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Former Rep. William Jefferson may soon get date to report to prison
Apr-19-2012 721 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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CBS News Aug-25-2016 119 0
The Obama administration said Wednesday it paid $1.3 billion in interest to Iran in January to resolve a decades-old dispute over an undelivered military sale, two days after allowing $400 million in cash to fly to Tehran.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau says the U.S. couldn’t say more about the Jan. 19 payments because of diplomatic sensitivities. They involved 13 separate payments of $99,999,999.99 and final payment of about $10 million. There was no explanation for the Treasury Department keeping the individual transactions under $100 million.

The money settles a dispute over a $400 million payment made in the 1970s by the U.S.-backed shah’s government for military equipment. The equipment was never delivered because of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah and ended diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran.

On Jan. 17, the administration paid Iran the account’s $400 million principal in pallets of euros, Swiss francs and other foreign currency, raising questions about the unusual payment. The $1.3 billion covers what Iran and the U.S. agreed would be the interest on the $400 million over the decades.

The deal has faced increased scrutiny since the administration’s acknowledgment this month that it used the money as leverage to ensure the release of four American prisoners.

Republican critics accuse the administration of paying a “ransom?.”

President Barack Obama and other officials deny such claims, though they’ve struggled to explain why the U.S. paid in cash. President Obama said it was because the United States and Iran didn’t have a banking relationship after years of nuclear-related sanctions, but that wouldn’t rule out using intermediary banks that maintain relationship with both.

Briefing reporters last week, a senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations said the interest payments were made to Iran in a “fairly above-board way,” using a foreign central bank. But the official, who wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity, wouldn’t say if the interest was delivered to Iran in physical cash, as with the $400 million principal, or via a more regular banking mechanism.

The money came from a little-known fund administered by the Treasury Department for settling litigation claims. The so-called Judgment Fund is taxpayer money Congress has permanently approved in the event it’s needed, allowing the president to bypass direct congressional approval to make a settlement. The U.S. previously paid out $278 million in Iran-related claims by using the fund in 1991.
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CNN Aug-23-2016 128 0
President Barack Obama is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Tuesday and is touring the flood-ravaged city that quickly became a political football.

Obama is set to see firsthand the damage in the state's capital that has caused more than 106,000 residents and households to register for assistance from Federal Emergency Management Agency. More than 60,000 homes were damaged, officials said, and 13 people were killed.

Obama is expected to meet with family members of police officers killed in last month's Baton Rouge attack, a source with knowledge of the President's schedule told CNN. According to the source, the families are expected to meet with him at one location during his trip. Three Baton Rouge area police officers were killed last month when they were ambushed by a gunman. That gunman, Gavin Long, was shot and killed by police.

Given the financial and human cost that has already taken its toll, the President's visit is too late for some Republicans -- and some Louisianans.

The city's newspaper "The Advocate" originally criticized the President for not ending his vacation in Martha's Vineyard immediately to visit the region.

His reluctance to do so made for offensive optics in the eyes of some Republicans: Obama enjoying rounds of golf with comedians like Larry David and basketball stars like Alonzo Mourning, while a state thousands of miles away faced devastation.

But the editorial board praised his decision to arrive Tuesday.

"We welcome news of President Barack Obama's planned visit to Louisiana today to survey flood damage, which should help to advance relief and recovery in the disaster area as a national priority," the editorial board wrote.

Press secretary Josh Earnest said on Air Force One that Obama will be visiting a neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish, and defended the timing of the trip, saying the "President is used to people trying to score political points even in situations where they shouldn't."
Earnest said that $120 million in aid has already been approved and is starting to be paid out to flood-impacted residents.

Trump, who visited the state shortly after the floods, called Obama's visit "too late."
"Tuesday's too late," Donald Trump, told Fox News this weekend. "Hop into the plane and go down and go to Louisiana and see what's going on, because it's a mess."

