U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

Supreme Court won’t hear suit over prairie dog protections

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear an appeal from Utah property owners challenging endangered-species protections for prairie dogs, but the plaintiffs say the case has nevertheless made a mark as the Trump administration moves to loosen the contested rules.

Lawyers for the Cedar City residents say their lawsuit was a key driver of the new federal plan that would make it easier to remove or kill prairie dogs that they said were overrunning their town.

Attorney Jonathan Wood they’re disappointed the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Monday, but they’re heartened by the new plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Animal activists, though, say the administration’s proposed rollback of protections for the threatened Utah prairie dogs would be a death warrant for animals considered key to the ecosystem.


White Texas ­officer’s immunity stands in black man’s death

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that a white Texas police officer was immune from prosecution for the fatal shooting of a black man near a bank in 2013.

In a statement, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office said justices declined Monday to take up the county’s appeal in the case involving former Austin officer Charles Kleinert.

Kleinert was working with an FBI task force investigating bank robberies when he became suspicious of Larry Jackson Jr. and a chase ensued. Jackson was shot in the neck following a struggle.

Kleinert was indicted in 2014 on a manslaughter count, but a federal judge dismissed the charge under a more-than-100-year-old court ruling protecting federal officers from state prosecution.


Death row inmates from San Antonio, Houston, lose appeals

HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review appeals from two Texas death row inmates, including a San Antonio man convicted of killing a convenience store owner during a robbery and man condemned for his involvement in the slaying of a former suburban Houston police officer’s wife.

The high court, without comment Monday, refused the cases of 34-year-old Christopher Young and 60-year-old Joseph Prystash. Neither has an execution date.

Young’s lawyers argued his Bexar County jurors may have received incomplete instructions at his 2006 trial for fatally shooting 55-year-old store owner Hasmukh Patel.

Prystash’s attorneys raised questions about jury selection and instructions and evidence at his trial for being the middleman in a plot orchestrated by former Missouri City police officer Robert Fratta to murder 34-year-old Farah Fratta in 1994.


Justices give Georgia death row inmate new round of appeals

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is giving a Georgia death row inmate whose execution was called off last year another chance to raise claims of racial bias on his jury.

The justices voted 6-3 Monday to order the federal appeals court in Atlanta to take up the case of inmate Keith Leroy Tharpe. A juror used a racial slur to describe Tharpe years after Tharpe was convicted of killing Jacquelin Freeman, his sister-in-law, 27 years ago.

Justice Clarence Thomas called the court’s unsigned opinion “ceremonial handwringing” in a dissent that predicted Tharpe ultimately would lose his appeal. Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch joined Thomas.

The appeal stems from interviews Tharpe’s legal team conducted in 1998 with Barney Gattie, a white juror. Gattie freely used racial slurs and said his study of the Bible had led him to question “if black people even have souls,” according to court filings. Gattie signed an affidavit, though he later testified that he voted to sentence Tharpe to death because of the evidence against him.

In the majority opinion, the court said that Gattie, who has since died, never retracted his “remarkable affidavit” and that it provides strong evidence that “Tharpe’s race affected Gattie’s vote for a death verdict.”

“We are thankful that the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the serious implications for fundamental fairness of the clear evidence of racial animus on the part of one of the jurors who sentenced Mr. Tharpe to death,” Brian Kammer, Tharpe’s attorney said in an emailed statement.

“We look forward to pressing Mr. Tharpe’s case in the Eleventh Circuit per the U.S. Supreme Court’s direction.”

But Thomas said the court was letting Gattie’s “odious opinions” trump the right approach to the law. “The court’s decision is no profile in moral courage,” Thomas wrote.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta probably will reach the same conclusion and deny Tharpe’s appeal on other grounds, he wrote, referring to his colleagues’ action as a “useless do-over.”

Thomas said the court’s handling of the case “callously delays justice” for Freeman, “the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago.”

Tharpe’s wife left him in August 1990, taking their four daughters to live with her mother.

About a month later, Tharpe’s wife was driving to work with her brother’s wife when Tharpe used a truck to block them. Armed with a shotgun, he ordered them out of their vehicle and fatally shot Freeman during an argument over whether his estranged wife would go with him, his lawyers have said.

Tharpe was tried, convicted and sentenced to death about three months later.


Justices won’t step into ­Mississippi gay rights legal fight

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is refusing to intervene in a legal fight over a Mississippi law that lets government workers and private business people cite their own religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people.

Opponents say the law could lead to discrimination against those who support same-sex marriage.

The justices did not comment Monday in their decision to leave in place a federal appeals court ruling that allowed the law to take effect. A three-judge panel held that the law’s challengers failed to show they would be harmed by it. The appellate judges did not rule on the law’s substance.

The legal battle is not over, though. A federal judge has allowed the law’s challengers to try to find people who have been denied services under the law because they would be able to make a strong legal claim that they have been harmed.

The Mississippi legislature drafted and approved the measure in response to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the country. Gov. Phil Bryant signed it into law in 2016, but it was blocked for more than a year amid several legal challenges. It took effect Oct. 10.

The law says it protects three beliefs: that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sex should only occur in such a marriage and that a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered.

The law allows county clerks who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds to avoid issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. It also protects merchants who refuse services to LGBT people, and might also affect adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies. Opponents say it also allows pharmacies to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions for unmarried women.


Supreme Court won’t take case of innocent man shot in Florida

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t revive a case against Florida law enforcement officials in which a deputy fatally shot an innocent man who answered the door of his home holding a gun.

The Supreme Court declined Monday to take a case involving the 2012 death of Andrew Scott.

Court documents say that on July 15, 2012, a deputy in Florida’s Lake County saw and tried to stop a speeding motorcyclist. The deputy lost sight of the motorcycle, but it was later spotted at an apartment complex. When officers knocked on a nearby apartment door around 1:30 a.m., Scott answered holding a gun and was shot. He wasn’t the bike’s operator.

A Florida judge dismissed the case, ruling that Scott’s decision to answer the door holding a gun “led to this tragedy.”


Supreme Court won’t take Florida couple’s ­treehouse dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Florida couple will have to take down their beachfront treehouse after the Supreme Court declined to get involved in a dispute over it.

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take the case brought by Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, who live on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast. The couple built a two-story treehouse on their Holmes Beach property in 2011 after being told they didn’t need a permit.

But after an anonymous complaint to the city about the structure, officials investigated and found the couple did need to go through the permitting process. It turns out the treehouse was located in an area where building is prohibited because of a city setback. The couple tried to take the fight to voters but courts stopped them.


High court lets tribe’s ­Massachusetts gambling hall ­proceed

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Native American tribe will be able to go ahead with its plans for a gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard after the Supreme Court declined to get involved in the dispute.

The Supreme Court said Monday that it would not take up the case involving the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe.

That leaves in place a lower court ruling favoring the tribe, which had proposed a facility with 300 electronic bingo machines and live bingo. It hasn’t proposed offering slot machines or casino table games such as blackjack or roulette.

Massachusetts and the Martha’s Vineyard town of Aquinnah opposed the gambling hall. They argued that a 1980s agreement granting the tribe nearly 500 acres (202 hectares) had specifically prohibited gambling. The tribe argued a federal law effectively repealed that gambling prohibition.

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