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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Supporters of Alabama’s new law criminalizing abortion have left no doubt that they passed it to provoke the U.S. Supreme Court into overturning Roe v Wade’s protection of a woman’s right to choose. But there’s no guarantee that will happen.

State Rep. Terri Collins, one of the law’s sponsors, says it was intended to challenge Roe “and hopefully to let that decision go back to the states, so that states can make the laws that are most appropriate for their people.”

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have both said they intend to challenge the law. They will file their lawsuits in federal district court in Alabama, seeking to block enforcement of the law before it takes effect six months from now. Because the lower courts are bound by Supreme Court precedent, judges have no choice but to declare the law unconstitutional.

Alabama would then take the law to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which would also be bound to reach the same conclusion. But the state’s right to an automatic appeal ends there. It would have to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case, and such a move would face long odds.

The justices most often accept an issue for review when the lower courts are divided — when there’s a split among the circuits. But because the spate of recent laws so clearly violate Roe v. Wade and follow-on Supreme Court rulings, it’s most likely that the appeals courts will all declare them unconstitutional, leaving no circuit split.

A second reason Alabama faces a strong headwind is that the law so bluntly asks the Supreme Court to overturn 46 years of legal precedent, beginning with Roe v Wade in 1973 and reaffirmed repeatedly. But supporters of the state law are hoping that President Donald Trump’s newest appointment to the court, Brett Kavanaugh, changed the court’s fundamental arithmetic.

He replaced Anthony Kennedy, who voted to reaffirm Roe. Added to Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, that brings to four the number of potential votes to overturn Roe. But it takes five votes to achieve such a ruling, and there’s no guarantee Chief Justice John Roberts would provide it, given his interest in the court’s long-term legacy.

Even so, the court’s liberals suggested earlier this week that they are concerned about that prospect. They dissented Monday when the court struck down a 40-year-old precedent involving lawsuits against the states. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for himself and for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said it is dangerous for the court “to overrule a decision only because five members of later court come to agree with earlier dissenters on a difficult legal question.”

Breyer said “the law can retain the necessary stability only if this court resists that temptation,” and one of the factors often cited in deciding whether to overturn precedent is how much the nation has relied upon an earlier ruling.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, one of the nation’s leading constitutional experts, says overruling Roe and the follow-on case upholding it, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, “would upset much deeper and broader societal reliance interests” than those at issue in this week’s case about suing the states.

“So there is cause for concern,” Tribe says, “but not panic.”

But Ian Millhiser of the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, says, “With all respect to Professor Tribe, now is the time for supporters of reproductive rights to panic.” More likely than overturning Roe, he says, is the prospect that the court would uphold other state laws that seek to limit access to abortion.

Two such laws are now pending before the Supreme Court, waiting for the justices to decide whether to review them. One is a challenge to a Louisiana law that would require any doctor offering abortion services to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. It is virtually identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.

A second pending case involves an Indiana law, signed by then-governor and now Vice President Mike Pence, that prohibited what the state called discriminatory abortions, those sought because of characteristics of the fetus, including gender, race, or diagnosis of Down syndrome or other defect.

If the departure of Kennedy changes the balance and results in the court upholding either of those laws, it would represent a further restriction on abortion without overturning Roe v. Wade, and without a ruling on the law passed by Alabama that so clearly addressed to the Supreme Court.

“The more extreme the abortion restriction, the less likely it is to get to the Supreme Court soon,” said Tom Goldstein, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who argues frequently before the court. “Pro-life advocates need John Roberts, and he does not rush in to things like this. But there very likely are enough votes to consider a less aggressive statute and narrow Roe.”



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Politics

Pentagon says visits to Trump’s Scotland resort cost nearly $200,000

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military spent almost $200,000 at Trump Turnberry between 2017 to 2019, according to documents that the Pentagon sent to Congress.

In a letter dated Sept. 12 to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating military spending at Turnberry, the Pentagon acknowledged it had spent just over $184,000 at the president’s Scottish resort. That sum included $124,579 in lodging and $59,730 in unidentified additional expenditures between August 9, 2017 to July 26, 2019. The average cost of a room was $189 a night, the Pentagon said.

