U.S. appeals court lets Texas curb medication abortions during pandemic

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday allowed Texas to enforce curbs on medication-induced abortions as part of the Republican-governed state’s restrictions aimed at postponing medical procedures not deemed urgent during the coronavirus pandemic.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a federal judge’s order blocking the state from applying restrictions to abortions induced through medication, in the early stages of a pregnancy. About half of all abortions in the state are performed through medication, which involves taking two pills by mouth.

The judge had also prevented the state from banning surgical abortions for women who would be past the legal limit for the procedure by the time the coronavirus-related emergency order is set to expire, at the end of the day on Tuesday. The 5th Circuit allowed that portion of the judge’s order to remain in effect.

Texas is one of several conservative states that have tried to impose limits on abortion during the pandemic, saying they are seeking to ensure that medical resources including protective equipment are available to help healthcare facilities cope with people with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.

Abortion rights advocates have accused the states of political opportunism by using the pandemic to advance anti-abortion policies.

The abortion providers – including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood – sued Texas on March 25, calling the restrictions a violation of the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The abortion providers said medication abortion should not be halted because it is not a procedure at all and does not require the use of protective equipment.

The state disputed that contention, saying that medication abortion is a procedure and that protective equipment is used as part of the physical exams and follow-up exams or if there are complications requiring an emergency room visit.

In Monday’s ruling, the 5th Circuit said that in blocking the state’s actions to postpone abortions during the pandemic, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in Austin usurped the state’s authority “to craft emergency public health measures.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. appeals court allows abortion curbs in Texas during coronavirus outbreak

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can enforce limits on the ability of women to obtain abortions as part of the state’s policy requiring postponement of non-urgent medical procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 2-1 vote threw out a federal judge’s order issued last week that had blocked the state’s action. The appeals court had earlier temporarily put the district judge’s ruling on hold.

The appeals court action allows state officials to continue to enforce the restrictions that were part of an emergency order issued by the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott. The state says abortion providers are covered under a provision requiring postponement of non-urgent medical procedures as healthcare providers focus on battling COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Abortion providers that challenge the state’s order could now turn to the Supreme Court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority.

“This is not the last word. We will take every legal action necessary to fight this abuse of emergency powers,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion rights group representing clinics in the case.

Texas and other states that previously pursued abortion restrictions have sought to crack down on their availability during the pandemic, prompting a series of court battles. On Monday, the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to block a similar district court ruling that prevented the state of Ohio from banning abortion procedures.

Writing for the majority, Judge Kyle Duncan faulted Austin-based District Court Judge Lee Yeakel on several counts, saying he had “usurped the state’s authority to craft emergency health measures.”

Duncan, who was appointed to the bench by Republican President Donald Trump, concluded that the state must prevail “given the extraordinary nature of these errors, the escalating spread of COVID-19 and the state’s critical interest in protecting the public health.”

Yeakel had ruled that Paxton’s action “prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable.”

Abortion providers including Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood sued to block the Texas policy after clinics said they were forced to cancel hundreds of appointments for abortions across the state. They note that abortions are time-sensitive, with Texas banning abortions 20 weeks after fertilization.

The restrictions violate the right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution as recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the abortion providers argued.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Nate Raymond.; Editing by Chris Reese and Bill Berkrot)

Court rules Trump can withhold funds from ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement funds from states and cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan was a victory for Trump in his years-long fight with so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

It overturned a lower court ruling directing the release of federal funds to New York City and the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

The states and city sued over a 2017 policy conditioning receipt of the funds by state and local governments on their giving federal immigration officials access to their jails, and advance notice when immigrants in the country illegally are being released from custody.

Three federal appeals courts in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco have upheld injunctions barring enforcement of at least some of the administration’s conditions on the so-called Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants.

Wednesday’s decision sets up a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which often resolves legal disputes that divide lower courts.

In the decision, Judge Reena Raggi said the case “implicates several of the most divisive issues confronting our country” including immigration policy and law enforcement, illegal immigrants, and the ability of state and local governments to adopt policies the federal government dislikes.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James said it was reviewing the decision. New York City’s law department had no immediate comment.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman called the decision a “major victory for Americans” in recognizing Attorney General William Barr’s authority to ensure that grant recipients do not thwart federal law enforcement priorities.

Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, takes a hardline stance toward legal and illegal immigration.

His battle against Democratic-led “sanctuary” jurisdictions focuses on laws and policies making it harder for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to find and arrest immigrants they consider deportable.

The funding conditions announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions affected nearly $26 million of annual grants to the seven states and $4 million to New York City.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan in Nov. 2018 declared the conditions unconstitutional, saying the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in withholding grants without considering the impact on local law enforcement.

Raggi, however, said the conditions “help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations.”

Byrne was a New York City police officer shot to death at age 22 in 1988 while guarding the home of a Guyanese immigrant helping authorities investigate drug trafficking.

The case is New York et al v U.S. Department of Justice et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 19-267, 19-275.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump ‘gag rule’ on abortion referral can be enforced, U.S. appeals court rules

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A sharply divided federal appeals court on Monday said the Trump administration may enforce a rule labeled by critics as a “gag rule” that could deprive abortion providers of federal funding for family planning.

In a 7-4 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling last June by a unanimous three-judge panel to lift injunctions won by California, Oregon and Washington against the rule, which deprives clinics that provide abortion referrals of Title X family planning funds.

The rule was meant to help President Donald 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 left the program last August rather than comply with the rule, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the “troubling” decision helps Trump “roll back women’s access to reproductive healthcare.”

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson called on Congress to overturn the rule, which she said created “egregious barriers” to healthcare for low-income people.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman said the decision properly upholds HHS’ prohibition on using taxpayer money to “subsidize abortion” through Title X.

Writing for Monday’s majority, Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta said HHS was owed “broad deference” and acted reasonably, not arbitrarily or capriciously, in adopting a “less restrictive” rule than the one blessed by the Supreme Court in 1988.

“There is no ‘gag’ on abortion counseling,” Ikuta wrote, saying the rule allows healthcare providers to discuss, though not to encourage, abortion.

The appeals court returned the cases to federal district courts for further proceedings. A federal judge in Baltimore on Feb. 14 blocked the rule’s enforcement in Maryland.

Circuit Judge Richard Paez dissented, saying the rule would deprive people of cancer screening, HIV testing and other needed healthcare, and undermine Congress’ intent that patients be able to communicate openly with healthcare providers.

“The consequences will be borne by the millions of women who turn to Title X-funded clinics for lifesaving care and the very contraceptive services that have caused rates of unintended pregnancy – and abortion – to plummet,” he wrote. “I strongly dissent.”

All seven judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, including two by Trump. The dissenters were appointed by Democratic presidents.

The cases in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals include California v Azar et al, No. 19-15974; Oregon et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35386; and Washington et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35394.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. appeals court throws out Democrats’ lawsuit challenging Trump businesses

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by Democratic lawmakers alleging President Donald Trump’s overseas business dealings violate the U.S. Constitution’s anti-corruption “emoluments” clauses.

Reversing a lower court judge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said a group of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers lacked legal “standing” to bring the case in the first place.

The three-judge panel said it was bound by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited the ability of individual members of Congress to litigate questions that affect the legislative branch as a whole.

The Democratic lawmakers “can, and likely will, continue to use their weighty voices to make their case to the American people, their colleagues in the Congress and the President himself, all of whom are free to engage that argument as they see fit,” the three-judge panel wrote. “But we will not—indeed we cannot—participate in this debate.”

“We’re disappointed in the panel’s decision and are considering next steps,” said Elizabeth Wydra, a lawyer who argued on behalf of the lawmakers.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which argued the case for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was brought in 2017 by congressional Democrats including Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. It is one of a trio of cases against Trump over the rarely tested emoluments clauses, which prohibit presidents from taking gifts or payments from foreign and state governments.

One or more of the cases could end at the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts said.

The emoluments cases have largely centered on the Trump International Hotel, just blocks from the White House, which the Republican president opened shortly before he was elected in November 2016.

Unlike past presidents, Trump has retained ownership of numerous business interests, including the hotel, while serving as president.

Since Trump’s election, the hotel has become a favored lodging and event space for some foreign and state officials visiting the U.S. capital.