That's exactly what Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, did late last week as part of a visit meant to fill what they saw as a leadership vacuum. The Republican ticket toured the flood damage, met with church groups, and distributed supplies at a nearby high school. The visit was well-received by local officials, and for a moment it gave Trump a chance to reveal a presidential timber that he insists he has.

"Because it helped to shine a spotlight on Louisiana and on the dire situation that we have here, it was helpful," said John Bel Edwards, the state's Democratic governor.

Edwards, who greeted Obama when he landed Tuesday, had previously said that he hoped the President would wait a few weeks before making his visit to the state, given the entourage and Secret Service personnel that comes with presidential trips that would have strained resources while officials were coping with the floods.

Baton Rouge's city newspaper last week had called on Obama to cut his vacation short.
"A disaster this big begs for the personal presence of the President at ground zero," read a editorial in The Advocate on Thursday, a day before the Obama trip was announced. "The President's presence is already late to the crisis, but it's better latter than never."

Hillary Clinton, Trump's Democratic opponent, said Monday that she too plans a trip to the flood site -- but used similar reasoning to delay her trip. Her campaign said in a statement that she would come to the state at an unspecified time in the future.

"This month's floods in Louisiana are a crisis that demand a national response," she said. "I am committed to visiting communities affected by these floods, at a time when the presence of a political campaign will not disrupt the response, to discuss how we can and will rebuild together."
Obama's vacation ended Sunday, and the White House has maintained that he has been regularly briefed by senior staff on the situation on the ground and top administration officials also were sent to the Louisiana. Yet his response has earned some comparisons to how George W. Bush handled another natural catastrophe in a Louisiana city, New Orleans, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Obama has traveled to disaster sites in recent years, touring communities in Oklahoma and Arkansas destroyed by tornadoes along with New Jersey towns hit by Hurricane Sandy.
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Cyra Master Aug-22-2016 82 0
Colin Powell says Hillary Clinton's campaign has been trying to use him to help justify her use of a private email server while she was secretary of State.

The Democratic presidential nominee reportedly told FBI investigators that Powell, another former secretary of State, recommended she use a private email account.

Clinton allegedly discussed email practices with her predecessor during a dinner after she became the top U.S. diplomat in 2009, The New York Times said Thursday.

On Sunday, Powell told the New York Post's Page Six that Clinton was using her private email long before their meeting.

"The truth is she was using it for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did [during my term as Secretary of State]," he said.

"Her people have been trying to pin it on me."

But, the Post reported that "despite appearing angered by the situation," Powell added, "It doesn't bother me. It's OK, I'm free."

Journalist Joe Conason first reported the talk in his forthcoming book about Bill Clinton's life after the presidency, "Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton."

An advanced copy states that Clinton spoke with Powell during a dinner party in Washington, D.C., hosted by Madeleine Albright, another former secretary of State.

"Toward the end of the evening, over dessert, Albright asked all of the former secretaries to offer one salient bit of counsel to the nation's next top diplomat," Conason wrote.

"Powell told [Clinton] to use her own email, as he had done, except for classified communications, which he had sent and received via a State Department computer," he added.

Powell's office released a statement late Thursday saying he had no recollection of the dinner conversation.
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Nolan D. McCaskill Aug-19-2016 339 0
President Barack Obama will visit Louisiana next week, the White House announced Friday.

Obama will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday, press secretary Josh Earnest said, noting that Obama’s team reached that date after coordinating with state officials.

“Additional details will be announced in the coming days. The President is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts,” Earnest said. “He is also eager to get a first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods, hear from more officials about the response, including how the federal government can assist and tell the people of Louisiana that the American people will be with them as they rebuild their community and come back stronger than ever.”

Republicans have urged Obama to cut short his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to show solidarity with a state that’s been trying to deal with the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy.

The Republican presidential ticket flew into Baton Rouge on Friday morning to visit those impacted by the severe flooding. During his visit with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump told volunteers at a church in Greenwell Springs that Obama doesn’t want to visit the state, suggesting golf is more important to the president.

“The president says he doesn’t want to come, he is trying to get out of a golf game,” Trump said, according to ABC News. “He will never be under par.”

