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Among cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for the term that began this month, two Louisiana cases stand out — one because of its implications for criminal justice in the state, the other because of what it portends for abortion rights and access nationwide.

And, both, in part, because they deal with matters that, on the surface, might appear to have been settled.

Yes, voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony cases — following Pulitzer Prize winning reporting by The Advocate on the racial impacts of allowing 10-2 verdicts. But sometimes lost amid celebrations of the measure’s passage is its effective date: it applies to crimes that happened on or after Jan. 1 of this year.

No help to people like Evangelisto Ramos, who was convicted on a 10-2 jury vote in 2016 of second-degree murder in the killing of a woman in New Orleans. Ramos is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.



An Alaska law promoting fossil fuel development infringes on the constitutional rights of young residents to a healthy environment, a lawyer told Alaska Supreme Court justices on Wednesday.

A lawsuit filed by 16 Alaska youths claimed long-term effects of climate change will devastate the country’s northernmost state and interfere with their constitutional rights to life, liberty and public trust resources that sustain them.

The state’s legislative and executive branches have not taken steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adopted a policy that promotes putting more in the air, said attorney Andrew Welle of the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust group.

“This is an issue that is squarely within the court’s authority,” Welle said.

Assistant Attorney General Anna Jay urged justices to affirm a lower court ruling rejecting the claims. Ultimately, the climate change issues raised by Alaska youth must be addressed by the political branches of government, she said.

“The court does not have the tools to engage in the type of legislative policy making endeavor required to formulate a broad state approach to greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

The 16 youths sued in 2017 and claimed damages by greenhouse gas emissions are causing widespread damage in Alaska. The lawsuit said the state has experienced dangerously high temperatures, changed rain and snow patterns, rising seas, storm surge flooding, thawed permafrost, coastal erosion, violent storms and increased wildfires.



The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard highly anticipated cases on whether federal civil rights law should apply to LGBT people, with Chief Justice John Roberts questioning how doing so would affect employers.

In the first of two cases, the justices heard arguments on whether a federal law banning job discrimination on the basis of sex should also protect sexual orientation. Lower courts have split on the issue. A related case on transgender employees is also being heard Tuesday.

Roberts, a possible swing vote in the cases, wondered about the implications of what he described as an expansion of the job-discrimination law.

“If we’re going to be expanding the definition of what ‘sex’ covers, what do we do about that issue?” Roberts asked.

Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, suggested that the high court would be usurping the role of Congress by reading protection for sexual orientation into the 1964 Civil Rights Act, when lawmakers at the time likely envisioned they were doing no such thing.

“You’re trying to change the meaning of ‘sex,’” he said.

Justice Elena Kagan, a liberal, suggested sexual orientation is a clear subset of sex discrimination, saying that a man who loves other men cannot be treated differently by an employer than a woman who loves men.

The cases Tuesday are the court’s first on LGBT rights since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. Kavanaugh generally is regarded as more conservative.



The Supreme Court began a potentially contentious election-year term Monday in seeming general agreement that juries in state criminal trials must be unanimous to convict a defendant.

The justices took up a quirk of constitutional law, a 47-year-old ruling that requires unanimity in federal, but not state trials. Earlier in the day, the court also wrestled with whether states must allow criminal defendants to plead insanity.

The one minor surprise when the justices took the bench just after 10 o’clock was the absence of Justice Clarence Thomas. The 71-year-old Thomas was at home, likely with the flu, the court said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her customary seat to the left of Chief Justice John Roberts. The 86-year-old Ginsburg asked the first question in the insanity arguments.




Two Ohio counties are telling a court to deny their state attorney general’s request to delay a major trial over the toll of opioids.

Attorney General Dave Yost asked a federal appeals court in August not to let a district judge move ahead with a case scheduled to begin Oct. 21.

It would be the first federal trial of claims brought by a government seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid crisis.

The attorney general says the state’s similar claims should move ahead of those brought by Cuyahoga and Summit counties, home to Cleveland and Akron.

The counties say the state doesn’t have a say because it’s not part of this case. The judge in charge of the Oct. 21 trial has also denied the state’s request.



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