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Justices rule for student in 'cursing cheerleader' case

Justices rule for student in 'cursing cheerleader' case

WASHINGTON — In the case of the cursing cheerleader, the Supreme Court notched a victory for the free speech rights of students Wednesday, siding with a high school student whose vulgar social media post got her kicked off the junior varsity squad.The court voted 8-1 in favor of Brandi Levy, who was a 14-year-old freshman when she expressed her disappointment over not making the varsity cheerleading team with a string of curse words and a raised middle finger on Snapchat.Levy, of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, was not at school when she made her post, but she was suspended from cheerleading activities for a year anyway. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court ruled that the suspension violated Levy’s First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, noting he would have upheld the suspension.The justices did not foreclose schools from disciplining students for what they say off campus, though they did not spell out when schools could act. An earlier federal appeals court ruling in this case would have barred public schools from punishing off-campus speech.Despite ruling in Levy’s favor, Breyer wrote that “we do not believe the special characteristics that give schools additional license to regulate student speech always disappear when a school regulates speech that takes place off campus. The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances.”The case drew extra interest at a time of remote learning — because of the coronavirus pandemic — and a rising awareness of the harmful effects of online bullying.The decision was a strong endorsement of students’ right to speak freely, which the court first expressed more than a half century ago in defending armbands worn by high school students in protest of the Vietnam War, said Abner Greene, a constitutional law professor at the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan.“Students can engage in all kinds of critical or dissenting commentary, whether about the Vietnam War or the student cheerleading team, without losing their free speech rights. And it doesn’t matter where they say it,” Greene said.The case arose from Levy’s posts, one of which pictured her and a friend with raised middle fingers and included the repeated use of a vulgarity to complain that she had been left off the varsity cheerleading squad.“F——— school f——— softball f——— cheer f——— everything,” she wrote near the end of her freshman year, from a local convenience store, on a Saturday. Now 18, Levy recently finished her first year of college.Levy’s parents filed a federal lawsuit after the cheerleading coach learned of the posts and suspended her from the junior varsity team for a year. Lower courts ruled in Levy’s favor, and she was reinstated.The school district appealed to the Supreme Court after the broad appellate ruling that said off-campus student speech was beyond schools’ authority to punish.The dispute is the latest in a line of a cases that began with Tinker v. Des Moines, the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended armband-wearing students. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the students, declaring they don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”The court also held then that schools retained the authority to restrict speech that would disrupt the school environment.Wednesday’s ruling basically adopted the reasoning of Judge Thomas Ambro of the 3rd U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Philadelphia. Ambro agreed with the other two judges who decided Levy’s case that the suspension was unwarranted, but only because what she did was not disruptive either to the cheerleading team or school.Breyer wrote that Levy’s case seemed less serious than its Vietnam-era predecessor.“It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary,” he wrote, using Levy’s initials because that was how she was identified in the original lawsuit. Levy has granted numerous interviews allowing her name to be used.Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a concurring opinion that school officials in Mahanoy got “carried away” in seeking to discipline Levy. “If today’s decision teaches any lesson, it must be that the regulation of many types of off-premises student speech raises serious First Amendment concerns, and school officials should proceed cautiously before venturing into this territory,” Alito wrote.The case was one of four the justices decided Wednesday as they approach their summer break. In the other cases, the court:—Put limits on when police can enter a home when chasing someone suspected of a misdemeanor.—Sided with agriculture businesses challenging a California labor regulation that allowed union organizers on their property.—Ruled that the structure of the government agency that oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is unconstitutional, sending that case back for further review.Eight cases remain to be decided, including a voting rights dispute which could affect legal challenges to voting measures put in place by Republican lawmakers in several states following last year’s elections. More decisions are expected Friday.———Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

