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The Supreme Court on Thursday turned away pleas from anti-abortion activists to make it easier for them to protest outside clinics, declining to wade back into the abortion debate just days after striking down a Louisiana law regulating abortion clinics.

The justices said in a written order that they would not hear cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where anti-abortion activists had challenged ordinances that restrict their behavior outside clinics.

As is usual, the justices did not comment in turning away the cases. The order from the court noted Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.

The Supreme Court has since the late 1990s heard several cases involving demonstration-free zones, called buffer zones, outside abortion clinics. Most recently, in 2014, the justices unanimously struck down a law that created a 35-foot protest-free zone outside Massachusetts abortion clinics. The court said Massachusetts’ law, which made it a crime to stand in the protest-free zone for most people not entering or exiting the clinic or passing by, was an unconstitutional restraint on the free-speech rights of protesters.

On Thursday, one of the two cases the court declined to take up involved an ordinance passed by the city counsel in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, in 2012 that made it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a zone 20 feet from a health care facility. Anti-abortion activists sued, arguing that the ordinance violates their free speech rights. Lower courts have upheld the ordinance, however, ruling it doesn't apply to “sidewalk counseling,” where individuals who oppose abortion offer assistance and information about alternatives to abortion to those entering a clinic.

Roberts a pivotal vote in the Supreme Court's big opinions

The biggest cases of the Supreme Court term so far have a surprising common thread. On a court with five Republican appointees, the liberal justices have been in the majority in rulings that make workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people illegal, protect young immigrants from deportation and, as of Monday, struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion providers.

As surprising, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative nominated by President George W. Bush who has led the court for nearly 15 years, has joined his liberal colleagues in all three. Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Roberts has played a pivotal role in determining how far the court will go in cases where the court's four liberals and four conservatives are closely divided.

Here's a look at where Roberts stood in the abortion, immigration and LGBT cases, his history on the court and what's at stake in coming decisions in which Roberts could play a key role:

On Monday, Roberts joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in striking down Louisiana's Act 620. The justices ruled that the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals violates the abortion rights the court first announced in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But Roberts' reason for siding with the liberals had less to do with his feelings on abortion than with his feelings on whether the court should do an abrupt about-face. Four years ago the court's four liberal members and Justice Kennedy struck down a Texas law nearly identical to Louisiana's. At the time, Roberts was a vote in dissent. But with Kennedy's retirement and replacement by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many conservatives had hoped the result in the Louisiana case would be different. Not so, Roberts wrote: “The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago."




The Supreme Court on Monday preserved an important tool used by securities regulators to recoup ill-gotten gains in fraud cases.

By an 8-1 vote, the justices ruled that the Securities and Exchange Commission can seek to recover the money through a process called disgorgement. Last year, the SEC obtained $3.2 billion in repayment of profits from people who have been found to violate securities law.

“The Court holds today that a disgorgement award that does not exceed a wrongdoer’s net profits and is awarded for victims is equitable relief permissible" under federal law, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented. The Supreme Court in 2017 unanimously limited the SEC’s ability to go after profits where alleged fraud has been going on for years before authorities file charges. That case left open the question the high court answered Monday, that courts have the authority to order disgorgement of profits. The SEC has continued to aggressively pursue defendants’ profits in fraud cases.



Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday to intervene in his dispute with legislative Republicans who have voted to end pandemic restrictions he imposed in March to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Republican majorities in the House and Senate, with a few Democrats in support, voted this week to end the state’s emergency disaster declaration that Wolf has used to shut down “non-life-sustaining” businesses, ban large gatherings and order people to stay at home.

Wolf asked the state’s high court to uphold the shutdown. He said that his gradual reopening plan is working, pointing to a downward trend in the number of new virus infections in Pennsylvania even as cases rise in nearly half the states.

“Pennsylvania’s measured, phased process to reopen is successful because of its cautious approach that includes factors relying on science, the advice of health experts and that asks everyone to do something as simple as wearing a mask when inside or around others outside the home,” Wolf said in a news release. “We will continue to move forward cautiously.”

Wolf has been easing restrictions in vast swaths of the state, including on Friday when he announced that another eight counties would be moving to the least restrictive “green” phase of his reopening plan. But gyms, barber shops, theaters and similar businesses in the state’s highly populated southeast corner remain closed, and many types of businesses statewide must abide by occupancy limits.



The Ohio Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case filed by news media groups seeking school records about the man who gunned down nine people in Dayton last August.

The media groups, including The Associated Press, argue the student records could provide information on whether authorities properly handled early warning signs from slain gunman Connor Betts.

The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools district argues Betts’ records are protected by state and federal privacy laws. Ohio GOP Attorney General Dave Yost will argue they should be released.

Betts was killed by police 32 seconds after he opened fire Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton’s crowded Oregon District entertainment area. Armed with an AR-15-style gun with an extended ammunition magazine, Betts killed nine, including his sister, and injured dozens more.

The Supreme Court took the case after an appeals court ruled in favor of the district and its denial of access to Betts’ high school files.




A group of elected officials in southwest Virginia violated the state's open government law during meetings about dissolving a public library system, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a case long delayed by a lawmaker's use of a privilege of his office.

State Del. Jeff Campbell, who is also an attorney in private practice, represented the Smyth County Board of Supervisors in the lawsuit brought by the head of a nonprofit that promotes the library.

The court ruled that the board had improperly entered into closed sessions and exceeded the scope of subjects it was allowed to discuss in closed meetings. The justices also found that the circuit court had erred by not awarding attorneys fees and costs to the group suing the board.

Paul Morrison, attorney for the president of the Friends of the Smyth-Bland Regional Library, said while he was pleased with the decision, the fact that the case took so long to come to a resolution means the board now has many new members. The ones who made the error won't have to face the fallout, he said.

“It sounds so cliche to say justice delayed is justice denied, but it’s really true,” he said.

Attorneys who serve in Virginia’s General Assembly or work there have broad discretion to obtain continuances in their cases “as a matter of right” under certain conditions. The Associated Press, citing court records obtained through a public records request, has previously reported that Campbell routinely uses that privilege to delay court proceedings, and has done so at least nine times in a domestic violence case against a former NASCAR driver.


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