Trump-appointed justice could signal major Supreme Court shift on abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With President Donald Trump poised to nominate a U.S. Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy created by the death of liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a new 6-3 conservative majority could be emboldened to roll back abortion rights.

The ultimate objective for U.S. conservative activists for decades has been to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But short of that, there are other options the court has in curtailing abortion rights.

Republican-led states including Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama have passed a variety of abortion restrictions in recent years. Some that seek to ban abortion at an early stage of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts and could reach the justices relatively soon.

Abortion is one the most divisive issues in the United States. Conservative opposition to it has been a driving force behind Republicans, including Trump, making a high priority of judicial appointments in recent years.

“Roe v. Wade is on the line in a way it never has been before,” said Julie Rikelman, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which regularly challenges abortion restrictions.

Even if Roe is not overturned, “we could be in a situation where the court is upholding even more restrictions on abortion,” Rikelman added.

Trump has said he intends to announce his nomination on Saturday, with conservative appeals court judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa considered the frontrunners to be named to succeed Ginsburg, who was a strong defender of abortion rights. Ginsburg died on Friday at age 87.

The leadership of the Republican-controlled Senate is poised to move forward with the nomination even as Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

Even though the court had a 5-4 conservative majority before Ginsburg’s death, some activists on the right were concerned about Chief Justice John Robert’s incremental approach. Roberts angered conservatives by siding with the court’s liberals in June when the court ruled 5-4 to strike down a Louisiana abortion restriction involving a requirement imposed on doctors who perform the procedure.

Roberts, who wrote a separate opinion explaining his views, signaled he may back other abortion restrictions in future cases but said he felt compelled to strike down Louisiana’s law because the justices just four years earlier had invalidated a similar law in Texas.

Trump vowed during the 2016 presidential campaign to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He already has appointed conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court. Both voted to uphold the Louisiana law.

Anti-abortion groups are pushing for Trump to pick Barrett, a conservative Roman Catholic who he appointed to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017. Although she has not yet ruled directly on abortion as a judge, Barrett has twice signaled opposition to rulings that struck down abortion-related restrictions.

Abortion rights activists have voiced concern that Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

STATE-BY-STATE EFFORTS

Broadly speaking, Republican-controlled states have enacted two types of abortion laws: measures that would impose burdensome regulations on abortion providers and those that would ban abortions during the early stages of pregnancy.

The latter laws in particular directly challenge Roe v. Wade and a subsequent 1992 ruling that upheld it. Those two rulings made clear that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion at least up until the point when the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks or soon after.

Legal challenges to laws recently enacted in conservative states that directly challenge the Roe precedent by banning abortion outright or in early stages of pregnancy are still being litigated in lower courts.

One appeal pending at the Supreme Court that the justices will discuss whether to hear in the coming months is Mississippi’s bid to revive a law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In a separate case the court could act upon at any time, the Trump administration has asked the justices to put on hold a federal judge’s decision to block during the coronavirus pandemic a U.S. Food and Drug Administration rule requiring women to visit a hospital or clinic to obtain a drug used for medication-induced abortions.

Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with the Americans United for Life anti-abortion group that has urged Barrett’s appointment, said he expects the Supreme Court to “continue with an incremental approach” even if Trump’s nominee is confirmed, in part because of Roberts’ opinion in the Louisiana case.

But Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which backs abortion rights, said that with only four votes among the justices needed to take up a case, a newly emboldened conservative wing could force Roberts’ hand and take up a more direct challenge to Roe.

“Now,” Dalven said, “Chief Justice Roberts and his concern for the integrity for the court and his potential for being an incrementalist is not enough.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Walmart to test drone delivery of COVID-19 test kits

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc. said on Tuesday it would run a pilot project to deliver self-collection test kits for coronavirus through automated drones at customers’ doorsteps.

The U.S. retailer has partnered with Quest Diagnostics and drone services provider DroneUp, to test-deliver collection kits in north Las Vegas from Tuesday and plans to conduct a trial run in Cheektowaga, New York in early October.

Earlier this month, Walmart piloted drone delivery of grocery and household products in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as it accelerated the expansion of its pickup and delivery services with virus-wary consumers preferring home delivery.

The drones launched on Tuesday will drop the COVID-19 self-collection kits on driveways, front sidewalks or backyards of homes within a one-mile radius of designated Walmart stores.

Customers can self-administer the nasal swab and send back samples to Quest Diagnostics for testing.

Walmart has also teamed up with Zipline to make on-demand deliveries of select health and wellness products near its headquarters in northwest Arkansas.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

New U.S. COVID-19 cases rise 17% in past week, deaths up 5%

(Reuters) – The weekly number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States rose last week for the first time after falling for eight straight weeks, an increase that health experts attributed to schools reopening and parties over the Labor Day holiday.

