Pakistan Islamists protest for second day after Christian acquitted of blasphemy

Supporters of Jamiat Talaba Islam (JTI), student wing of religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) hold signs as they chant slogans after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Islamist protesters blocked roads in Pakistan’s major cities for a second day on Thursday, opposing a Supreme Court decision the previous day to acquit a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy allegations, media said.

Knots of protesters from an ultra-Islamist party blocked roughly 10 key roads in the southern city of Karachi and others in eastern Lahore, Geo TV and other channels said. Private schools in both cites were shut, as well as in the capital.

Groups of about 200 protesters from the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party sat under large tents, listening to speeches on two blocked roads in Karachi, a Reuters witness said.

In one speech, a TLP speaker exhorted supporters to light new fires if the police managed to douse burning tires and other objects they had already set ablaze.

The demonstrators were protesting against the court’s decision to free Asia Bibi, a mother of four, who had been living on death row since 2010, as the first woman sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws.

Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

But a three-judge panel set up to hear the appeal, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, ruled the evidence was insufficient.

The case has divided Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated, and outraged Christians worldwide, with Pope Francis saying he personally prayed for Bibi.

In a televised national broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the protesters the government would act against any prolonged blockade.

“We will not allow any damages. We will not allow traffic to be blocked,” Khan said. “I appeal to you, do not push the state to the extent that it is forced to take action.”

Khan’s broadcast followed comments by a senior leader of the Islamist TLP group, calling for Chief Justice Nisar and the other two judges to be killed.

“They all three deserve to be killed,” TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told a protest in Lahore. “Either their security, their driver, or their cook should kill them.”

He also called for the ouster of Khan’s new government and urged army officers to rise up against powerful military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Hafiz Saeed, an influential Islamist whom the U.S. accuses of being the mastermind of attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166, has called for protests after Friday afternoon prayers.

Another Islamist group, the Milli Yakjehti Council, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss Bibi’s case and may launch protests.

The whereabouts of Bibi and her family are unclear, and speculation is growing that she will leave Pakistan with her family, who have been in hiding for much of the past eight years.

(Writnig by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Protests after Pakistan frees Christian woman sentenced to death over blasphemy

Supporters of religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) hold their palms to pray in a protest, after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Karachi, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

By Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday freed a Christian woman from a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam and overturned her conviction, sparking angry protests and death threats from an ultra-Islamist party and cheers from human rights advocates.

New Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a warning to the religious right late in the evening that any prolonged blockade of streets would be met with action.

Asia Bibi, a mother of four, had been living on death row since 2010, when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which critics say are too harsh and often misused.

She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. Bibi has always denied committing blasphemy.

The case has outraged Christians worldwide – Pope Francis said he personally prayed for Bibi – and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who headed a special three-judge bench set up for the appeal, cited the Koran in the ruling, writing that “tolerance is the basic principle of Islam” and noting the religion condemns injustice and oppression.

In overturning her conviction, the ruling said the evidence against Bibi was insufficient.

Bibi did not appear in the courtroom and her whereabouts were a closely held secret for fear of attacks on her and her family. Many have speculated they will be forced to leave the country, but there was no confirmation of their plans.

Her lawyer called the court ruling “great news” for Pakistan.

“Asia Bibi has finally been served justice,” lawyer Saiful Mulook told Reuters. “Pakistan’s Supreme Court must be appreciated that it upheld the law of the land and didn’t succumb to any pressure.”

Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party block the Faizabad junction to protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party block the Faizabad junction to protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

DEATH THREATS

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) immediately condemned Wednesday’s ruling and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore.

Street protests and blockades of major roads were spreading by mid-afternoon, paralyzing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.

One of the TLP’s top leaders called for the death of Nisar, the chief justice, and the two other judges on the panel.

“They all three deserve to be killed. Either their security should kill them, their driver kill them, or their cook kill them,” TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told a protest in Lahore.

“Whoever, who has got any access to them, kill them before the evening.”

He also called for the ouster of Khan’s new government of and for army officers to rise up against powerful military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who he said “should be sacked from the army”.