Hillary Clinton spoke with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards by phone Friday. Clinton said the flood, which was much larger than anticipated, has damaged more than 40,000 homes, impacting more than 100,000 people.

“My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can't afford any distractions. The very best way this team can help is to make sure Louisianans have the resources they need," Clinton wrote in a Facebook post, which included links to the Red Cross and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Edwards’ office on Thursday warned against outside politicians visiting the state too soon — particularly Trump. “We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op,” a spokesman for the governor’s office said in a statement. “Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

Edwards, a Democrat, himself praised the Obama administration’s response to the disaster and defended Obama from the broadside over his decision to remain on vacation.

“The president is welcome to visit whenever he wants to visit, and when he wants to visit we’re gonna receive him and we’re gonna do whatever’s necessary to make sure that that visit goes off without a hitch,” Edwards said Thursday.

But he also tried to nudge the White House to stay away for a while, noting that when Vice President Joe Biden visited Louisiana to attend police officers’ memorials, his visit closed down interstates and drew law enforcement officers away from their regular duties to provide additional security for Biden.

“Quite frankly, that is not something that I want to go through right now,” he said. “And so while the president is welcome to visit, I would just assume he give us another week or two, get back to a greater sense of normalcy here and then he can visit. Well, I’ll say that differently: He can visit whenever he wants to.”

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Nunzio Ingrassia Aug-16-2016 164 0
The Milwaukee Bucks hired former Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson as vice president of player and organizational development Monday. If Robinson's name looks familiar, it's because he's also president Barack Obama's brother-in-law.

According to the team, Robinson will be in charge of programs that help players grow both professionally and personally.

"Craig has an impressive set of qualifications that we feel will be beneficial to our players and our entire organization," Bucks general manager John Hammond said, via the team's website. "We couldn't be more excited to welcome him to the Bucks family."

Robinson coached at Oregon State from 2008-14, winning 93 games in that span. He's the older brother of the first lady, Michelle Obama.

President Obama hasn't been shy to express his love for Chicago sports teams. It's probably safe to say he will keep a closer eye on the Bucks now.
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CHARLIE SAVAGE Aug-10-2016 86 0
The Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to better track killings by police officers, as heightened national scrutiny of such deaths has reinforced criticism of its reliance on self-reporting by state and local law enforcement agencies.

In a notice published in the Federal Register this week, the Justice Department said it would ask law enforcement agencies and medical examiner’s offices to fill out forms when there is a news report or another indication that a person died while in police custody.

Under the proposed system, which would cover 19,450 state and local law enforcement agencies and about 685 medical examiner’s or coroner’s offices, they would also be asked to fill out forms about the total number of such cases every three months. The department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics would then compile that information.

The proposal comes as police killings of African-Americans have fueled protests in recent years in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The resulting scrutiny of the issue has focused attention on the lack of reliable and comprehensive data about how many people are killed by the police each year.

The government’s existing system is called the Arrest-Related Deaths program, which is intended to be a census of a variety of causes of such deaths, including suicides, accidents and deaths from natural causes. Critics say it does not provide accurate data about killings by police officers in part because it relies on self-reporting by law enforcement officials.

In 2014, for example, The Wall Street Journal gathered data on police shootings from 2007 to 2012 from 105 of the nation’s largest police agencies and compared it to the F.B.I.’s statistics. It found that more than 550 police shootings were not included in the national database or were not attributed to the agency involved.

The Guardian, which reported the Justice Department proposal on Monday, and The Washington Post are conducting projects that will try to fill the gaps by compiling data on arrest-related deaths across the country.

“Because of concerns about variations in data collection methodology and coverage,” the Justice Department notice said, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has “developed and tested new methodologies for collecting data” aimed at enabling “accurate and comprehensive accounting of deaths that occur during the process of arrest.”

Such information, it said, is critical for law enforcement agencies to “demonstrate responsiveness to the citizens and communities they serve, transparency related to law enforcement tactics and approaches, and accountability for the actions of officers.”

