SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Justices reject Houston appeal over benefits for gay spouses

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has declined to step into a case over a Texas high court ruling that says gay spouses may not be entitled to government-subsidized workplace benefits.

The justices' action Monday comes without dissent or comment. It means a Texas court now will have to rule in a lawsuit from social conservatives who want to block spousal benefits for gay city employees in Houston.

The case follows the Supreme Court's 2015 decision extending same-sex marriage nationwide. One issue is whether that ruling means governments must provide the same benefits to all married employees.

Texas' Supreme Court said the justices did not decide that issue.

The Texas court reversed its earlier decision to stay out of the case after coming under pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott and other leading Republicans.


Court declines Alabama case involving jury selection

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't take up a death penalty case from Alabama in which attorneys said African-American jurors were improperly excluded from the jury.

The justices said Monday they would not take the case of Christopher Floyd. Floyd's attorneys have said that the prosecutor in the case marked potential African-American jurors with a "B'' to indicate their race on the jury list and could not give a reason for excluding at least one of the African-Americans he'd objected to from the jury.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a brief statement agreeing with the decision not to take up the case. She said the manner in which the jury was selected "raises serious concerns." But she said the "unusual posture" in which the claims were raised made it unsuitable for review.


Not a final ruling, but justices OK travel ban enforcement

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's not a final ruling, but the Supreme Court is letting the Trump administration fully enforce a ban on travel to the United States by residents of six mostly Muslim countries.

Challenges to the policy are winding through the federal courts, and the justices themselves ultimately are expected to rule on whether the ban is legal. It applies to travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

The justices offered no explanation for their action Monday. The Trump administration had said that blocking the full ban was causing "irreparable harm" because the policy is based on legitimate national security and foreign policy concerns.

The order indicates that the high court might eventually approve the latest version of the ban, announced by President Donald Trump in September. Lower courts have continued to find problems with it.

A presidential spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said the White House was "not surprised" that the court permitted "immediate enforcement of the president's proclamation limiting travel from countries presenting heightened risks of terrorism."

Opponents of this and previous versions of the ban say they show a bias against Muslims. They say that was reinforced most recently by Trump's retweets of anti-Muslim videos.

"President Trump's anti-Muslim prejudice is no secret. He has repeatedly confirmed it, including just last week on Twitter. It's unfortunate that the full ban can move forward for now, but this order does not address the merits of our claims," said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants' Rights Project. The ACLU is representing some opponents of the ban.

Just two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, noted their disagreement with court orders allowing the latest policy to take full effect.

The new policy is not expected to cause the chaos that ensued at airports when Trump rolled out his first ban without warning in January.

For people from the six countries covered by the ban, lower courts had said those with a claim of a "bona fide" relationship with someone in the United States could not be kept out of the country. Grandparents, cousins and other relatives were among those courts said could not be excluded.

The courts were borrowing language the Supreme Court itself came up with last summer to allow partial enforcement of an earlier version of the ban.

Now, those relationships will no longer provide a blanket exemption from the ban, although visa officials can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

In lawsuits filed in Hawaii and Maryland, federal courts said the updated travel ban violated federal immigration law. The travel policy also applies to travelers from North Korea and to some Venezuelan government officials and their families, but the lawsuits did not challenge those restrictions. Also unaffected are refugees. A temporary ban on refugees expired in October.

All the rulings so far have been on a preliminary basis. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, will be holding arguments on the legality of the ban this week.

David Levine, a University of California Hastings law school professor, said that by allowing the ban to take effect just days before the appeals court arguments, the justices were signaling their view.

"I think it's tipping the hand of the Supreme Court," Levine said. "It suggests that from their understanding, the government is more likely to prevail on the merits than we might have thought."

Both appeals courts are dealing with the issue on an accelerated basis, and the Supreme Court noted it expects those courts to reach decisions "with appropriate dispatch."

Quick resolution by appellate courts would allow the Supreme Court to hear and decide the issue this term, by the end of June.

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Associated Press writer Eugene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Published: Wed, Dec 06, 2017

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