'Obamacare' survives: Supreme Court dismisses big challenge

'Obamacare' survives: Supreme Court dismisses big challenge

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, though increasingly conservative in makeup, rejected the latest major Republican-led effort to kill the national health care law known as “Obamacare” on Thursday, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans.The justices, by a 7-2 vote, left the entire Affordable Care Act intact in ruling that Texas, other GOP-led states and two individuals had no right to bring their lawsuit in federal court. The Biden administration says 31 million people have health insurance because of the law, which also survived two earlier challenges in the Supreme Court.The law’s major provisions include protections for people with existing health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services, expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people and access to health insurance markets offering subsidized plans.“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land,” President Joe Biden, said, celebrating the ruling. He called for building further on the law that was enacted in 2010 when he was vice president.Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress rendered that provision irrelevant in 2017 when it reduced the penalty to zero.The elimination of the penalty had become the hook that Texas and other GOP-led states, as well as the Trump administration, used to attack the entire law. They argued that without the mandate, a pillar of the law when it was passed, the rest of the law should fall, too.And with a Supreme Court that includes three appointees of former President Donald Trump, opponents of “Obamacare” hoped a majority of the justices would finally kill the law they have been fighting for more than a decade.But the third major attack on the law at the Supreme Court ended the way the first two did, with a majority of the court rebuffing efforts to gut the law or get rid of it altogether.Trump’s appointees — Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — split their votes. Kavanaugh and Barrett joined the majority. Gorsuch was in dissent, signing on to an opinion from Justice Samuel Alito.Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the states and people who filed a federal lawsuit “have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”In dissent, Alito wrote, “Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue.” Alito was a dissenter in the two earlier cases in 2012 and 2015, as well.Like Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas was in dissent in the two earlier cases, but he joined Thursday’s majority, writing, “Although this Court has erred twice before in cases involving the Affordable Care Act, it does not err today.”Because it dismissed the case for the plaintiff’s lack of legal standing — the ability to sue — the court didn’t actually rule on whether the individual mandate is unconstitutional now that there is no penalty for forgoing insurance. Lower courts had struck down the mandate, in rulings that were wiped away by the Supreme Court decision.With the latest ruling, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that “the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” former President Barack Obama said, adding his support to Biden’s call to expand the law.Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pledged to continue the fight against “Obamacare,” which he called a “massive government takeover of health care.”But it’s not clear what Republicans can do, said Larry Levitt, an executive vice president for the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care.“Democrats are in charge and they have made reinvigorating and building on the ACA a key priority,” Levitt said. “Republicans don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for continuing to try to overturn the law.”Republicans have pressed their argument to invalidate the whole law even though congressional efforts to rip out the entire law “root and branch,” in Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s words, have failed. The closest they came was in July 2017 when Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died the following year, delivered a dramatic thumbs-down vote to a repeal effort by fellow Republicans.Chief Justice John Roberts said during arguments in November that it seemed the law’s foes were asking the court to do work best left to the political branches of government.The court’s decision preserves benefits that have become part of the fabric of the nation’s health care system.Polls show that the law has grown in popularity as it has endured the heaviest assault. In December 2016, just before Obama left office and Trump swept in calling the ACA a “disaster,” 46% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the law, while 43% approved, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. Those ratings flipped, and by February of this year 54% had a favorable view, while disapproval had fallen to 39% in the same ongoing poll.The health law is now undergoing an expansion under Biden, who sees it as the foundation for moving the U.S. to coverage for all. His giant COVID-19 relief bill significantly increased subsidies for private health plans offered through the ACA’s insurance markets, while also dangling higher federal payments before the dozen states that have declined the law’s Medicaid expansion. About 1.2 million people have signed up with HealthCare.gov since Biden reopened enrollment amid high levels of COVID cases earlier this year.Most of the people with insurance because of the law have it through Medicaid expansion or the health insurance markets that offer subsidized private plans. But its most popular benefit is protection for people with preexisting medical conditions. They cannot be turned down for coverage on account of health problems, or charged a higher premium. While those covered under employer plans already had such protections, “Obamacare” guaranteed them for people buying individual policies.Another hugely popular benefit allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Before the law, going without medical coverage was akin to a rite of passage for people in their 20s getting a start in the world.Because of the ACA, most privately insured women receive birth control free of charge. It’s considered a preventive benefit covered at no additional cost to the patient. So are routine screenings for cancer and other conditions.For Medicare recipients, “Obamacare” also improved preventive care, and more importantly, closed a prescription drug coverage gap of several thousand dollars that was known as the “doughnut hole.”———Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

