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The Oregon Supreme Court has kept statewide virus restrictions in place by halting a judge’s order to end them in a lawsuit claiming the governor exceeded her authority when she shut down in-person religious services.

Baker County Circuit Judge Matthew Shirtcliff ruled Monday that Gov. Kate Brown erred by not seeking the Legislature’s approval to extend her stay-at-home orders beyond a 28-day limit. Brown’s lawyers appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, which just hours later put a hold on Shirtcliff’s decree until the high court’s justices can review the matter.

Presiding Justice Thomas Balmer gave both sides until Friday to submit legal briefs. He did not give a timeline for a decision.

The lower court judge had issued his opinion in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 10 churches around Oregon that argued the state’s social distancing directives were unconstitutional.

In a statement late Monday, Brown, a Democrat, praised the state Supreme Court action.

“There are no shortcuts for us to return to life as it was before this pandemic. Moving too quickly could return Oregon to the early days of this crisis, when we braced ourselves for hospitals to be overfilled,” she said.

Kevin Mannix, an attorney representing businesses in the case, said Tuesday that he was encouraged that the state Supreme Court seemed to be taking the case seriously. Normally, briefings in cases before the court wouldn’t be due until June 1, he said.

“Every day that the governor’s order remains in effect, people are prevented from being able to assemble peaceably, their free expression rights are limited … and most significantly, their freedom of religion rights are restricted,” he said. “This extraordinary power that she’s been exercising has a time limit on it.”

In his opinion, Shirtcliff wrote that the damage to Oregonians and their livelihood was greater than the dangers presented by the coronavirus. He also noted that other businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, had been allowed to remain open even with large numbers of people present and have relied on masks, social distancing and other measures to protect the public.




The U.S. Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump's appointment of Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash as a U.S. District Court judge for Arizona.

The Senate's vote Tuesday on confirmation of Rash's appointment was 74-20..

Trump nominated Rash last September to fill a vacancy created in April 2018 by Judge Cindy Jorgenson's shift to senior status.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Rash's appointment last year and formally endorsed it in January.

Then-Gov. Jan Brewer appointed Rash as a Superior Court judge in 2010. He previously worked in private practice with a Tucson law firm and before that as an Arizona assistant attorney general.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally said Rash has a strong work ethic and is fair-minded and will be an excellent federal judge.



A proposal striking at the proliferation of TV, radio and billboard ads blanketing Louisiana is headed to the state House for debate after winning support from senators Thursday.

Sen. Heather Cloud’s bill would declare as false or misleading those lawyer ads in which a person claims to have received the full amount of a settlement or judgment. Instead, the ads would have to disclose how much was deducted for attorney fees, expert witness fees, court costs and any other expenses related to the litigation.

Advertisements deemed to be deceptive could be prosecuted as an unfair trade practice violation.

Cloud, a Republican from Turkey Creek, said lawyers are making false promises of big payouts, encouraging people to file lawsuits against businesses. But she said people who file the lawsuits only get a small slice of the money from the judgments and settlements in most instances.



Whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright warned on Thursday that the U.S. lacks a plan to produce and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available. The nation could face “the darkest winter in modern history” unless leaders act decisively, he told a congressional panel.

Bright alleges he was ousted from a high-level scientific post after warning the Trump administration to prepare for the pandemic.

Testifying Thursday, Bright said, “We don’t have (a vaccine plan) yet, and it is a significant concern.” Asked if lawmakers should be worried, Bright responded, “absolutely.”

Bright, a vaccine expert who led a biodefense agency in the Department of Health and Human Services, said the country needs a plan to establish a supply chain for producing tens of millions of doses of a vaccine, and then allocating and distributing them fairly. He said experience so far with an antiviral drug that has been found to benefit COVID-19 patients has not given him much confidence about distribution. Hospital pharmacies have reported problems getting limited supplies.

The White House has begun what it calls “Operation Warp Speed” to quickly produce, distribute and administer a vaccine once it becomes available.

Bright testified Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Aspects of his complaint about early administration handling of the crisis were expected to be backed up by testimony from an executive of a company that manufactures respirator masks.



The Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared likely to reject President Donald Trump’s claim that he is immune from criminal investigation while in office. But the court seemed less clear about exactly how to handle subpoenas from Congress and the Manhattan district attorney for Trump’s tax, bank and financial records.

The court’s major clash over presidential accountability could affect the  2020 presidential campaign, especially if a high court ruling leads to the release of personal financial information before Election Day.

The justices heard arguments in two cases by telephone Tuesday that stretched into the early afternoon. The court, which includes six justices age 65 or older, has been meeting by phone because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There was no apparent consensus about whether to ratify lower court rulings that the subpoenas to Trump’s accountant and banks are valid and should be enforced. The justices will meet by phone before the end of the week to take a preliminary vote on how those cases should come out, and decisions are expected by early summer.

On the same day Trump’s lawyers were telling the court that the subpoenas would be a distraction that no president can afford, Trump found the time to weigh in on a long string of unrelated issues on Twitter, about Elon Musk reopening Tesla’s California plant in defiance of local authorities, the credit he deserves for governors’ strong approval ratings for their handling of the virus outbreak, the anger Asian Americans feel “at what China has done to our Country,” oil prices, interest rates, his likely opponent in the November election and his critics.

The justices sounded particularly concerned in arguments over congressional subpoenas about whether a ruling validating the subpoenas would open the door to harassing future presidents.

“In your view, there is really no protection against the use of congressional subpoenas for the purpose of preventing the harassment of a president,” Justice Samuel Alito said to Douglas Letter, the lawyer for the House of Representatives.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he worried about a “future Sen. McCarthy,” a reference to the Communist-baiting Wisconsin senator from the 1950s, with subpoena power against a future president.

But in the case involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s subpoena for Trump’s taxes, the justices showed little interest in the broadest argument made by Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer, that a president can’t be investigated while he holds office.


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