New cases rose 17% to about 287,000 for the week ended Sept. 20, while deaths rose 5.5% to about 5,400 people after falling for the previous four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports.

Thirteen states have seen weekly infections rise for at least two weeks, up from nine states the previous week, according to the Reuters tally. In Arizona, new cases doubled last week.

On average, more than 776 people a day died from COVID-19 last week, with deaths rising in Arkansas, Kansas and Virginia.

After weeks of declining test rates, an average of 812,000 people a day were tested last week. The country set a record of testing over 1 million people on Saturday.

Nationally, the share of all tests that came back positive for COVID-19 fell for a seventh week to 5.0%, well below a recent peak of nearly 9% in mid-July, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

However, 26 of the 50 states still have positive test rates above the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning. The highest positive test rates are in the Midwest at over 16% in Idaho, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota.

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Graphic by Chris Canipe; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

Remnants of Hurricane Laura drench Arkansas as storm heads east

(Reuters) – The remnants of Hurricane Laura were dousing Arkansas on Friday morning and due to bring rain to the East Coast over the weekend.

Now a tropical depression, Laura had proved less damaging than feared, despite arriving in Louisiana this week as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the United States.

The storm killed at least six people in Louisiana, including four who were killed when trees fell into homes, damaged buildings in Louisiana and Texas and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast over the weekend to survey the damage.

The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.

What would have been a dangerous 20-foot (6-m) storm surge that forecasters had predicted could move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Hurricane Laura slams Louisiana, kills six, but less damage than forecast

By Elijah Nouvelage and Ernest Scheyder

LAKE CHARLES, La. (Reuters) – Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on Thursday, killing six people and flattening buildings across a wide swatch of the state before moving into Arkansas with heavy rains.

Laura’s powerful gusts uprooted trees – and four people were crushed to death in separate incidents of trees falling on homes. The state’s department of health said late Thursday that there were two more fatalities attributed to the hurricane – a man who drowned while aboard a sinking boat and a man who had carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator in his home.

In Westlake, a chemical plant caught fire when hit by Laura, and the flames continued to send a chlorine-infused plume of smoke skyward nearly 24 hours after landfall.

Laura caused less mayhem than forecasts predicted – but officials said it remained a dangerous storm and that it would take days to assess the damage. At least 867,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas remained without power on Thursday afternoon.

“This was the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in Louisiana,” Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference. “It’s continuing to cause damage and life-threatening conditions.”

Laura’s maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) upon landfall easily bested Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005, and arrived with wind speeds of 125 mph.

The NHC said Laura’s eye had crossed into southern Arkansas late Thursday afternoon and was heading to the northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). The storm could dump 7 inches (178 mm) of rain on portions of Arkansas, likely causing flash floods.

Laura was downgraded to a tropical depression by the NHC at 10 p.m., and the forecaster said it will move to the mid-Mississippi Valley later on Friday and then to the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.

CHEMICAL PLUME

Laura’s howling winds leveled buildings across a wide swath of the state and a wall of water that was 15 feet (4.6 m) high crashed into tiny Cameron, Louisiana, where the hurricane made landfall around 1 a.m.

A calamitous 20-foot storm surge that had been forecast to move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

Tropical-force winds were felt in nearly every parish across Louisiana – and Edwards warned that the death toll could climb as search and rescue missions increase.

CLEANUP BEGINS

Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 mph and gusts up to 128 mph in the hour after landfall.

National Guard troops cleared debris from roads in Lake Charles on Thursday afternoon. There were downed power lines in streets around the city, and the winds tipped a few semi-trucks onto their sides.

The windows of the city’s 22-story Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the flooded streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxious about his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he said in a telephone interview.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Lake Charles, La., Ernest Scheyder in Starks, La., Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver, Timothy Ahmann, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Leader of white nationalist gang escapes Arkansas jail

Wesley Gullett appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A white nationalist gang leader facing federal charges escaped from an Arkansas jail along with another inmate on Thursday, officials said.

Wesley Gullett, who prosecutors earlier this year said was the head of the New Aryan Empire, was found to be missing early on Wednesday at the Jefferson County Jail in Pine Bluff, a city about 30 miles (50 km) south of Little Rock, the U.S. Marshals Service said in a statement.

The New Aryan Empire began as a prison gang and branched out beyond prisons, with members committing violence to support a large drug-trafficking operation, the Department of Justice said in February.

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

Christopher Sanderson appears in this handout photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service on August 1, 2019. U.S. Marshals Service/Handout via REUTERS

The other inmate missing was Christopher Sanderson, 34, who was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, the Marshals Service said. His prior convictions include possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and theft.

