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A more conservative Supreme Court appears unwilling to do what Republicans have long desired: kill off the Affordable Care Act, including its key protections for pre-existing health conditions and subsidized insurance premiums that affect tens of millions of Americans.

Meeting remotely a week after the election  and in the midst of a pandemic that has closed their majestic courtroom, the justices on Tuesday took on the latest Republican challenge to the Obama-era health care law, with three appointees of President Donald Trump, an avowed foe of the law, among them.

But at least one of those Trump appointees, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seemed likely to vote to leave the bulk of the law intact, even if he were to find the law’s now-toothless mandate that everyone obtain health insurance to be unconstitutional.

“It does seem fairly clear that the proper remedy would be to sever the mandate provision and leave the rest of the act in place,” Kavanaugh said.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote two earlier opinions preserving the law, stated similar views, and the court’s three liberal justices are almost certain to vote to uphold the law in its entirety. That presumably would form a majority by joining a decision to cut away only the mandate, which now has no financial penalty attached to it. Congress zeroed out the penalty in 2017, but left the rest of the law untouched.

“I think it’s hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire act to fall if the mandate were struck down when the same Congress that lowered the penalty to zero did not even try to repeal the rest of the act. I think, frankly, that they wanted the court to do that, but that’s not our job,” Roberts said.

In the court’s third major case over the 10-year-old law, popularly known as “Obamacare,” Republican attorneys general in 18 states and the administration want the entire law to be struck down. That would threaten coverage for more than 23 million people, as well as millions of others with preexisting conditions that now would include COVID-19.

California, leading a group of Democratic-controlled states, and the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives are urging the court to leave the law in place.

The Supreme Court could have heard the case before the election, but set arguments for a week after. The timing could add a wrinkle to the case since President-elect Joe Biden strongly supports the health care law.



Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits Thursday, undercutting a campaign legal strategy to attack the integrity of the voting process in states where the result could mean President Donald Trump’s defeat. The rulings came as Democrat Joe Biden inched closer to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, and Trump and his campaign promised even more legal action based on unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Speaking in the White House briefing room Thursday, the president launched into a litany of claims, without proof, about how Democrats were trying to unfairly deprive him of a second term. “But we think there’ll be a lot of litigation because we can’t have an election stolen like this,” Trump said.

Earlier Thursday, a Biden campaign lawyer called the lawsuits meritless, more political strategy than legal. “I want to emphasize that for their purposes these lawsuits don’t have to have merit. That’s not the purpose. ... It is to create an opportunity for them to message falsely about what’s taking place in the electoral process,” lawyer Bob Bauer said, accusing the Trump campaign of “continually alleging irregularities, failures of the system and fraud without any basis.”

Trump is used to suing and being sued. A USA Today analysis found that he and his businesses were involved in at least 3,500 state and federal court actions in the three decades before he became president.  In this election, the court battles so far have been small-scale efforts to get a closer look at local elections officials as they process absentee ballots. A Michigan judge noted that the state’s ballot count is over as she tossed the campaign’s lawsuit.

In Georgia, a state judge dismissed a case over concerns about 53 absentee ballots in Chatham County after elections officials in the Savannah-area county testified that all of those ballots had been received on time. Campaign officials said earlier they were considering similar challenges in a dozen other counties around the state.  In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, the Trump campaign won an appellate ruling to get party and campaign observers closer to election workers who are processing mail-in ballots in Philadelphia.

But the order did not affect the counting of ballots that is proceeding in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, as elections officials are dealing with an avalanche of mail ballots driven by fears of voting in person during a pandemic. The lawsuits in multiple states highlight that the Trump campaign could be confronting a political map in which it might have to persuade courts in two or more states to set aside enough votes to overturn the results. That’s a substantially different scenario than in the contested presidential election of 2000, which eventually was effectively settled by the Supreme Court, when the entire fight was over Florida’s electoral votes and involved a recount as opposed to trying to halt balloting.

Biden, for his part, has said he expects to win the election, but he counseled patience Thursday, saying: “Each ballot must be counted.” Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, accused Democrats of trying to steal the election, despite no evidence anything of the sort was taking place. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, in a call with reporters Thursday morning, said that “every night the president goes to bed with a lead” and every night new votes “are mysteriously found in a sack.” It is quite common in presidential elections to have vote counting continue after election day.



