historical work they edited and partially wrote, “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland.”

Lawyers for the niece, 81-year-old Filomena Leszczynska, argued that her uncle was a Polish hero who had saved Jews, and that the scholars had harmed her good name and that of her family by suggesting the uncle was also involved in the killing of Jews.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Monika Brzozowska-Pasieka, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that Leszczynska was “astonished” by the judgement and intends to file an appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.


Mississippi judges have the power to delay trials, limit the number of spectators in courtrooms or take other steps to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the leader of the state Supreme Court says in an emergency order.

Chief Justice Michael Randolph issued the order Thursday in response to the rapid spread of illness caused by highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that 97% of new cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi are among people who are unvaccinated.

Randolph’s order said judges may postpone jury trials that are scheduled through Sept. 10. In addition to limiting the number of spectators in courtrooms, judges may require people to wear masks and maintain distance between each other. The order encouraged courts to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing, when possible.

Plea hearings in felony cases must still take place in person, but defendants and others in the courtrooms should wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“Any in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge,” Randolph wrote.


A man who beat an Ottawa woman and then left her to die does not have to register as a sex offender, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Korrey Raine White Rinke was sentenced i n December 2019 to life in prison with a chance of parole in 25 years for the death of Julianna Pappas, 46, of Overland Park, in 2016. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender.

Pappas’ body was found in a park in Overland Park after she had been missing for more than a week.

Prosecutors initially charged him with capital murder and rape and planned to seek the death sentence but Pappas later agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.

The state Supreme Court’s order said Rinke gave investigators differing accounts of whether sex between the two was consensual before Pappas was killed. The justices ruled the state had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Rinke kidnapped and killed Pappas for his sexual gratification, meaning he did not commit a sexually violent crime and was not required under state law to register as a sex offender.


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