Khan addressed the nation in a televised speech on Wednesday night, supporting the court ruling and warning the ultra-Islamists not to disrupt the nation.

“We will not allow any damages to occur. We will not allow traffic to be blocked,” Khan said. “I appeal to you, do not push the state to the extent that it is forced to take action.”

The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011. Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release.

In November, TLP staged a crippling blockade of Islamabad after small changes to a religious oath taken by election candidates, which it said were tantamount to blasphemy. Seven people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with the police and TLP’s supporters only dispersed after striking a deal with the military.

BLASPHEMY LAW CRITICIZED

In February, Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, and one of her daughters met Pope Francis shortly before Rome’s ancient Coliseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.

The pope told Bibi’s daughter: “I think often of your mother and I pray for her.”

Christians make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan’s population and are often discriminated against.

Dozens of Pakistanis – including many minority Christians or members of the Ahmadi faith – have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in the past decade, though no one has been executed.

Rights groups say the blasphemy law is exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

Additionally, at least 65 people have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, including a 23-year-old student beaten to death on his university campus last year.

“This is a landmark verdict,” said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International. “The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country’s most vulnerable minorities.”

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

U.S. wants ruling on ‘Dreamers’ in Supreme Court’s current term

A woman leaves the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York, August 15, 2012. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday it will ask the Supreme Court to intervene if an appellate court has not ruled by Oct. 31 on whether the Trump administration can end protections for “Dreamers” who are young immigrants in the country illegally.

In a letter to the clerk of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a Justice Department lawyer said the action would be necessary to give the litigation a chance of being heard by the Supreme Court in its current term, which ends in June.

The case at issue was brought by the University of California and others challenging the administration’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The program was adopted by the Obama administration in 2012 and has allowed 700,000 young immigrants to remain and work in the United States, although they do not have legal status.

A federal district court in California issued a nationwide injunction requiring the government to continue the program and process renewals for existing participants until a final ruling was made in the case.

The government maintains DACA is not legal and has sanctioned “an ongoing violation of federal law” by its participants. It appealed the injunction to the 9th Circuit, which heard arguments in the case on May 15 but has not yet issued a ruling.

“If this court’s decision is not issued promptly,” said the letter, “the Supreme Court would not be able to review the decision in the ordinary course until next term at the earliest.

It would be unusual for the Supreme Court to weigh in before the appeals court has ruled. In February, the Supreme Court declined to grant a previous petition asking it to review the lower court’s decision before the appeals court ruled.

The administration’s decision to end DACA sparked an outcry from immigration advocates, business groups, colleges and religious leaders, and was quickly challenged in the courts.

Other cases both challenging and supporting the government’s decision to end DACA are also working their way through the courts, making it almost certain that the Supreme Court will eventually decide the issue, unless Congress acts first.

Earlier this year, Congress tried and failed to pass legislation legalizing Dreamers.

Lawmakers may get another shot at the issue after the Nov. 6 congressional election. Congress will have to consider spending proposals, and some leading lawmakers have suggested that funds for a wall along the border with Mexico could be passed in conjunction with wider immigration reform.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

After fight that split U.S., Kavanaugh wins place on Supreme Court

Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts as Kavanaugh's wife Ashley holds the family bible and his daughters Liza and Margaret look on in a handout photo provided by the U.S. Supreme Court taken at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., October 6, 2018. Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States/Handout via Reuters

By Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate on Saturday confirmed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, dismissing anger over accusations of sexual misconduct against him and delivering a major victory to President Donald Trump who has now locked in a conservative majority on the court.

By a vote of 50-48, the deeply-divided Senate gave the lifetime job to Kavanaugh, 53, after weeks of fierce debate over sexual violence, alcohol abuse and his angry response to the allegations that convulsed the nation just weeks before congressional elections on Nov. 6.

Kavanaugh will help take the highest U.S. court to the right, perhaps for many years, and his confirmation is a bitter blow to Democrats already chafing at Republican control of the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress.

Conservatives will now have a 5-4 majority in any future legal battles on contentious issues such as abortion rights, immigration, transgender rights, industry regulation, and presidential powers.

