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The Supreme Court appeared willing Tuesday to extend protection from capital punishment to people with dementia who can't recall their crime or understand the circumstances of their execution.

The eight justices heard arguments in the case of Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison, who killed a police officer in 1985 but has suffered strokes that his lawyers say have left him with severe dementia.

The high court has previously said the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment means that people who are insane, delusional or psychotic cannot be executed.

A ruling for Madison probably would mean a new hearing in state court over whether his condition renders him ineligible for execution.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberal justices seemed most willing to rule for Madison. The other three justices, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, are unlikely to side with Madison because they voted to allow his execution to proceed when their colleagues blocked it in January, setting up the current case.

In a reflection of the changed dynamics on the court, Roberts' vote would appear to be decisive since a 4-4 split would leave in place a state court ruling against Madison and allow Alabama to try again to execute him. The high court is down one justice, following Anthony Kennedy's retirement in July and a delay in a vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh so that the FBI can investigate allegations against him of sexual misconduct.

Kennedy had been the conservative justice most likely to vote with the liberals on death penalty cases. The court agreed to hear the appeal while Kennedy was on the bench. He had been a key voice in limiting capital punishment, having voted to bar the execution of people under 18, the intellectually disabled and those who lack a rational understanding of why they are to be put to death.




The U.S. Supreme Court won't review an Obama-era action that put land around the Grand Canyon off-limits to new mining claims, ending the legal battle as environmentalists keep a close eye on actions by the Trump administration that they fear could lead to more access for the mining industry.

The Obama administration put about 1,562 square miles (4,045 square kilometers) outside the boundaries of the national park off-limits to new hard rock mining claims until 2032. The 20-year ban was meant to slow a flurry of mining claims over concern that the Colorado River — a major water source serving 30 million people — could become contaminated and to allow for scientific studies.

The mining industry asked the Supreme Court in March to review the ban, saying it was based on an unconstitutional provision of federal law. The high court on Monday declined the request, leaving the ban in place.

"Clearly, we're disappointed," said Ashley Burke, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association. "There continues to be great risk to our domestic supply chain thanks to unwarranted withdrawals like this." Burke said the association will continue advocating for land access. The American Exploration and Mining Association also challenged the ban. Environmentalists hailed the court's decision but are worried the ban could be undone administratively.




The United Nations' highest court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to civil aviation safety.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of President Donald Trump will comply.

Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran's nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the International Court of Justice.

In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must "remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from" the re-imposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.

By limiting the order to sanctions covering humanitarian goods and the civil aviation industry, the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested.

The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, pointed that out in a tweet.

"This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction," the ambassador tweeted. "Even so, it is worth noting that the Court declined today to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran. Instead, the Court issued a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."

While imposing the so-called "provisional measures," the court's president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, stressed that the case will continue and the United States could still challenge the court's jurisdiction.



The first West Virginia Supreme Court justice to go on trial in an impeachment scandal is looking forward to explaining her decisions since taking office.

Justice Beth Walker's trial is set to start Monday in the state Senate. Senators are serving as jurors with several members of the House of Delegates serving as prosecutors.

Four justices were impeached by the House in August. The cases targeted spending, including renovations to the justices' offices, and also raised questions about corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty earlier this decade.

In a statement after her impeachment last month, Walker said she takes "full responsibility" for her actions and she will "look forward to explaining those actions and decisions before the State Senate."

Walker, who joined the court in 2017, said she has been committed to greater transparency and accountability in the judicial branch and agreed that "expenditures prior to my election were ill-advised, excessive and needed greater oversight."

Some Democrats have criticized the impeachment moves as a power grab by majority Republican lawmakers, strategically timed to allow GOP Gov. Jim Justice to name their temporary replacements.




The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear former Chicago-area police officer Drew Peterson's appeal of his murder conviction in the drowning death of his third wife.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the high court refused Monday to take up Peterson's bid to have his murder conviction overturned. His appeal request was filed in June.

The 64-year-old Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police officer, is serving a 38-year sentence for Kathleen Savio's 2004 death and another 40-year sentence after being convicted of plotting to kill the prosecutor in the case.

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to overturn Peterson's murder conviction last year. Peterson is being held at a federal prison in Indiana. He's also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, but hasn't been charged.


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