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Alaska discriminated against some same-sex spouses for years in wrongfully denying them benefits by claiming their unions were not recognized even after courts struck down same-sex marriage bans, court documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check paid to nearly all Alaska residents denied a dividend for same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014, and the Supreme Court legalized the unions nationwide in June 2015, the documents show.

In one email from July 2019, a same-sex spouse living out-of-state with his military husband was denied a check because “unfortunately the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize same sex marriage yet,” employee Marissa Requa wrote to a colleague, ending the sentence with a frown face emoji.

This Permanent Fund Dividend Division practice continued until Denali Smith, who was denied benefits appealed and asked the state to start including her lawyer in its correspondence.

Smith later sued the state, seeking an order declaring that state officials violated the federal court decision and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process

Smith and the state on Wednesday settled the lawsuit. Alaska admitted denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of the permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision. The state also vowed to no longer use the outdated state law, to deny military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and updated enforcement regulations.

There were no financial terms to the settlement. In fact, Smith had to pay $400 out of pocket to file the federal lawsuit to get her oil check, and her attorney worked pro bono.

In Alaska, the oil wealth check is seen as an entitlement that people use to buy things like new TVs or snowmobiles, fund college savings accounts or, in rural Alaska, weather high heating and food costs. The nest-egg fund, seeded with oil money, has grown into billions of dollars. A portion traditionally goes toward the checks, but the amount varies. Last year, nearly every single resident received $992. The year before, the amount was $1,606.

About 800 pages of emails provided by the state for the lawsuit show a clear misunderstanding or outright disregard of the 2014 precedent and reluctance to reach out to the attorney general’s office for guidance.




A federal judge refused Thursday to set bail for a Texas man who was wearing a T-shirt that said, “I Was There, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021,” when he was arrested on charges he stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

U.S. Judge Carl Nichols ordered Garret Miller to remain jailed pending trial, concluding the Dallas man poses a danger to the community.

Miller didn’t give a statement to the law enforcement officers who arrested him at his home two weeks after the riots, prosecutors said. But they noted he was wearing a T-shirt that had a photograph of former President Donald Trump, and it said “Take America Back” and “I Was There, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021.”

Prosecutors presented a photograph of Miller wearing the shirt during an earlier hearing for his case and cited it in a court filing seeking his pretrial detention.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Kelley said Miller has shown a troubling “lack of respect for any authority.”

“Ï think it’s safe to say that nobody who entered the Capitol that day showed any respect for authority, so I don’t credit that argument very much,” countered defense attorney F. Clinton Broden. He conceded Miller entered the Capitol that day but said his client didn’t engage in any violence.

On a recorded call immediately after his arrest, Miller told his mother, “I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong and now I’m being locked up,” according to prosecutors.

Like many of the more than 300 people facing federal charges in connection with the siege, Miller thoroughly documented and commented on his actions that day in a flurry of social media posts.

After Miller posted a selfie showing himself inside the Capitol building, another Facebook user wrote, “bro you got in?! Nice!” Miller replied, “just wanted to incriminate myself a little lol,” prosecutors said.



A U.S. appeals court sided with a photographer Friday in her copyright dispute over how a foundation has marketed a series of Andy Warhol works of art based on her pictures of Prince.

The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the artwork created by Warhol before his 1987 death was not transformative and could not overcome obligations to photographer Lynn Goldsmith’s copyright protections. It returned the case to a lower court for further proceedings.

Warhol created a series of 16 artworks based on a 1981 picture of Prince that was taken by Goldsmith, a pioneering photographer known for portraits of famous musicians. The series contained 12 silkscreen paintings, two screen prints on paper and two drawings.

“Crucially, the Prince Series retains the essential elements of the Goldsmith Photograph without significantly adding to or altering those elements,” the 2nd Circuit said in a decision written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch.

The decision overturned a 2019 ruling by a Manhattan judge who concluded that Warhol’s renderings were so different from Goldsmith’s photograph that they transcended Goldsmith’s copyrights.

