SUPREME COURT NOTEBOOK

Court declines Alaska militia leader's appeal

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a former Fairbanks militia leader convicted of conspiring to kill federal officials.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports Schaeffer Cox's appeal was among the more than 150 petitions to the court rejected without explanation Monday.

Cox, an advocate for gun rights and the anti-government sovereign citizen ideology, was convicted of nine felonies by an Anchorage jury in 2012. The charges included conspiracy to murder federal officials, solicitation to murder federal officials and charges of owning and conspiring to own illegal weapons.

A federal appeals court overturned the murder solicitation conviction but upheld his other convictions last year.

Cox is serving a 26-year prison term but is scheduled to be resentenced based on the federal appeals court ruling.

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Justices OK retroactive application of divorce law

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is siding with a man's children over his ex-wife in a dispute about who should get more than $180,000 in life insurance proceeds.

The justices ruled on Monday in a case involving the breakup of Mark Sveen and Kaye Melin. When the Minnesota residents divorced in 2007 they didn't specify who should be the beneficiary of his life insurance policy.

A 2002 Minnesota law says that when a couple divorces, the ex-spouse gets automatically removed as the life insurance beneficiary.

But after Sveen's 2011 death Melin argued she should get the money, not Sveen's two children from a previous marriage. Melin argued the law couldn't apply to the policy because it was purchased before the law was written. The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against her.

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Ohio, other state voter purges allowed

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - States can target people who haven't cast ballots in a while in efforts to purge their voting rolls, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case that has drawn wide attention amid stark partisan divisions and the approach of the 2018 elections.

By a 5-4 vote that split the conservative and liberal justices, the court rejected arguments in a case from Ohio that the practice violates a federal law intended to increase the ranks of registered voters. A handful of other states also use voters' inactivity to trigger processes that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

Justice Samuel Alito said for the court that Ohio is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues in an opinion that drew praise from Republican officials and conservative scholars.

President Donald Trump hailed the ruling from Singapore on Tuesday, tweeting: "Just won big Supreme Court decision on Voting! Great News!"

The four liberal justices dissented, and civil rights groups and some Democrats warned that more Republican-led states could enact voter purges similar to Ohio's.

Ohio is of particular interest nationally because it is one of the larger swing states in the country with the potential to determine the outcome of presidential elections. But partisan fights over ballot access are playing out across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Ohio's contested voter purge stems from an inoffensive requirement in federal law that states have to make an effort to keep their voter rolls in good shape by removing people who have moved or died.

But Ohio pursues its goal more aggressively than most, relying on two things: voter inactivity over six years encompassing three federal elections and the failure to return a card, sent after the first missed election, asking people to confirm that they have not moved and continue to be eligible to vote.

Voters who return the card or show up to vote over the next four years after they receive it remain registered. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

The case hinged on a provision of the voter registration law that prohibits removing someone from the voting rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote."

Alito said that the two factors show that Ohio "does not strike any registrant solely by reason of the failure to vote."

Justice Stephen Breyer, countered in his dissent: "In my view, Ohio's program does just that." Breyer said many people received mailings that they discard without looking at them. Failure to return the notice "shows nothing at all that is statutorily significant," he wrote.

In a separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Congress enacted the voter registration law "against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters." The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against," Sotomayor wrote.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, called the case "a close question of statutory interpretation." Hasen said the lawsuit the court resolved Monday did not involve allegations of discrimination against minority voters, and he suggested the laws in Ohio and other states could be vulnerable to a legal challenge on those grounds.

Civil rights groups said the court should be focused on making it easier for people to vote, not allowing states to put up roadblocks to casting ballots.

"With the midterm election season now underway, the court's ruling demands heightened levels of vigilance as we anticipate that officials will read this ruling as a green light for loosely purging the registration rolls in their community," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Ohio has used voters' inactivity to trigger the removal process since 1994, although groups representing voters did not sue the Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, until 2016. As part of the lawsuit, a judge last year ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls.

Husted called the decision "a victory for electoral integrity." He is running for lieutenant governor this November on the Republican ticket headed by Mike DeWine, the current attorney general.

Adding to the tension in the case, the Trump administration reversed the position taken by the Obama administration and backed Ohio's method for purging voters.

Last week, Trump said he would nominate Eric Murphy, the Ohio lawyer who argued the case on the state's behalf, to a seat on the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.

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Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.

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Tie favors Indian tribes in Washington state

By Phuong Le
Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state must restore salmon habitat by removing barriers that block fish migration after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday left in place a lower court order.

The justices divided 4-4 in the long-running dispute that pits the state against Northwest Indian tribes and the federal government. The tie serves to affirm a lower court ruling.

Justice Anthony Kennedy stepped aside from the case because he participated in an earlier stage when he served on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

At issue is whether the state must pay billions to fix or replace hundreds of culverts - large pipes that allow streams to pass beneath roads but can block migrating salmon if they become clogged or if they're too steep to navigate.

