News In Brief
The Supreme Court, in a final dramatic day to its current term, handed two victories to abortion-rights advocates. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices struck down Nebraska's law banning a procedure that its opponents call "partial-birth abortion." Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, said the law results in an "undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision." Then, in a 6-to-3 decision, the court upheld a Colorado law requiring antiabortion demonstrators to stay at least eight feet away from anyone entering or leaving clinics offering the procedure. The justices said the "bubble" law, which was designed to protect the privacy rights of abortion patients and facility staff, didn't violate the free-speech rights of protesters.
The Boy Scouts may bar homosexuals from serving as troop leaders, the high court also ruled, placing a limit on how far the judiciary should go to force open admissions upon private organizations. The 5-to-4 decision indicated that making the Boy Scouts accept gay scoutmasters would violate its rights of free expression and free association. The ruling reversed a New Jersey Supreme Court holding that the dismissal of a gay troop leader was illegal under a state antidiscrimination law.
In another high-profile case, the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer money can be used to buy instructional materials for religious schools. The case, resolving a Louisiana dispute, upheld the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which allows for public-school systems to lend books, computers, and other items. By a 6-to-3 vote, the justices said the law doesn't violate the constitutional requirement on the separation between church and state.
Elian Gonzalez was legally free to leave for Cuba, after the Supreme Court rejected a formal appeal and an emergency request filed by the boy's Miami relatives aimed at keeping him in the US. Tentative plans were for the six-year-old, his immediate family, and other compatriots to take a chartered flight to Havana. The trip would end a seven-month saga in the US that began when Elian was shipwrecked off the Florida coast and intensified with a series of court rulings that denied him the right to an asylum hearing.
Secretive political groups would be forced to disclose their donors and spending if President Clinton signs a House bill passed Wednesday. Under current law, so-called 527 groups may raise and spend unlimited funds for political purposes so long as they don't directly endorse or criticize candidates. The 385-39 House vote came a month after the Senate passed a similar measure. Clinton would need to sign a final bill soon to have any impact on this election cycle, lawmakers said.
Attorney General Janet Reno, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, defended her previous refusals to appoint a special prosecutor to probe questions about Vice President Al Gore's 1996 fundraising activities. But Reno declined to comment directly on a new recommendation for an independent counsel. Justice Department officials have said information was still being gathered so a final decision can be made.
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