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By Pete Williams

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Louisiana from enforcing a law that women’s groups said would leave only a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions in the state.

By a 5-4 vote, the court said the restrictions must remain on hold while challengers appeal a lower court decision in favor of the law. Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal members.

It was the Supreme Court’s first significant action on the hot-button issue of abortion since Donald Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, replaced Anthony Kennedy, who generally voted with the court’s liberals to uphold abortion rights.

In Thursday’s ruling, Kavanaugh voted with the conservatives — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.

Kavanaugh filed a dissent, writing only for himself. He said he would have allowed the law to take effect in order to see whether it would impose a burden on women’s access to abortion in the state.

Abortion-rights advocates applauded the court ruling, while opponents expressed disappointment.

“The Supreme Court has stepped in under the wire to protect the rights of Louisiana women,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The three clinics left in Louisiana can stay open while we ask the Supreme Court to hear our case. This should be an easy case — all that’s needed is a straightforward application of the court’s own precedent.”

Benjamin Clapper, executive director for Louisiana Right to Life, said he was disappointed that the law remains on hold. He said supporters of abortion rights have fought “against every common-sense health standard. This is just another example of the extreme lengths the abortion industry pursues to protect abortion-on-demand.”

The high court’s decision Thursday was not a ruling on the legal merits of the Louisiana restriction. But the decision to keep the law on hold signals that a majority of the justices have doubts about its constitutionality.

Passed by the state legislature in 2014, the measure requires any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Two Louisiana doctors and a clinic filed a legal challenge, arguing that it was identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. In that ruling, joined by Justice Kennedy, the court said Texas imposed an obstacle on women seeking access to abortion services without providing them any medical benefits.

Chief Justice John Roberts arrives prior to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill on January 28, 2014.Larry Downing / Pool via Getty Images

The Center for Reproductive rights said Louisiana’s law would leave only one doctor at a single clinic in New Orleans to perform the procedure, a drastic limitation that “cannot possibly meet the needs of approximately 10,000 women who seek abortion services in Louisiana each year.”

But Louisiana officials urged the Supreme Court to let them begin enforcing the law. They said the challengers’ claim of harm rested on the fear that clinics would be shut down overnight. “But that is not correct. Louisiana envisions a regulatory process that begins, logically, with collecting information from Louisiana’s abortion clinics and their doctors,” the state said.

The Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling, in a case called Whole Women’s Health, said requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges was medically unnecessary, given that only a tiny fraction of abortions in the first trimester require hospitalization. By contrast the Texas law caused half the abortion clinics in the state to shut down, forcing women to endure longer travel and increased wait times.

It was the most important abortion ruling in 25 years and blocked similar restrictions in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The court’s action Thursday came in a brief unsigned order with no written opinion, so none of the five justices who voted to block enforcement of the Louisiana law explained their reasoning.

Roberts was among the dissenters when the court struck down the Texas law. But the court ruled that it was unconstitutional, and his vote Thursday was consistent with that holding.

In response to the lawsuit over Louisiana’s identical law, a federal judge said it was likely unconstitutional and issued a stay, blocking its enforcement. But a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to lift the stay. In a 2-1 ruling, the court said Louisiana’s law would present far less of an obstacle than the Texas law would have. Less than one-third of Louisiana women seeking an abortion would face even the potential of longer wait times, the court said.

The appeals court concluded that the Louisiana law would not impose an “undue burden” on access to abortion, which has been the Supreme Court’s key legal test for challenges to abortion restrictions for nearly three decades. The lower court’s ruling was to have gone into effect February 4, but the Supreme Court put it on hold, giving itself more time to decide what to do.

Kavanaugh said that because Louisiana promised to put the law into effect gradually, he would have waited to see how many doctors were able to get hospital admitting privileges. So far, he said, the two sides in the case have offered only “competing predictions” about its effect.

The stay on enforcement of the law will remain until the challengers bring their full appeal to the Supreme Court. If the court agrees to hear the case, the stay would remain until it issues its decision, which would happen sometime late this year or early in 2020.



