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Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Louisiana Abortion Law

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  • The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in June Medical v. Russo, the first major abortion case that will be heard by Trump’s appointees.
  • The case centers around a Louisiana law that says doctors cannot provide abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they provide care.
  • In 2016, the court ruled against a very similar Texas law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
  • If the court sides with the law, there would likely only be one doctor left in Lousiana who could provide abortions.

June Medical v. Russo

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in what could be a historic case stemming from a controversial abortion law in Lousiana.

The law, known as Act 620, says doctors cannot provide abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they provide care. Louisiana already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the United States. Currently, there are only three clinics in the state. If this law survives the court, there would likely only be one doctor in Louisiana who could provide abortions.

This case, June Medical v. Russo, is the first major abortion case being heard by the current makeup of the Supreme Court, including Trump’s appointees, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In 2016, the court heard a case involving a very similar law in Texas. It had the same rule about admitting privileges within 30 miles, but also included a piece mandating that clinics need facilities comparable to a surgical center. That case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, ended with the court ruling that the law was unconstitutional.

“The Court concluded that there ‘exists’ an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the decision, “and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the ‘purpose or effect’ of the provision ‘is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.’” 

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was considered a major win for abortion rights activists, but this win is now in jeopardy as the new Supreme Court makeup could lead to an opposite ruling in June Medical v. Russo.

SCOTUS Hears Arguments

The case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt brought up a lot in Wednesday’s arguments. Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrillo argued in favor of Act 620 and maintained that the law was not identical to the law in Texas, thus warranting a different decision.

“The law was different, the facts are different,” she said. “The regulatory structure is different. And the record is different. And all of those things dictated a different result.” 

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed her on if there were real differences in these laws state to state. Murrill insisted that the law “serves a greater benefit” in this case. 

She also said the law serves to protect the safety of women who could potentially face complications after an abortion. She said it is justified by “abundant evidence of life-threatening health and safety violations, malpractice, noncompliance with professional licensing rules, legislative testimony from post-abortive women, testimony from doctors who took care of abortion providers’ abandoned patients.”

On the other side, Julie Rikelman argued against the law as the representation for June Medical Services. She maintained that abortion in Louisiana is a low-risk procedure and that these extra measures do not need to be taken. 

“Abortion in Louisiana in the years before the law was extremely safe, with a very low rate of complications,” she explained. 

She also said that if something were to go wrong, patients are usually not in a situation that would be aided by this law. 

When complications do occur, it’s almost always after the woman [has left] the clinic,” she said.

As for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Rikelman claimed that the cases were the same and that the 2016 decision should be respected in this case. 

“This case is about respect for the Court’s precedent,” she said before explaining that the law does not have any medical benefit or support from the medical community.

“Nothing, however, has changed that would justify such a legal about-face,” she said. “In fact, even more medical organizations have joined the [American Medical Association] and [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] to say that admitting privileges impose barriers to abortion with no benefit to patients and that this impact is not state dependent.” 

After arguments were made, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, gave a statement further supporting the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. 

“The arguments made clear that we are re-fighting a legal issue that we have already won and we’re refighting that legal issue because Louisiana is in open defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Whole Woman’s Health case,” she wrote. 

Pro-life advocates also spoke publicly about the case.

“We’re are excited to stand proudly alongside Louisiana women who are making sure their voices are heard because they have been hurt by the abortion industry,” Alexandra Seghers, director of education at Louisiana Right to Life told NBC.

Activists Gather in D.C.

As arguments were ongoing, pro-abortion activists gathered outside the Supreme Court to protest Act 620 in Louisiana and urge the court to deem it unconstitutional. Celebrities like Busy Philipps and Elizabeth Banks attended and spoke in front of the crowd. 

“Today we are taking the opportunity to present reproductive freedom, including abortion, for exactly what it is: no less than liberty itself,” Banks said. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer Sparks Controversy

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also spoke in front of the pro-choice activists, which led to a spat between him and other politicians. Some thought his statements were threatening to the court. 

“Republican legislatures are waging a war on women, all women. And they’re taking away fundamental rights,” Schumer said to the crowd. “I want to tell you, Gorsuch; I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” 

Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement following this condemning the remarks. 

“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous,” he wrote. 

President Donald Trump also tweeted about Schumer’s comments, saying the Senator must “pay a severe price for this!”

On Thursday morning, Schumer expressed regret for his words on the Senate floor.

“I should not have used the words I used yesterday. They didn’t come out the way I intended them to,” he said. “In no way was I making a threat. I never — never — would do such a thing.”

A decision for June Medical v. Russo is not expected until June. Right now, it is unclear which direction it will lean in, though many speculate the justices will stand by the Louisiana law. The Center for Reproductive Rights, however, told BuzzFeed News that they were hopeful. Rikelman also told them that she was “cautiously optimistic.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vox) (New Yorker)

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Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini

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  • A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
  • Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
  • After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.

Hines Defrauds Government

A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.

David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.

According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.

“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.

Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds

Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.

Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.

In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini

See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)

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Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March

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  • A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
  • Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
  • In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
  • No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.

Judge Cahill Postpones Trial

The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.

The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.

All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.

“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.

A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.

The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.

The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.

For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.

Uncertainty Around Sentencing

Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.

“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.

Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.

Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.

In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.

Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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