Adding to a dramatic day on Capitol Hill, women protesters in the Senate gallery shouted “Shame on you!” and briefly interrupted the vote.

Another group of protesters stormed toward the doors of the nearby Supreme Court building with raised fists. Police stood guard at the doors.

Kavanaugh was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts shortly after the vote.

Kavanaugh’s nomination blew up into a personal and political drama when university professor Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her in the upstairs bedroom of a home in a wealthy suburb of Washington in 1982.

Two other women accused him in the media of sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh fought back against the accusations, denying them in angry and tearful testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that was viewed live on television by around 20 million people.

Trump, who called Kavanaugh to congratulate him on Saturday, said he was “100 percent” certain that Ford named the wrong person in accusing the judge.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One while flying to a campaign rally in Kansas, Trump said of Kavanaugh: “We’re very honored that he was able to withstand this horrible, horrible attack by the Democrats.”

Michael Bromwich, a lawyer for Ford, said in a tweet that Kavanaugh’s confirmation capped, “A week that will live in infamy for the U.S. Senate, permanently diminishing its stature.”

A few Republican senators who had wavered over whether to vote for Kavanaugh finally backed him this week, saying they did so in part because a brief FBI investigation found no corroborating evidence of Ford’s accusations.

Democrats said the FBI probe was nowhere near wide enough.

Trump watched the vote on a large-screen television tuned to Fox News in a wood-paneled cabin on the plane. He flashed two thumbs up when the final vote was declared and aides on board applauded.

The Senate confirmation allows him to hit the campaign trail ahead of the congressional elections saying that he has kept his 2016 promise to mold a more conservative American judiciary.

At a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday, Trump mocked Ford’s account of what she says was a drunken attack on her by Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

For weeks, senators from both parties decried the harsh and often emotional rhetoric in the clash over Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge with a history of advancing Republican causes.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, dismissed the prospect of lingering bitterness among senators. “These things always blow over,” he told a news conference.

WOMEN PROTESTS

Hundreds of protesters against Kavanaugh gathered on the grounds of the Capitol and at the Supreme Court. A total of 164 people were arrested in the protests, U.S. Capitol Police said.

Residents of a townhouse near the Washington home of Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican whose backing helped get Kavanaugh over the line on Saturday, flew the flag of the lawmaker’s home state Maine upside down in protest.

Accusations against Kavanaugh energized the #MeToo social media movement that emerged after high-profile accusations of sexual assault and harassment by men in politics, the media and the entertainment industry.

Democrats said Kavanaugh’s partisan defense of himself, in which he said he was victim of a “political hit,” was enough itself to disqualify him from the court.

The dispute over Kavanaugh has added fuel to campaigning for the elections in November when Democrats will try to take control of Congress from the Republicans.

Several polls show that Republican enthusiasm about voting, which had lagged behind, jumped after the Kavanaugh hearing last week.

McConnell told Reuters that the political brawl over Kavanaugh will help Republicans at the ballot box.

“Nothing unifies Republicans like a court fight,” McConnell said in an interview ahead of the vote. “It’s been a seminal event leading into the fall election.”

But Democrats hope women angered at the Kavanaugh accusations will turn out in large numbers to reject Republicans.

During Saturday’s vote, senators were showered with cries of “We will not forget,” and “Survivors vote” from protesters in the Senate gallery.

Democrats must gain at least two Senate seats and 23 House seats at the elections to claim majorities in each chamber, enabling them to block Trump’s agenda and investigate his administration. The Democrats are seen as having more chance of winning control of the House of Representatives than the Senate.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “Confirming Brett Kavanaugh in the face of credible allegations of sexual assault that were not thoroughly investigated, and his belligerent, partisan performance…undermines the legitimacy of the Supreme Court.”

Kavanaugh succeeds retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the decisive swing vote on social issues.

The showdown over Kavanaugh had echoes of current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ contentious confirmation hearings in 1991 involving sexual harassment allegations lodged against him by a law professor named Anita Hill.