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House Judiciary Chairman Nadler subpoenas full, unredacted Mueller report

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Friday subpoenaed the Justice Department for the full, unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report as well as the underlying evidence.

In a statement, Nadler said that the Justice Department must comply by May 1.

“I am open to working with the Department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials, however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability,” he said Friday.

The subpoena comes a day after Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of the report to Congress and to the public, which details Trump’s attempts to muddy the special counsel’s probe, including efforts to tamper with witnesses, and the decision not to charge him with obstruction of justice in part because there was no underlying crime and many of the attempts were carried out in plain view.

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The report also laid out numerous contacts between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians, but said investigators found Trump’s team had not “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The report contained nearly 1,000 redactions, with seven entire pages blacked out. Nadler’s committee voted in early April to authorize the subpoena for the report ahead of its release after Barr laid out the areas he intended to black out.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, called Nadler’s subpoena “wildly overbroad” and said the date Nadler required the Justice Department to respond was “politically convenient” given that Barr had offered to appear before the committee on May 2.

“The chairman’s process flies in the face of normal and proper congressional oversight. I urge Chairman Nadler to narrowly tailor his subpoena and give the department a meaningful chance to respond,” Collins said in a statement Friday.

Nadler confirmed Friday that Barr would testify on May 2, telling WNYC in an interview on “The Brian Lehrer Show” that he hoped to have Mueller before the panel by May 23.

“We will have other witnesses obviously, but we have to hear from the two of them,” Nadler said.

In a letter Thursday to Nadler and his Senate counterpart, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barr said that he would offer them and other top lawmakers the chance to review a less redacted version of the report next week in a “secure reading room.”

Department of Justice Spokesperson Kerri Kupec called the subpoena “premature and unnecessary” in a statement Friday, given Barr’s offer.

“In the interest of transparency, the Attorney General released the Special Counsel’s ‘confidential report’ with only minimal redactions. The Department of Justice has also made arrangements for Chairman Nadler and other Congressional leaders to review the report with even fewer redactions. In light of this, Congressman Nadler’s subpoena is premature and unnecessary. The Department will continue to work with Congress to accommodate its legitimate requests consistent with the law and long-recognized executive branch interests,” Kupec said.

But top House and Senate Democrats — Nadler, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein and Senate Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner — on Friday said the proposal for a restricted review was unsatisfactory.

“Unfortunately, your proposed accommodation—which among other things would prohibit discussion of the full report, even with other Committee Members—is not acceptable,” the members wrote in a letter to Barr rejecting his offer.

They added that they are “open to discussing a reasonable accommodation with the Department that would protect law enforcement sensitive information while allowing Congress to fulfill its constitutional duties.”

Following the release of the 448-page report Thursday, Nadler said that it outlines “disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct” and that Congress now has the responsibility to hold the president accountable.

Nadler also sent a letter to Mueller on Thursday requesting that he testify about the report before Congress “as soon as possible” or “in any event, no later than May 23, 2019,” tweeting that lawmakers “need to hear directly from special counsel Mueller and receive the full, unredacted report with the underlying evidence.”

Nadler, who in March said he had a “high bar” for impeachment, on Thursday did not rule out that scenario. His committee has the power to initiate an impeachment inquiry and proceedings.

Asked if holding Trump accountable means impeachment, Nadler said, “That’s one possibility — there are others.”

Several rank and file House Democrats, including several freshmen members, began to voice support for pursuing impeachment or at least raised the possibility of going in that direction. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted Thursday that she plans to sign onto an impeachment resolution that has been introduced by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. She said Mueller’s report “squarely puts this on our doorstep.”

Another freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted Thursday night, “In times of great consequences, let’s be clear. #TimetoImpeach #MuellerReport.”

“Now we need the unredacted report, we need the evidence. The American people deserve the truth. And Congress will come to its determination about obstruction of justice and the possibility of impeachment,” tweeted freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa.

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., was asked by reporters if the instances of possible obstruction laid out in the report could lead to a case of impeachment in the House.