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had previously foreshadowed that the government was trying to develop a better system to understand the scope and frequency of arrest-related deaths. The notice, which invited comments on the proposed system until Oct. 3, was a step toward that policy goal.

The notice did not make clear whether killings by federal law enforcement agents would be included in the new system. It proposed asking state and local agencies — not federal ones — to fill out forms about arrest-related deaths. However, the notice did not address how coroners were supposed to address killings by federal officers.

In 2013, The New York Times reported that the F.B.I. had deemed its agents faultless in all 150 cases, dating to at least 1993, in which agents had shot people, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation. The bureau later decided to fire one agent it had faulted over a shooting in Queens in 2012, although the person he shot — a man trying to burglarize his car — survived.

More recently, a bureau review panel proposed disciplining an agent who shot the tire of a suspected drug dealer’s car during an arrest attempt in Baltimore in 2014, finding that the agent violated the bureau’s policy on using lethal force. But it cleared other agents who shot and killed the suspect.

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MICHAEL D. SHEAR Aug-03-2016 99 0
In an extraordinary denunciation of Donald J. Trump’s temperament and competence, President Obama urged leaders of the Republican Party on Tuesday to withdraw their endorsements of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, flatly calling him “unfit to serve” as the nation’s 45th president.

Speaking in the East Room of the White House while Mr. Trump rallied supporters in a nearby Virginia suburb, the president noted the Republican criticism of Mr. Trump for his attacks on the Muslim parents of an American soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq.

But Mr. Obama said the political recriminations from Republicans “ring hollow” if the party’s leaders continue to support Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Mr. Obama said. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?”

The president’s condemnation of Mr. Trump, and his direct appeal to Republicans to abandon their candidate, were stunning even in a city where politics has become a brutal and personal affair. Mr. Obama seemed eager to go beyond his past interventions in the race, which have included forceful rejections of Mr. Trump’s statements and policy proposals.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, called Mr. Obama’s comments “a highly unusual and almost unprecedented moment.” The last time a sitting president was as openly critical of the other party’s candidate, Mr. Brinkley said, was in 1953, when President Harry S. Truman mocked Dwight D. Eisenhower as not knowing “any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.”

“It’s a reflection of just how radical and dangerous President Obama feels that Trump is,” Mr. Brinkley said.

Using the formal backdrop of a joint news conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Mr. Obama suggested that Mr. Trump would not abide by “norms and rules and common sense” and questioned whether he would “observe basic decency” should he reach the Oval Office.

The president said he would have been disappointed to lose in 2008 or 2012, but added that he had never doubted whether his Republican rivals in those races, John McCain and Mitt Romney, could function as president or had the knowledge to make government work.

“That’s not the situation here,” Mr. Obama said.

As Mr. Obama condemned Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate — apparently unaware of the president’s remarks — repeatedly criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the president in an hour of remarks. He called Mrs. Clinton a “liar” and a “thief” and said the country would be “finished” if voters chose four more years of a presidency like Mr. Obama’s. Mr. Trump also accused Mrs. Clinton of repeatedly lying over the weekend when she told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, had said her statements about her private emails were truthful.

“I mean, she lied,” Mr. Trump said, prompting cries of “Lock her up!” from his supporters. “She, pure and simple, she only knows to lie. She really does. She only knows to lie. But she lied, and it’s a big story.”

Mr. Comey, testifying last month to Congress, said that “we have no basis to conclude she lied to the F.B.I.” But he also said he could not say whether Mrs. Clinton’s many public statements on the issue were truthful.

Mr. Trump, in a written statement meant to respond directly to the president’s remarks, called Mrs. Clinton “unfit to serve in any government office.” He also accused Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton of allowing Americans to be slaughtered in Benghazi, Libya; letting veterans die waiting for medical care; and releasing immigrants into the United States to kill innocent people.

“Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores,” Mr. Trump’s statement said. “We need change now.”

