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Former Rep. William Jefferson may soon get date to report to prison
Apr-19-2012 697 0


A court hearing Friday could determine whether former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, will begin serving his 13-year corruption sentence before summer. Some legal experts expect federal prosecutors to ask Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over Jefferson's six-week 2009 trial, to revoke Jefferson's $50,000 bail and set a date for him to begin his sentence.

Ellis also could allow Jefferson to self report by a court-imposed deadline.

After sentencing Jefferson, Ellis rejected calls by prosecutors to imprison him immediately and instead allowed him to remain free with an electronic monitor pending resolution of his appeals.

Friday's hearing was scheduled after Jefferson's lawyers failed to meet last week's deadline for filing an appeal with the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal experts said the decision indicates his lawyers will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a unanimous ruling last month by a three-judge 4th Circuit panel rejecting Jefferson's request for a new trial.

The high court probably won't decide whether to take the case -- and they accept only a tiny percentage -- until next fall.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who has been closely following the case, said it is possible prosecutors will argue the unanimous verdict by the 4th Circuit panel makes it unlikely he'll succeed with his Supreme Court appeal.

Ellis "has been pretty strict when it comes to corruption cases," Tobias said, "and if the prosecutors move to (set a date to report to prison) the judge may well grant it."

Kevin Thomas, a consultant with the MPM Group, which helps clients with sentence-mitigation efforts, said he thinks it's likely prosecutors will prevail.

"It was unusual for him (Jefferson) to stay out after sentencing and I would be shocked if the judge let him stay out now that the appellate court has ruled," Thomas said. "But then again his attorney (Robert Trout) is formidable and he could talk a starving dog off a meat wagon."

Jefferson, 65, isn't likely to be remanded into prison immediately, though. In a filing with Judge Ellis, lead prosecutor Mark Lytle expressed no objections if Jefferson chose not to attend Friday's session at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va.

Neither Lytle nor Trout would comment Wednesday.

Tobias said it's no surprise Jefferson's lawyers decided not to file an appeal with the full 4th Circuit, given the unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel.

In a 64-page ruling issued March 26, the appellate judges rejected the legal arguments by Jefferson that Judge Ellis erroneously instructed the jury about what the accepted practice is for official acts by a member of Congress.

Jefferson's lawyers argued the government had dramatically expanded the definition -- taking it beyond what most consider official acts, such as casting votes, introducing bills and committee work -- to include influencing foreign officials in Western Africa on behalf of private business executives.

"The (judge's) instructions did not in any way supplant the statutory definition of what constitutes an official act; it simply explained to the jury that an official act need not be prescribed by statute, but rather may include acts that a congressman customarily performs," according to the three judges.

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Rebecca Kheel May-05-2016 88 0
Bush-era war authorizations do not give President Obama authority to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Army officer argued in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Obama.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. district court by an intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait who says he supports the fight against ISIS, but believes it is being carried out illegally because Congress hasn't authorized it.

"How could I honor my oath when I am fighting a war, even a good war, that the Constitution does not allow, or Congress has not approved?" Capt. Nathan Michael Smith wrote. "To honor my oath, I am asking the court to tell the president that he must get proper authority from Congress, under the War Powers Resolution, to wage the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria."

President Obama has sought an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) from Congress. But Congress has been hesitant to take it up, with Republicans worried it would be too restrictive and some Democrats worried it wouldn't be restrictive enough.

In the absence of a new AUMF, Obama has said he has the authority to fight ISIS from the 2001 AUMF that authorized going after al Qaeda, from which ISIS originated.

The administration has also cited the 2002 AUMF that authorized the war in Iraq.

The issue arose anew in the past few weeks after Obama and the Pentagon announced the deployment of another 217 troops to Iraq and 250 to Syria.

The lawsuit also comes the day after the third combat death of U.S. service member in the fight against ISIS, which against stoked the issue of a lack of an AUMF.

"Praying for the family of the Navy SEAL tragically killed in Iraq. Our troops are in harms way yet Congress lacks courage to debate this war," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tweeted Tuesday. Lee was Congress's one dissenter against the 2001 AUMF and has long called for Congress to debate a new use of force measure.

The lawsuit hinges on the War Powers Resolution, a Vietnam War-era law that says the president must get a war declaration or AUMF from Congress within 60 days of deploying troops or else withdraw within another 30 days.

"The President did not get Congress's approval for his war against ISIS in Iraq or Syria within the sixty days, but he also did not terminate the war," the suit says. "The war is therefore illegal."