(Reporting by Amanda Becker, Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Roberta Rampton on Air Force One; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Chaos descends as Senate hearing on Trump’s high court nominee opens

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is surrounded by photographers as he takes his seat for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, opened in chaos on Tuesday, as Democrats protested about Republicans blocking access to documents stemming from the nominee’s White House work more than a decade ago.

With Democratic senators interrupting the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman Chuck Grassley at the outset of the hearing and dozens of shouting protesters removed one by one by security personnel, the session quickly descended into a ruckus.

“This is the first confirmation for a Supreme Court justice I’ve seen, basically, according to mob rule,” Republican Senator John Cornyn said, a characterization Democrats rejected.

“What we’ve heard is the noise of democracy. This is what happens in a free country when people can stand up and speak and not be jailed, imprisoned, tortured and killed because of it,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

News photographers clicked pictures of a smiling Kavanaugh – the conservative federal appeals court judge picked by Trump for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body – as he entered the hearing room along with family members. But moments after Grassley opened the session, Democrats decried the withholding of the documents and asked to have the proceedings adjourned.

Protesters took turns yelling as senators spoke, shouting, “This is a travesty of justice,” “Our democracy is broken” and “Vote no on Kavanaugh.”

“We cannot possibly move forward. We have not had an opportunity to have a meaningful hearing,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris said. Democratic Senator Cory Booker appealed to Grassley’s “sense of decency and integrity” and said the withholding of the documents by Republicans and the White House left lawmakers unable to properly vet Kavanaugh.

If confirmed, Kavanaugh is expected to move the court – which already had a conservative majority – further to the right. Senate Democratic leaders have vowed a fierce fight to try to block his confirmation. Democrats signaled they would press Kavanaugh on abortion and gun rights, among other issues, when they get to question him on Wednesday.

Grassley ignored the Democrats’ request to halt the hearing, saying it was “out of order” and accused them of obstruction. Republicans hold a slim Senate majority and can confirm Kavanaugh if they stay united. There were no signs of Republican defections.

Republican Orrin Hatch accused Democratic senators of political opportunism, noting, “We have folks who want to run for president,” though he did not mention any by name. There has been speculation Booker and Harris might consider 2020 presidential runs.

Hatch grew visibly irritated as protesters interrupted him.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh is seated before his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

“I think we ought to have this loudmouth removed. We shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of stuff,” Hatch said.

Senator Ted Cruz accused Democrats of “an attempt to relitigate the 2016 election” won by fellow Republican Trump.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement on June 27.

Democrats have demanded in vain to see documents relating Kavanaugh’s time as staff secretary to Republican former President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. That job involved managing paper flow from advisers to Bush.

Republicans also have released some, but not all, of the existing documents concerning Kavanaugh’s two prior years as a lawyer in Bush’s White House Counsel’s Office.

Republicans have said Democrats have more than enough documents to assess Kavanaugh’s record, including his 12 years of judicial opinions as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Kavanaugh sat, fingers intertwined, quietly staring ahead at the committee members as protesters in the audience screamed while being dragged out of the hearing room. He occasionally jotted notes on paper.

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

A protester is removed during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

There is a long history of heated fights over U.S. Supreme Court nominations, with anger in both parties. But the Democratic frustrations that boiled over on Tuesday had been simmering for more than two years.

Democrats have accused Senate Republican leaders of stealing a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the high court Merrick Garland in 2016, allowing Trump to fill a Supreme Court vacancy instead.

Republicans also last year reduced the margin for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to a simple majority in order to force through the confirmation of Trump’s first high court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

‘AM UMPIRE’

Grassley sought to turn the attention to Kavanaugh’s qualifications, calling him “one of the most qualified nominees – if not the most qualified nominee – I have seen.”

The Senate is likely to vote on confirmation by the end of the month. The court begins its next term in October.

“A good judge must be an umpire – a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh said in written remarks released in advance of the hearing. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences.”

The hearing gave Democrats a chance to make their case against Kavanaugh ahead of November’s congressional elections in which they are seeking to seize control of Congress from Republicans.