The dueling appearances by the president and the Republican candidate seeking to replace him escalated the heated political rhetoric in a race that had already devolved into a series of personal attacks and character assassinations. Mr. Obama cited Mr. Trump’s reaction to Captain Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, as a principal reason for his extended remarks. Mr. Trump had criticized the Khans after they honored their son at the Democratic National Convention and urged people to vote for Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Obama lamented what he called an attack on a “Gold Star family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country.” He said he did not doubt that Republicans were outraged about the statements Mr. Trump and his supporters had made about the Khan family in the last several days.

“But there has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world,” Mr. Obama said.

The president did not limit his criticism to Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khan family. Mr. Obama said the Republican nominee had repeatedly demonstrated that he was “woefully unprepared to do this job.” The president said Mr. Trump had proved he lacked knowledge about Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

“This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily,” Mr. Obama added. “There has to be a point at which you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.’ The fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.”

Mr. Trump, who spoke at a boisterous rally at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., began his remarks there by saying a veteran had given him a Purple Heart medal earlier in the day.

“I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” said Mr. Trump, who received five deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War. “This was much easier.”

Throughout his speech, Mr. Trump argued his case that Mrs. Clinton was “unfit” for the presidency, accusing her of being dishonest, weak on foreign policy and corrupt. He accused the president of doubling the national debt and said the Iraq war exit was a “disaster.”

“Let Obama go to the golf course,” Mr. Trump said. “But you know what? We’d be better off.”

At one point during the rally, a crying baby interrupted Mr. Trump’s speech.

“Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies,” Mr. Trump said at first. “I hear that baby crying, I like it. What a baby, what a beautiful baby. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

A few beats later, he changed his tune. “Actually, I was only kidding,” Mr. Trump said. “You can get that baby out of here.” Laughs and a few gasps escaped from the crowd. “Don’t worry, I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking,” Mr. Trump added. “That’s O.K. People don’t understand. That’s O.K.”

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Jim Malewitz Jul-21-2016 218 0
Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court's ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

Texas is among nine states categorized as requiring "strict photo ID," and its list of acceptable forms is the shortest.

Texas’ losing streak continued in its efforts to defend its law, fighting challenges from the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates. Wednesday's ruling did not immediately halt the voter ID law, which has been in effect since 2013. The judges instructed a lower court to draw up a remedy.

In a statement on Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling “unfortunate.”

“It is imperative that the State government safeguards our elections and ensures the integrity of our democratic process. Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections,” he said.

Experts have closely watched the case, calling it one of two such battles that the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately settle, helping to determine the point that states — which assert they are protecting the integrity of elections — cross over into disenfranchisement.

The 5th Circuit is considered one of the country’s most conservative appellate courts, with 1o of its 15 members having been appointed by Republican presidents.

The case centered on whether Texas discriminated against Hispanic and African-American voters when it passed the legislation: Senate Bill 14.

Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other proponents argued that the law was needed to bolster security at the ballot box by preventing voter fraud, but opponents cite the paucity of proven in-person voter fraud in the state and argue the intent was to undercut the electoral strength of the state’s growing minority population — people less likely to have photo identification or the means to obtain an election certificate.

Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote. Those citizens can obtain “election identification certificates” free of charge, but only if they are able to produce a copy of their birth certificate.
Standing before the judges in May, opponents of the identification law argued that not all voter ID rules discriminate, but Texas’ unusually short list of what’s acceptable is burdensome for certain voters — particularly minorities.

Texas argued that opponents of the law had "failed to identify a single individual who faces a substantial obstacle to voting because of SB 14." In Wednesday's ruling, the judges rejected that argument.

"For one thing, the district court found that multiple Plaintiffs were turned away when they attempted to vote, and some of those Plaintiffs were not offered provisional ballots to attempt to resolve the issue," the ruling stated.

The ruling also affirmed the lower court's finding that Texas' "lackluster educational efforts resulted in additional burdens on Texas voters."

Seven of the court's 15 judges backed the decision in full. Two other judges backed most of the decision. Dissenting judges wrote that the "en banc court is gravely fractured and without a consensus. There is no majority opinion, but only a plurality opinion that draws six separate dissenting opinions and a special concurrence."

