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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sounded an alarm about restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, saying they shouldn’t become a “recurring feature after the pandemic has passed.”

“The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” Alito said in an address Thursday to the conservative Federalist Society, which is holding its annual convention virtually because of the pandemic.

Alito noted that he was “not diminishing the severity of the virus’ threat to public health” or saying anything about “whether any of these restrictions represent good public policy.” He cautioned against his words being “twisted or misunderstood.”

But he said it is an “indisputable statement of fact” that “we have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

“Whatever one may think about the COVID restrictions, we surely don’t want them to become a recurring feature after the pandemic has passed,” said Alito, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush.

Alito was particularly critical of two cases earlier this year where the court sided with states that, citing the coronavirus pandemic, imposed restrictions on the size of religious gatherings. In both cases, the court divided 5-4 in allowing those restrictions to continue with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court’s liberals.

In May, the high court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church challenging attendance limits at worship services. The justices turned away a similar challenge by a Nevada church in July. Alito said in both cases the restrictions had “blatantly discriminated against houses of worship” and he warned that “religious liberty is in danger of becoming a second-class right.”

Both cases came to the court before the death in September of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The liberal justice’s replacement by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett could change how the court might come out on similar cases in the future. Currently before the court is a case involving the Catholic church and limits on in-person services in New York.


Republicans suffered setbacks to court challenges over the presidential election in three battleground states on Friday while a law firm that came under fire for its work for President Donald Trump’s campaign withdrew from a major Pennsylvania case.

The legal blows began when a federal appeals court rejected an effort to block about 9,300 mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day in Pennsylvania. The judges noted the “vast disruption” and “unprecedented challenges” facing the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic as they upheld the three-day extension.

Chief U.S. Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith said the panel kept in mind “a proposition indisputable in our democratic process: that the lawfully cast vote of every citizen must count.”

The ruling involves a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to accept mail-in ballots through Friday, Nov. 6, citing the pandemic and concerns about postal service delays.

Republicans have also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue. However, there are not enough late-arriving ballots to change the results in Pennsylvania, given President-elect Joe Biden’s lead. The Democratic former vice president won the state by about 60,000 votes out of about 6.8 million cast.

The Trump campaign or Republican surrogates have filed more than 15 legal challenges in Pennsylvania as they seek to reclaim the state’s 20 electoral votes, but have so far offered no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.

A Philadelphia judge found none as he refused late Friday to reject about 8,300 mail-in ballots there. The campaign has pursued similar litigation in other battleground states, with little to show for it.

In Michigan, a judge Friday refused to stop the certification of Detroit-area election results, rejecting claims the city had committed fraud and tainted the count with its handling of absentee ballots. It’s the third time a judge has declined to intervene in a statewide count that shows Biden up by more than 140,000 votes.

And, in Arizona, a judge dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit seeking the inspection of ballots in metro Phoenix after the campaign’s lawyers acknowledged the small number of ballots at issue wouldn’t change the outcome of how the state voted for president.

The campaign had sought a postponement of Maricopa County’s certification of election results until ballots containing overvotes — instances in which people voted for more candidates than permitted — were inspected.

Meanwhile, legal giant Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, which had come under fire for its work for the Trump campaign, withdrew from a lawsuit that seeks to stop Pennsylvania officials from certifying the election results.


President Donald Trump has repeatedly said there’s one place he wants to determine the outcome of the presidential election: the U.S. Supreme Court. But he may have a difficult time ever getting there.

Over the last two days, Trump has leaned in to the idea that the high court should get involved in the election as it did in 2000. Then, the court effectively settled the contested election for President George W. Bush in a 5-4 decision that split the court’s liberals and conservatives.

Today, six members of the court are conservatives, including three nominated by Trump. But the outcome of this year’s election seemed to be shaping up very differently from 2000, when Florida’s electoral votes delivered the presidency to George W. Bush.

Then, Bush led in Florida and went to court to stop a recount. Trump, for his part, has suggested a strategy that would focus on multiple states where the winning margins appear to be slim. But he might have to persuade the Supreme Court to set aside votes in two or more states to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president.

Chief Justice John Roberts, for his part, is not likely to want the election to come down to himself and his colleagues. Roberts, who was not on the court for Bush v. Gore in 2000 but was a lawyer for Bush, has often tried to distance the court from the political branches of government and the politics he thinks could hurt the court’s reputation.

It’s also not clear what legal issues might cause the justices to step in. Trump has made repeated, unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. Lawsuits filed by his campaign so far have been small-scale efforts unlikely to affect many votes, and some already have been dismissed.

Still, Trump has focused on the high court. In the early morning hours following Election Day he said: “We’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court — we want all voting to stop.” And on Thursday, as Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, Trump again told Americans, “It’s going to end up, perhaps, at the highest court in the land, we’ll see.” On Twitter too he urged, “U.S. Supreme Court should decide!”

There is currently one election case at the Supreme Court and it involves a Republican appeal to exclude ballots that arrived after Election Day in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. But whether or not those ballots ultimately are counted seems unlikely to affect who gets the state’s electoral votes.

Biden opened a narrow lead over Trump on Friday, and any additional mail-in votes probably would help Biden, not the president.