The suit also says the 2001 AUMF does not apply because it authorized war against those who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which ISIS did not.

The 2002 authorization does not apply, the suit adds, because the war that it authorized has been declared over and because it does not cover Syria.

"In waging war against ISIS," the suit says, "President Obama is misusing limited congressional authorizations for the use of military force as a blank check to conduct a war against enemies of his own choosing, without geographical or temporal boundaries."
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SHERYL GAY STOLBERG Apr-24-2016 104 0
Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia used his executive power on Friday to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, circumventing the Republican-run legislature. The action effectively overturns a Civil War-era provision in the state’s Constitution aimed, he said, at disenfranchising African-Americans.

The sweeping order, in a swing state that could play a role in deciding the November presidential election, will enable all felons who have served their prison time and finished parole or probation to register to vote. Most are African-Americans, a core constituency of Democrats, Mr. McAuliffe’s political party.

Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.

“There’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it,” Mr. McAuliffe said in an interview Thursday, previewing the announcement he made on the steps of Virginia’s Capitol, just yards from where President Abraham Lincoln once addressed freed slaves. “We should do it as soon as we possibly can.”

Republicans in the Virginia Legislature have resisted measures to expand voting rights for convicted felons, and Mr. McAuliffe’s action, which he said was justified under an expansive legal interpretation of his executive clemency authority, provoked an immediate backlash. Virginia Republicans issued a statement Friday accusing the governor of “political opportunism” and “a transparent effort to win votes.”

“Those who have paid their debts to society should be allowed full participation in society,” said the statement from the party chairman, John Whitbeck. “But there are limits.” He said Mr. McAuliffe was wrong to issue a blanket restoration of rights, even to those who “committed heinous acts of violence.”
The order includes those convicted of violent crimes, including murder and rape. There is no way to know how many of the newly eligible voters in Virginia will register. “My message is going to be that I have now done my part,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Nationally, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of felony convictions, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington research organizations, which says one in five African-Americans in Virginia cannot vote.

Only two states, Maine and Vermont, have no voting restrictions on felons; Virginia is among four – the others are Kentucky, Florida and Iowa – that have the harshest restrictions.

Friday’s shift in Virginia is part of a national trend toward restoring voter rights to felons, based in part on the hope that it will aid former prisoners’ re-entry into society. Over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

In Kentucky, Mr. Bevin, who took office in November, promptly overturned an executive order issued by his predecessor, Steven L. Beshear, just before he left office. Then, last week, Mr. Bevin signed into law a less expansive measure, allowing felons to petition judges to vacate their convictions, which would enable them to vote.

Previous governors in Florida and Iowa took executive action to ease their lifetime bans, but in each case, a subsequent governor restored the tough rules.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, said Mr. McAuliffe’s decision would have lasting consequences because it will remain in effect at least until January 2018, when the governor leaves office.

“This will be the single most significant action on disenfranchisement that we’ve ever seen from a governor,” Mr. Mauer said, “and it’s noteworthy that it’s coming in the middle of this term, not the day before he leaves office. So there may be some political heat but clearly he’s willing to take that on, which is quite admirable.”

Myrna Pérez, director of a voting rights project at the Brennan Center, said Mr. McAuliffe’s move was particularly important because Virginia has had such restrictive laws on voting by felons. Still, she said,“Compared to the rest of the country, this is a very middle of the road policy.’’

Ms. Pérez said a number of states already had less restrictive policies than the one announced by Mr. McAuliffe. Fourteen states allow felons to vote after their prison terms are completed even while they remain on parole or probation.

Advocates who have been working with the Virginia governor say they are planning to fan out into Richmond communities Friday to start registering people.

Experts say with the stroke of his pen, Mr. McAuliffe has allowed convicted felons to begin registering to vote, and that their voting rights cannot be revoked — even if a new governor rescinds the order for future released prisoners.

But the move led to accusations that the governor was playing politics; he is a longtime friend of — and fund-raiser for — Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee for president, and former President Bill Clinton.

In the interview, Mr. McAuliffe said that he was not acting for political reasons, and that few people outside his immediate staff knew of his plan. He said he did not consult with Mrs. Clinton or her campaign before making the decision.

The executive order builds on steps the governor had already taken to restore voting rights to 18,000 Virginians since the beginning of his term, and he said he believed his authority to issue the decision was “ironclad.”
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Amy Chozick Apr-03-2016 192 0
Nicole Bell, whose fiancé, Sean Bell, became a symbol of tensions between black communities and the police after he was shot and killed by New York officers on the morning of their wedding day, has endorsed Hillary Clinton two weeks before the New York primary.

