USA

A divided Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled that executing the mentally retarded is unconstitutional. The 6-to-3 ruling, in favor of a Virginia prison inmate who was convicted of shooting a US airman in 1996 and who reportedly has an IQ of 59, reflects changes in public attitudes on the issue since the court declared such executions constitutional in 1989. The most immediate effect of the ruling will be in the 20 states that have allowed execution of the retarded up to now.

In other rulings, the justices turned back Utah's challenge to 2000 census numbers, which it claims cost it one seat in the US House, and said states can help patients fight their HMOs, a decision that could increase requests for second opinions in medical diagnoses. The court also ruled that students cannot use a federal privacy law to sue schools that divulge their personal information.

The US trade deficit swelled to a record $35.9 billion in April as improved economic growth fueled demand for imported goods, the Commerce Department reported. The sizable increase – 10.7 percent higher than the trade gap reported for March – was well above the $32 billion deficit analysts had predicted.

An out-of-control wildfire in eastern Arizona grew to 48,000 acres by Thursday morning, and thousands were urged to evacuate affected towns. The fire is one of 16 major blazes now burning across the nation. In Colorado, Forest Service worker Terry Barton has been charged with willfully setting the 136,000-acre fire raging southwest of Denver, and the 54,000-acre fire near Durango continued to grow. In California, cooler temperatures and calmer winds helped firefighters battling multiple blazes there.

The Bush administration suggested limited privatization of Amtrak as part of its proposal to help the US's troubled rail system. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta proposed a breakup of Amtrak over the long term and outlined a plan that would open the door to competition while giving states more authority and financial responsibility in rail travel. Mineta did not offer concrete solutions to Amtrak's immediate financial crisis, which could lead to a nationwide shutdown of intercity trains within weeks.

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