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Supreme Court won’t review blocked 2016 Alabama abortion law

Evan Mealins

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The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court ruling that blocked an Alabama law restricting the procedure most commonly used during second-trimester abortions.

The Alabama Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Act that was passed in 2016 made it a crime for physicians to perform dilation and evacuation abortions, the procedure used for almost all abortions that occur after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In August of 2018, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the Alabama law, which was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on behalf of West Alabama Women’s Center and Alabama Women’s Center.

Similar laws in Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas have been blocked by the lower courts, but this law was the first to go before the Supreme Court, according to a press release from the ACLU.

Following the 11th Circuit’s ruling, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall continued to defend the legislation despite objection from medical professionals such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In February of this year, backed by 20 other states, the state of Louisiana filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to review the case.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said that he wasn’t surprised at the court’s refusal to hear the case. Doing so was confirming the precedent dating back to the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, he said.

“A woman’s health, not Alabama politicians, should drive personal medical decisions,” the ACLU executive director said.

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Planned Parenthood Southeast said the 2016 Alabama law “was passed in 2016 as part of a national strategy to push abortion care out of reach.” PPSE called Friday’s decision a victory for abortion access but warned of other abortion-restricting legislation. 

“Today we celebrate, and tomorrow we continue our work to make sure that abortion remains safe, legal, and available in Alabama and across the U.S.” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of PPSE.

Dilation and evacuation (D&E) is the procedure used for nearly all abortions that occur after 15 weeks in Alabama, which make up only 7 percent of the abortions in the state. The brief filed by Louisiana called the procedure “…an exceptionally grisly one, at least as and potentially even more so than the ‘partial birth’ procedure…”

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Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the court’s decision to not hear the case right now but made it clear in the future that he may vote in favor of laws like Alabama’s.

“The notion that anything in the Constitution prevents States from passing laws prohibiting the dismembering of a living child is implausible,” Thomas wrote in his opinion.

The Associated Press wrote that Attorney General Steve Marshall was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case. 

“I am disappointed that the United States Supreme Court has decided not to hear Alabama’s appeal of a lower-court decision that invalidated our state law, enacted in 2016, prohibiting dismemberment abortion — a method of killing an unborn child that cannot be described in even the most clinical of terms to hide its monstrosity and gruesomeness,” the attorney general said.

The attorney general said the 2016 would not have directly challenged Roe v. Wade, and said Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, passed in May, could be a true test of the abortion precedent.

“I believe that the day of reckoning for Row is coming,” the attorney general said.

HB314, the near-total ban passed in May, is facing challenges in federal court, too, but is not set to go into effect until November. It is expected that the near-total ban will be blocked by lower courts before it takes effect.

The state of Alabama is now required to pay for the ACLU attorneys’ costly fees and litigation expenses. According to a press release from the ACLU of Alabama, the state paid the ACLU and Planned Parenthood a combined $1.7 million after losing a case involving a law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges. The ACLU expects for the amount incurred in this case to exceed that amount.

Evan Mealins is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter and student at Auburn University working toward a B.A. in media studies. You can follow him on Twitter @EvanMealins or email him at [email protected]

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Sean Worsley, Black disabled veteran arrested for medical marijuana, gets parole

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Worsley parole on Wednesday.

Brandon Moseley

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Sean Worsley (VIA ALABAMA APPLESEED)

Sean Worsley, the disabled Black veteran who spent eight months incarcerated for possession of legally prescribed medical marijuana, has been released on parole.

The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted parole on Wednesday for Worsley. Worsley served in the Iraq War where he received a Purple Heart. Unfortunately, he also returned from the war with injuries and chronic PTSD, which he treated with legally prescribed marijuana in his home state of Arizona.

In 2016, Worsley and his wife were driving through Alabama on their way to visit relatives in North Carolina, when they stopped for gas in Gordo. The Worsleys were apparently playing their music too loud so were approached by a Gordo police officer for violating the Gordo noise ordinance.