The lawsuits alleged that, in failing to disengage from the hotel, Trump has made himself vulnerable to inducements by foreign governments seeking to curry favor.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

U.S. court denies Trump administration bid to resume federal executions

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday denied the Justice Department’s request to overturn a lower court decision that temporarily stalled plans by President Donald Trump’s administration to resume executions of prisoners convicted of certain federal crimes after a 16-year hiatus.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the administration had “not satisfied the stringent requirements” to stay the lower court’s ruling. The administration had planned to resume executions of federal death row inmates starting on Dec. 9.

The ruling follows a Nov. 21 decision by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to stay the planned executions of four federal death row inmates until a long-running legal challenge to the Justice Department’s lethal injection protocol can be resolved.

The lawsuits, the first of which was filed in 2005, challenged the protocol on the grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment by carrying a risk of severe pain. The suits also said the protocol violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act because it was written in secret without public input.

The case fell dormant during President Barack Obama’s tenure after the federal government was forced to halt executions and abandon its previous three-drug protocol due to a shortage of one of the drugs, an anesthetic called sodium thiopental.

But the case was revived in July, after U.S. Attorney General William Barr, appointed by Trump earlier in the year, scheduled the execution of five federal death row inmates and unveiled a new protocol that calls for using a single drug, pentobarbital, for the lethal injection.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump’s accounting firm must hand over eight years of tax returns, court rules

Trump’s accounting firm must hand over eight years of tax returns, court rules
By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s longtime accounting firm must hand over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors, a U.S. appeals court ruled Monday in the latest setback for Trump in his tenacious efforts to keep his finances secret.

The ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the ability of prosecutors to enforce a subpoena for the returns against accounting firm Mazars LLP. Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump, said the Republican president will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices appointed by Trump.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, is seeking the returns as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and his family real estate business. The scope of that probe is not publicly known.

The 2nd Circuit did not decide whether Trump is immune from being charged with a state crime while in office, as the president has argued. However, it found that even if he is, the immunity could not stop Vance from getting the returns from a third party, or from prosecuting him once he leaves office.

It would “exact a heavy toll on our criminal justice system to prohibit a state from even investigating potential crimes committed by him for potential later prosecution,” 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann wrote in the ruling.

Vance’s office has agreed not to enforce the subpoena while Trump petitions the Supreme Court. Under the agreement, Trump has 10 business days to file the petition.

Trump, who built a real estate empire with his New York-based business before becoming president, separately faces an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

BREAKING TRADITION

Trump has refused to make his tax returns public, breaking with a decades-old tradition of U.S. presidential candidates releasing their returns during campaigns and presidents disclosing them while in office. More broadly, Trump has fought efforts by Democrats in Congress and others to obtain information about his finances and a range of other matters.

In a similar dispute, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in May refused to release Trump’s tax returns to a House committee, saying the request was not based on “a legitimate legislative purpose.” The House then sued the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service in July to try to get access to the tax records. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 11 ruled in favor of the House bid to obtain Trump’s financial records from Mazars.

In August, Vance subpoenaed Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018, and other records from Mazars USA, the president’s longtime accounting firm. Trump sued Vance’s office in Manhattan federal court to try to block the subpoena, arguing that as a sitting president, he cannot be subject to criminal investigation.

On Oct. 7, U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero threw out Trump’s lawsuit, calling his claim of immunity “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.” The ruling prompted Trump’s appeal to the 2nd Circuit.

Arguing before the appeals court on Oct. 23, a lawyer for Trump made the claim of immunity more explicit, saying state authorities would be powerless to act against the president even if he shot someone on the street unless he were removed from office first.

Katzmann wrote in Monday’s order that the extent of the president’s immunity was irrelevant to the case.

“The subpoena at issue is directed not to the President, but to his accountants; compliance does not require the President to do anything at all,” Katzmann wrote.

Katzmann was appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The other two judges on the panel, Christopher Droney and Denny Chin, both appointed by former President Barack Obama, Trump’s predecessor and also a Democrat.

A spokesman for Vance declined to comment on the ruling.

Trump filed his own lawsuit in July seeking to block the House Ways and Means Committee from invoking a New York law that allows it to request his state tax returns. That case remains pending.

The House impeachment inquiry focuses on the president’s request in a July phone call for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president and a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Chizu Nomiyama)