China criticizes U.S. ‘scapegoating’ as COVID origin report to be released

BEIJING (Reuters) -China criticized on Wednesday the U.S. “politicization” of efforts to trace the origin of the coronavirus, demanding a U.S. military laboratory be investigated, shortly before the release of a U.S. intelligence community report on the virus.

The U.S. report is intended to resolve disputes among intelligence agencies considering different theories about how the coronavirus emerged, including a once-dismissed theory about a Chinese laboratory accident.

“Scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S.,” Fu Cong, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ arms control department, told a briefing.

A White House official said on Wednesday that President Joe Biden had been briefed on the classified report. “We look forward to having an unclassified summary of key judgments to share soon,” the official said.

U.S. officials say they did not expect the review to lead to firm conclusions after China stymied earlier international efforts to gather key information on the ground.

China has said a laboratory leak was highly unlikely, and it has ridiculed a theory that coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 infections emerged in late 2019, setting off the pandemic.

China has instead suggested that the virus slipped out of a lab at the Army’s Fort Detrick base in Maryland in 2019.

“It is only fair that if the U.S. insists that this is a valid hypothesis, they should do their turn and invite the investigation into their labs,” said Fu.

On Tuesday, China’s envoy to the United Nations asked the head of the World Health Organization for an investigation into U.S. labs.

A joint WHO-Chinese team visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology but the United States said it had concerns about the access granted to the investigation.

When asked if China would stop talking about the Fort Detrick laboratory if the U.S. report concluded the virus did not leak from a Chinese lab, Fu said: “That is a hypothetical question, you need to ask the U.S.”

Fu said China was not engaged in a disinformation campaign.

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Fears of COVID-19 resurgence spread to East Coast as grim U.S. records mount

By Maria Caspani and Anurag Maan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths surge across the United States, more signs emerged that a second wave could engulf areas of the Northeast, which managed to bring the pandemic under control after being battered last spring.

In New Jersey, one of the early U.S. hotspots, a spike in cases in Newark, the state’s largest city, prompted Mayor Ras Baraka to implement aggressive measures, including a mandatory curfew for certain areas, to contain the spread of the virus.

New York state and city officials also reported a worrying rise in the seven-day average infection rate that raised the specter of stricter mitigation measures adopted at the height of the pandemic.

“This is our LAST chance to stop a second wave,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote on Twitter on Wednesday as he announced the seven-day average positivity rate citywide was 2.52%. The city’s public school system, the largest in the country, would have to shut down if that figure reached 3%.

“We can do it, but we have to act NOW,” he said.

The United States as a whole reported more than 1,450 deaths on Tuesday, the highest single-day count since mid-August, according to a Reuters analysis.

U.S. COVID-19 cases climbed for seven days straight to reach more than 136,000 as of late Tuesday while hospitalizations, a key metric of the pandemic, crossed 60,000 for the first time since the pandemic began.

In Newark, the positivity rate hovered at 19%, more than double the state’s 7.74% seven-day average, Baraka said in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread,” he said.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced some restrictions on Monday in response to a rise in COVID-19 cases in the state, and outbreaks among bartenders.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release on Tuesday that New York’s positivity rate had climbed above 3% for the first time in weeks.

In Maryland, where the positivity rate stood at 5.6% on Wednesday, officials warned about rising COVID-19 hospitalizations. More than 800 people were being treated for the coronavirus at state hospitals as of Wednesday, according to Mike Ricci, the communications director of Governor Larry Hogan, the highest daily count since April, a Reuters tally showed.

A record number of people died of coronavirus in several Midwest and western states on Tuesday, including in Alaska, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Officials in states hardest-hit by the virus pleaded with residents to stay home as much as possible and heed the advice of experts by wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing.

“It’s not safe to go out, it’s not safe to have others over — it’s just not safe. And it might not be safe for a while yet,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said during a primetime address on Tuesday. “So, please, cancel the happy hours, dinner parties, sleepovers and playdates at your home.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, Editing by Nick Macfie)

Ten more states added to New York quarantine order: Cuomo

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional 10 states to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus as cases flare up across the country.

Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, Washington were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. Minnesota was removed.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 31 U.S. states are now required to quarantine upon arrival in New York, according to the travel advisory.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

A day fighting COVID-19: U.S. hospital staff share hardest moments on shift

BALTIMORE, Md. (Reuters) – The shifts are long and the scenes are heartbreaking inside a Maryland hospital where nurses and doctors have been treating coronavirus patients for weeks, unable to let family inside to visit loved ones on their death beds.

