National Roundup

Court tosses ruling against COVID-19 measures

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court has dismissed a judge’s ruling that threw out Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping COVID-19 restrictions, saying the issue is now moot because statewide mitigation measures have expired and Pennsylvania voters have since constrained a governor’s emergency powers.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that since Wolf’s stay-at-home order, limits on crowd size and business closures are no longer in effect, there is “consequently no relief that this court can grant.”

The Philadelphia-based appeals court also noted that Pennsylvania voters in May approved amendments to the state constitution that give lawmakers much more power over disaster declarations.

Wednesday’s order instructed U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV to vacate his nearly year-old ruling that Wolf’s pandemic restrictions were overreaching and arbitrary and violated citizens’ constitutional rights. The appeals court had previously put the ruling on hold while the Wolf administration appealed.

Stickman, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, had sided with plaintiffs that included hair salons, drive-in movie theaters, a farmer’s market vendor, a horse trainer and several Republican officeholders in their lawsuit against Wolf, a Democrat, and his health secretary.

Writing separately, 3rd Circuit Judge Kent Jordan said that while he agreed with the majority that the case is legally moot, he noted the Wolf administration has said the constitutional amendments do not affect a state health secretary’s disease-prevention authority to issue mask-wearing and stay-at-home orders or shut down schools and nonessential businesses.

At the same time, Wolf administration officials have said they have no intention of restoring statewide mitigation measures, even as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has led to rising infections and hospitalizations.

Jordan also stressed the court was not ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs’ case. The decision, he wrote, “should not be read as reflecting a lack of appreciation for the feelings generated by this case, nor as indicating a failure to understand that there are real-world consequences flowing from governmental responses to the unprecedented (at least in our lifetime) pandemic we are yet working our way through.”

Rhode Island
Charges in battle over panhandling ordinance tossed

A yearslong legal battle over attempts by Rhode Island’s second-largest city to ban panhandling is coming to a close with the dismissal of charges against six advocates for the homeless who were ticketed four years ago for protesting the ordinance that opponents said was unconstitutional.

The cases against the advocates charged in Cranston in 2017 will be officially dismissed during a court hearing on Thursday, the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights Defense Committee said in a statement Wednesday.

“This outcome represents a significant success in ensuring that people can exercise their free speech rights to meet their survival needs,” Megan Smith, one of the people charged, said. “I hope that this outcome — and the monetary cost associated with it — dissuades other municipalities from enacting measures like this one, which are cruel, short-sighted, and based on stereotypes and political rhetoric, not facts.”

She added that instead of criminalizing homelessness, cities should focus on creating affordable housing.

Steven Paiva, a spokesperson for Cranston Mayor Kenneth Hopkins, confirmed that the charges were being dismissed and pointed out that they were brought in 2017 under a previous mayor’s administration, but said the city would have no further comment.

The legal fight dates to 2015 when Cranston passed an ordinance to stop people from standing on city streets to ask for money from the occupants of motor vehicles. The city agreed to settle an American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island lawsuit challenging that ban and to stop enforcing it.

The city passed a similar but more narrowly tailored ordinance in 2017 that supporters said was to ensure safety on city streets. To challenge it, the six advocates took to a busy intersection during rush hour to distribute flyers and panhandle and were handed $85 tickets for engaging in “roadway solicitation.”

The ACLU also challenged that ordinance, saying it violated the First Amendment, and pointing out that it also prevented other longstanding activities such as firefighters’ “fill the boot” campaigns and youth sports teams collecting donations.

That lawsuit was settled in April, when a federal judge entered a consent judgment declaring the ordinance unconstitutional and barring the city from enforcing it. As part of the settlement, the city paid the ACLU $140,000 for legal fees.

Judge dismisses defamation claim against Roy Moore campaign

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A judge in Alabama has dismissed a defamation claim against Roy Moore’s unsuccessful Senate campaign that was filed by a woman who accused Moore of molesting her decades ago when she was 14.

The case against Moore, which arose from his losing 2018 bid for the U.S. Senate, is continuing and is set for trial this fall.

Montgomery Circuit Judge John E. Rochester last week ruled that Leigh Corfman did not prove that campaign staff and volunteers knowingly made false statements or acted with reckless disregard for the truth, as they denied the misconduct claims in the midst of the 2018 race.

The judge also ruled that Corfman was a limited-purpose public figure, a status that makes a defamation claim harder to prove.

Corfman is among several women who said Moore pursued sexual and romantic relationships with them decades ago when they were teens and he was a prosecutor in his 30s. Moore, an outspoken Christian conservative and former state Supreme Court judge, denied the  accusations but the claims became a central issue in the 2018 Senate campaign. Moore lost the race to Democrat Doug Jones.

Corfman’s lawsuit contended that Moore and his campaign defamed her and made false statements such as calling her a liar and immoral.

 Moore issued a statement praising the decision to dismiss the defamation claim against his campaign and knocking the news media for not reporting it earlier.

“The court has finally recognized what we knew all along. My campaign for U.S. Senate has in no way defamed plaintiff Leigh Corfman. We look forward to proving in open court, before a jury, her political motivation for making false allegations in my Senate campaign,” Moore stated.

While Moore’s campaign has been dismissed from the lawsuit, Moore has not.

Neil Roman, an attorney with a law firm representing Corfman, confirmed that that case will continue against Moore.

“Mr. Moore has always been the main event,” Roman said.

Moore’s attorneys have argued that there was no defamation and that Moore had a First Amendment right to defend himself.