Abortion providers ask U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in challenge to Texas law

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) -Abortion providers in Texas on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene on an urgent basis in their challenge to a state law imposing a near-total ban on abortion.

The providers asked the justices to hear their case before lower courts have finished ruling on the dispute because of the “great harm the ban is causing.” The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, this month refused to block the law, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

The Texas law is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion past the six-week cutoff. That feature has helped shield the law from being immediately blocked as it made it more difficult to directly sue the government.

In their petition to the Supreme Court, the abortion providers including Whole Woman’s Health and other advocacy groups said that the justices should decide if the state can “insulate” its law from federal court review by delegating its enforcement to the general public.

The Supreme Court rarely agrees to hear a case before lower courts have had a chance to weigh in with their own rulings. But in the court’s 5-4 decision on Sept. 1 to let the law stand for now, the dissenting justices, including conservative Chief Justice John Roberts, expressed skepticism about how the law is enforced.

Roberts said he would have blocked the law’s enforcement at that point “so that the courts may consider whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws in such a manner.”

The providers said that the ban has eliminated the vast majority of abortions in the state given the threat of “ruinous liability,” causing Texans to have to travel hundreds of miles (km) to other states, causing backlogs there.

“Texans are in crisis,” they said in a legal filing.

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration on Sept 9 sued Texas, seeking to block enforcement of the Republican-backed law, as his fellow Democrats fear the right to abortion established in 1973 may be at risk.

The Texas law is the latest Republican-backed measure passed at the state level restricting abortion.

The measure prohibits abortion at a point when many women do not even realize they are pregnant. Under the law, individual citizens can be awarded a minimum of $10,000 for bringing successful lawsuits against those who perform or help others obtain an abortion that violates the ban.

The providers said that they have been forced to comply with the law because defending against these lawsuits, even if they prevail, would amount to “costly, and potentially bankrupting, harassment.”

The Supreme Court already is set to consider a major abortion case on Dec. 1 in a dispute centering on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in which that state has asked the justices to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide and ended an era when some states had banned the procedure. A ruling is due by the end of June 2022.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editig by Will Dunham)

Mexican Supreme Court decriminalizes abortion in historic shift

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Tuesday that penalizing abortion is unconstitutional, a major victory for advocates of women’s health and human rights, just as parts of the United States enact tougher laws against the practice.

The court ruling in the majority Roman Catholic nation follows moves to decriminalize abortion at state level, although most of the country still has tough laws in place against women terminating their pregnancy early.

“This is a historic step for the rights of women,” said Supreme Court Justice Luis Maria Aguilar.

A number of U.S. states have recently taken steps to restrict women’s access to abortion, particularly Texas, which last week enacted the strictest anti-abortion law in the country after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.

The Mexican ruling opens the door to the possibility for the release of women incarcerated for having had abortions. It could also lead to U.S. women in states such as Texas deciding to travel south of the border to terminate their pregnancies.

In July, the state of Veracruz became just the fourth of Mexico’s 32 regions to decriminalize abortion.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Biden enlists White House counsel to fight Texas abortion law

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday said he is launching a “whole-of-government effort,” including from the White House counsel, to combat a strict new Texas abortion law after an overnight Supreme Court decision let it stand.

Biden, a Democrat and a Catholic who has shifted to the left on abortion in recent years to be more in line with his party’s base, called the law that bans any abortion after six weeks an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights.”

The president said in a statement he was directing the office of the White House counsel and his Gender Policy Council to review how the government could “ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions… and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.”

The White House will specifically look at what measures can be taken through the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, Biden said.

The White House has called for the “codification” of abortion rights that are currently protected by the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision through legislation in Congress, but has not outlined any specific steps that it is taking to back any such law.

A plurality of Americans believe that abortion should be legal up until the fetus is capable of living on its own, and they remain largely supportive of Roe v. Wade, a Reuters/Ipsos poll in June showed. The responses are split along party lines, with 70% of Democrats, 35% of Republicans and 47% of independents agreeing abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

Biden’s Democrats have control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives with slim majorities and he is seeking to push through legislation on infrastructure and other Democratic priorities in the coming weeks.