One of the hardest moments of a recent work day for registered nurse Julia Trainor was intubating a patient, and then calling the patient’s husband so he could talk to his wife. He was not allowed in the hospital.

“I had to put him on the phone and hold the phone to her ear as he told her that he loved her so much, and then I had to wipe away her tears,” says Trainor, who works in a surgical intensive care unit. “I’m used to seeing very sick patients and I’m used to patients dying, but nothing quite like this.”

The highly infectious COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus has infected more than 580,000 people across the United States and killed nearly 24,000.

In Maryland, where residents have been ordered to stay at home since March 30 to stem the spread of the disease, around 9,000 have tested positive for the virus and more than 260 have died.

After finishing what for many was a more than 12-hour shift, some nurses and doctors at one hospital shared with Reuters the hardest moments of their days. The hospital asked that it not be named.

The medical workers agreed that one of the toughest parts of the job – more than the exhausting schedule or adjusting to work in a new unit – was witnessing the toll on patients and families.

Because of the hospital’s no-visitor policy, which was implemented to prevent further spread of the virus, the medical staff must care for the patients’ physical needs and offer as much emotional support as they can muster in the absence of the patients’ families.

“The hardest moment during the shift was just seeing COVID patients die helpless and without their family members beside them,” says Ernest Capadngan, a nurse in the hospital’s biocontainment unit.

Communicating with the families has weighed heavily on the hospital staff. Staff cannot bend the no-visit rules, even when a family calls in desperation.

“I had a patient fall out of bed today and I had to call his wife and tell her and she couldn’t come see him, even though she pleaded and begged to come see him,” says Tracey Wilson, a nurse practitioner.

“One of the hardest moments was having to see a family member of a COVID patient say goodbye over an iPad,” says Tiffany Fare, a nurse in the biocontainment unit. “You can’t see your loved one and then they’re gone.”

There are very few opportunities to rest during a shift, although colleagues look out for one another and try to cover for each other when someone needs a break.

Cheryll Mack, a registered nurse in the emergency room, says she tries to get outside for 15 minutes during the day to breathe.

“It has given me relief, just fresh air,” Mack says.

Each shift concludes with a similar decontamination drill. Nurses and doctors must remove their personal protective equipment and shower immediately before coming in contact with their family at home.

“I take a very long, very hot shower. And then I usually sit on the couch and… read a book or watch some mindless reality show in order to destress,” says Martine Bell, a nurse practitioner.

Laura Bontempo, an emergency medicine physician, says she removes her work clothing and gear in a decontamination tent she has set up outside her home, and then wraps herself in a towel and runs inside to shower.

Then she puts the scrubs in the washing machine by themselves to not contaminate any other items.

Meghan Sheehan, 27, a nurse practitioner, says she drives home each night without turning on the radio and uses the quiet time to reflect on her shift and her patients. When she gets home, she tries hard not to dwell on the day.

“I go home, I shower immediately and try to have dinner with family, and try to not talk about it,” she said. “Nighttime is definitely the hardest because you’re constantly thinking about what the next day will brin

(Writing by Gabriella Borter in New York, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Supreme Court rejects limits to partisan gerrymandering

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a major blow to election reformers, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected efforts to rein in the contentious practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries to entrench one party in power by turning away challenges to political maps in Maryland and North Carolina.

The justices, in a 5-4 decision with the court’s conservative in the majority and liberals in dissent, ruled in a decision with nationwide implications that judges do not have the ability to curb the practice known as partisan gerrymandering. The court sided with Republican lawmakers in North Carolina and Democratic legislators in Maryland who drew electoral district boundaries that were challenged by voters.

The ruling, authored by Chief justice John Roberts, delivered a huge setback to election reformers who had hoped the court would intervene over a growing trend in which parties that control state legislatures use the electoral district line-drawing process to cement their grip on power and dilute the voting power of people who support the rival party.

The court ruled for the first time that federal courts have no authority to curb partisan gerrymandering – a decision that could give lawmakers who control state legislatures even more incentive to draw maps after the 2020 census that disadvantage voters who tend to back the rival party.

“We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts,” Roberts wrote.

Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court’s liberals, took the unusual step of reading her dissent from the bench.

“For the first time ever, this court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities,” Kagan said.

In the Maryland case, the court sided with Democratic legislators in Maryland who reconfigured the U.S. House of Representatives district at issue.