'Obamacare' survives: Supreme Court dismisses big challenge

'Obamacare' survives: Supreme Court dismisses big challenge

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, though increasingly conservative in makeup, rejected the latest major Republican-led effort to kill the national health care law known as “Obamacare” on Thursday, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans.The justices, by a 7-2 vote, left the entire Affordable Care Act intact in ruling that Texas, other GOP-led states and two individuals had no right to bring their lawsuit in federal court. The Biden administration says 31 million people have health insurance because of the law, which also survived two earlier challenges in the Supreme Court.The law’s major provisions include protections for people with existing health conditions, a range of no-cost preventive services, expansion of the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people and access to health insurance markets offering subsidized plans.“The Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land,” President Joe Biden, said, celebrating the ruling. He called for building further on the law that was enacted in 2010 when he was vice president.Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. Congress rendered that provision irrelevant in 2017 when it reduced the penalty to zero.The elimination of the penalty had become the hook that Texas and other GOP-led states, as well as the Trump administration, used to attack the entire law. They argued that without the mandate, a pillar of the law when it was passed, the rest of the law should fall, too.And with a Supreme Court that includes three appointees of former President Donald Trump, opponents of “Obamacare” hoped a majority of the justices would finally kill the law they have been fighting for more than a decade.But the third major attack on the law at the Supreme Court ended the way the first two did, with a majority of the court rebuffing efforts to gut the law or get rid of it altogether.Trump’s appointees — Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — split their votes. Kavanaugh and Barrett joined the majority. Gorsuch was in dissent, signing on to an opinion from Justice Samuel Alito.Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that the states and people who filed a federal lawsuit “have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision.”In dissent, Alito wrote, “Today’s decision is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue.” Alito was a dissenter in the two earlier cases in 2012 and 2015, as well.Like Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas was in dissent in the two earlier cases, but he joined Thursday’s majority, writing, “Although this Court has erred twice before in cases involving the Affordable Care Act, it does not err today.”Because it dismissed the case for the plaintiff’s lack of legal standing — the ability to sue — the court didn’t actually rule on whether the individual mandate is unconstitutional now that there is no penalty for forgoing insurance. Lower courts had struck down the mandate, in rulings that were wiped away by the Supreme Court decision.With the latest ruling, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that “the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” former President Barack Obama said, adding his support to Biden’s call to expand the law.Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pledged to continue the fight against “Obamacare,” which he called a “massive government takeover of health care.”But it’s not clear what Republicans can do, said Larry Levitt, an executive vice president for the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care.“Democrats are in charge and they have made reinvigorating and building on the ACA a key priority,” Levitt said. “Republicans don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for continuing to try to overturn the law.”Republicans have pressed their argument to invalidate the whole law even though congressional efforts to rip out the entire law “root and branch,” in Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s words, have failed. The closest they came was in July 2017 when Arizona Sen. John McCain, who died the following year, delivered a dramatic thumbs-down vote to a repeal effort by fellow Republicans.Chief Justice John Roberts said during arguments in November that it seemed the law’s foes were asking the court to do work best left to the political branches of government.The court’s decision preserves benefits that have become part of the fabric of the nation’s health care system.Polls show that the law has grown in popularity as it has endured the heaviest assault. In December 2016, just before Obama left office and Trump swept in calling the ACA a “disaster,” 46% of Americans had an unfavorable view of the law, while 43% approved, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. Those ratings flipped, and by February of this year 54% had a favorable view, while disapproval had fallen to 39% in the same ongoing poll.The health law is now undergoing an expansion under Biden, who sees it as the foundation for moving the U.S. to coverage for all. His giant COVID-19 relief bill significantly increased subsidies for private health plans offered through the ACA’s insurance markets, while also dangling higher federal payments before the dozen states that have declined the law’s Medicaid expansion. About 1.2 million people have signed up with HealthCare.gov since Biden reopened enrollment amid high levels of COVID cases earlier this year.Most of the people with insurance because of the law have it through Medicaid expansion or the health insurance markets that offer subsidized private plans. But its most popular benefit is protection for people with preexisting medical conditions. They cannot be turned down for coverage on account of health problems, or charged a higher premium. While those covered under employer plans already had such protections, “Obamacare” guaranteed them for people buying individual policies.Another hugely popular benefit allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Before the law, going without medical coverage was akin to a rite of passage for people in their 20s getting a start in the world.Because of the ACA, most privately insured women receive birth control free of charge. It’s considered a preventive benefit covered at no additional cost to the patient. So are routine screenings for cancer and other conditions.For Medicare recipients, “Obamacare” also improved preventive care, and more importantly, closed a prescription drug coverage gap of several thousand dollars that was known as the “doughnut hole.”———Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Justices rule against low-level crack cocaine offenders

