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The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can clean up their voting rolls by targeting people who haven't cast ballots in a while.

The justices rejected, by a 5-4 vote Monday, arguments in a case from Ohio that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. A handful of other states also use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

Justice Samuel Alito said for the court that Ohio is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues. The four liberal justices dissented.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible. The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. postal service list of people who have reported a change of address. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

So the state asks people who haven't voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

"Combined with the two years of nonvoting before notice is sent, that makes a total of six years of nonvoting before removal," Alito wrote.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in dissent, said the 1993 law prohibits removing someone from the voting rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote. In my view, Ohio's program does just that."

In a separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Congress enacted the voter registration law "against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters." The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against," Sotomayor wrote.


Trump administration attorneys defended the disputed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline in federal court on Thursday against environmentalists and Native American groups that want to derail the project.

President Barack Obama rejected the 1,179-mile (1,800-kilometer) line proposed by TransCanada Corporation in 2015 because of its potential to exacerbate climate change.

President Donald Trump revived the project soon after taking office last year, citing its potential to create jobs and advance energy independence.

Environmentalists and Native American groups sued to stop the line and asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to halt the project. They and others, including landowners, are worried about spills that could foul groundwater and the pipeline's impacts to their property rights.

Morris did not immediately rule following a four-hour Thursday hearing in federal court in Great Falls.

U.S. government attorneys asserted that Trump's change in course from Obama's focus on climate change reflected a legitimate shift in policy, not an arbitrary rejection of previous studies of the project.

"While the importance of climate change was considered, the interests of energy security and economic development outweighed those concerns," the attorneys recently wrote.

Morris previously rejected a bid by the administration to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Trump had constitutional authority over the pipeline as a matter of national security.

Keystone XL would cost an estimated $8 billion. It would begin in Alberta and transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines to carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Federal approval is required because the route crosses an international border.

TransCanada, based in Calgary, said in court submissions that the pipeline would operate safely and help reduce U.S. reliance on crude from the Middle East and other regions.

The project is facing a separate legal challenge in Nebraska, where landowners have filed a lawsuit challenging the Nebraska Public Service Commission's decision to approve a route through the state.



Winona County, Minnesota's only county to ban the mining of silica sand for use by the oil and gas industry in hydraulic fracturing, goes to court Monday to defend the ban.

Minnesota Sands LLC, which holds extensive mineral rights in southeastern Minnesota, is challenging the legality before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Here's a look at the ban and key issues before a three-judge panel:

The Winona County Board adopted the ban in 2016 after public hearings that drew large crowds. The Land Stewardship Project spearheaded a 17-month grassroots campaign, citing risks to public health, air and water; damage to the scenic landscape of southeastern Minnesota; the impact on roads from heavy truck traffic and the loss of farmland.

Minnesota Sands LLC sued, arguing it was an unconstitutional restraint on interstate commerce and it made worthless the company's mineral rights leases on nearly 2,000 acres of land in the county. The company says the silica sand there is worth between $3.6 billion and $5.8 billion. Winona County District Judge Mary Leahy rejected those arguments last November, so the company appealed.



The Michigan Supreme Court has turned down an appeal in a dispute over exotic pigs in the Upper Peninsula.

A Marquette County judge in 2016 said 10 pigs violated state restrictions on Russian boars and should be destroyed. The appeals court affirmed that decision, and the Supreme Court won't intervene.

The Department of Natural Resources designated Russian boars and other exotic swine as an invasive species. The state says they've escaped from hunting ranches and small farms and ravaged the environment.

Lawyers for game ranch owner Greg Johnson of Negaunee Township say the pigs can be traced to domestic breeds.




North Carolina's highest court says dance instructors who glided away to a competing dance studio can still be sued by the employer who wrangled the foreign-born pair's permission to work in the United States.

Happy Dance Inc. studio owner Michael Krawiec said Wednesday he's not yet discussed with his lawyer how to proceed after last week's ruling by the state Supreme Court.

The court decided breach of contract and other claims can continue against two dance instructors from Bosnia and Serbia, but the Charlotte studio that hired them away is largely out of the woods.

U.S. dance studios face a chronic search for instructors and have filled the gap by importing foreign workers from Eastern Europe and other countries where learning to waltz or tango is part of growing up.


A federal appeals court says a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired his gun in Texas and fatally wounded a teenager across the Mexican border cannot be sued by the teen's family.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in the case of 15-year-old Sergio Adrian Hernandez. He was killed by agent Jesus Mesa  in 2010. The Justice Department has said Mesa was trying to stop illegal border crossings and fired after he came under a barrage of rocks.

The appeals court voted 13-2 to uphold a federal district judge's dismissal of the family's claims. The case involved questions of whether and when constitutional rights afforded American citizens extend to non-citizens outside the nation's boundaries.

The appellate court majority said the case involved issues of diplomacy and national security.



The South Carolina Supreme Court is questioning how a county is spending transportation tax money.

The court said Wednesday the state revenue department did not have the authority to withhold payments to Richland County.

But the justices also said the revenue department's request for an injunction preventing the county from spending the money should have been approved.

The Supreme Court said a lower court judge should require the county to establish safeguards to make sure the money is spent only on transportation-related projects and some administrative costs.

The high court said the lower court judge could also order the county to repay any previous improper spending.

A county spokeswoman said the ruling is being reviewed by its attorneys.


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