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The Supreme Court this week is hearing a case challenging the location of a nearly 100-year-old, cross-shaped Maryland war memorial.

Three area residents and the District of Columbia-based American Humanist Association argue the cross' location on public land violates the First Amendment's establishment clause. The clause prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others. They argue the cross should be moved to private property or modified into a slab or obelisk.

The cross' supporters say it doesn't violate the Constitution because it has a secular purpose and meaning: commemorating World War I veterans. The cross' base lists the names of 49 area residents who died in the war.

The American Legion and Maryland officials are defending the cross. They have the support of the Trump administration and 30 states.




The Democrats had blamed Russia for the hacking and release of damaging material on his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn’t buying it. But on July 27, 2016, midway through a news conference in Florida, Trump decided to entertain the thought for a moment.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” said Trump, looking directly into a television camera, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” — messages Clinton was reported to have deleted from her private email server.

Actually, Russia was doing more than listening: It had been trying to help Republican Trump for months. That very day, hackers working with Russia’s military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton’s personal office.

It was just one small part of a sophisticated election interference operation carried out by the Kremlin — and meticulously chronicled by special counsel Robert Mueller.

We know this, though Mueller has made not a single public comment since his appointment in May 2017. We know this, though the full, final report on the investigation, believed to be in its final stages, may never be made public. It’s up to Attorney General William Barr.

We know this because Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin’s help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed.



North Carolina Republican legislators now want to give up on the law they approved two years ago that reduces the number of Court of Appeals judges from 15 to 12 as retirements and other vacancies arise.

A state Senate judiciary committee Tuesday recommended unanimously a bill that would keep the court's size at 15 after all. Bill sponsors say the measure, if agreed to by the full General Assembly, should end as moot a lawsuit filed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper challenging the 2017 law. A key House GOP leader said later that he believed party members in his chamber are inclined to go along with the repeal.

A trial-judge panel actually sided with Republicans last year in upholding the law, but the state Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the case for March 4. With registered Democrats a strong majority on the Supreme Court, there's uncertainty about whether they'll be inclined to uphold the law.

"I think we still feel the rationale for the bill was appropriate, but this will end the lawsuit with the governor, and so that's why we're going forward with it," said Sen. Warren Daniel, a Burke County Republican and a chief bill sponsor.

The law is one of several approved by the GOP-controlled legislature since December 2016 — just before Cooper took office — that have eroded Cooper's powers. In this case, it would prevent Cooper from filling three vacancies when they occur, because the seat would be simply eliminated.

No vacancies have occurred on the intermediate-level court since the law took effect, but the first could come next month. Court of Appeals Judge Bob Hunter, a registered Republican, must step down March 31 after meeting the state-mandated judicial retirement age of 72 the day before.



The Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state of West Virginia unlawfully discriminated against a retired U.S. marshal when it excluded him from a more generous tax break given to onetime state law enforcement officers.

The court ruled unanimously for retired marshal James Dawson.

West Virginia law exempts state law enforcement retirees, including former policemen and firefighters, from paying income tax on their retirement benefits. But retired U.S. Marshals Service employees such as Dawson haven’t been getting that tax advantage.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that because there aren’t any significant differences between Dawson’s former job responsibilities and those of state law enforcement retirees, “we have little difficulty concluding” that West Virginia’s law unlawfully discriminates against Dawson under federal law.

West Virginia had argued that it wasn’t doing anything wrong and that Dawson was getting the same benefit, a $2,000 income tax exemption, that applies to virtually all retired federal, state and local employees in West Virginia. The state said that only a “surpassingly small” number people who participate in specific, state-managed retirement plans get the exemption Dawson wanted to claim.

The U.S. government had backed Dawson, who served in the U.S. Marshals Service from 1987 to his retirement in 2008. He led the Marshals Service in the Southern District of West Virginia for the past six years.

In 2013, he filed paperwork seeking to amend his tax returns for two years and claim the more favorable tax exemption. Dawson said the state owed him $2,174 for 2010 and $2,111 for 2011. State tax officials disagreed, so Dawson took his case to court.



A Wisconsin judge's decision to become Facebook friends with a woman whose child custody case he was hearing created at least the appearance of bias, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday in ordering the case to be re-heard by another judge.

The case, which is the first of its kind in the state, contemplates whether judges' use of social media can compromise them. In its ruling, the 3rd District Court of Appeals didn't lay out any bright-line rules for judges, but it warned them to use caution when engaging with people online to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

"We caution that judges should recognize that online interactions, like real-world interactions, must be treated with a degree of care," appellate Judge Mark Seidl wrote in the ruling.

According to court documents, Angela Carroll filed a motion in Barron County in 2016 to adjust a custody arrangement she had reached with her son's father, Timothy Miller. She demanded sole legal custody, primary placement of the boy and an order forcing Miller to pay child support. She argued Miller had abused her, an accusation Miller denied.

The case landed with Judge Michael Bitney. Three days after Carroll and Miller submitted their final written arguments in 2017, Bitney accepted a Facebook friend request from Carroll.

She proceeded to like 18 of the judge's posts and commented on two of them. None of the posts were directly related to the pending custody case. Bitney didn't like or comment on any of Carroll's posts and didn't reply to her comments. He didn't deny reading them, however.

Carroll also shared one third-party photograph related to domestic violence. Nothing suggests the judge ever saw it, but the post could have appeared on his newsfeed, according to the documents.


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