The Worsleys granted the officer’s request to search the vehicle. He found the marijuana, which Worsley claimed was legally prescribed.

Medical marijuana is legal in most of the country, but not in the state of Alabama. While Worsley did not have enough marijuana in his possession for a trafficking charge, the arresting officer charged him with possession of marijuana for other than personal use, a felony in Alabama. The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case agreed.

Worsley agreed to a five-year probation, including drug treatment, as part of a plea deal to avoid prison in 2017. Worsley claims that the VA would not let him get their drug treatment because he does not have a problem.

The district attorney’s office in Alabama told APR that Worsley was kicked out of the VA for failure to comply with the program. Alabama ordered Worsley to appear in court in Pickens County. Worsley claims that he did not know about this court date. The court charged him with failure to appear, revoked his probation, and declared him a fugitive from justice.

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Worsley was arrested in Arizona for possession of marijuana with an expired medical marijuana card.

Alabama asked that Worsley be extradited back to Pickens County where he was jailed. The trial judge ordered the disabled veteran to serve the full five years in prison. Due to the incredible overcrowding of the Alabama Department of Corrections and the coronavirus crisis, ADOC could not find the space for him, so left him in the Pickens County Jail for five months.

Worsley spent the last three months with ADOC in the aging Draper Correctional Facility. Worsley was denied Community Corrections because he has a nonviolent felony record in 2011 in addition to his Alabama offense.

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Civil libertarians, marijuana advocates, veterans advocates and justice reform advocates were horrified by Worsley’s treatment by the Alabama court system after Alabama Appleseed’s Research Director Leah Nelson first publicized the case.

Worsley’s bid for parole was supported by a coalition of advocates and service providers, including John Carroll, a retired federal magistrate judge and Vietnam War veteran who now teaches at the Cumberland School of Law; Beau Armistead, a Birmingham-based counselor who specializes in treating veterans like Worsley who live with PTSD and has offered to treat Worsley pro bono on his release; BLOX LLC, an architecture and manufacturing firm that has offered Worsley a job; the Dannon Project, a re-entry provider that will help guide Worsley’s transition out of prison; and dozens of veterans who signed a letter to the Parole Board supporting Worsley’s release.

Online supporters raised over $100,000 to cover legal costs and other financial consequences of his conviction, including his wife Eboni Worsley’s move to Birmingham.

“Sean Worsley, was shown compassion by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles,” said Chey Lindsey Garrigan, executive director of the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association. “This is a commendable act that should be acknowledged.”

Garrigan’s group is lobbying the Alabama legislature to legalize medical marijuana in the state and to guarantee safe passage for travelers from other states, where marijuana is legal so that other visitors are not at risk of being jailed while passing through Alabama.

“My faith in THE MOST HIGH has been further solidified in the demonstration of the law functioning in Alabama to help and not harm individuals via the parole board,” Eboni Worsley said in a statement. “We’re grateful to be able to pick up the pieces and begin rebuilding our lives once Sean is released. I am very grateful to the Parole Board of Alabama for showing the public the heart of the warm welcoming spirit of the people I’ve met since transitioning to Alabama.”

Worsley’s situation attracted national attention in July following a blog post by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. APR picked up the story as well as The Washington Post and Fox News.

“After three months covering Sean’s case and learning about his life and his service to this country I am thrilled he will no longer be held in prison for the mistake of stopping for gas in Alabama with his legally prescribed medicine,” Nelson said. “At the same time, I can’t say justice has been served, because Sean should never have been arrested or jailed at all.”

“A extraordinary group of advocates finally achieved a good outcome for Sean, but until Alabama fixes its overly punitive marijuana laws, struggling people will continue to be harmed and precious state resources will be wasted on enforcement of laws that have no connection to public safety,” said Appleseed executive director Carla Crowder.