“Nine years ago, I lost my fiancé, Sean Bell, in a police-involved shooting, and unfortunately, there are too many families with stories like mine,” Ms. Bell said in a statement provided Saturday to The New York Times.

Mrs. Clinton, she said, “understands that we need reforms that can be felt on our streets and in our communities and that she “will stand up to the gun lobby, work to end racial profiling, and make key investments to ensure that law enforcement officials have adequate training.”

In 2006, plainclothes and undercover police officers fired into Mr. Bell’s car 50 times, killing him and wounding two of his friends; the men were leaving a strip club in Queens where Mr. Bell had celebrated his bachelor party. The shooting rocked the city and drew responses from civil rights activists and elected officials, including Mrs. Clinton, who was a senator representing New York at the time.

Mr. Bell and his friends were not armed. The three detectives charged in the shooting were acquitted on all counts. A judge ruled that based on conversations overheard around the club, the detectives had reason to believe that someone in the group was armed as Mr. Bell tried to drive away from the officers, at one point crashing into an unmarked police van. Still, the city paid $7 million in a settlement to Mr. Bell’s family and his two wounded friends. The detectives were forced out of the department.

The endorsement of Ms. Bell, who took her fiancé’s last name to honor his memory, comes as Mrs. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders vie for the support of New York City’s black voters before the April 19 primary. Mrs. Clinton held a rally at the Apollo Theater on Wednesday, while Mr. Sanders addressed a crowd of more than 15,000 in the Bronx on Thursday, where the Brooklyn-born director Spike Lee spoke on his behalf.

In the first major policy speech of her campaign, Mrs. Clinton last spring called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system and an end to the “era of mass incarceration.” She has received broad support from mothers who have lost children to clashes with police or gun violence, and has held campaign events with the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland.

Mr. Sanders has received the endorsement of Mr. Garner’s daughter, Erica Garner, but he has had to catch up with Mrs. Clinton’s deep ties to African-American voters in New York, the Midwest and the South, who have tilted heavily to her.

“Hillary gets it,” Ms. Bell said. “Nine years ago, Hillary Clinton was there for me, and today, I’m with her.”
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reuters Apr-03-2016 206 0
Wednesday was another in an endless blur of Wednesdays at the Greenville federal prison in Southern Illinois. An inmate named Jesse Webster, serving a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent first offense, was poised to take a typing test, his fingers hovering over the keyboard — when his name resounded over the intercom.

Report immediately to the assistant warden’s office.

A longtime model inmate, Mr. Webster knew he was not in trouble, so maybe this was the call he had been dreaming of for years. Then again, the last time he was summoned to the office, a prison official heartily congratulated him — but only because he had been given the privilege to select the Christmas specialties to be sold in the commissary. He chose some smoked cheese and barbecue potato chips, and kept his crushing disappointment to himself.

This time, things were different. Soon his lawyer, Jessica Ring Amunson, was on speakerphone. She had toyed with making a joke about the commissary, but thought better of it.

“I have some wonderful news, Jesse,” Ms. Amunson said. “Your sentence has been commuted.”

Mr. Webster later said that he did not know quite how to respond. He had wanted this moment so badly for so long, but now, all he could muster was: “Wow.”

His plans now, he said, are to bequeath his possessions to other inmates, donate his collection of law books to the prison library, and work on plans for the future.

“Get a job,” he said. “Live life.”

Mr. Webster, who was featured in an article in The New York Times in December 2013, was one of 61 federal inmates, serving time for drug-related crimes, whose sentences were commuted by President Obama on Wednesday. It was the latest attempt by the president to use the power of his office to shorten the especially harsh sentences given to thousands of young men, most of them black or Hispanic, as a result of strict laws enacted during the so-called war on drugs a generation ago.

And Mr. Webster, now 48, was, in many ways, typical.

He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, one of seven children depending on a stepfather’s salary as a parking-lot attendant. A hustler by nature, Mr. Webster moved up in the world of illicit drugs, making a name and a lot of money as a freelance cocaine dealer. But when he heard in 1995 that law enforcement was looking for him, he turned himself in.

Declining an offer for leniency if he became a confidential informant against a ruthless drug gang — which had already killed an informant — he was convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy and filing false tax returns. He was sentenced to life without parole, a punishment that even the sentencing judge said was “too high.”