Still, Trump’s campaign is currently trying to intervene in the case, an appeal of a decision by Pennsylvania’s highest court to allow three extra days for the receipt and counting of mailed ballots. Because the case is ongoing, the state’s top election official has directed that the small number of ballots that arrived in that window, before 5 p.m. Friday, be separated but counted. Republicans on Friday asked for a high court order ensuring the ballots are separated, and Justice Samuel Alito, acting on his own, agreed, saying he was motivated in part by the Republicans’ assertion that they can’t be sure elections officials are complying with guidance.


The Supreme Court is agreeing to review a Trump administration policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings.

As is typical, the court did not comment Monday in announcing it would hear the case. Because the court's calendar is already full through the end of the year, the justices will not hear the case until 2021. If Joe Biden were to win the presidential election and rescind the policy, the case would become largely moot.

Trump's “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy, known informally as “Remain in Mexico,” was introduced in January 2019. It became a key pillar of the administration’s response to an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families 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.



WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is set to fight for his freedom in a British court after a decade of legal drama, as he challenges American authorities’ attempt to extradite him on spying charges over the site’s publication of secret U.S. military documents. Lawyers for Assange and the U.S. government are scheduled to face off in London Monday at an extradition hearing that was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

American prosecutors have indicted the 49-year-old Australian on 18 espionage and computer misuse charges adding up to a maximum sentence of 175 years. His lawyers say the prosecution is a politically motivated abuse of power that will stifle press freedom and put journalists at risk.

Assange attorney Jennifer Robinson said the case “is fundamentally about basic human rights and freedom of speech.” “Journalists and whistle-blowers who reveal illegal activity by companies or governments and war crimes – such as the publications Julian has been charged for – should be protected from prosecution,” she said.

American prosecutors say Assange is a criminal, not a free-speech hero. They allege that Assange conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also say he conspired with members of hacking organizations and sought to recruit hackers to provide WikiLeaks with classified information.

“By disseminating the materials in an unredacted form, he likely put people -- human rights activists, journalists, advocates, religious leaders, dissidents and their families -- at risk of serious harm, torture or even death,” James Lewis, a British lawyer acting for the U.S. government, told a hearing in February.

Assange argues he is a journalist entitled to First Amendment protection, and says the leaked documents exposed U.S. military wrongdoing. Among the files released by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

His lawyers argue the prosecution is an abuse of process by a Trump administration that wants to make an example of Assange. They say he would be held in inhuman conditions and would not get a fair trial in the United States.

Journalism organizations and human rights groups have called on Britain to refuse the extradition request. Amnesty International said Assange was “the target of a negative public campaign by U.S. officials at the highest levels.”

“If Julian Assange is prosecuted it could have a chilling effect on media freedom, leading publishers and journalists to self-censor in fear of retaliation,” said Amnesty’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks.

The four-week extradition hearing is part of a twisting saga rife with competing claims of hacking, spying and subterfuge. Assange’s lawyers claim the U.S. intelligence services directed a private security firm to spy on him while he was living in Ecuador’s London embassy -- a case currently being heard in a Spanish court.

Assange also alleges he was offered a pardon by the Trump administration if he agreed to say Russia wasn’t involved in leaking Democratic National Committee emails that were published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. The White House denies that claim.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. He refused to go to Stockholm, saying he feared extradition or illegal rendition to the United States or the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


France called on the United States on Thursday to withdraw sanctions levelled on top officials of the International Criminal Court, saying they are a “grave attack” on the court and put into question the independence of justice.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions on Wednesday against the chief prosecutor of the court, based in The Hague, and a top aide, for investigations into the United States and its allies. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the U.S. or subject to U.S. law and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.

The court is, notably, investigating allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.

The United States has never been party to the court, and Pompeo said the U.S. would not tolerate “its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the sanctions are “a grave attack against the court … and beyond that a questioning of multi-lateralism and the independence of the judiciary. France calls on the United States to withdraw the announced measures.”


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority by appointing a constitutionally ineligible person to the Florida Supreme Court, but the high court said in a ruling Thursday that it won't undo the appointment.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson asked the court to invalidate the appointment of Judge Renatha Francis because the state constitution requires Supreme Court appointees to have served as a member of the Florida Bar for at least 10 years.

The Supreme Court said Thompson is right that Francis was ineligible for the appointment, but said she asked the court for a remedy that was not legally available, and that it would not undo the appointment on its own.

DeSantis appointed Francis on May 26, but said at the time she would not take office until Sept. 24 when she will have been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years. The Supreme Court said that's not how appointments of justices work, and the governor is not able to appoint an ineligible justice and hold the position for a future date.

The governor chooses appointees from a list provided to him by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. Thompson asked the Supreme Court to invalidate Francis's appointment, throw out the list provided by the commission and force the governor to pick an eligible appointee from the new list.

But the court ruled that Thompson waited too long to challenge the list and that the proper remedy would be to have the governor immediately pick an appointee from the original list.

“It is not enough for the Petitioner to establish that the Governor exceeded his authority by appointing Judge Francis. To prevail in this action, the Petitioner also must have sought proper relief. This is where the Petitioner’s case fails,” the court wrote.

Thompson's office did not immediately reply to a phone message and emails seeking comment. DeSantis's office said it was preparing a written statement on the ruling.

If Francis takes her oath next month, she will be the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Florida court.

Francis has served as a circuit court judge since 2017. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult after graduating from the University of the West Indies in 2000. Francis graduated from Florida Coastal Law School in 2010.

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