The House will debate and vote on legislation stopping states from enacting restrictive anti-abortion regulations like the one just approved by Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)

U.S. judge will not block CDC’s new COVID-19 residential eviction ban

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. judge on Friday rejected a bid to block a residential eviction moratorium put in place last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), despite raising questions about the new order’s legality.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on procedural grounds is a win for the Biden administration. She said the realtor groups must go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to challenge the new 60-day CDC moratorium set to expire on Oct. 3.

Under heavy political pressure, the CDC reversed course on Aug. 3 and issued a slightly narrower eviction moratorium just three days after the prior one expired. The current moratorium covers nearly 92% of U.S. counties, but that could change based on COVID-19 conditions.

More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind on rental payments, according to a study, and collectively owe more than $20 billion to landlords.

Friedrich in May declared the CDC eviction moratorium, which was first issued in September 2020, unlawful but delayed her ruling from immediately taking effect.

In June, a divided Supreme Court agreed to let the CDC moratorium remain in effect after the agency announced it would allow the ban to expire on July 31.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a concurring opinion saying that in his view extending the CDC moratorium past July 31 would need “clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation).”

Before that, the appeals court had issued a ruling upholding a decision to put Friedrich’s ruling on hold.

Landlord groups argued Kavanaugh’s ruling meant Friedrich should immediately block the new moratorium.

Friedrich said she would have blocked the eviction order but for the appeals court ruling.

“The court’s hands are tied. The Supreme Court did not issue a controlling opinion in this case, and circuit precedent provides that the votes of dissenting justices may not be combined with that of a concurring justice to create binding law,” she wrote.

The CDC declined to comment on Friday and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Biden asks Congress to extend COVID-19 eviction ban set to expire this week

By David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend a moratorium on evictions to protect renters and their families that is set to expire this week amid a deadly rise in coronavirus infections, the White House said.

Biden also asked the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs to extend their respective eviction bans through the end of September, the White House said, to protect Americans living in federally insured, single-family properties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last month it would not extend the eviction moratorium past July 31. The CDC did not immediately comment on Thursday.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to leave in place the CDC’s ban on residential evictions imposed last year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.

“In my view, clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was one of five justices who voted to leave the moratorium in place.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium.”

But she added “unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu;Editing by Alistair Bell)

U.S. Supreme Court leans toward reining in unions in property rights case

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared ready to further curb the power of organized labor in the United States by rolling back a decades-old California regulation that lets union organizers enter agricultural properties without an employer’s consent.

The justices appeared sympathetic during more than an hour of oral arguments toward an appeal by two fruit companies in the most populous U.S. state seeking to halt enforcement of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board regulation, which has been in place since 1975. The justices wrestled over how far they should go in bolstering the property rights of owners.

A lower court rejected the companies’ argument that the regulation violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition on the government taking private property for public use without just compensation.

Conservative justices, who hold a 6-3 majority on the court, seemed to agree that the regulation went too far. Chief Justice John Roberts asked questions that indicated the rule placed few limits on unions. Justice Clarence Thomas wondered how it would be different if the state commandeered a farm to train its police, even if only intermittently.

Liberal justices raised doubts that any regulation like California’s should always be considered unconstitutional, as the companies have asserted. They also expressed concern over how the case might affect other government authority over health and safety.

California, defending the regulation, said that beyond affecting the ability of unions to organize, the case has the potential to reverberate more widely, casting doubt on food, factory and social work inspections, or even Border Patrol entries onto private property to enforce immigration laws.

The Supreme Court in 2018 dealt a big blow to organized labor by ruling that non-members cannot be forced, as they are in certain states, to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police that negotiate contracts covering non-unionized workers as well as union members.

The California regulation allows union organizers, with notice to regulators and the employer, to enter agricultural premises to talk with employees for three non-working hours per day during four 30-day periods each year. The organizers do not require an employer’s consent.

Dorris, California strawberry producer Cedar Point Nursery and Fresno-based Fowler Packing Company, which ships grapes and mandarin oranges, said that the regulation is a relic of the past and that farm workers are easier to reach than ever, including through smartphones and radio stations.

Unions have said the rule in practice affords them little time to reach workers during the narrow window of seasonal farm work either before or after work. They have said farm workers often are migrants who change job sites frequently and may not understand English or Spanish, making work site access one of the only ways to inform them of their labor rights.