But federal judges had little leeway in the mid-1990s, when the emphasis in criminal justice was on mandatory sentencing. A sense of proportion — of exacting punishment that fit the crime — was lost.

Mr. Webster spent 16 years in maximum-security prisons, including Leavenworth, before earning a transfer to Greenville, a medium-security prison, in 2011. He dedicated his days to exercising, tutoring, taking classes, and reading the Bible. He kept in close contact with his family, including his mother, whose photograph he tucked into his bottom bunk’s ceiling.

Mr. Webster also continued to fight for leniency. In early 2013, his lawyer, Ms. Amunson, sent documents related to his case to the Office of the Pardon Attorney of the Justice Department. The packet included various letters appealing for clemency, as well as a letter from Mr. Webster addressed to Mr. Obama himself, which said in part that the president was his “final hope.”

More than two years passed. Then came the summoning of Mr. Webster to the assistant warden’s office, where Ms. Amunson told her client that his sentence had been commuted to expire in late September — although he is expected to go to a halfway house in Chicago before then — and that a $25,000 fine had been forgiven.

“Wow.”

In fact, Ms. Amunson said, Mr. Webster called her later in the day just to make sure that what he had been told was right. He also called his mother’s home in Chicago and asked to be put on speakerphone.

“Hey,” he recalled saying. “Guess what?”
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AP Mar-16-2016 198 0
President Barack Obama will nominate federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, challenging Republicans to reject a long-time jurist and former prosecutor known as a consensus builder on what is often dubbed the nation's second-highest court.

Garland, 63, is the chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a court whose influence over federal policy and national security matters has made it a proving ground for potential Supreme Court justices.

He would replace conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, leaving behind a bitter election-year fight over the future of the court.

The White House and members of Congress confirmed Obama's choice ahead of the president's 11 a.m. announcement in the White House Rose Garden.

White House officials said Obama believes Garland has a record of bipartisan support and was best poised to serve on the court immediately.

Garland was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 1997 with backing from a majority in both parties, including seven current Republicans senators.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democratic leader called Garland's section, "a bipartisan choice," adding: "If the Republicans can't support him, who can they support?"

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who spoke to Obama Wednesday morning, said in brief remarks on the Senate floor that Republicans must act on the president's choice. "He's doing his job this morning, they should do theirs," said the Nevada Democrat.

If confirmed, Garland would be expected to align with the more liberal members, but he is not viewed as down-the-line liberal. Particularly on criminal defense and national security cases, he's earned a reputation as centrist, and one of the few Democratic-appointed judges Republicans might have a fast-tracked to confirmation — under other circumstances.

But in the current climate, Garland remains a tough sell. Republicans control the Senate, which must confirm any nominee, and GOP leaders want to leave the choice to the next president, denying Obama a chance to alter the ideological balance of the court before he leaves office next January. Republicans contend that a confirmation fight in an election year would be too politicized.

Ahead of Obama's announcement, the Republican Party set up a task force that will orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach. The aim is to bolster Senate Republicans' strategy of denying consideration of Obama's nominee. The party's chairman, Reince Priebus, described it as the GOP's most comprehensive judicial response effort ever.

On the other side, Obama allies have been drafted to run a Democratic effort that will involve liberal groups that hope an Obama nominee could pull the high court's ideological balance to the left. The effort would target states where activists believe Republicans will feel political heat for opposing hearings once Obama announced his nominee.

For Obama, Garland represents a significant departure from his past two Supreme Court choices. In nominating Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, the president eagerly seized the chance to broaden the court's diversity and rebalance the overwhelming male institution. Sotomayor was the first Hispanic confirmed to the court, Kagan only the fourth woman.

Garland — a white, male jurist with an Ivy League pedigree and career spent largely in the upper echelon of the Washington's legal elite — breaks no barriers. At 63 years old, he would be the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis Powell, who was 64 when he was confirmed in late 1971.

Presidents tend to appoint young judges with the hope they will shape the court's direction for as long as possible.

Those factors had, until now, made Garland something of a perpetual bridesmaid, repeatedly on Obama's Supreme Court lists, but never chosen.

But Garland found his moment at time when Democrats are seeking to apply maximum pressure on Republicans. A key part of their strategy is casting Republicans as knee-jerk obstructionists ready to shoot down a nominee that many in their own ranks once considered a consensus candidate. In 2010, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch called Garland "terrific" and said he could be confirmed "virtually unanimously."

The White House planned to highlight Hatch's past support, as well as other glowing comments about Garland from conservative groups.

