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U.S. Supreme Court justices question tough Texas abortion law

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

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U.S. Supreme Court justices question tough Texas abortion law
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Storm clouds roll in over the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared to be leaning toward allowing a challenge brought by abortion providers to a Republican-backed law that imposes a near-total ban on the procedure and lets private citizens enforce it.

The justices were hearing separate challenges by President Joe Biden’s administration and abortion providers to the Texas law.

Abortion rights in the United States are hanging in the balance as the nine justices tackled the dispute over the Texas law barring abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy before hearing arguments on Dec. 1 over the legality of a Mississippi measure prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In the challenge brought by Texas abortion providers, the court on Sept. 1 declined to halt the law, with five of the court’s six conservative justices in the majority. But there were signs during oral arguments that some conservative justices were reconsidering their positions.

Some justices signaled that existing Supreme Court precedent could accommodate the lawsuit brought by abortion providers challenging the law against even with the measure’s unusual private-citizen enforcement structure. However, as arguments unfolded in the Biden administration’s challenge, conservative justices seemed more skeptical about the federal government’s power to sue Texas over the law.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked clinic lawyer Marc Hearron about whether under the unusual structure of the law defendants could ever get a “full airing” of the constitutional claims on the right to abortion. Under the law, abortion providers can bring up the right to an abortion as a defense only after they have been sued.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed interest in an outcome discussed by liberal Justice Elena Kagan in which state court clerks would be barred from docketing lawsuits brought by private individuals seeking to enforce the law.

Kavanaugh said the Texas law “exploited” a loophole in court precedent concerning when state officials can be barred from enforcing unconstitutional laws. He wondered if the court should “close that loophole.”

Kavanaugh also wondered if states could pass similar laws that could infringe other constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms. A state, for example, could allow for $1 million in damages against anyone who sells an AR-15 rifle, he said.

Kagan said the law was written by “some geniuses” to evade the broad legal principle that “states are not to nullify federal constitutional rights.”

Other justices, including conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, appeared skeptical about the idea of judges themselves being sued under the law. Roberts on Sept. 1 had dissented along with the court’s three liberal justices.

Some conservative justices, including Justice Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, raised the question of whether anyone would have standing to sue under the Texas law without having a direct injury.

Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone, defending the law, said “outrage” based on opposition to abortion would be grounds to bring a lawsuit.

At issue is whether federal courts can hear lawsuits aimed at striking down the Texas law and whether the U.S. government even can sue to try to block it. If the justices keep federal courts out of the process by virtue of the law’s unique design, it could be replicated in other states and curtail abortion access in other parts of the country.

The Texas and Mississippi laws are among a series of Republican-backed abortion restrictions pursued at the state level in recent years. Lower courts blocked the Mississippi law.

LANDMARK RULING

Abortion opponents hope the Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, will roll back abortion rights or even overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and legalized the procedure nationwide.

The law bans abortion at a point in time when many women do not yet realize they are pregnant. There is an exception for a documented medical emergency but not for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.

The Texas measure takes enforcement out of the hands of state officials, instead enabling private citizens to sue anyone who performs or assists a woman in getting an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo.

That feature made it more difficult to directly sue the state, helping shield the law from being immediately blocked. Individual citizens can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits under the law. Critics have said this provision lets people act as anti-abortion bounty hunters.

The abortion providers and Biden’s administration have called the law unconstitutional and explicitly designed to evade judicial review.

The law’s design has deterred most abortions in Texas, which is the second most populous U.S. state, behind only California, with about 29 million people.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the abortion providers case refused to block the law and indicated that federal courts lack jurisdiction to intervene. After a federal judge in the Biden administration’s challenge blocked the law on Oct. 6, the 5th Circuit quickly reinstated it.

Mississippi has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Texas attorney general has signaled he also would like to see that ruling overturned.

The Texas dispute reached the Supreme Court with unusual speed. The justices agreed to take up the matter on Oct. 22, bypassing lower courts that are considering the challenges.

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U.S. Capitol riot panel promises new evidence at surprise Tuesday hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A video of former U.S President Donald Trump speaking is shown on a screen during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S.

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By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee plans to reveal new evidence about the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters at a public hearing on Tuesday it hastily announced a mere 24 hours earlier.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, declined to answer questions about who might testify or what evidence would be presented.

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, several media outlets reported. Representatives of the panel did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

The meeting, announced on Monday, is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET (1700 GMT) on Tuesday.

Testimony at five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of his interviews with Trump and his family, according to media reports.

The committee has said it intends to interview Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden’s victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intended to speak to the panel.

U.S. law enforcement last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s false fraud claims.

This month’s hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, state election officials and reviews by Trump’s own administration rejected his claims of fraud, some of which included outlandish stories about an Italian security firm or the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, has denied wrongdoing and accused the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believe Trump’s false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

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Rescuers dig for survivors after Russian missiles demolish Ukrainian shopping mall

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6/6

© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

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By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Firefighters and soldiers searched on Tuesday for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine after a Russian missile strike killed at least 18 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

More than 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall in Kremenchuk, about 300 km (200 miles) southeast of the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

At least 18 people were killed and 25 hospitalised, while about 36 were missing, Poltava region governor Dmytro Lunin said.

Zelenskiy, in an overnight video address, called the attack deliberate, saying it was “a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre”.

Russia said the incident was caused by a strike on a legitimate military target. Its defence ministry, quoted by the RIA state news agency, said it had fired missiles at a storage depot for Western weapons in Kremenchuk, and the detonation of stored ammunition there had caused the fire at the nearby mall.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told Reuters a missile had also struck a nearby factory, but it was closed and not a military target.

“It’s a question about crimes against humanity,” she said. “I think it’s like systematical shelling of civilian infrastructure – with what aim? To scare people, to kill people to make terror in our cities and villages.”

Relatives of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers set up a base after Monday’s strike.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.

“It was hell,” said her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage around his head.

At the scene of the blaze on Tuesday morning, exhausted-looking firefighters sat on a kerb. Oleksandr, wetting his face from a water bottle on a bench, said his team had worked all night picking through the rubble.

“We pulled out five bodies. We didn’t find anybody alive,” he said.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they said in a joint statement.

BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK

Russia denies intentionally targetting civilians in its “special military operation” which has destroyed cities, killed thousands of people and driven millions from their homes.

The U.N. Security Council, where Moscow wields a veto, will meet on Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was deplorable.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River. Ukraine said the Russians attempted to storm it.

Lysychansk is the last big city held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take Kyiv early in the war.

Eight residents including a child were killed and 21 wounded by shelling when they gathered to get drinking water in Lysychansk on Monday, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

Ukrainian forces controlled the city but its loss was possible as Russia poured resources into the fight, he added.

“They really want this and a lot of reserves are being thrown just for this…We do not need to lose an army for the sake of one city,” he told Reuters in an interview.

Rodion Miroshnik, the ambassador to Moscow of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city stadium.

Fighting was going on in several surrounding villages, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on Telegram.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among the wounded, the governor said.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders vowed to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and tighten the squeeze on Russia’s finances with new sanctions that include a proposal to cap the price of Russian oil.

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Russia expands U.S. sanctions list to include Biden’s wife and daughter

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden disembark from Marine One as they return from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday expanded its U.S. ‘stop-list’, including in it the wife and daughter of President Joe Biden as well as other prominent figures.

The step was taken “as a response to the ever-expanding U.S. sanctions against Russian political and public figures,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

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