In the two years prior, the Air Force spent about $64,000 at the hotel, according to the Pentagon.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., responded to the revelations in a statement on Wednesday, saying “it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017— or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years.”

The lawmakers called the Pentagon’s disclosures “woefully inadequate,” noting they failed to produce “any underlying invoices or travel records relating to spending” at the resort or at the local airport.

The committee first asked for the information in June. News of Air Force stays at the resort were first reported by Politico earlier this month.

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s Scottish resort lost around $4.5 million in 2017. But as Politico reported, the resort’s revenue increased by $3.1 million the following year.

The Pentagon also acknowledged that the Air Force had spent $16 million on fuel expenditures at Prestwick Airport between Jan. 20, 2017 and June 21, 2019.

“Although the Department asserted that it paid $3.38 per gallon for fuel, it did not provide any information on contemporaneous fuel rates at non-commercial sites, such as military bases elsewhere in Europe,” Cummings and Raskin said.

The Democratic lawmakers have said that the airport has lost millions of dollars in revenue in recent years, and its existence is crucial to the golf resort’s survival. The airport has also offered discounts and free rounds of golf to members of the U.S. military, they said, citing the Guardian.

The Oversight Committee is investigating whether the arrangement violates a clause in the Constitution which bars an office holder from profiting from their positions. The panel set a new deadline of Sept. 27 for the Pentagon to produce all invoices, contracts, agreements, and internal and external communications involving the arrangement.



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Politics

Election 2019 polls tracker: Tories hold strong lead as Lib Dems take out Labour

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TORIES hold a strong lead as the Liberal Democrats take out Labour as the second biggest party, a voting intention poll has revealed.

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Trump’s border visit draws few spectators, for or against his wall

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SAN DIEGO – President Donald Trump’s visit to the border with Mexico here was attended by only a handful of supporters and protesters, some saying a border wall would protect the nation and others that it won’t address the area’s real problem of smuggling tunnels.

Trump’s stop in the Otay Mesa community was announced Monday night, leaving little time to plan organized events for his 3 p.m. arrival. The first time he came to this neighborhood, in early 2018, dozens of anti-Trump protesters shouted at the president from both sides of the border.

A few die-hard Trump fans were there Wednesday wearing red and donning “Make America Great Again” and “USA” baseball caps.

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Supporter Danny Duran had an American flag draped over his shoulders as the president’s motorcade of armored Chevrolet Suburban SUVs rolled by en route to a dirt road that would take him to a section of upgraded border barriers, unveiled last month.

The wall, Duran said, is “good for his campaign, but it’s good for America.”

Though the barrier is part of a long-planned fence replacement, Duran was convinced this was Trump’s wall.

“We need the wall,” he said. “Why not protect our country? I got a fence on my property.”

The Trump well-wishers were confined to a neighborhood of industrial parks about a half mile from the president’s appearance at the border.

Some of the Trump supporters there didn’t want to talk to reporters for fear of having their words misconstrued — one called a reporter “fake news” — or because they believed it would endanger their families.

Duran, a Latino who speaks Spanish, was proud to speak out. “I don’g agree with everything Trump says,” he said, “but he’s doing a good job.”

Luis Garcia, who owns a packaging supplies business nearby, wasn’t as enthused. He said the president’s past threats to shut down the border and place tariffs on some Mexican goods has been bad news for a border economy dependent on trade between both nations.

“I’m from the border,” he said. “I deal with both countries. People here don’t like the president.”

A border wall won’t stop legitimate trade, he said, but neither would it protect the Otay Mesa community from its true scourge — tunnels that run from Mexico to warehouses here and attract cartel traffic — he said. They’ve been used to ship drugs wholesale into the United States.

“It makes no sense,” Garcia said of Trump’s wall. “The wall doesn’t work. It’s a campaign tactic.”

Trump wrapped up a two-day trip to California that included campaign fundraisers in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and San Diego.

The $147-million replacement barrier he observed Wednesday runs for 14 miles from Imperial Beach to Otay Mesa.

Trump plans to use $3.6 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to help construct 175 miles of wall along the southern border.

Last year Trump vowed that a new border wall would stop 99 percent of unauthorized crossings along the border at San Diego.

“Now we have a world class security system at the border,” Trump said Wednesday.

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