A native of Chicago and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Garland clerked for two appointees of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan Jr. and Judge Henry J. Friendly, for whom Chief Justice John Roberts also clerked.

In 1988, he gave up a plush partner's office in a powerhouse law firms to cut his teeth in criminal cases. As an assistant U.S. attorney, he joined the team prosecuting a Reagan White House aide charged with illegal lobbying and did early work on the drug case against then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. He held a top-ranking post in the Justice Department when he was dispatched to Oklahoma City the day after bombing at the federal courthouse to supervise the investigation. The case made his career and his reputation. He oversaw the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and went on to supervise the investigation into Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

President Bill Clinton first nominated him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.

His prolonged confirmation process may prove to have prepared him for the one ahead. Garland waited 2½ years to win confirmation to the appeals court. Then, as now, one of the man blocking path was Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, argued he had no quarrel with Garland's credentials, but a beef with the notion of a Democratic president trying to fill a court he argued had too many seats.

Grassley ultimately relented, although he was not one of the 32 Republicans who voted in favor of Garland's confirmation. Nor was Sen. Mitch McConnell, the other major hurdle for Garland now. The Republicans who voted in favor of confirmation are Sen. Dan Coats, Sen. Thad Cochran, Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Pat Roberts.
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Miriam Rozen Mar-10-2016 222 0
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has agreed that the court's full bench will consider the issue of whether a Texas voter ID law violates the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge panel of the same court ruled in 2015 that the law discriminates against minority voters. In response, Texas asked the Fifth Circuit to have all the judges rehear Veasey v. Abbott. The voter ID law that is the subject of the plaintiffs' objections, known as SB-14, requires voters to show government-issued identification from a list of specific documents that includes driver's licenses, concealed handgun licenses, U.S. military identifications, or U.S. passports. But the law's list doesn't include such documents as student identification issued by a state university.

The three-judge panel that previously heard the case —Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart, Fifth Circuit Judge Catharina Haynes and, sitting by designation, U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the Eastern District of Louisiana—unanimously ruled on Aug. 5, 2015 that SB-14 is discriminatory. But the panel did not recommend that Texas return to the voter identification practices that took place immediately prior to SB-14's enactment. Instead, the appellate court panel asked all the lparties to find a new alternative.

"Clearly, the Legislature wished to reduce the risk of in-person voter fraud by strengthening the forms of identification presented for voting. Simply reverting to the system in place before SB 14's passage would not fully respect these policy choices—it would allow voters to cast ballots after presenting less secure forms of identification, like utility bills, bank statements or paychecks. One possibility would be to reinstate voter registration cards as documents that qualify as acceptable identification under the Texas Election Code," the opinion, written by Haynes, stated.

A rehearing date has not been scheduled.
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Mar-04-2016 252 0
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who rose from political obscurity to a strong position in early polls last fall, dropped out of the Republican presidential race Friday after a string of disappointing finishes on Super Tuesday.

"Even though I might be leaving the campaign trail, you know there’s a lot of people who love me, they just won’t vote for me," Carson said, smiling. "But I will still continue to be heavily involved in trying to save our nation."

Carson said he will serve as national chairman of My Faith Votes, a non-partisan group that is working to dramatically increase voting participation by Christians in the 2016 election and beyond.

Carson's campaign announcement was hardly a surprise. In a statement on Wednesday, he announced he was skipping Thursday night's Fox News debate and said he saw no "political path forward" after doing poorly on Super Tuesday. His departure leaves four major candidates in the GOP primary race. He did not endorse anyone Friday.

"I did the math," Carson said as he explained why he dropped out of the race. "I looked at the delegate counts, and I realized it simply wasn't going to happen."

Tuesday's 11 primaries and caucuses brought no glimmers of hope for Carson, whose campaign has struggled mightily after peaking last fall. He finished no higher than fourth place in any state, with his highest level of support coming in Alaska, where he received a paltry 11%. Across a swath of primaries in the South, with its large number of evangelical voters who at one time were key to his success, Carson fared no better than 8% in any state.

In earlier contests, Carson's fourth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses when the field remained large was his best result. He came in eighth in New Hampshire out of nine candidates, last in South Carolina when the field had winnowed to just six, and fourth out of five in Nevada.

An impoverished youth who became a world-renowned neurosurgeon, Carson's life story helped fuel support in his first political race. At one time, Carson, who road a wave of interest among GOP voters in outsider candidates, passed front-runner Donald Trump in polling in Iowa.