In the North Carolina case, the justices overturned a lower court decision that ordered that the state’s 13 U.S. House of Representatives districts be reconfigured before the 2020 U.S. election to remove the partisan bias. The lower court had decided that the Republican-drawn districts were so politically biased that they violated the rights of voters under the U.S. Constitution.

The decision could have a major impact in states across the country. Critics have said gerrymandering is becoming more extreme and can better engineer election outcomes with the use of precise voter data and powerful computer software. The justices on May 24 blocked lower court rulings that had struck down Republican-drawn electoral maps in Michigan and Ohio and had ordered new ones to be drawn for the 2020 election.

The high court previously had struggled to resolve the legality of partisan gerrymandering, a longstanding practice in which boundaries of legislative districts are reworked with the aim of tightening one party’s grip on power. The justices in June 2018 failed to issue definitive rulings on partisan gerrymandering in two cases – this same one from Maryland and another involving a Republican-drawn electoral map in Wisconsin.

The boundaries of legislative districts across the country are redrawn to reflect population changes contained in the census conducted by the federal government every decade, a head count mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

This redistricting in most states is carried out by the party in power, though some states in the interest of fairness assign the task to independent commissions. Gerrymandering typically involves politicians drawing legislative districts to pack voters who tend to favor a particular party into a small number of districts to diminish their statewide voting power while dispersing others in districts in numbers too small to be a majority.

Critics have said partisan gerrymandering, when taken to extremes, warps democracy by intentionally diluting the power of some voters and the electability candidates they support.

Gerrymandering is a practice dating back two centuries in the United States. But critics have said it is becoming more extreme with the use of precision computer modeling to guide the creation of district boundaries that maximize the clout of one party’s voters at the expense of other voters.

While the Supreme Court has ruled against gerrymandering intended to harm the electoral clout of racial minorities, it has never curbed gerrymandering carried out purely for partisan advantage.

Democrats have said partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in such states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania helped President Donald Trump’s party maintain control of the U.S. House and various state legislatures for years, although Democrats seized control of the House in last November’s elections and made inroads in state legislatures.

For a graphic on major Supreme Court rulings, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2V2T0Uf

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung)

U.S. Supreme Court rules for cross-shaped war memorial on public land in Maryland

A concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One, that is the subject of a religious rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen in Bladensburg, Maryland, U.S., February 11, 2019. Picture taken on February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not represent an impermissible government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a major decision testing the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

The justices, in a 7-2 decision, overturned a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The challengers had argued that the cross violated the Constitution’s so-called Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion and bars governmental actions favoring one religion over another.

The American Humanist Association did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The fractured decision saw two of the court’s liberals, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Elena Kagan, joining the five conservatives in parts of the majority. The ruling made it clear that such a monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices seemed divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed.

Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, wrote for the majority that although the cross is a religious symbol, “its use in the Bladensburg memorial has special significance” because it functions as a war memorial.

“For nearly a century, the Bladensburg cross has expressed the community’s grief at the loss of the young men who perished, its thanks for their sacrifices, and its dedication to the ideals for which they fought,” he added.

To tear the cross down now could be seen as an act of hostility against religion, Alito said.

Where the justices differ is on what kinds of other displays, including ones built more recently, would violate the Constitution.

“A newer memorial, erected under different circumstances, would not necessarily be permissible under this approach,” Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The Peace Cross was funded privately and built to honor 49 men from Maryland’s Prince George’s County killed in World War One. The property was in private hands when the cross was erected, but is now on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a governmental agency.

The cross had the backing of Republican President Donald Trump’s administration. The American Legion holds memorial events at the site. Veterans and their relatives have said the monument has no religious meaning despite being in the shape of a cross, calling the lawsuit misguided and hurtful.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

In major religion case, U.S. top court weighs Maryland cross case

Advocates for the separation of church and state participate in a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of oral arguments over whether a concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One in Bladensburg, Maryland, is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up one of the biggest cases of its current term when it weighs whether a cross-shaped war memorial on public land in Maryland is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

The so-called Peace Cross, a 40-foot-tall (12 meters) concrete memorial to 49 men from Maryland’s Prince George’s County killed in World War One, is situated on public land at a busy road intersection in Bladensburg just outside Washington.

Fred Edwords and two other plaintiffs filed a 2014 lawsuit challenging the cross as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion and bars governmental actions favoring one religion over another.

Edwords, who is retired, is a long-time member and previous employee of the American Humanist Association, which advocates for the separation of church and state.

