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Politics
AP
Supreme Court declines to hear border wall challenge
 06.29.20

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is leaving in place a decision that rejected environmental groups’ challenge to sections of wall the Trump administration is building along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The high court on Monday declined to hear an appeal involving construction of 145 miles of steel-bollard walls along the border in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Southwest Environmental Center had challenged a federal law that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive any laws necessary to allow the quick construction of border fencing. The groups had argued that violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. But a lower court dismissed the case.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has weighed in on border wall construction during the Trump administration. Last year, the high court gave the administration the go-ahead to tap billions of dollars in Pentagon funds to replace barriers along the border with Mexico in Arizona, California and New Mexico with more robust fencing.


Politics
AP
Abortion foes vent disappointment after Supreme Court ruling
 06.29.20

NEW YORK — Abortion opponents vented their disappointment and fury on Monday after the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision to strike down a Louisiana law that would have curbed abortion access.

The ruling delivered a defeat to anti-abortion activists but could intensify interest in the November election among religious conservatives who are a key part of Trump’s base. Some top religious conservative backers of President Donald Trump noted pointedly that both justices he named to the high court dissented from Monday’s decision, portraying it as an argument to ensure Trump has another term in office to potentially tap more conservative nominees.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life and a member of Trump’s Catholic voter outreach effort, said the president’s “two appointees voted the right way” in supporting Louisiana’s ability to require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

“Once again this ruling underscores the importance of elections,” Pavone said in a statement. “We need a solid pro-life majority on the Supreme Court to uphold the rights of women and the unborn.”

Johnnie Moore, an evangelical adviser to the Trump administration, said the decision could help motivate anti-abortion activists to vote to reelect the president to give him a third chance to put a nominee on the Supreme Court.

“Conservatives know they are on the one-yard-line,” Moore tweeted. “Enthusiasm is already unprecedented, evangelical turnout will be too.”

The Trump campaign also invoked the decision to appeal to voters in a statement from deputy communications director Ali Pardo.

“This case underscores the importance of re-electing President Trump, who has a record of appointing conservative judges, rather than Joe Biden, who will appoint radical, activist judges who will legislate from the courts,” Pardo said.

Some right-leaning abortion foes — including at least three congressional Republicans — responded to the decision by criticizing Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by President George W. Bush. Roberts concurred with the court’s four more liberal justices while not signing onto their opinion in the case.

“Chief Justice Roberts is at it again with his political gamesmanship,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted. “This time he has sided with abortion extremists who care more about providing abortion-on-demand than protecting women’s health.”

“Americans hoping for justice for women and unborn babies were let down again today by John Roberts,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement.

“What’s next, Chief Justice Roberts? Our Second Amendment rights?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted.

Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, a former Roberts clerk, tweeted that the decision was a “disaster” and “a big-time wake up call to religious conservatives,” whom he urged to “make our voices heard.”

But Roberts’ move to stand apart from his more liberal colleagues, contextualizing his vote as one to protect the court’s past precedent, left other religious conservatives vowing to rededicate themselves to their fight to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights.

“This case was about whether the state has the right to ensure that abortionists who take women’s money also provide for their safety,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a prominent pro-Trump evangelical ally, said in a statement, adding that “I do look forward to the day when the Supreme Court will correct the gross injustice of the Roe v. Wade decision that has led to the killing of tens of millions of unborn babies.”

Russell Moore, president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, defended Louisiana’s abortion law as “placing the most minimal restrictions possible on an abortion industry that insists on laissez-faire for itself and its profits.”

“Nonetheless, we will continue to seek an America where vulnerable persons, including unborn children and their mothers, are seen as precious, not disposable,” said Moore, who leads the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, said in a statement that Catholics would “grieve this decision” but would “continue to pray and fight for justice for mothers and children.”

“We will not rest until the day when the Supreme Court corrects the grave injustice of Roe ... and recognizes the Constitutional right to life for unborn human beings,” Naumann said.

O. Carter Snead, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in a statement that Roberts’ positioning in the decision was “cold comfort” on an otherwise “sad day.”

Support for rescinding Roe remains strong among evangelical Protestants. Sixty-one percent of them said they wanted to see the court fully overturn the decision in a survey conducted last year by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. That survey found support for overturning Roe at 28% among Catholics and 42% among Protestants generally.

The court’s abortion ruling on Monday follows its 6-3 decision earlier this month that found a central provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shields LGBT people from employment discrimination. Religious conservatives also openly lamented that decision, while noting that potential faith-based exemptions could be carved out.


State
AP
Prosecutor resigns after post seems to link protests, Nazis
 06.29.20

HOUSTON — A longtime top Houston area prosecutor resigned Monday after posting a meme on Facebook that appeared to equate Nazis with people who have been participating in protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Kaylynn Williford, who was head of the trial bureau at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, last week posted the meme that shows a black and white picture of a wooden box full of weddings bands removed from Holocaust victims.