Liberals are concerned Kavanaugh could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Kennedy was a solid conservative but sided with the court’s liberals on some issues, including abortion and gay rights.

Kavanaugh also is likely to be questioned by senators about his views on investigating sitting presidents and the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I find it difficult to imagine that your views on this subject escaped the attention of President Trump, who seems increasingly fixated on his own ballooning legal jeopardy,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy said.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung, Amanda Becker, Lisa Lambert; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump high court pick Kavanaugh may face contentious cases soon

With the U.S. Supreme Court building in the background, Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh arrives prior to meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee may not have to wait too long for controversial cases if he is confirmed to the job, with disputes involving abortion, immigration, gay rights, voting rights and transgender troops possibly heading toward the justices soon.

Republicans are hoping Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative U.S. appeals court judge selected on Monday by Trump to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, will be confirmed by the Senate before the next Supreme Court term opens in October.

There are no blockbusters among the 38 cases already on the docket for the justices, but they could add disputes on controversial issues being appealed from lower courts.

Legal battles are developing over state laws restricting abortion including one in Arkansas that effectively bans medication-induced abortions. The justices in May opted not to intervene in a case challenging that law, waiting instead for lower courts to rule, but it could return to them in the future.

Other abortion-related cases could reach the court within two years.

These involve laws banning abortions at early stages of pregnancies, including Iowa’s prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. There is litigation arising from plans by certain states including Louisiana and Kansas to stop reimbursements under the Medicaid insurance program for the poor for Planned Parenthood, a national abortion provider.

There also are challenges to state laws imposing difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers such as having formal ties, called admitting privileges, at a local hospital.

Kavanaugh’s judicial record on abortion is thin, although last year he was on a panel of judges that issued an order preventing a 17-year-old illegal immigrant detained in Texas by U.S. authorities from immediately obtaining an abortion.

GAY RIGHTS

Another issue expected to return to the court is whether certain types of businesses can refuse service to gay couples because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The high court in June sided, on narrow legal grounds, with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men because of his Christian beliefs, but sidestepped the larger question of whether to allow broad religious-based exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.

That issue could be back before the justices as soon as the court’s next term in a case involving a Washington state Christian florist who similarly spurned a gay couple.

Kennedy, who wrote the baker ruling, cast decisive votes backing gay rights four times, most notably in 2015 when the court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. It is not known how Kavanaugh would vote on those issues as he has not been involved in any gay rights cases during his 12 years as a judge.

Trump’s bid to ban transgender people from the military has been challenged in lower courts. That issue could make its way to the Supreme Court.

After lower courts blocked Trump’s ban last year, he announced in March he would endorse Defense Secretary James Mattis’ plan to restrict the military service of transgender people who have a condition called gender dysphoria. Trump’s administration has asked courts to allow that policy to go into effect, but so far to no avail.

Sharon McGowan, a lawyer with gay rights group Lambda Legal, said she saw no evidence Kavanaugh would be any less conservative on gay and transgender rights than Trump’s other appointee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.

On immigration, litigation is continuing over Trump’s plan to rescind a program created under Democratic former President Barack Obama that protected from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

Lower courts blocked Trump’s plan to scrap the program. Congress has failed to agree on a plan to replace it.

Kavanaugh could have to deal with cases involving a practice called partisan gerrymandering in which state legislators redraw electoral maps to try to cement their own party in power. In June, the justices avoided a broad ruling on whether partisan gerrymandering violates the constitutional rights of voters and whether federal judges can intervene to rectify it.

Democrats have said Republican gerrymandering has helped Trump’s party keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives and various state legislatures.

Kennedy previously kept his conservative colleagues from closing the door to litigation in federal court challenging partisan gerrymandering.

The partisan gerrymandering case most likely to return to the Supreme Court involves claims that Republican legislators in North Carolina manipulated the boundaries of the state’s 13 U.S. House districts to ensure lopsided wins for the party.

Attorney Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center, which represents the North Carolina plaintiffs, said they had been focused on trying to convince Kennedy to rule in their favor, and now will try to convince Chief Justice John Roberts, seen as the next-most-moderate of the conservative justices. Smith viewed Kavanaugh as likely voting with the court’s most conservative justices to reject gerrymandering challenges.