Votes in hand, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with plans to confirm President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s  Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election, launching a divisive fight over Democratic objections before a nominee is even announced.

Trump said Tuesday he will name his choice Saturday, confident of support. Democrats say it’s too close to the election, and the winner of the presidency should name the new justice. But under GOP planning, the Senate could vote Oct. 29.

“I guess we have all the votes we’re going to need,” Trump told WJBX FOX 2 in Detroit. “I think it’s going to happen.”

Republicans believe the court fight will energize voters for Trump, boosting the party and potentially deflating Democrats who cannot stop the lifetime appointment for a conservative justice . The Senate is controlled by Republicans, 53-47, with a simple majority needed for confirmation. The one remaining possible Republican holdout, Mitt Romney of Utah, said Tuesday he supports taking a vote.

Still, with early presidential voting already underway in several states, all sides are girding for a wrenching Senate battle over health care, abortion access and other big cases before the court and sure to further split the torn nation.

It is one of the quickest confirmation efforts in recent times. No court nominee in U.S. history has been considered so close to a presidential election. And it all comes as the nation is marking the grave milestone of 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a private lunch meeting Tuesday at Senate GOP campaign headquarters, several Republican senators spoke up in favor of voting before the election. None advocated a delay.

Elsewhere, as tributes poured in for Ginsburg with vigils and flowers at the court’s steps, Democrats led by presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed a tough fight. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said “we should honor her dying wish,” which was that her seat not be filled until the man who wins the presidential election is installed, in January.

But that seemed no longer an option. So far, two Republicans have said they oppose taking up a nomination at this time, but no others are in sight. Under Senate rules, Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie vote.



More than 15 years after the truck bomb assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, a U.N.-backed tribunal in the Netherlands is announcing verdicts this week in the trial of four members of the militant group Hezbollah allegedly involved in the killing, which deeply divided the tiny country.

The verdicts on Tuesday at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in a village on the outskirts of the Dutch city of The Hague, are expected to further add to soaring tensions in Lebanon, two weeks after a catastrophic explosion at Beirut’s port that killed nearly 180 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed thousands of homes in the Lebanese capital.

Unlike the blast that killed Hariri and 21 others on Feb. 14, 2005, the Aug. 4 explosion was believed to be a result of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that accidentally ignited at Beirut’s port. While the cause of the fire that provided the trigger is still not clear, Hezbollah, which maintains huge influence over Lebanese politics, is being sucked into the public fury directed at the country’s ruling politicians.

Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country’s leaders were concerned about violence after the verdicts. Hariri was Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni politician at the time, while the Iran-backed Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim group.

Tensions between Sunni and Shiites in the Middle East have fueled deadly conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and to a smaller scale in Lebanon. Some Lebanese see the tribunal as an impartial way of uncovering the truth about Hariri’s slaying, while Hezbollah ? which denies involvement ? calls it an Israeli plot to tarnish the group.



A court in the West African nation of Cape Verde has approved the extradition to the United States of a Colombian businessman wanted on suspicion of money laundering on behalf of Venezuela's socialist government, his lawyers said Tuesday.

The court made the decision to extradite Alex Saab on Friday, but his legal team said in a statement it was informed about the decision only on Monday. They said they would appeal.

Saab was arrested in June when his private jet stopped to refuel in the former Portuguese colony on the way to Iran.
Saab was waiting for the court to schedule a hearing at which he could argue against extradition, according to the statement sent by the legal team, which is led by former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon.

The legal team described the extradition order as “alarming” and accused Cape Verdean authorities of denying him his legal rights. The defense lawyers plan to appeal to Cape Verde’s Supreme Court and, if necessary, the Constitutional Court, the statement said.

U.S. officials trying to reignite their campaign to oust Maduro believe Saab holds many secrets about how Venezuelan president, his family and top aides allegedly siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts at a time of widespread hunger in the oil-rich nation.

Venezuela’s government had protested the arrest of Saab, 48, who it said was on a “humanitarian mission” to buy food and medical supplies. Saab came onto the radar of U.S. authorities a few years ago after amassing a large number of contracts with Maduro’s government.

Federal prosecutors in Miami indicted him and a business partner last year on money laundering charges connected to an alleged bribery scheme that pocketed more than $350 million from a low-income housing project for the Venezuelan government that was never built.



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