“Yeah, I think that they absolutely could,” he said. “There’s one, pretty devastating quote by Mueller himself who said if the FBI had, was willing to dig deep on it all, it would certainly lead to obstruction charges.”

Congress currently remains on recess for the Passover and Easter holidays through next week, and Pelosi wrote in a letter to members of her caucus Thursday evening that she has scheduled a conference call for Monday “to discuss this grave matter, which is as soon as our analysis and this Holy Season’s religious traditions allow.”

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Voters relieved, but unmoved, after Mueller report release

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By Ali Vitali, Garrett Haake, Kailani Koenig, Shaquille Brewster and Vaughn Hillyard

MANCHESTER, N.H. — It was a lot of information for Cate Tanzer to process all at once. The long-awaited report from Robert Mueller had just hit airwaves and the information was being described in real time.

“Wait,” she said, stunned while watching the findings unfold from an MSNBC-tuned laptop alongside an NBC News reporter in a local diner on Thursday and trying to get it all straight. “Trump said he was ‘effed’ or Sessions said he was ‘effed’?” (She was referring to President Donald Trump’s panicked reaction upon learning of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment, detailed in the report.)

Either way: “We’re watching history in the making,” she said. “A lot of drama” after two years of investigating — and she was glad it was finally out.

From political hotspots across the country — Manchester, New Hampshire to Council Bluffs, Iowa; St. Petersburg, Florida, to Columbia, South Carolina — Americans expressed relief at finally seeing the report, even if the two-year-long-probe’s findings didn’t do much to change their already existing beliefs about Trump and his administration.

In downtown Columbia, South Carolina, Mimi Draft told NBC she was “doubtful” anything in the report would change her negative opinion of the president.

“I live in a blue bubble,” she conceded, but in her eyes, Trump had “started off on the wrong foot” all together from his early days promoting the birther movement. What she’d seen from him since had only cemented her negative opinion.

On the other side of the political spectrum, sitting outside at a cafe by the water in St. Petersburg, Florida, Bernie Angelo also remained unmoved.

“I don’t believe half of what I read,” she said. “I do think it started out as a witch hunt, and that kind of threw me off, but there’s really nothing that could change my mind about him.”

In Council Bluffs, Iowa James Binns said Mueller’s report — based on Barr’s synopses — was an answer to his prayers. “I had all the faith that President Trump was a good man,” he told NBC. “He’s been doing a good job. A lot of people don’t think so, but I do. He hadn’t done anything wrong, and I think what the report shows is that he is indeed vindicated of any wrongdoing.”

Moreover, Binns couldn’t blame the president for his oft-tweeted, emotional reactions to the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election.

“If somebody accuses me of something I’m not doing, I, myself, get a little upset,” Binns said.

Mulling over the finer points of Mueller’s probe during brunch at Manchester’s Airport Diner, friends William Feldmann and Shelly Heit agreed that they don’t think Trump or his campaign ever colluded.

“Not because he’d say ‘that’s wrong’ but I don’t think they were organized enough to do that,” Feldmann reasoned. “But the obstruction of justice greatly concerns me.”

For them, hearing from Mueller himself could help clear this up — and help the country move on.

“I would be very happy to see Mueller come testify,” Feldmann said, adding in a skeptical tone that if Mueller were to echo Barr and Trump’s characterizations of his own report, he would “be perfectly happy with that” and ready to move on.

In Florida, Bernie Angelo’s husband — a retired sports executive named Jerry — also seemed ready to move on, telling NBC he would be “absolutely” fine if this was the last day the media focused on Mueller and his investigation.

And while Republicans and Democrats alike have fretted over the investigations lingering impact — especially heading into a presidential election year — the probe isn’t playing a role in Gulfport, Florida’s Alan Wise warming towards Trump since not supporting him in 2016.

Wise said he wanted to see a good overview of the report to discover “how guilty or not guilty Trump is complicit in what happened there.” That said, he’s actually “more likely to support” the president in 2020.

“He’s not perfect guy,” Wise said of Trump. “I think he’s a despicable human being. But he’s done a lot of god things for country. We are seeing a lot of good things come out of the environment and business is good now. Interest rates are low. I think that’s good for the average American.”