In the long run, however, inexperience, a lack of knowledge about foreign policy and other issues and the departure of key staffers dragged down Carson's numbers.
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AP Feb-29-2016 176 0
Justice Clarence Thomas has asked questions during a Supreme Court argument for the first time in 10 years.

Thomas' questions came Monday in case in which the court is considering placing new limits on the reach of a federal law that bans people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns.

Thomas asked the Justice Department lawyer defending the government's prosecution whether the violation of any other law suspends a person's constitutional rights.

It was the second week the court has heard arguments since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Thomas' friend and fellow conservative.

Thomas' unusual silence over the years has become a curiosity. Thomas has said previously he relies on the written briefs and doesn't need to ask questions of the lawyers appearing in court.
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AP Feb-27-2016 247 0
Hillary Clinton sailed to a commanding victory over Bernie Sanders in Saturday's South Carolina primary, drawing overwhelming support from the state's black Democrats and putting her in strong position as the race barrels toward Super Tuesday's crucial contests.

Clinton's win provided an important boost for her campaign — and a moment to wipe away bitter memories of her loss to Barack Obama in South Carolina eight years ago.

"To South Carolina, to the volunteers at the heart of our campaign, to the supporters who power it: thank you," Clinton wrote on Twitter. At a campaign victory party in Columbia, supporters broke into raucous cheers as the race was called in Clinton's favor.

Sanders, expecting defeat on Saturday, left the state even before voting was finished and turned his attention to some of the states that vote in next Tuesday's delegate-rich contests. In a statement, Sanders vowed to fight on aggressively.

"This campaign is just beginning," he said. "Our grass-roots political revolution is growing state by state, and we won't stop now."

Clinton's victory came at the end of a day that saw Republican candidates firing insults at each other from Super Tuesday states. Donald Trump, working to build an insurmountable lead, was campaigning in Arkansas with former rival Chris Christie and calling Marco Rubio a "light little nothing;" Ted Cruz was asking parents in Atlanta if they would be pleased if their children spouted profanities like the brash billionaire, and Rubio was mocking Trump as a "con artist" with "the worst spray tan in America."

Clinton allies quickly touted the breadth of her victory. Besides blacks, she won most women and voters aged 30 and older, according to early exit polls.

Sanders continued to do well with young voters, his most passionate supporters. He also carried those who identified themselves as independent and most white voters.

A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders has energized his supporters with impassioned calls for breaking up Wall Street banks and making tuition free at public colleges and universities. But the senator from Vermont, a state where about 1 percent of the population is black, lacks Clinton's deep ties to the African-American community.

While Sanders spent the end of the week outside of South Carolina, his campaign did invest heavily in the state. He had 200 paid staff on the ground and an aggressive television advertising campaign.

Exit polls showed 6 in 10 voters in the South Carolina primary were black. About 7 in 10 said they wanted the next president to continue Obama's policies, and only about 20 percent wanted a more liberal course of action, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.

Clinton's sweeping victory suggested South Carolina voters had put aside any lingering tensions from her heated 2008 contest with Obama. Former President Bill Clinton made statements during that campaign that were seen by some, including influential South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, as questioning the legitimacy of the black presidential contender.

This time around, Clyburn endorsed Clinton, and her husband was well-received as he traveled the state on her behalf. She focused on issues with particular resonance in the black community and held an emotional event with black mothers whose children died in shootings.

Clinton's second White House bid lurched to an uneven start, with a narrow victory over Sanders in Iowa and a crushing loss to the senator in New Hampshire. She pulled off a 5-point win over Sanders in last week's Nevada caucus, a crucial victory that helped stem Sanders' momentum.

Clinton's campaign hopes her strong showing in South Carolina foreshadows similar outcomes in states like Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia that vote Tuesday and have large minority populations.

Taken together, 865 Democratic delegates are up for grabs in the Super Tuesday contests in 11 states and American Samoa. Sanders is hoping to stay close to Clinton in the South while focusing most of his attention on states in the Midwest and Northeast, including his home state of Vermont.

Sanders has built a massive network of small donors and has the money to stay in the race deep into the spring. Still, Clinton's campaign sees a chance to build enough of a delegate lead to put the race out of reach during the sprint through March.

Clinton's will pick up most of South Carolina's delegates, widening her overall lead in AP's count. With 53 delegates at stake, Clinton will receive at least 31. Sanders picked up at least 12.

Going into South Carolina, Clinton had just a one-delegate edge over Sanders. However, she also has a massive lead among superdelegates, the Democratic Party leaders who can vote for the candidate of their choice at this summer's national convention, regardless of how their states vote.
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