Federal prosecutors in 2017 charged Gullett and more than 40 other people with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, according to court documents.

This past February, a federal grand jury named other defendants and brought additional charges. For Gullett, those new charges included attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gullett, 30, who is from Russellville, Arkansas, has pleaded not guilty.

The Marshals Service has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Gullett and a $5,000 reward for Sanderson and agency officials warned that both men should be considered armed and dangerous.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Arkansas, Oklahoma brace for historic flooding in storm-hit U.S. Midwest

A storm cloud is seen in Shawnee, Kansas, U.S. in this still image taken from a May 28, 2019 video obtained from social media. Daniel Hogue/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Communities along the swollen Arkansas River in Oklahoma and Arkansas prepared on Wednesday for further flooding, with the mayor of Tulsa urging thousands of residents behind the city’s aging levees to be ready to evacuate in the event of a “worst-case scenario.”

More than a week of stormy weather, including violent downpours and deadly tornadoes, has devastated the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the two states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

More rain is forecast, and the floods are expected to spread, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) and local officials.

A tornado and storm cloud is seen in Eudora, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. AJ SCOTT /via REUTERS

A tornado and storm cloud is seen in Eudora, Kansas, U.S. in this still from a video taken May 28, 2019 obtained from social media. AJ SCOTT /via REUTERS

“The rain has been coming fast and furiously and it all has to drain through the rivers,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist at the NWS Weather Prediction Center, said in an interview on Wednesday. More heavy downpours were forecast through Wednesday night over much of the two states, with between 1 and 3 inches (2.5 to 7.6 cm) expected, he said.

By early June, rivers are expected to crest to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, Burke said.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s 70-year-old levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

“Please prepare for the worst-case scenario that we’ve had in the history of the city,” he said on Tuesday. So far, he added, the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed.

At least six people have died as a result of the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has raised the release of water from the Keystone Dam, in northeastern Oklahoma on the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers about 23 miles from Tulsa, into the river system to 275,000 cubic feet per second to stop the dam from overflowing.

A plague of extreme weather has upended life in the region, with more than 300 tornadoes touching down in the Midwest in the last two weeks.

Several tornadoes touched down on Tuesday evening in Kansas, damaging homes, uprooting trees and ripping down power lines, according to the NWS. Tornadoes also pulverized buildings in western Ohio, killing one person, and injuring scores of others.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

More U.S. states push ahead with near-bans on abortion for Supreme Court challenge

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on Wednesday making it a crime for doctors to perform a second-trimester abortion using instruments like forceps and clamps to remove the fetus from the womb.

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

The move came the same day that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans – outlawing the procedure if a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature in March also passed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Activists on both sides of the issue say such laws, which are commonly blocked by court injunctions, are aimed at getting a case sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The North Dakota bill, which Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, confirmed in an email that the governor signed, followed similar laws in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Known as HB 1546, it outlaws the second-trimester abortion practice known in medical terms as dilation and evacuation, but which the legislation refers to as “human dismemberment.”

Under the North Dakota legislation, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony but the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Similar legislation exists in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, but is on hold because of litigation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group.

Abortion-rights groups challenging such bans argue they are unconstitutional as they obstruct private medical rights.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She previously said her clinic would wait for a decision in a case involving similar legislation in Arkansas before deciding on a possible legal challenge to HB 1546.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Two U.S. military bases in Texas to house immigrants: Mattis

Honduran families seeking asylum wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge after being denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Phil Stewart

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (Reuters) – The U.S. military is preparing to house immigrants at two bases in Texas, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, the latest sign of the military being drawn into a supporting role for President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Fort Bliss, an Army base in El Paso, Texas, and Goodfellow Air Base in San Angelo, Texas, would be used, Mattis said, but he added that he could not confirm any specifics.

“We’ll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people they have under their custody,” Mattis told reporters in Alaska before leaving on an Asia trip.

In the face of outrage at home and overseas over his crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump was forced last week to abandon his policy of separating children from parents who are apprehended for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. military, and Mattis in particular, have stressed that it is simply providing logistical support to the Department of Homeland Security, which deals with immigration issues.

“We’re not going to get into the political aspect. Providing housing, shelter for those who need it is a legitimate governmental function,” Mattis said.

One U.S. official, speaking earlier on the condition of anonymity, said it was expected that one of the bases would house immigrant families and another immigrant children.

On Sunday, Mattis said the U.S. military was preparing to build temporary camps at two military bases to house immigrants but did not name the facilities.

Last week, the U.S. military said it had been asked by the government to get ready to house up to 20,000 immigrant children.

Trump has previously turned to the military to help with his border crackdown. Earlier this year, U.S. National Guard forces were dispatched to border states to help tighten security.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)