More specific to the Texas law, some of the dissenting judges wrote that "requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties."

Voting rights advocates were quick to praise the appeals court's overall decision Wednesday.

“We have repeatedly proven — using hard facts — that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2011, kickstarting its convoluted journey through the federal court system.

Early legal challenges put the rules on hold until 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer automatically needed federal pre-clearance when changing election laws.

In August 2015, a three-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled that the law did have a “discriminatory effect,” in violation of the Voting Rights Act, although it did not constitute a poll tax as a lower court had ruled.

Wednesday's ruling affirmed those findings, and sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

"The district court’s lengthy opinion goes through the evidence supporting its findings in great detail," according to the opinion on the discrimination finding. "A few examples show that the district court relied on concrete evidence regarding the excessive burdens faced by Plaintiffs in making its findings."

The appeals court, however, reversed the district court's ruling that the Legislature had intended to discriminate against certain voters. Though some evidence "could support" that conclusion, the ruling said, the overall findings were "infirm." The judges told the district court to reconsider the evidence.

On Wednesday, Abbott cheered that finding, but lamented the rest of the ruling.

"Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process," he said in a statement.

It's not clear what that court's remedy might look like. Experts called it unlikely that the court would throw out the law completely.

"The remedy is NOT going to be to strike the Texas voter ID law as a whole," but instead to fashion some kind of relief that give people who have a reasonable impediment to getting an ID the chance to get one," Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, wrote on his blog.

"Further, given the timing of the election, the trial court has to craft some kind of interim relief and then can figure out a more comprehensive solution after the next election," Hasen added.

After each loss, Texas has appealed. Through April, Paxton’s office had spent more than $3.5 million defending the law in several lawsuits, its records show.

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Reena Flores Jul-17-2016 219 0
After days of violence and heightened racial tensions in the U.S., the White House responded this week to an online petition asking the federal government to formally label the Black Lives Matter movement as a "terror group."

"Terrorism is defined as 'the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims,'" read the "We The People" petition, created July 6 on the White House website. "This definition is the same definition used to declare ISIS and other groups, as terrorist organizations."

Black Lives Matter, the petition said, "earned this title due to its actions in Ferguson, Baltimore, and even at a Bernie Sanders rally, as well as all over the United States and Canada." It asked the Pentagon to recognize the group as such "on the grounds of principle, integrity, morality, and safety."

Because the online document received at least 100,000 signatures -- at the time of this reporting, it had garnered over 141,000 names -- the White House was automatically prompted to respond.

The "We the People" team noted that "The White House plays no role in designating domestic terror organizations," nor does the U.S. government "generate a list of domestic terror organizations."

"[T]herefore," the response read, "we are not able to address the formal request of your petition."

The White House then went further: Acknowledging that it was a "difficult time" for the country -- and that the debate remains a "charged" one -- the statement additionally prompted petition signers to consider President Obama's words calling for compassion towards the movement.

"I think it's important for us to also understand that the phrase 'black lives matter' simply refers to the notion that there's a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed," the president said last week, talking to a Washington, D.C. gathering of enforcement officials, civil rights leaders, elected officials and other activists on the issue of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. "We shouldn't get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow, automatically, anti-police, are trying to only look out for black lives as opposed to others. I think we have to be careful about playing that game."

The petition came on the heels of deadly officer-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and after days of Black Lives Matter protests for more police accountability.

On July 7, one day after the petition published online, seven law enforcement officers policing a BLM demonstration in Dallas, Texas were shot and killed in a shower of sniper-like fire. And on Sunday, three more policemen were shot and killed in Baton Rouge.

Black Lives Matter protesters condemned the massacre in Dallas, and prominent members did the same after Sunday's Baton Rouge shooting of police officers.

One public voice of the movement, DeRay McKesson, urged peace after news of the Louisiana deaths broke.

"I'm waiting for more information like everybody else," McKesson told the New York Times. "I have more questions than answers."

"The movement began as a call to end violence," he said. "That call remains."

Errol Barnett contributed to this report.
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