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

Indian court upholds death for 2012 Delhi gang rape convicts

FILE PHOTO: A television journalist sets his camera inside the premises of the Supreme Court in New Delhi February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File pho

By Sai Sachin Ravikumar and Suchitra Mohanty

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death penalty for three men convicted in the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in 2012, a landmark case that brought an unprecedented level of attention to violence against women in the country.

The brutal rape of the 23-year-old medical student, who died of her injuries, had sparked nationwide outrage and forced changes in the law. But six years later, there are few signs that sexual violence against women is abating.

In 2016, there were around 40,000 rapes reported in India – up 60 percent from 2012, according to government data, and more cases go unreported, activists say.

“Crimes against women will keep on rising unless the criminals are sent to the gallows,” the father of the victim, who cannot be named under Indian law, told reporters after the Supreme Court ruling.

A three-member bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra dismissed petitions filed by the men to review a 2017 order by the top court, which had confirmed the death penalty given to them by the Delhi High Court.

“There is no merit in the petitions,” said Justice Ashok Bhushan, who read out the judgment.

The three men – Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma and Mukesh Singh – had asked the Supreme Court to consider less severe punishment. A fourth man, Akshay Thakur, did not petition the court to review his death sentence.

Following the 2012 case, India launched fast-track courts and a tougher rape law in April this year that included the death penalty for rape of girls below 12.

Nevertheless, more rape cases have come to light since then, and it remains hard for victims to receive timely justice.

The conviction rate of people arrested for rape was 25 percent in 2016, while the backlog of rape cases pending trial stood at more than 133,000 by the end of that year, up from about 100,000 in 2012.

(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Sai Sachin Ravikumar; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Top Supreme Court candidates’ views on abortion under scrutiny

FILE PHOTO: Trees cast shadows outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – From the moment Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court last week, speculation has centered on whether his replacement would vote to overturn a woman’s right to abortion.

But the individuals considered top contenders for Kennedy’s seat have produced a sparse record of legal rulings and writings on the subject, which makes it hard to predict how they might rule in abortion-related cases.

President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to appoint “pro-life justices” who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. In recent days, however, the president has said he will not ask candidates about their views on the subject. Trump has said he will announce his nominee on July 9 and that he will make his selection from a list of candidates compiled by conservative legal activists.

On Friday, the president said he had narrowed the field to about five, and sources familiar with the president’s thinking say the top contenders are Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals; Amy Coney Barrett, who was named by Trump to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Thomas Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Raymond Kethledge of the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Amul Thapar, whom Trump named to the 6th Circuit.

Of that group, Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School before Trump appointed her to the appeals court, has attracted the most attention on abortion.

She has spoken publicly about her conviction that life begins at conception, and in a 2003 law journal article, she argued that courts could be more flexible in overturning prior “errors” in precedent. She noted that courts have struggled over when to keep “an erroneous decision” on the books, citing as an example Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a major 1992 Supreme Court ruling that upheld Roe.

Some progressive groups have pointed to the article as evidence of Barrett’s willingness to overturn Roe. But she has also raised doubts about whether the high court would ever overturn Roe, according to a 2013 article in Notre Dame Magazine.

Her traditional Catholic beliefs became a flashpoint last September during her confirmation hearing in the Senate. “The dogma lives loudly within you,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said to Barrett during the hearing. Barrett told the senators that her faith would not affect her decisions as a judge.

While little is known about Kavanaugh’s personal views on abortion, last October he was part of a panel of judges that issued an unsigned order preventing an illegal immigrant teenager detained by the government from immediately obtaining an abortion. That decision was overturned by the full appeals court a few days later.

Dissenting from that decision, Kavanaugh warned that the court was embracing “a new right for unlawful immigrant minors in U.S. government detention to obtain immediate abortion on demand.” Litigation over the issue is continuing.

Hardiman joined an opinion in 2010 that overturned the conviction of an anti-abortion protester arrested outside the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia. Though the court said park rangers had violated his free speech rights, the case was not about the right to abortion itself.

