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Texas advances new abortion limits despite court defeats
Topics | 2017/05/19 15:43
Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature late Friday advanced tough new limits on abortion— hitting back at a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer striking down most of the sweeping restrictions on the procedure that America's second-largest state approved four years ago.

The Texas House voted 96-47 on legislation that bans a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure, known as dilation and evacuation, similar to laws that courts have blocked in Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. It further directed doctors performing the procedure in Texas to face felony charges.

Those contentious provisions were tacked onto a broader bill requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains from abortions, even though a federal judge has already blocked an existing state rule mandating the same thing.

The measure also bars sale or donation of fetal tissue, something GOP-majority legislatures around the country have sought since the release of heavily edited, secretly recorded videos shot inside Planned Parenthood clinics by an anti-abortion group in 2015. Federal law already prohibits sale of fetal tissue.

Final approval should come Saturday. The proposal previously cleared the state Senate, but will have to return there because the House so expanded its scope. That chamber is even more conservative, though, and passage should be easy.



Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya guilty of disobeying top court
Topics | 2017/05/09 20:58
India's top court on Tuesday found wanted tycoon Vijay Mallya guilty of disobeying its order barring him from transferring $40 million to his children.

Mallya, who fled to London last year, is wanted in India on charges of money laundering and bank demands that he pay back more than a billion dollars in loans extended to his now-defunct airline. India has been seeking his extradition over the charges, which Mallya denies.

The Supreme Court in its ruling Tuesday acted on a plea by Indian banks, who said Mallya received $40 million from the British firm Diageo and transferred it to his son and two daughters illegally. The court asked Mallya to appear before it in July to decide the punishment.

Mallya was famous for his flashy lifestyle and lavish parties attended by fashion models and Bollywood stars. He was once hailed as India's version of British tycoon Richard Branson for his investments in a brewing and liquor company, an airline, a Formula One team and an Indian Premier League cricket club.

He ran into trouble when he failed to return millions of dollars of loans and left India last year amid attempts by a group of banks to recover the money.

India's External Affairs Ministry says Britain is still considering its request to issue a warrant for Mallya and to extradite him.


4th Arkansas inmate executed in 8 days lurches on gurney
Topics | 2017/05/01 00:04
Arkansas executed its fourth inmate in eight days Thursday night, wrapping up an accelerated schedule with a lethal injection that left the prisoner lurching and convulsing 20 times before he died.

Kenneth Williams, 38, was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m., 13 minutes after the execution began at the Cummins Unit prison at Varner.

Arkansas had scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period before one of its lethal injection drugs expires on Sunday. That would have been the most in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but courts issued stays for four of the inmates.

The four lethal injections that were carried out included Monday's first double execution in the United States since 2000.

"I extend my sincerest of apologies to the families I have senselessly wronged and deprived of their loved ones," Williams said in a final statement he read from the death chamber. "... I was more than wrong. The crimes I perpetrated against you all was senseless, extremely hurtful and inexcusable."

Williams also spoke in tongues, the unintelligible but language-like speech used in some religions. But his prayer faded off as the sedative midazolam took effect. His final words were, "The words that I speak will forever be, will forever ..." before he fell silent.

The inmate breathed heavily through his nose until just after three minutes into his execution, when his chest leaped forward in a series of what seemed like involuntary movements. His right hand never clenched and his face remained what one media witness called "serene."

After the jerking, Williams breathed through his mouth and moaned or groaned once — during a consciousness check — until falling still seven minutes into the lethal injection.

Williams was sentenced to death for killing a former deputy warden, Cecil Boren, after he escaped from prison in 1999. At the time of his escape in a 500-gallon barrel of hog slop, Williams was less than three weeks into a life term for the death of a college cheerleader.


Conservatives fault Arkansas court for halting executions
Topics | 2017/04/21 00:19
Arkansas' attempt to carry out its first execution in nearly 12 years wasn't thwarted by the type of liberal activist judge Republicans regularly bemoan here, but instead by a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary.

The court voted Wednesday to halt the execution of an inmate facing lethal injection Thursday night, two days after justices stayed the executions of two other inmates. The series of 4-3 decisions blocking the start of what had been an unprecedented plan to execute eight men in 11 days were only the latest in recent years preventing this deeply Republican state from resuming capital punishment.

The possibility that justices could continue sparing the lives of the remaining killers scheduled to die this month has left death penalty supporters including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson frustrated and critical of the high court.

"I know the families of the victims are anxious for a clear-cut explanation from the majority as to how they came to this conclusion and how there appears to be no end to the court's review," Hutchinson said in a statement after the Wednesday ruling.

Since the last execution in 2005, the state Supreme Court has at least twice forced Arkansas to rewrite its death penalty law. One of those cases spared Don Davis, who again received a stay Monday night. The legal setbacks at one point prompted the state's previous attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, to declare Arkansas' death penalty system "broken."

But unlike the earlier decisions, this stay came from a court that had shifted to the right in recent elections. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million last year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history. Arkansas was among a number of states where conservative groups spent millions on such efforts.


Court: Banned Dartmouth fraternity can't live in house
Topics | 2017/04/09 08:51
The New Hampshire Supreme Court says members of a former Dartmouth College fraternity aren't allowed to live in their house after the college banned the frat from campus.

The Hanover zoning board revoked the $1.4 million Alpha Delta house's status as a student residence when the fraternity was de-recognized for burning brands into the skin of new members in 2015.

Zoning rules require that such residences operate "in conjunction with" an institution, such as the college. Alpha Delta argued it should be considered "grandfathered" under an older zoning ordinance, but the court on Tuesday rejected that argument.

Alpha Delta had been a fraternity at Dartmouth since the 1840s, and since 1920 has housed 18-22 students. It partially served as the inspiration for the 1978 movie "Animal House."


High Court Struggles Over Hospital Pension Dispute
Topics | 2017/03/31 14:27
The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.



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