“The case of Sean Worsley deals with a convergence of several issues,” said State Rep. Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham. “It deals with Alabama’s harmful marijuana laws, particularly concerning medical marijuana. It deals with our country’s misunderstanding and treatment of veterans returning home and transitioning to civilian life. And it deals with excessive policing – that put suspicion on a man doing nothing more than listening to the radio and playing air guitar to his wife.”

Rafferty is a post-9/11 veteran who advocated for Sean’s release.

“While the news of Sean’s parole is welcomed and to be celebrated, it only serves to highlight the legislative chamber’s duty to make right these wrongs and allow our criminal justice system to focus on crimes that actually endanger community safety,” Rafferty added.

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Lawsuit alleges “religious test” on Alabama voter registration form

Plaintiffs say the phrase “so help me God” amounts to a mandatory religious oath.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A lawsuit filed in federal court is challenging language on Alabama’s voter registration form, saying that the phrase “so help me God” amounts to a mandatory religious oath prohibited by the Constitution.

Alabama is the only state that requires voters to swear the truthfulness of their voter registration information by signing a form that includes those words without any option of a secular affirmation.

The lead plaintiff is Randal Cragun, an atheist who has sought to register to vote in Alabama since November 2019. He noticed that on the mail-in form that is downloadable from the secretary of state’s website, a warning states: “Read and sign under penalty of perjury,” and, “If you falsely sign this statement, you can be convicted and imprisoned for up to five years.” The declaration begins “I solemnly swear or affirm” and ends with “so help me God.”

Cragun contacted Secretary of State John Merrill’s office to ask how he could register without signing the declaration as it is written, according to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which filed the suit on behalf of Cragun and three other plaintiffs. The next day, Cragun was told by the director of elections that no legal mechanism existed to provide an alternative, and that crossing out any portion would result in the application being rejected.

“It is deplorable that in our secular nation nontheistic citizens are encountering a religious test to register to vote,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF. “No citizen should have to choose between their right to vote and their freedom of conscience.”

Before filing the lawsuit, the organization sent a letter to Merrill’s office saying that the oath violates the First Amendment. It cited Torcaso v. Watkins, in which the Supreme Court ruled that neither a state nor the federal government can force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

Merrill declined to comment until his office has been served with the lawsuit, but according to FFRF, he has maintained that the registration forms are “prescribed by statute” and “that any changes would require legislative action.”

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The lawsuit alleges that his office has the authority to create and amend voter registration forms. In a statement, FFRF noted that in all other states, voters are provided either a secular registration form or are not required to submit an oath or affirmation.

The group added that government officials routinely allow people who must take an oath, including attorneys, jurors and witnesses, “to make a secular affirmation instead when they are unable to swear ‘so help me God’ as a matter of conscience.”

The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction that prohibits the secretary of state from requiring voters who register to swear “so help me God” and that requires his office to provide voter registration forms that don’t include the phrase as a requirement. They are also asking for a declaratory judgment that Merrill has violated the Constitution by not providing a secular alternative.

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“The secretary of state has willfully excluded nontheist citizens from registering to vote and is coercing a statement of belief in a monotheistic god by requiring nontheists to swear a religious oath,” said Patrick Elliott, FFRF’s senior attorney in the litigation.

In its letter to Merrill, FFRF said that a constitutional ban on mandatory religious oaths is a “well-settled issue.” 

In a 1972 case, Nicholson v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Ala. State Bar Ass’n, the court ruled, “We hold that it is a violation of the Constitution for the state of Alabama to compel plaintiff to swear an oath invoking the help of God as a prerequisite to entering upon the practice of law.”

The suit’s three other plaintiffs are Chris Nelson, Heather Coleman and Robert Corker. 

It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division. Steven P. Gregory, of the Birmingham-based Gregory Law Firm, is local counsel. FFRF associate counsel Liz Cavell is also involved in the case.