Supporters of the group participated in a small rally in front of the court before the arguments, with some holding signs saying, “Protect the Constitution they fought for,” in reference to military veterans. Supporters of the cross, including members of the American Legion, a private veterans’ group, also gathered outside the building.

The cross was funded privately and built in 1925. The property where it stands was in private hands when it was erected, but it is now on land owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a governmental agency.

The nine justices on the high court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority, are due to hear a 70-minute oral argument, with a ruling due by the end of June.

The Establishment Clause’s scope is contested, so comments by the justices suggesting a willingness to allow greater government involvement in religious expression will be closely scrutinized.

The cross has the backing of President Donald Trump’s administration and members of the American Legion, who hold memorial events at the site. Veterans and their relatives have said the monument has no religious meaning despite being in the shape of a Christian cross, calling the lawsuit misguided and hurtful.

Aside from its shape, the cross has no other religious themes or imagery.

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross was unconstitutional, reversing a Maryland-based federal judge’s decision allowing the monument.

The Supreme Court will hear appeals by the park commission and the American Legion, which is represented by the conservative religious rights group First Liberty Institute.

The Supreme Court has sent mixed messages about parameters for government-approved religious expression, including in two rulings issued on the same day in 2005.

In one, it ruled that a monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol building depicting the biblical Ten Commandments did not violate the Constitution. But in the other, it decided that Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses and schools were unlawful.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

War memorial or religious symbol? Cross fight reaches U.S. high court

A concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One, that is the subject of a religious rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen in Bladensburg, Maryland, U.S., February 11, 2019. Picture taken on February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

By Lawrence Hurley

BLADENSBURG, Md. (Reuters) – When Fred Edwords first drove by the 40-foot-tall (12 meters) concrete cross that has stood for nearly a century on a busy intersection in suburban Maryland outside the U.S. capital, his first reaction was, “What is that doing there?”

To Edwords, who believes there should be an impermeable wall separating church and state, the location of the so-called Peace Cross – a memorial to Americans killed in World War One situated on public land, with vehicles buzzing by on all sides – seemed to be a clear governmental endorsement of religion.

“It’s so obviously part of the town and a centerpiece. It just popped out at me. There was nothing about it that made me think it was anything other than a Christian cross,” Edwords, 70, said in an interview.

Edwords and two other plaintiffs filed a 2014 lawsuit challenging the cross as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing an official religion and bars governmental actions favoring one religion over another.

A concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One, that is the subject of a religious rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen in Bladensburg, Maryland, U.S., February 11, 2019. Picture taken on February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

A concrete cross commemorating servicemen killed in World War One, that is the subject of a religious rights case now before the U.S. Supreme Court, is seen in Bladensburg, Maryland, U.S., February 11, 2019. Picture taken on February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Hurley

The conservative-majority court will hear arguments in the case next Wednesday, with a ruling due by the end of June.

While the Establishment Clause’s scope is a matter of dispute, most Supreme Court experts predict the challenge to the Peace Cross will fail, with the justices potentially setting a new precedent allowing greater government involvement in religious expression.

The Peace Cross, now aging and crumbling a bit, was funded privately and built in Bladensburg in 1925 to honor 49 men from Maryland’s Prince George’s County killed in World War One. The property where it stands was in private hands when it was erected, but later became public land.

Its supporters include President Donald Trump’s administration and members of the American Legion veterans’ group, who hold memorial events at the cross. At a recent gathering at a nearby American Legion post, veterans and their relatives said the monument has no religious meaning despite being in the shape of a Christian cross, calling the lawsuit misguided and painful.

To Mary Ann Fenwick LaQuay, 80, the cross respectfully chronicles the war sacrifice of her uncle Thomas Notley Fenwick, one of 49 honored.

“It hurts people who have family members there. Every time I go by there, I think of my uncle. It hurts to think people would take it away,” she said.

Stan Shaw, 64, a U.S. Army veteran, said it appeared the challengers were going out of their way to take offense.

“If you don’t want to see it, take another route,” Shaw added.

Aside from its shape, the cross has no other religious themes or imagery. At its base is a barely legible plaque listing the names of the dead. Every year, ceremonies with no religious content are held at the site, lawyers defending the cross said.

Edwords, who is retired, is a long-time member and previous employee of the American Humanist Association, which advocates for the separation of church and state. He and his fellow challengers said they support veterans and that the lawsuit concerns only the symbolism of the cross, not the fact that it honors war dead.

The Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross was unconstitutional, reversing a Maryland-based federal judge’s decision allowing the monument.

The Supreme Court will hear appeals by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the public agency that owns the cross, and the American Legion, which is represented by the conservative religious rights group First Liberty Institute.

TEN COMMANDMENTS

The Supreme Court has sent mixed messages about the extent to which there can be government-approved religious expression, including in two rulings issued on the same day in 2005.

In one case, it ruled that a monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol building depicting the biblical Ten Commandments did not violate the Constitution. But in the other, it decided that Ten Commandments displays in Kentucky courthouses and schools were unlawful.

More recently, the court in 2014 ruled that government entities do not automatically violate the Constitution when they hold a prayer before legislative meetings.

In some other recent cases, the court has taken an expansive view of religious rights. In 2014, it ruled that owners of private companies could object on religious grounds to a federal requirement to provide health insurance that included coverage for women’s birth control.

It ruled in 2017 that churches and other religious entities cannot be flatly denied public money even in states whose constitutions ban such funding. In a narrow 2018 ruling, the court sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his Christian beliefs.

The American Legion’s lawyers are asking the court to decide that government endorsement of religion is not the appropriate test in the Peace Cross case. Instead, they said, courts should conclude that the government violates the Constitution only when it actively coerces people into practicing religion.

Such a ruling would give public officials “carte blanche to have symbols anywhere,” said Marci Hamilton, a University of Pennsylvania expert on law and religion who joined a legal brief supporting Edwords.

Edwords conceded that the lawsuit could end up backfiring on his side with a ruling against him but stands by his decision to challenge the cross.

“We are not trying to be revolutionary here,” Edwords said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Maryland judge to weigh Obamacare case

FILE PHOTO: A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Sarah N. Lynch

(Reuters) – Days after a judge in Texas declared that the Obamacare healthcare law is unconstitutional, Maryland’s Democratic attorney general on Wednesday will pursue his request that another judge rule the opposite way.

The lawsuit brought by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh also seeks to challenge President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, another bone of partisan contention.

Frosh is asking U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander in Baltimore to declare that the 2010 health law, known as the Affordable Care Act, is lawful in a bid to counter attempts by the Trump administration to undermine it.

Hollander will weigh the Whitaker claim along with the government’s motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that Maryland does not have legal standing to bring the case.

On Friday, a judge in Texas ruled that the entire healthcare law was unconstitutional following revisions to the tax code by the Republican-controlled Congress last year, which removed the tax penalty for failing to buy health insurance. Trump, who has worked for years to undermine Obamacare, on Twitter called the Texas judge’s decision “a great ruling for our country.”

The Texas judge ruled in favor of 20 states, including Texas.

The original lawsuit by the 20 states prompted Maryland to sue the federal government over then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ refusal to defend the portions of the Obamacare law being challenged in Texas.

Trump forced Sessions out of office in early November and named Whitaker to replace him as acting attorney general.

In response to that, Maryland asked Judge Hollander to issue an injunction barring Whitaker from serving, saying his appointment violated both the Constitution and a federal law that governs the line of succession at the Justice Department.

Then on Dec. 7, Trump nominated William Barr to become attorney general on a permanent basis. He would replace Whitaker, pending Senate review, likely in early 2019.

Maryland has asked Hollander to issue a declaratory judgment upholding Obamacare’s constitutionality.

If Hollander rules on whether Obamacare is constitutional, her decision could potentially be at odds with the decision in Texas. That could create a conflict among lower courts of the sort the U.S. Supreme Court often likes to tackle.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)

‘Multiple victims’ reported in shooting in Maryland

Pol;ice on scene at work place shooting. Active shooter

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Several people were shot on Thursday in Perryman, Maryland, near an Army facility, and residents were asked to avoid the area, according to authorities.

“The situation is still fluid,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, adding that officers were dispatched to the incident shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

Agents from the Baltimore offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI were also responding, the agencies said.

Perryman is 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Baltimore. The area of the reported shooting includes a church and a business district, and is near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility.

Details of the shooting were still largely unknown around 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT).

A witness told NBC’s affiliate in Baltimore that the shooting occurred in a warehouse and that 20 to 30 officers, as well as ambulances, responded to the scene.

“They’re telling that there is an active shooter,” said the witness, whom the station identified as a man named Bo who did not want to provide his last name.

Governor Larry Hogan said his office was “closely monitoring the horrific shooting.”

“Our prayers are with all those impacted, including our first responders,” Hogan wrote on Twitter. “The State stands ready to offer any support.”

The shooting occurred a day after a man shot and wounded four people, including a police officer, at a Pennsylvania court building before he was killed by police, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)