In April, Hardiman allowed the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns, to intervene in a lawsuit against Trump’s plan to expand employer exemptions from an Obamacare birth control insurance requirement. For years, the organization has been at the forefront in challenging the mandate’s legality. Though the case was not directly about abortion, groups favoring abortion rights worry that Hardiman’s ruling signals his sympathies on the issue.

Democratic politicians and liberal groups have said they assume that all those on Trump’s list of potential candidates would overturn Roe v. Wade, given that Trump has said he will only consider such candidates.

“I take the president at his word,” said Daniel Goldberg, legal director for Alliance For Justice, a liberal legal advocacy group that has researched Trump’s judicial nominees.

Leonard Leo, a conservative legal activist on leave from the Federalist Society, is advising Trump on judicial selections, and he said no one asked the candidates about their views on abortion before they were placed on the list.

“These people weren’t even talked to when they were put on the list,” said Leo. “No one was asked these questions and as far as I know no one has been asked these questions if they were brought into the process in the White House.”

Republicans control the Senate by only a slim majority, making it important for Trump’s nominee to win the support of all Republican members, including moderates.

On Sunday, Republican Senator Susan Collins said on CNN that she would not support a nominee who “demonstrated hostility” to Roe.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Sue Horton)

Kennedy’s departure puts abortion, gay rights in play at high court

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy speaks during a swearing in ceremony for Judge Neil Gorsuch as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, announced on Wednesday, could put some of his signature rulings in jeopardy, including ones that expanded or preserved gay rights and abortion rights.

Kennedy is a conservative, but he joined the court’s four liberals to cast deciding votes on several key social issues, most notably on gay marriage.

His successor will be picked by President Donald Trump from a White House list of 25 names recommended by conservative legal activists, and the new justice is likely to take a less liberal tack than Kennedy did on at least some issues. If so, he or she will provide a fifth vote for the court’s conservatives rather than its liberals – and over time reshape the U.S. legal landscape.

“It’s extremely likely President Trump is going to appoint someone who is not going to follow Justice Kennedy’s lead in those cases and will go even further in undermining constitutional rights and degrading the rule of law,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal leaning Constitutional Accountability Center.

Without Kennedy, she said, the court would have overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case establishing a woman’s right to abortion. It would also have prevented gay people from marrying and ended university admissions programs that take race into account, she said.

New cases on gay rights and abortion could reach the high court in short order.

Legal battles are already developing over newly enacted laws restricting abortion, including one in Arkansas that effectively bans medication abortions. The Supreme Court opted not to intervene in a case challenging that law in May, saying it would wait for lower courts to rule, but the issue is likely to return to the court in coming years.

Anti-abortion activists celebrated Kennedy’s announcement.

“Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court marks a pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

She noted that Trump has previously pledged “to nominate only pro-life judges to the Supreme Court.”

Another live issue expected to come back to the court is whether people who run businesses can refuse service to gay couples because of religious objections to same-sex marriage.

In an opinion this year by Kennedy in a case involving a Colorado bakery, the court on a 7-2 vote ruled narrowly on the issue, but it punted on the larger question of whether to allow religious-based exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. That issue could be back before the justices as soon as the court’s next term, which starts in October, in a case involving a Christian florist

Kennedy cast decisive votes backing gay rights on four occasions, most notably in 2015 when the court legalized same-sex marriage.

Gay rights activists, while praising Kennedy’s votes, expressed alarm about his departure from the bench.

“The Supreme Court has done a lot to change the position of LGBT people in America, but there are big open questions the court may well weigh in on in the future, so there’s a lot at stake,” said James Esseks, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who works on gay rights cases.

Esseks said he is hopeful the new justice will embrace recent legal victories in gay rights battles and urged senators to press the nominee on the issue during the confirmation process after Trump announces his pick.