Justices rule against low-level crack cocaine offenders

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that low-level crack cocaine offenders convicted more than a decade ago can’t take advantage of a 2018 federal law to seek reduced prison timeBy MARK SHERMAN Associated PressJune 14, 2021, 4:32 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleWASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that low-level crack cocaine offenders convicted more than a decade ago can’t take advantage of a 2018 federal law to seek reduced prison time.The justices affirmed the nearly 16-year prison term handed out to Tarahrick Terry of Florida, who was arrested with 3.9 grams of crack on him in 2008.Terry’s case concerned the reach of the First Step Act, a bipartisan 2018 law signed by former President Donald Trump. Aimed at reducing racial disparities in sentencing, the law allows prisoners convicted of older crack crimes to seek reduced sentences.But the law specifically addresses crack possession only above 5 grams for one category of possession and above 50 grams for another category.That allowed crack cocaine kingpins to seek reduced sentences, but it left convicts like Terry in a legal limbo, with courts around the country coming to different conclusions.In an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the high court said Terry and those like him who were not subject to a mandatory prison term based on how much crack they possessed are out of luck.“The question here is whether crack offenders who did not trigger a mandatory minimum qualify. They do not,” Thomas wrote.Terry is in the final months of his prison term. And he apparently is serving his remaining time on home confinement, according to the Biden administration.The outcome probably affects no more than a couple hundred prison inmates since most people convicted of possessing relatively little crack that long ago already have finished serving their sentences.The 2018 law, like the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, was partly aimed at addressing disparities, which fell disproportionately hard on Black people, in the treatment of people convicted of crack and powder cocaine offenses.Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed with the outcome but wrote a separate opinion in which she criticized Thomas’ treatment of the history of the disparity between powder and crack possession, which was as large as 100 to 1. Some prison terms were the same for people who were convicted of possessing 100 times more powder than crack.Sotomayor called said Thomas provided “an unnecessary, incomplete, and sanitized history of the 100-to-1 ratio. The full history is far less benign.”The case only affects people whose crimes took place before August 2010 because the Fair Sentencing Act took effect then and covered crimes committed from that point forward.The Trump administration had argued that Terry is not eligible to seek a sentence reduction, but the Biden administration changed course.In another decision issued Monday, the court made it harder for people appealing their convictions to take advantage of an earlier ruling that benefitted defendants charged with violating federal gun laws.In 2019, the court decided that prosecutors must prove that people charged with violating federal gun laws knew they were not allowed to have a weapon. Federal law prohibits a person who was previously convicted of a crime from possessing a gun.But on Monday, the court ruled against two defendants who were convicted before the 2019 decision and tried to invoke it on appeal.Writing for the court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said defendants in these cases face “an uphill climb” in trying to show that their cases would have come out differently if it had to be shown they knew they couldn’t have guns.“The reason is simple: If a person is a felon, he ordinarily knows he is a felon,” Kavanaugh wrote.