Months of interviews with Americans across the country paint an unclear picture of how deeply Americans have even been paying attention to the in’s and out’s of the probe. Reactions have seemed to break down along already-existing ideological and party lines, not just in Washington but across the country.

According to a March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 39 percent of Americans said they’d heard “a lot” about the Mueller story — a smaller share than those who said they had heard a lot about other big stories during Trump’s political tenure, like the firing of James Comey (56 percent) and the release of the Access Hollywood tape (66 percent).

But for some voters, this reality is as good, if not slightly worse, than fiction.

“I’m an involved citizen and I love reading a juicy novel,” South Carolinian Cindy Warren said of the Mueller report. Then, thinking of the report again: “Well, it’s very meaty. It’s actually kind of exhausting.”

Ali Vitali reported from Manchester, New Hampshire. Garrett Haake and Kailani Koenig reported from St. Petersburg, Florida. Shaquille Brewster reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Vaughn Hillyard reported from Council Bluffs, Iowa.



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Biden set to announce presidential run next week

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By Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — Advisers to former Vice President Joe Biden are finalizing plans for the launch of his presidential campaign next week, ending months of suspense that has hung over the Democratic nominating race.

Discussions among his core group of advisers about the exact timing of his announcement and subsequent campaign events are ongoing and subject to change, multiple officials said. Those discussions were set into motion earlier this month, as Biden himself publicly acknowledged a decision was all but a formality.

“My intention from the beginning was if I were to run would be the last person to announce,” he said after delivering the second of three speeches since mid-March to union audiences. “We’ll find out whether I can win in a primary.”

Biden has eyed the presidency for most of his decades-long career, running twice before. Both campaigns ended early — in 1988, long before the first votes were cast as he faced accusations of plagiarism, and in 2008 after a disappointing finish in the lead-off Iowa caucuses.

In debates during that 2008 primary fight, then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Biden often found their views in sync. After Obama upset Hillary Clinton to win the nomination, he sought to balance out the ticket by tapping Biden as his running mate, bringing on board an experienced legislator and foreign policy expert.

When the two were re-elected in 2012, Biden turned to planning a campaign to succeed him. But just as he was preparing for his first visit to Iowa in 2013, his eldest son, Beau, was diagnosed with brain cancer — effectively putting the vice president’s political future on hold. At his family’s urging, he still explored the possibility of running in the months after Beau’s death, but ultimately ceded the field to Clinton.

When it seemed clear that Clinton would defeat Trump in the 2016 election, Biden laid the groundwork for an active post-White House life, building foreign and domestic policy hubs at a pair of universities in addition to launching the Biden Cancer Foundation to continue the work of his “moonshot” bid for a cure.

But Trump’s unlikely victory afforded Biden an unexpected final chance to seek the office. He became an outspoken critic especially of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and divisive political style, and campaigned aggressively for Democratic candidates in 2018, billing the midterms as a “battle for the soul of America.”

As his long-time team of political advisers began sketching out a 2020 campaign, they kept two possible impediments in mind: the still-tenuous emotional state of Biden’s family after his son’s death, and a Democratic Party growing younger and seemingly being pushed further to the left in part as a response to Trump.

While Biden has become an elder statesman who could be an antidote to the chaotic Trump era, his long track record also features past support for policies now anathema to broad swaths of the Democratic electorate.

Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act, helped pass a ban on assault weapons and embraced same-sex marriage even before Obama did. He also voted in support of the 2002 Iraq war authorization, was a lead author of a 1994 crime bill that swelled the nation’s prison population, and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation, including handling testimony by Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her.

And just weeks before Biden’s decision his intensely personal manner itself became an issue, after a Nevada Democrat described unwelcome physical contact by the then-vice president as they prepared to take the stage at a campaign event in 2014.

After other women also described similar interactions, Biden acknowledged in an online video that “social norms are changing,” and that what he viewed as “gestures of support and encouragement” have sometimes made people uncomfortable. “I think it’s going to have to change somewhat how I campaign,” he told NBC News that week.

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