Leaders of several western Washington tribes cheered the decision Monday, calling it a victory that affirms their treaty rights while protecting salmon central to their way of life.

Jay Julius, chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council, said it was a win for treaty rights, river rights and salmon.

"This is not just about tribes' treaty right to fish, but also the inherent right to harvest from a plentiful, healthy supply of salmon," he said in a statement.

Lorraine Loomis, chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, said the decision would "open hundreds of miles of high quality salmon habitat that will produce hundreds of thousands more salmon annually for harvest by Indians and non-Indians."

The Supreme Court in April heard the state's appeal of a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court affirmed a lower court order in 2013 requiring the state to fix or replace hundreds of the highest-priority culverts within 17 years.

Washington has argued that its treaties with the tribes created no obligation to restore salmon habitat. It said the ruling would force it to perform work that wouldn't benefit salmon because other barriers may completely block fish, and it would also make the state's taxpayers responsible for fixing problems created by the federal government when it specified the design for the state's old highway culverts.

"It is unfortunate that Washington state taxpayers will be shouldering all the responsibility for the federal government's faulty culvert design," state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.

He said salmon can't reach many state culverts because they are blocked by culverts owned by others, such as counties and the federal government.

"The Legislature has a big responsibility in front of it to ensure the state meets its obligation under the court's ruling," Ferguson said.

In seeking a Supreme Court review, Ferguson was at odds with other state officials, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.

"For some time now I've hoped that instead of litigation we could focus together on our ongoing work to restore salmon habitat," Inslee said.

"It is time to stop fighting over who should do what," Franz said.

The U.S. government sued Washington in 2001 on behalf of the 21 tribes to force it to replace the culverts with structures that allow fish to pass through. Because the pipes block salmon from reaching their spawning grounds, they deprive the tribes of fishing rights guaranteed by treaty, the lawsuit said.

In 2013, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez ordered Washington to fix or replace more than 1,000 culverts blocking access to 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) of salmon habitat. He also set a deadline of 2030 for the high-priority barriers.

By next year, the state transportation department would have spent $200 million to fix 66 high-priority culverts with about 425 remaining, said Paul Wagner, who heads that agency's fish passage program.

"It will be a big victory for fisheries," said Bob Anderson, a law professor and director the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington.

He said that since 1905, the court has consistently upheld the tribal position that they have a right to a fair share of the salmon, and implied rights that go along with that. "This case is a logical extension of those prior decisions."

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee, said Monday's ruling was "a forcing function to double down on every level to re-prioritize our approach to salmon."

Carlyle said that while he doesn't think the Legislature needs an immediate special session to address the ruling, work will be done ahead of the next legislative session that begins in January.

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AP writers Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C., and Rachel La Corte in Olympia contributed.

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Court won't get involved in Wrigley Field dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court is leaving in place a court decision dismissing a lawsuit filed against the Chicago Cubs by the owners of rooftop clubs adjacent to Wrigley Field.

Skybox on Sheffield and Lakeview Baseball Club sued the Cubs in 2015, arguing in part that a right-field video board the team was adding would block their views of the ballpark and violate terms of a 2004 revenue-sharing agreement.

A federal judge dismissed the case. Judge Virginia Kendall said the board was allowed because the agreement allowed "any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities."

A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in September upheld the decision to dismiss the case. The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case, leaving the lower court decisions in place.

The Cubs said Monday that they were "thrilled" the Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

"The opposition of rooftop owners and local aldermen to Wrigley Field renovations has unfortunately cost the team time and energy to refute allegations we understood from the beginning were meritless," the team said in a statement.

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Condemned killer of boy, 9, loses appeal

HOUSTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review the appeal of a Houston man on death row for the 1992 slaying of a 9-year-old boy.

The justices offered no comment Monday in rejecting the case of 58-year-old Perry Allen Austin.

Austin was serving a 30-year term for sexual assault on a child when he pleaded guilty in April 2002 to capital murder for injecting David Kazmouz with a pain killer and then slitting the boy's throat. His skeletal remains were found in Houston in 1993. Austin confessed in 2001.

Attorneys have argued in appeals he wasn't mentally competent to plead guilty. Prosecutors described Austin as a drug courier for a Houston street gang.

He volunteered for execution, then changed his mind a week before his scheduled punishment in 2003.

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Court won't hear South Carolina church case

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - The nation's highest court has refused to hear a case from South Carolina churches upset with The Episcopal Church over a decision concerning ownership of property.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from the Diocese of South Carolina to reverse a decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Last year, the court ruled that the national denomination owns the church property.

Protesting churches left the national church in 2012 citing concerns about theological issues including the ordination of gay priests.

The Episcopal Church says it's governed by its own laws and rules. It says people are free to leave the church if they disagree but cannot take church property with them.

The U.S. Supreme Court historically refuses to hear such cases.

Published: Wed, Jun 13, 2018

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