Court move ends relaxed Ohio signature rules

By Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an effort by Ohio ballot campaigns to win access to more flexible signature-gathering rules during the coronavirus pandemic.

The high court denied the campaigns’ application without comment last Thursday. That leaves in place a decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals blocking relaxed restrictions on the signatures ordered by a lower court.

U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. on May 19 allowed campaigns promoting minimum wage, voting rights and marijuana issues to collect signatures electronically and a little more time to do it.

Backers of the voting package suspended their campaign last week. Last Thursday’s decision gives little leeway to the remaining campaigns ahead of the state’s now-unchanged signature deadline of June 30.

While some officials or courts in other states have allowed issue campaigns and candidates leeway in collecting required signatures, Ohio has pushed back aggressively on the issue. Republican Attorney General Dave Yost’s attorneys argued that a lower court judge who had temporarily relaxed the rules effectively “rewrote Ohio’s Constitution and Revised Code.”

The state also argued that changing signature-gathering rules now would lead to “last-minute confusion” and the possible passage of issues that Ohio otherwise wouldn’t have supported.

Justices won’t hear federal agent’s Hawaii shooting case

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a case over whether a federal agent should face a third trial over a fatal 2011 shooting in a Waikiki McDonald’s restaurant.

The refusal means prosecutors can’t pursue a manslaughter charge against U.S. State Department Special Agent Christopher Deedy.

“The impact of this is that the manslaughter charge is now dismissed permanently and that Mr. Deedy cannot be tried again on it,” Deedy’s defense attorney Thomas Otake said in an email last Thursday.

The case isn’t over, said Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office.

A statement from the office called the decision “regrettable” but said the state will continue to pursue a trial for first-degree assault.

Prosecutors pursing a third trial took their quest to the Supreme Court after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request for a wider panel of judges to hear the case. A panel ruled that if prosecutors want to try Deedy a third time, it can only be for assault, not manslaughter.

A 2013 murder trial for Deedy ended in a hung jury. A second jury in 2014 acquitted him of murder but deadlocked on manslaughter.

The issue of whether he can face a third trial accusing him of assault is pending, and Deedy’s lawyers are challenging that in a separate appeal, Otake said.

Deedy’s attorneys have argued that a third trial would violate the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that a retrial wouldn’t violate his double jeopardy rights and Deedy then turned to the federal court system to prevent the state from trying him a third time.

Deedy had been in Honolulu providing security for the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. After bar-hopping with friends on his first night in Waikiki, Deedy is accused of fatally shooting Kollin Elderts during an altercation in a McDonald’s.

Deedy testified at two trials that he was protecting others from the aggressive Elderts. Prosecutors have said Deedy was drunk, inexperienced and fueled by warnings from a fellow agent that Hawaii locals are hostile toward federal workers and outsiders.

“The circumstances in which Christopher Deedy killed Kollin Elderts are similar to recent killings on the mainland that have sparked worldwide outrage,” Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto said in a statement. “Deedy was a law enforcement officer who needlessly escalated an encounter with an unarmed citizen resulting in the unjustified use of lethal force.”

Election-year retirement unlikely

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The last time a Supreme Court justice announced his retirement in a presidential election year, most of the current justices were too young to vote.

It was 1968, and things didn’t work out as planned. The nomination to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren failed in that turbulent year, and no justice has retired in an election year since.

The pattern is not likely to be broken in 2020, despite persistent chatter that Justice Clarence Thomas could give President Donald Trump a seat to fill before the election.

Retirements have tended to be announced in June, as Justice Anthony Kennedy did in 2018. But the conservative Thomas has made clear to anyone who has asked, including an interviewer last year, that he has no plans to retire.

“Let’s fast forward to 20 years from now. Twenty years from now, at your retirement party,” his interviewer, Pepperdine University law professor James Gash, began.

“I’m not retiring,” Thomas broke in to say.

“Twenty years?” Gash said.

“No,” Thomas said.

“Thirty years?” Gash followed.

“No,” Thomas said.

The 72-year-old Georgia native is the longest-serving justice on the current court. If he serves another eight years, he would eclipse the service of record-holding Justice William O. Douglas, whose tenure lasted 36 years and nearly 8 months.

If Thomas does stay that long, he’ll only be 80 — younger than Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer are today.

In 1968, Warren announced his retirement, but it didn’t take effect until the Senate confirmed his successor. President Lyndon Johnson quickly named Justice Abe Fortas for the job. The president also nominated a federal judge and friend from Texas, Homer Thornberry, for Fortas’ seat.

It didn’t go well for Fortas, whose nomination was blocked by Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate. Thornberry never got a vote either, once it became clear Fortas wasn’t moving up.

When Richard Nixon won the 1968 election, he got a bonus, the opportunity to select a chief justice who would be nothing like the liberal Warren.

The outgoing chief justice served another year, until Warren Burger took the oath of office in June 1969.

The only other vacancy that has occurred in an election year since was in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Barack Obama named Merrick Garland to fill the seat and Senate Republicans refused to act on the nomination.

When Trump shocked the nation by winning the presidency, he too had a seat to fill and quickly named Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Enough of things that are not likely to happen.

For the first time in 24 years, the court’s work is almost certain to extend into July, mainly a product of the court’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The justices heard arguments by telephone in 10 cases in May, after closing the building to the public in mid-March and abandoning most in-person activities for a court in which 6 of the 9 justices are 65 and older, and most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

None of those cases has been decided yet, and the justices still have pending three earlier cases, including one dealing with abortion clinic regulations in Louisiana. More opinions are expected today and Tuesday, the last day in June.

Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer were the only three justices who were on the court the last time it didn’t finish issuing opinions in June. That was in 1996, when the court held on July 1 that the government could be sued by once-healthy savings and loans that were forced into the red as part as
the congressional response to the S&L crisis of the 1980s.

Charles Cooper, who argued the S&Ls’ case at the Supreme Court, recalled that a resolution was urgently needed “because scores of copy-cat cases had been clogging” court dockets for years.

The court also issued opinions in July a few years earlier, in 1989. That July, the court struck down a nativity display inside a government building in Pittsburgh, while upholding a menorah erected outside a different public building in Pittsburgh. The next day, the justices upheld or allowed to take effect several abortion restrictions in Missouri.

When Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, the court routinely kept working into July, even past Independence Day.

Adam Feldman, the creator of the Empirical Scotus blog, provided the data cited above.

Another reason there is no special urgency to finishing up by the end of June is that the justices have nowhere to go this year.

The last decisions of the term typically are followed closely by flights to very desirable locations, in the Alps, the Rockies, European capitals, even “an island fortress” in the Mediterranean, as Chief Justice John Roberts described Malta before heading there on the heels of his opinion saving the heart of the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

The law schools that usually are thrilled to snag a justice to teach for a week or two in a study-abroad program all canceled their summer sessions this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think we have reason to believe no one needs to jet off to Europe,” Supreme Court lawyer Paul Clement said, joking that the term could last to August 10 at the current pace of decisions.
Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.


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