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Vestavia doctor sentenced to 30 years for producing child porn

A federal judge sentenced Ronald Tai Young Moon Jr. of Vestavia Hills, 56, to 30 years in prison.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A federal judge sentenced a former Vestavia Hills doctor to 30 years in prison for producing and possessing child pornography, U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. announced Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Annemarie Axon sentenced Ronald Tai Young Moon Jr. of Vestavia Hills, 56, to 30 years in federal prison.

“Unfortunately, this sentence will not undo the harm suffered by Moon’s victims,” Escalona said. “However, understanding that the consequences of this conduct is severe might discourage other sexual predators from victimizing innocent children in this district.”

Moon worked as a doctor at the Industrial Athlete clinic in Birmingham until his license was revoked earlier this year. Moon went to trial in February. After four days of testimony, a jury convicted Moon of possessing, producing and attempting to produce child pornography.

“I am proud of the effort put forth by my agents in order to ensure this defendant was brought to justice and will no longer be able to harm children,” Sharp said. “Moon serving the next 30 years in federal prison ensures there is one less predator victimizing the most innocent and vulnerable members of our community.”

Federal prosecutors presented evidence at trial proving that between the mid-1990s and 2012, Moon secretly recorded neighbors and guests in his own home including girls as young as 12 years old.

Some of those individuals were filmed naked, dressing and undressing. The footage was located on VHS videotapes found in the defendant’s locked private office with other pornographic VHS tapes, steps away from a TV and VCR set that was working and plugged in.

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Evidence of multiple hidden-camera devices was also found in the defendant’s office.

Moon will also serve five years of supervised release after he gets out and, by law, will also be required to register as a sex offender.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Ward and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lloyd Peeples III prosecuted the case.

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The United States attorney’s office also thanked members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General for assisting in the investigation.

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Roy Moore sues state challenging COVID orders

Moore is arguing that the state has exceeded its authority by issuing COVID-19 restrictions and the statewide mask mandate.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Foundation for Moral Law and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore last week filed a lawsuit against Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, challenging the constitutionality of their public health orders intended to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The foundation’s lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. Moore is seeking damages, a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction against Ivey and Harris from issuing more mandates.

Moore is arguing that Ivey and Harris have exceeded their authority.

“The Governor and State Health Officer of this State have clearly and repeatedly exceeded their authority under both the Constitution of the United States and the Alabama Constitution over the last six months,” Moore said. “Unconstitutional restriction of church assembly and worship, discriminatory closing of businesses, stay at home orders, social distancing, wearing of masks, and restriction on travel are simply against our rights secured by the Constitution of the United States.”

“We live in a Constitutional Republic and in a State whose motto is ‘We dare defend our rights,’ yet nothing has been done to stop the tyrannical abuse of power,” Moore said. “Our economy has been decimated, jobs lost, schools closed, church doors shut, and we have been told we must stay home and wear mask in public places. People are tired of such abuse!”

“Our Country was formed in crisis and we have withstood disease, pestilence, natural disaster, and wars without being told we must remain in our home and wear mask in public,” Moore said. “The Legislature of Alabama needs to stand up to and tell the Governor that she and the State Health Officer do not have the power to do things that even the Legislature can’t do. Nor can the Legislature give the Governor powers to take away our Constitutional rights when even the Legislature cannot.”

Some former legislators have privately told APR that if Ivey wanted more power to extend the public health emergency past July that legally she should have called a special session and asked the legislature for that authority.

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But some have also suggested that the Legislature does not want to go on the record as either favoring or opposing measures such as the eight-month-long public health emergency, the mask mandate, the closing of businesses and restrictions on capacity in businesses. As such, they are content to say or do nothing on the issue rather than alienating voters on either side.

“For over 200 years, men and women of every race, creed, and color have fought and died to preserve our rights; we don’t need to give them up without a fight,” Moore said.

The Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution. The foundation, founded by Moore, is often involved in freedom of religion issues.

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The governor’s statewide mask order expires on Friday if the governor does not extend it.

At least 208,843 Americans, including 2,501 Alabamians, have died from COVID-19 since February. Over 32.8 million people globally have been diagnosed as infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus.

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