U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl in Manhattan had concluded that Warhol transformed a picture of a vulnerable and uncomfortable Prince into an artwork that made the singer an “iconic, larger-than-life figure.”

In 1984, Vanity Fair licensed one of Goldsmith’s black-and-white studio portraits of Prince from her December 1981 shoot for $400 and commissioned Warhol to create an illustration of Prince for an article titled “Purple Fame.”

The dispute emerged after Prince’s 2016 death, when the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts licensed the use of Warhol’s Prince series for use in a magazine commemorating Prince’s life. One of Warhol’s creations was on the cover of the May 2016 magazine.

Goldsmith claimed that the publication of the Warhol artwork destroyed a high-profile licensing opportunity.

Attorney Luke Nikas said the Warhol Foundation will challenge the ruling.

“Over fifty years of established art history and popular consensus confirms that Andy Warhol is one of the most transformative artists of the 20th Century,” Nikas said in a statement. “While the Warhol Foundation strongly disagrees with the Second Circuit’s ruling, it does not change this fact, nor does it change the impact of Andy Warhol’s work on history.”

Attorney Barry Werbin said Goldsmith, his client, was “beyond happy and very grateful to everyone who helped get to this day.”

“Apart from being ecstatic as to the result, in my view it’s a long overdue reeling in of what had become an overly-expansive application of copyright “transformative” fair use,” Werbin said in an email.

“The decision helps vindicate the rights of photographers who risk having their works misappropriated for commercial use by famous artists under the guise of fair use,” he added.

The three-judge 2nd Circuit panel said it hoped its ruling would bring more clarity to copyright law. It repeatedly compared the copyright issues to what occurs when books are made into movies. The movie, it noted, is often quite different from the book but yet retains copyright obligations.

The appeals court also said the unique nature of Warhol’s art should have no bearing on whether the artwork is sufficiently transformative to be deemed “fair use” of a copyright, a legal term that would free an artist from paying licensing fees for the raw material it was based on.

“We feel compelled to clarify that it is entirely irrelevant to this analysis that “each Prince Series work is immediately recognizable as a ‘Warhol,’” the appeals court said. “Entertaining that logic would inevitably create a celebrity-plagiarist privilege; the more established the artist and the more distinct that artist’s style, the greater leeway that artist would have to pilfer the creative labors of others.”


Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton announced Friday that he is stepping down on July 1.

Melton said in a statement that he doesn’t yet know what he’ll do next, but that he is exploring opportunities “for the next season of life that will allow me to best serve our legal community and my extended family.”

Melton, 54, was appointed to the state’s highest court in 2005 by former Gov. Sonny Perdue. He became chief justice in 2018.

He is leaving in the middle of his judicial term, and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint a replacement.

Melton is currently the only African American serving on the Georgia Supreme Court. In recent months, Melton has grappled with the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on state courts. He has been renewing a declaration of judicial emergency every 30 days that limits what court cases can be conducted in person, leading to a backlog of cases.

Melton’s statement said the court “is well-positioned to continue the high calling that has clearly been set before us. I have such a peace and confidence that justice will continue to be served.”



Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is praising federal courts nationwide for their flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging in his annual year-end report the role technology has played in keeping courts running.

The high court has in the past been slow to embrace technology, but the justices conducted their first arguments by phone in May because of the pandemic and allowed the world to listen live, an unprecedented step. Other courts around the country have held video and audio hearings. Roberts did not speculate in his report whether changes made as a result of the pandemic would have a lasting impact or when the high court might resume-in person sessions.

At least some justices have received the first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, however, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in an email Thursday in response to a question from The Associated Press. Officials have said the justices are being provided with doses of the coronavirus vaccine under a directive by President Donald Trump that established continuity of government as a reason for vaccine prioritization.

“Although we look forward to returning to normal sittings in our Courtroom, we have been able to stay current in our work. Other appellate courts around the country have responded with similar considered flexibility,” Roberts wrote in the seven-page report released Thursday evening.



On this, even President Donald Trump’s most fevered critics agree: he has left a deep imprint on the federal courts that will outlast his one term in office for decades to come.

