National Roundup

New Jersey
Judge: Requiring more parking for mosque is unconstitutional

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — An upscale New Jersey town violated anti-discrimination laws by insisting that a proposed mosque have more parking spaces than churches or synagogues because of its unique worship times and traditions, a federal judge has ruled.
The ruling issued Saturday by U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp stated that Bernards Township violated the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act by applying a different standard to Muslims.

Shipp found the township’s planning board had “unbridled and unconstitutional discretion” because of its vague parking requirements.

The Islamic Society’s application to build the mosque was denied after more than three years and 39 public hearings. The group sued the township in March.

The Islamic Society’s attorney, Adeel Mangi, had argued that parking requirements were the tool municipalities used to thwart construction of mosques.

“This truly is a landmark ruling with national impact,” Mangi told NJ.com.

Bernards Mayor Carol Bianchi issued a statement criticizing the judge’s ruling. The town had argued that it was completely appropriate to insist a mosque provide more off-street parking than a comparably sized church or synagogue because of its unique worship times and traditions.

“The Township vehemently disagrees with the court’s decision and awaits a full analysis of the 57-page decision by its attorneys, who only learned of the decision on New Year’s Day,” the statement said. “The Township will consider how to best move forward including appealing the decision when ripe for appeal.”

The mosque has said its peak worship time was likely Friday afternoon prayers. Township planners determined that because congregants would most likely be arriving straight from work, every worshipper would require a parking space.

Shipp, though, noted that the township had not conducted individual assessments of worship habits when churches or synagogues came before its boards. By its own admission, the town applied a different standard to Muslims, he wrote.

Shipp did not take into account the sentiments expressed in emails from township officials that were revealed in documents filed in the case, Mangi noted. In those, officials disparaged the Islamic Society’s president, former mayor Mohammed Ali Chaudry, and passed around jokes calling President Barack Obama a Muslim.


New York
Trump names lawyer Lighthizer as top trade rep

NEW YORK (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday he will nominate lawyer Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative, picking an experienced trade official who has questioned the conservative movement’s commitment to free trade.

Lighthizer, who served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, would play a key role in Trump’s trade agenda. The president-elect has vigorously opposed the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, but has said he would ink one-on-one trade deals with individual countries. Trump has also signaled a tough stance on trade with China, including levying a hefty tariff on Chinese imports.

Lighthizer, who played a senior role during Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign, has more recently worked on trade issues as a lawyer, representing manufacturing, agricultural and high-tech companies, according to his law firm biography. Lighthizer’s bio also states that he focused on “market-opening trade actions on behalf of U.S. companies seeking access to foreign markets.”

Yet in 2008, he openly questioned GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s commitment to free trade in a New York Times opinion article.

“Mr. McCain may be a conservative. But his unbridled free-trade policies don’t help make that case,” Lighthizer wrote at the time, suggesting that free trade had long been popular among liberals.

“Moreover, many American conservatives have opposed free trade. Jesse Helms, the most outspoken conservative in the Senate for three decades, was no free trader. Neither was Alexander Hamilton, who could be considered the founder of American conservatism,” he wrote.

Trump has already signaled that he plans to spread work on his trade policies beyond USTR. His transition team has said billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee to head the Commerce Department, will play a lead role on trade. The president-elect has also named economist Peter Navarro to a newly created White House National Trade Council.

Trump indicated Tuesday that Lighthizer would work “in close coordination” with Ross and Navarro.

Lighthizer declared his allegiance to Trump’s approach on trade.

Pennsylvania
Suspect in slaying of trooper texted  he was the killer

A police affidavit says the suspect in the killing of a Pennsylvania state trooper sent a text afterward to his son’s mother, apologizing and acknowledging he had shot the officer twice in the head.

The arrest warrant made public Tuesday said 32-year-old Jason Robison was being investigated for violating a protective order when he told Trooper Landon Weaver he didn’t want to go back to jail.

The document says Robison’s mother saw him pull a gun from his pants and heard a shot before seeing Weaver fall face-down in the family’s home in Hesston on Friday.

The text from Robison says he “killed the cop.”

Police say Robison was tracked to an unoccupied mobile home nearby and was fatally shot by police Saturday after he refused orders and made threats.

California
Crane operator charged in deaths of son, worker

WOODLAND, Calif. (AP) — A crane operator faces trial on manslaughter charges in the 2014 deaths of his son and another worker at a Northern California bridge construction site.

Mark Powell was arraigned last month in Yolo County Superior Court on charges of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Marcus Zane Powell, 25, and pile driver Glenn Allen Hodgson, 49, The Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.

The two men plunged 80 feet to their deaths May 30, 2014 when the basket carrying them broke free from a crane that was not certified for lifting, according to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Mark Powell was operating the crane to repair another crane being used as a drill rig in the construction of the Winters Road Bridge over Putah Creek that connects Yolo and Solano counties.

Disney Construction Inc., based in Burlingame, California, was fined more than $100,000 for workplace violations for the fatal incident.

Powell also faces two felony counts of violating occupational safety or health standards causing death.

He was scheduled to return to a Woodland courtroom Feb. 28 for a trial-setting conference.

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