U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

High court declines New ­Jersey ­preservation grants case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t hear a case about whether states can exclude religious buildings from getting public money for historic preservation work.

The justices declined Monday to hear the case from New Jersey’s Morris County. In 2002 the county created a historic preservation program and made religious institutions eligible for grants. The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued.

New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution barred the grants to religious institutions.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the justices should address the issue but not until more case law develops following a 2017 Supreme Court decision that a Missouri church couldn’t be excluded from its state’s playground resurfacing program solely because it is a religious institution. Kavanaugh was joined by Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Neil Gorsuch.


Supreme Court rejects Nebraska county appeal over $28M debt

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday from a Nebraska county that has to pay a $28 million court judgment to six people wrongfully convicted for a 1985 slaying.

The justices turned away Gage county’s last-ditch effort to avoid the hefty judgment. The county has been forced to raise property taxes and seek a sales tax increase to help pay the judgment.

The federal appeals court in St. Louis had previously upheld the jury verdict against Gage county, saying it was justified because of egregious law enforcement conduct.

The six people were wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of Helen Wilson. They spent more than 75 years combined in prison until DNA evidence cleared them in 2008. Wilson’s death has since been linked to a former Beatrice, Nebraska, resident who died in 1992. Beatrice is about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southwest of Omaha.

The lawsuit alleged that law enforcement officials recklessly strove to close the case despite contradictory evidence and coerced false confessions. The three people who gave false confessions all had histories of psychological problems. One of the six, Joseph White, died in a workplace accident in Alabama in 2011.

After the first trial ended in a mistrial in 2015, the 8th Circuit ruled that there was substantial evidence to support allegations that Gage County officials conspired to convict the six people. That included evidence that investigators conducted unreported interrogations, ignored verifiable alibis and suggested that three of the six had repressed memories of the crime.