Liberal advocacy groups had long feared Kennedy’s retirement, and his announcement provoked instant anxiety. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a nationwide abortion provider, said it was bracing for Trump to appoint a justice to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The significance of today’s news cannot be overstated: The right to access abortion in this country is on the line,” said Dawn Laguens, the group’s executive vice president.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Sue Horton)

Retiring Justice Kennedy left his mark on American society

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy arrives for the funeral of fellow justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anthony Kennedy left an indelible mark on American society in his three decades as a mild-mannered and professorial justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in areas as varied as gay rights, abortion, the death penalty and political spending.

Kennedy, who announced his retirement on Wednesday at age 81, became the swing vote on the ideologically divided court after fellow traditional conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006. He was the most centrist of the five conservatives currently on the court and was willing to join the liberal justices in major cases, although he delivered strongly conservative opinions in others.

“His jurisprudence prominently features an abiding commitment to liberty and the personal dignity of every person. Justice Kennedy taught collegiality and civil discourse by example,” conservative Chief Justice John Roberts said in a statement.

“His work has made an impressive contribution to the development of the law in many fields, and he will surely be remembered as one of the most important justices in the history of the court,” added conservative Justice Samuel Alito.

Nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan, Kennedy joined the court in 1988 and followed a deliberative, middle-of-the-road approach. During arguments, Kennedy leaned forward in his black leather chair, looking earnest and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, often asking probing questions of the lawyers.

He authored the 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, in one of several cases in which he voted to expand gay rights. Kennedy wrote that the hope of gay people intending to marry “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Although championing gay rights, Kennedy authored a ruling this month that handed a victory on narrow legal grounds to a Colorado baker who, citing his Christian beliefs, refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Kennedy joined the liberals in upholding abortion rights, including a 2016 ruling that struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities. The decision was the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in the United States in more than two decades.

In latter years, Kennedy appeared to evolve on race issues, inching toward his liberal colleagues over policies intended to tackle historic racial discrimination. In 2016, he wrote a ruling that upheld the consideration of race in college admissions in policies designed to boost the enrollment of minority students.

Kennedy also backed limitations on the application of the death penalty, agreeing with liberal colleagues that juveniles and the mentally ill should not be eligible for execution.

‘MODERATING FORCE’

“Justice Kennedy was a critical moderating force on the Supreme Court for decades,” American Civil Liberties Union legal director David Cole said.

“He cast deciding votes to protect freedom of speech, to prevent the overturning of abortion rights, to limit state anti-immigration laws, to stop the execution of children, and to preserve affirmative action. His greatest legacy may rest with his decisions recognizing the dignity and rights of lesbians, gay, and bisexual people. His attention to human dignity and individual rights will be missed,” Cole added.

Kennedy also has heartened conservatives. He authored a 2010 ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate and union-funded independent expenditures during political campaigns. The ruling, based on free-speech rights, prompted considerable criticism, including from then-President Barack Obama.

He joined his fellow conservatives in the 2000 ruling that effectively gave the U.S. presidency to Republican George W. Bush, rather than Democrat Al Gore, by preventing any more vote recounts in Florida.

This week, Kennedy joined the other conservative justices in rulings that upheld the legality of Republican President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations, shut down a key source of revenue for labor unions and blocked a California law regulating Christian-based clinics that counsel women against abortion.

Michael Farris, general counsel of the Christian conservative legal group, Alliance Defending Freedom, took issue with “decisions where Justice Kennedy created ‘rights’ not found in or intended by the United States Constitution. He deeply disappointed many Americans with his constitutional jurisprudence favoring abortion and same-sex marriage.”

But Farris praised Kennedy’s protection of freedom of speech including in Tuesday’s decision striking down California’s law that required the anti-abortion centers to notify clients of the availability of state-subsidized abortions.

Kennedy, previously a federal appeals court judge in California, was actually Reagan’s third choice for the job.

After the Senate defeated Reagan’s first choice, conservative firebrand Robert Bork, and his second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew his nomination after the disclosure he had previously smoked marijuana, Kennedy was nominated. He was confirmed by a 97-0 Senate vote.

Kennedy relished the role of teacher and intellectual. He has an avid interest in English literature, particularly Shakespeare, and in court history.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Peter Cooney)