The businesses said almost all of their 3,000 workers can communicate in English and Spanish.

The companies challenged the regulation after disputes with the United Farm Workers union in 2015. Organizers disrupted work on Cedar’s property with bullhorns, while Fowler was accused of denying organizers access, drawing a complaint with regulators, according to the lawsuit.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case in 2019.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration had backed the companies in the case, but Democratic President Joe Biden last month informed the justices that the government had switched sides, asserting that the regulation is lawful.

The companies are represented in the case by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court to weigh Trump administration abortion referral restriction

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to decide the legality of a government regulation implemented under former President Donald Trump that bars health clinics from receiving federal family planning funds if they provide abortion referrals.

The justices will hear appeals in cases in which 21 states including Oregon, California and New York, the city of Baltimore and organizations including the American Medical Association and Planned Parenthood challenged the 2019 regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.

President Joe Biden, who took office on Jan. 20, said during the election campaign that he would reverse course from the Trump administration rule. Such a reversal would require a new regulation to be issued after the customary federal rule-making process.

Critics have dubbed the Trump regulation a “gag rule” because they maintain that it prevents medical professionals from providing counseling about abortion if a clinic receives family planning funds through Title X of the 1970 Public Health Services Act. The rule also requires physical separation at any facilities that receive the federal funding and also provide abortions.

The Trump administration said the rule does not prevent all information on abortion being given to patients but enforces a provision in the 1970 law that prohibited funds being used “in programs where abortion is a method family planning.”

Prior to the 2019 rule, healthcare providers could receive Title X funds if they gave abortion referrals as long as the money was used solely for other family planning purposes.

The rule was meant to help Trump fulfill a 2016 campaign pledge to end federal support for Planned Parenthood, which received about $60 million annually, or one-fifth, of Title X funds. Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health services including abortions, left the program in 2019 rather than comply with the rule.

In February 2020, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the rule in the challenge brought by states and medical groups. In a separate September 2020 ruling in the lawsuit brought by Baltimore, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the rule to be unlawful.

Currently, the rule is in effect except for in Maryland, where a federal judge blocked it in the Baltimore case.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court to hear pipeline company’s bid to seize New Jersey land

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a bid by a consortium of energy companies seeking to seize land owned by the state of New Jersey to build a $1 billion natural gas pipeline.

The justices agreed to take up an appeal by PennEast Pipeline Company LLC, a joint venture backed by energy companies including Enbridge Inc, of a lower court ruling in favor of New Jersey’s government, which opposed the land seizure.

Other companies in the consortium for the 120-mile (190-km) pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey include South Jersey Industries Inc, New Jersey Resources Corp (NJR), Southern Co and UGI Corp.

At issue in the case is a 1938 U.S. law called the Natural Gas Act that allows private energy companies to seize “necessary” parcels of land for a project if they have obtained a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FERC in 2018 approved PennEast’s request to build the pipeline. The company promptly sued in federal court under the Natural Gas Act to use the federal government’s eminent domain power to gain access to properties along the route.

New Jersey opposed construction of the pipeline and did not consent to PennEast’s seizure of properties the state owns or in which it has an interest.

PennEast wants the land to build the pipeline, which is designed to deliver 1.1 billion cubic feet per day of gas – enough to supply about 5 million homes – from the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2019 that PennEast could not use federal eminent domain to condemn land controlled by the state.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. consumer watchdog director resigns at request of Biden administration

By Michelle Price

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kathy Kraninger has resigned effective immediately as director of the U.S. consumer watchdog at the request of President Joe Biden’s administration, she tweeted shortly after Biden was sworn in on Wednesday, paving the way for the new president to quickly install an interim agency head.

Kraninger was appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump to serve a five year term as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) ending in 2023.

Last year, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a challenge, backed by the Trump administration and long-supported by most Republicans, which argued that the CFPB director served at the president’s will.

Biden’s transition team made it clear on Monday that his White House was willing to test that new power if Kraninger did not resign when it announced that he planned to nominate Federal Trade Commission member Rohit Chopra to replace Kraninger.

“I support the Constitutional prerogative of the President to appoint senior officials within the government who support the President’s policy priorities, which ensures our government is responsive to the will of the people,” Kraninger wrote in her resignation letter.