He used the promise of conservative judicial appointments to win over Republican skeptics as a candidate. Then as president, he relied on outside conservative legal organizations and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to employ an assembly line-like precision to install more than 230 judges on the federal bench, including the three newest justices of the Supreme Court. Trump never tired of boasting about it.

Indeed, undeterred by Democratic criticism, the Senate was still confirming judges more than a month after Trump lost his reelection bid to Joe Biden.

“Trump has basically done more than any president has done in a single term since (President Jimmy) Carter to put his stamp on the judiciary,” said Jonathan Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, adding that Congress created around 150 new judgeships during Carter’s presidency.

The impact will be enduring. Among the Trump-appointed judges, who hold lifetime positions, several are still in their 30s. The three Supreme Court picks could still be on the court at the 21st century’s midpoint, 30 years from now.

Beyond the Supreme Court, 30 percent of the judges on the nation’s court of appeals, where all but a handful of cases reach their end, were appointed by Trump.

But numbers don’t tell the entire story. The real measure of what Trump has been able to do will be revealed in countless court decisions in the years to come on abortion, guns, religious rights and a host of other culture wars issues.

When it came to the president’s own legal challenges of the election results, however, judges who have him to thank for their position rebuffed his claims. But in many other important ways, his success with judicial appointments already is paying dividends for conservatives.

When the Supreme Court blocked New York from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues in areas designated as hard hit by COVID-19, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the court, cast the decisive fifth vote. Previously, the court had allowed restrictions on religious services over the dissent of four justices, including the other two Trump nominees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Five Trump appointees were in the majority of the 6-4 decision by the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September that made it harder for felons in Florida to regain the right to vote. The Atlanta-based court had a majority of Democratic-appointed judges when Trump took office.



The Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit backed by President Donald Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory, ending a desperate attempt to get legal issues rejected by state and federal judges before the nation’s highest court and subvert the will of voters.

Trump bemoaned the decision late Friday, tweeting: “The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!”

The high court’s order earlier Friday was a stark repudiation of a legal claim that was widely regarded as dubious, yet embraced by the president, 19 Republican state attorneys general and 126 House Republicans.

Trump had insisted the court would find the “wisdom” and “courage” to adopt his baseless position that the election was the product of widespread fraud and should be overturned. But the nation’s highest court emphatically disagreed.

Friday’s order marked the second time this week that the court had rebuffed Republican requests that it get involved in the 2020 election outcome and reject the voters’ choice, as expressed in an election regarded by both Republican and Democratic officials as free and fair. The justices turned away an appeal from Pennsylvania Republicans on Tuesday.

On Monday, the Electoral College meets to formally elect Biden as the next president. Trump had called the lawsuit filed by Texas against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin “the big one” that would end with the Supreme Court undoing Biden’s substantial Electoral College majority and allowing Trump to serve another four years in the White House.

In a brief order, the court said Texas does not have the legal right to sue those states because it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, who have said previously the court does not have the authority to turn away lawsuits between states, said they would have heard Texas’ complaint. But they would not have done as Texas wanted — setting aside those four states’ 62 electoral votes for Biden — pending resolution of the lawsuit.

Trump complained that “within a flash,” the lawsuit was “thrown out and gone, without even looking at the many reasons it was brought. A Rigged Election, fight on!”

Three Trump appointees sit on the high court. In his push to get the most recent of his nominees, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, confirmed quickly, Trump said she would be needed for any post-election lawsuits. Barrett appears to have participated in both cases this week. None of the Trump appointees noted a dissent in either case.

The four states sued by Texas had urged the court to reject the case as meritless. They were backed by another 22 states and the District of Columbia.

Republican support for the lawsuit and its call to throw out millions of votes in four battleground states was rooted in baseless claims of fraud, an extraordinary display of the party’s willingness to countermand the will of voters. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana were among those joining to support the action.

“The Court has rightly dismissed out of hand the extreme, unlawful and undemocratic GOP lawsuit to overturn the will of millions of American voters,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday night.

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