A caption above the photo reads in part, “Each ring represents a destroyed family. Never forget, Nazis tore down statues. Banned free speech. Blamed economic hardships on one group of people. Instituted gun control. Sound familiar?”

Protesters demonstrating against racism, police violence, racial inequality and the May death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, have targeted Confederate monuments and other statues around the world.

Area attorneys had questioned whether the post was derogatory of the Black Lives Matter movement and if it might be racist.

“It’s in very poor taste given the context of what’s happening socially around the country,” said Mauro Beltramini, a Houston criminal defense attorney. “Something like this could cast doubt on things that the district attorney’s office is doing.”

Williford said in a statement she never intended to offend the Black Lives Matter movement. Williford said what she had interpreted as a post promoting tolerance was taken in “a completely different manner.”

“I have spent my career defending the rights not only of victims but those wrongfully accused,” she said. “If you truly knew me, you would know I never meant anything malicious in sharing a Facebook post ... I can only say I am sorry for hurt this had made in the African American or Jewish communities.”

The district attorney’s office was reviewing concerns over the Facebook post when Williford resigned.


Crime
Golden State Killer admits to dozens of rapes, murders
 06.29.20

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former police officer who terrorized California as a serial burglar and rapist and went on to kill more than a dozen people while evading capture for decades pleaded guilty Monday to murders attributed to a criminal dubbed the Golden State Killer.

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. had remained almost silent in court since his 2018 arrest until he repeatedly uttered the words “guilty” and “I admit” in a hushed and raspy voice as part of a plea agreement that will spare him the death penalty for a life sentence with no chance of parole.

DeAngelo, 74, had never publicly acknowledged the killings, but offered up a confession of sorts after his arrest that cryptically referred to an inner personality named “Jerry” that he said forced him to commit the wave of crimes that ended abruptly in 1986.

“I did all that,” DeAngelo said to himself while alone in a police interrogation room after his arrest in April 2018, Sacramento County prosecutor Thien Ho said.

“I didn’t have the strength to push him out,” DeAngelo said. “He made me. He went with me. It was like in my head, I mean, he’s a part of me. I didn’t want to do those things. I pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. I did all those things. I destroyed all their lives. So now I’ve got to pay the price.”

The day of reckoning had come for DeAngelo, Ho said.

“The scope of Joseph DeAngelo’s crimes is simply staggering,” Ho said. “Each time he escaped, slipping away silently into the night.”

DeAngelo, seated in a wheelchair on a makeshift stage in a university ballroom that could accommodate hundreds of observers a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic, acknowledged he would plead guilty to 13 counts of murder and dozens of rapes that are too old to prosecute.

Temperatures were taken of everyone in the room and even the judge wore a mask at times when he wasn’t speaking.

DeAngelo, who wore orange jail scrubs and a plastic face shield to prevent possible spread of the virus, listed to one side and his mouth appeared agape as prosecutors read graphic details of crimes, where he raped and killed and then snacked before leaving.

Family members wept as the proceeding went on for hours. A pile of used tissues sat on the floor next to Jennifer Carole, whose father, attorney Lyman Smith, was slain in 1980 with his his wife, Charlene Smith, who was raped before being killed.

“This is much harder than I thought it was going to be. And I thought it was going to be hard,” Carole said. “I feel a lot of anger, which I don’t think I’ve felt so powerfully before.”

DeAngelo, a Vietnam veteran and a grandfather, had never been on the radar of investigators who spent years trying to track down the culprit.

It wasn’t until after the crimes ended that investigators connected a series of assaults in central and Northern California to slayings in Southern California and settled on the umbrella Golden State Killer nickname for the mysterious assailant.

Police used DNA from crime scenes to find a distant relative through a popular genealogy website database then built a family tree that eventually led them to him. They tailed DeAngelo and were able to secretly collect DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue to get an arrest warrant.

The retired truck mechanic was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburbs — the same area he terrorized in the mid-1970s, earning the title East Area Rapist.

Prosecutors detailed sadistic acts he committed after slipping into homes undetected and surprising couples in bed by shining a flashlight in their faces and threatening to kill everyone in the house — including young children — if they didn’t follow his orders.

The masked prowler initially said he only wanted their money to earn their cooperation. He would have the women bind their husbands or boyfriends face down in bed with shoelaces, and then he would bind the women. Victims described being prodded by the barrel of a gun or the tip of a knife.

He piled dishes on the backs of men and said they would both be killed if he heard the plates crash while he raped the woman.

At a home in Contra Costa County in the fall of 1978, he told a woman he would cut her baby boy’s ear off if she didn’t perform oral sex after he had raped her.

“I admit,” DeAngelo said after the prosecutor read the description of that crime.

He stole whatever he could find, sometimes a few bottles of Budweiser and some cash, other times diamond rings. He slipped off into the dark on foot or by bicycle and even managed to evade police who at times believed they came close to catching him.

DeAngelo knew the territory well.

He started on the police force in the San Joaquin Valley farm town of Exeter in 1973, where he is believed to have committed his first break-ins and first killing.