It was unclear whether the White House planned to install Chopra as acting CFPB director pending his Senate confirmation, or whether Kraninger’s deputy or another CFPB staffer would lead the agency in the interim.

The CFPB has been a political lightning rod since it was created following the 2009 financial crisis, beloved by Democrats as a guardian of ordinary Americans but reviled by Republicans as too powerful and unaccountable.

Consumer groups have fiercely criticized Kraninger for defanging the agency by relaxing enforcement and easing rules on payday lending, mortgage lending, and debt collection.

On Wednesday, Kraninger appeared to rebut those criticisms, writing that she had “focused on implementing common-sense solutions to complex problems and delivering real value for the American people.”

(Additional reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Impeachment or the 14th Amendment: Can Trump be barred from future office?

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – Some U.S. lawmakers have said President Donald Trump should be disqualified from holding political office again following his impeachment on Wednesday for inciting a mob that stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

Now that the House has impeached Trump, the Senate will hold a trial on whether to remove him and possibly bar him from future office.

Legal experts said disqualification could be accomplished through the impeachment proceedings or the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Here is how the disqualification effort could play out.

CAN TRUMP’S DISQUALIFICATION BE ACCOMPLISHED THROUGH IMPEACHMENT?

The U.S. Constitution says there are two ways to punish an impeached official: removal from office or “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

The House approved a single article of impeachment accusing Trump of inciting insurrection when he delivered a speech to supporters.

Trump is likely to argue at trial that his remarks were free speech protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and that, while he told supporters to “fight,” he did not intend it as a literal call to violence.

Removing an official requires a “conviction” by a two-thirds Senate majority under the Constitution. Under precedent, only a simple majority is needed for disqualification. Historically, that vote only happens after a conviction.

Three federal officials in U.S. history have been disqualified through impeachment proceedings. All three were federal judges.

Most recently, in 2010 the Senate removed and disqualified from future office a Louisiana judge found to have engaged in corruption.

There is some debate over the scope of the disqualification clause and whether it applies to the presidency, said Brian Kalt, a law professor at Michigan State University.

Analyzing historical documents, some law experts say the founders did not intend the presidency to be considered an “office” under the disqualification clause, while others argue that the term applies.

CAN TRUMP BE DISQUALIFIED IF HE IS NOT CONVICTED BY THE SENATE?

This is uncharted legal territory, and there is no clear answer, scholars said.

Paul Campos, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado, said he believed a vote to disqualify Trump can be held even if there are not enough votes for conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the Senate has wide latitude to determine how it conducts a trial, he said.

But Kalt said he thought disqualification would require conviction first. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of punishing the president for an offense he did not commit, Kalt said.

All three judges who were disqualified from office were first convicted.

WHAT ABOUT THE 14TH AMENDMENT?

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment provides an alternative path for disqualification.

The provision states that no person shall hold office if they have engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States. It was enacted following the Civil War to bar Confederates from holding public office.

Under congressional precedent, only a simple majority of both chambers is needed to invoke this penalty. Congress can later remove the disqualification, but only if two-thirds of both houses vote in favor of doing so.

In 1919, Congress used the 14th Amendment to block an elected official, Victor Berger, from assuming his seat in the House because he had actively opposed U.S. intervention in World War I.

The text of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment does not explain how it should be invoked.

Another section the 14th Amendment, Section 5, empowers Congress to enforce the entire amendment through “appropriate legislation.” Some scholars have interpreted this language to mean that a majority of both chambers of Congress could enact a law applying a ban to a particular president, like Trump.

“The 14th Amendment route is very unclear as to what it would take to get it rolling,” said Kalt. “I think it would require some combination of legislation and litigation.”

COULD TRUMP CHALLENGE A DISQUALIFICATION IN COURT?

It is certainly possible, said Kalt.

A Supreme Court case from 1993 makes clear that the court is wary of second-guessing how the Senate handles impeachment. In that case, involving an accused judge, the court said whether the Senate had properly tried an impeachment was a political question and could not be litigated.

If Trump is disqualified, the current Supreme Court might want to clarify whether the move was lawful, Kalt said.

Trump appointed three of the Supreme Court’s nine members: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. The court now has a six-judge conservative majority.

“If you are going to say someone can’t run, you want to get that litigated and settled sooner rather than later,” Kalt said.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis)