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U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town recognizes Police Week

Brandon Moseley

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There is a virtual candlelight vigil scheduled for May 13 at 7 p.m. CST in honor of the law enforcement officers who have died protecting our communities and way of life.

In honor of National Police Week, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town released a statement recognizing the service and sacrifice of federal, state, and local, law enforcement. National Police Week will be observed Sunday, May 10 through Saturday, May 16, 2020.

“During this unprecedented time, it is especially important that we recognize our men and women of the badge for the sacrifices they make each day,” Town said. “They have continued to put the safety of the citizens of Northern Alabama at the forefront and are the very best among us. It’s noble work It’s tough work. They have to be at their best, especially when the worst among us are at their worst. We must never forget that the line of duty is endowed by sacrifice, selflessness, and courage. It’s Police Week. Back the Blue!”

“There is no more noble profession than serving as a police officer,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “The men and women who protect our communities each day have not just devoted their lives to public service, they’ve taken an oath to give their lives in order to ensure our safety. And they do so not only in the face of hostility from those who reject our nation’s commitment to the rule of law, but also in the face of evolving adversity – such as an unprecedented global health pandemic. This week, I ask all Americans to join me in saying ‘thank you’ to our nation’s federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers. Their devotion and sacrifice to our peace and security will not be taken for granted.”

“We must continue working toward a time when all people respect and understand the important work that law enforcement officers do,” said President Donald J. Trump (R). “Unfortunately, our law enforcement officers do not always receive the respect they deserve. These brave men and women must operate in an environment where their moral and legal authority is constantly being scrutinized, and they undertake the critical yet difficult task of addressing the actions of those affected by addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. Their ability to work well in the face of these and other challenges is extraordinary, and we have incredible appreciation for their public service and selflessness.”

“On behalf of our grateful Nation, we proudly recognize the more than 900,000 sworn members of law enforcement for their resolve and dedication in the face of dangerous uncertainty,” Pres. Trump continued. “The thoughts and prayers of our Nation are with them and their families, and we will always owe them our appreciation and support.”

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In 1962, President Kennedy issued the first proclamation for Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Police Week to remember and honor law enforcement officers for their service and sacrifices. Peace Officers Memorial Day, which every year falls on May 15, specifically honors law enforcement officers killed or disabled in the line of duty.

Each year, during National Police Week, our nation celebrates the contributions of law enforcement from around the country, recognizing their hard work, dedication, loyalty and commitment to keeping our communities safe. This year the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored law enforcement officers’ courage and unwavering devotion to the communities they swore to serve.

Based on data collected and analyzed by the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officer Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) Program, 89 law enforcement officers died nationwide in the line of duty in 2019. This includes three officers in the Northern District of Alabama. In 2019 six Alabama law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty in 2019 including: Lowndes County Sheriff “Big John” Williams, Birmingham Police Officer WyTasha Carter, Mobile Police Officer Sean Tuder, Auburn Police Officer William Buechner, Monroe County Sheriff’s Deputy Julius “Jay” Dailey, and Tuscaloosa Police Detective Dornell Cousette.

The first officer fatality this year from the State of Alabama was Kimberly Police Department Officer Nick O’Rear on February 5, 2020.

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The names of the fallen officers who have been added in 2020 to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Memorial will be read during the Virtual Annual Candlelight Vigil. Because public events have been suspended as a result of COVID-19, the vigil will be livestreamed to the public at 7:00 pm (CST). The online event can be viewed here.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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SCOTUS majority seems likely to uphold Affordable Care Act

The U.S. Supreme Court will return to hear more arguments in the case on Nov. 30.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard opening oral arguments in the Republican’s latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, and a majority of the justices seemed to side with the lawyers defending the law.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall joined other Republican state officials and the Trump administration in arguing that the portion of President Barrack Obama’s 2010 health care law, known as Obamacare, which mandated people buy health insurance or pay a tax, be deemed unconstitutional. The lawsuit argues that once that portion is found unconstitutional, the rest of the law should be struck down as well. 

If the ACA were struck down, at least 122,000 Alabamians and 21.1 million nationally would lose health coverage, according to a recent study by the Urban Institute. Trump made the ACA’s repeal a central part of his 2016 campaign and has continued to call for its demise, which would include the removal of protections for those with pre-existing conditions and portions of the law that allow young adults under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans.

Congress in 2017 agreed to zero out the penalty from the individual mandate, which went away in 2019, but left the rest of the law in place. While the mandate to buy health care remains, there’s no penalty for not doing so. 

“I think it’s hard for you to argue that Congress intended the entire act to fall if the mandate were struck down, when the same Congress that lowered the penalty to zero, did not even try to repeal the rest of the Act,” said Chief Justice John Roberts to attorneys arguing for the plaintiffs during Tuesday’s hearing. “I think, frankly, that they wanted the court to do that, but that’s not our job.” 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh also expressed disagreement with plaintiffs’ arguments that the mandate could not be separated from the law. 

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“I tend to agree with you. This a very straightforward case for severability under our precedents, meaning that we would excise the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place,” Kavanaugh said. 

Former Obama administration solicitor general Donald Verrilli Jr., who’s defending the ACA on behalf of the U.S. House, told the justices that Congress wanted the remaining portions of the ACA to stand, and agreeing with the Republicans’ theory that the individual mandate can’t be separated from the law would upend Congress’s wishes. 

“It would cause enormous regulatory disruption up in the markets, cast 20 million Americans off health insurance during a pandemic and cost the states tens of billions of dollars during a fiscal crisis,” Verrilli said. “There’s no basis for that result in text intent or precedent.” 

Kyle Hawkins, the Texas solicitor general arguing for the challengers Tuesday, said “the mandate as it exists today is unconstitutional.” 

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“It is a naked command to purchase health insurance. And as such, it falls outside Congress’s enumerated powers,” Hawkins said, adding that the mandate is “inseparable from the remainder of the law.” 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned Hawkins as to the standing of his case against the ACA, asking him whether people who had not signed up for health care when there was a tax associated for not doing so, would now sign up despite such tax. 

 “There’s only a small number of people who would do it. That small number of people have to include Medicaid and CHIP recipients to affect you as the state at all,” Sotomayor said. “And they would, once they’re told there’s no tax, enroll now, when they didn’t enroll when they thought that there was a tax. Does that make any sense to you?” 

The U.S. Supreme Court in a previous challenge of the law in 2012 ruled the individual mandate constitutional, and that the tax is a power afforded to Congress. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in that ruling. 

Followers of the court are watching conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s most recent pick, confirmed to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, closely for indications she may side with Republicans’ argument. Barrett didn’t give hints Tuesday as to how she might rule in the case, however. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will return to hear more arguments in the case on Nov. 30.

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Poll watchers in Alabama report massive turnout, long waits and machine shortages

One observer spoke to multiple people in long lines who vowed that they are ready to wait all night if they have to.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

People are waiting in long lines for hours to vote across Alabama today due in part to massive turnout and in some places due to crashing machines, too few machines or too few ballots, election observers say.

Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson is one of 85 pastors visiting polling sites in the state’s most populous counties. They are members of a national network of poll chaplains “bringing a moral and peaceful presence to polls” in coordination with attorneys.

“I have never seen this before. Never, and I have been involved in politics since I was 10, and I’m 59 now,” Tyson said of the turnout. Secretary of State John Merrill has also predicted record-breaking turnout.

Machines at a site in Pleasant Grove went down this morning, she said, so her group called the election protection hotline and someone came and fixed them.

Tyson wasn’t told what went wrong with them.

When she left the Jefferson County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m., she estimated that there were at least 1,000 people in line waiting to use six voting booths inside. Tyson then went to Jonesboro Elementary School in Bessemer, where she said there were 500 people in line waiting to use two voting machines.

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Tyson said she thought there should have been more machines provided at both sites due to the high expected turnout.

Statewide, issues with voting machines have been sporadic and not widespread, according to observers with the state Democratic Party. In Tuscaloosa County, however, some voters who never received their mail-in ballots have shown up to cast provisional ballots and been asked to come back later because not enough extras had been printed.

Tyson said she doesn’t see the lines deterring anyone. She’s seeing determination.

“The urgency, like it’s an emergency,” she said.

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One woman who needed to pick up her medication from the pharmacy told a pastor where it was and he went and got it. She stayed in line. 

People brought chairs, some are playing music and handing out water and snacks, and young voters are giving up their chairs for seniors, Tyson said.

Her group is in touch with a 106-year-old woman they have helped to vote by absentee ballot in past elections. She has insisted on walking into her polling place today, Tyson said.

She has spoken to multiple people in long lines who vowed that they are ready to wait all night if they have to.

“They’re not leaving,” she said.

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Aderholt fully supports Barrett’s confirmation process

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

Brandon Moseley

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Congressman Robert Aderholt

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, updated his constituents on the confirmation process for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Aderholt said, “I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms.”

Confirmation hearings began last week and a vote on her confirmation is expected in the next week just days before the general election.

“Senate Democrats are not seriously questioning Judge Barrett on her credentials, instead they have decided to attack her character and her beliefs,” Aderholt said. “I am disappointed to see this unfold on the national stage, but I think Judge Barrett stood strong and did well during this first week of hearings.”

“While I do not have a vote in her confirmation process, I do support her fully and I know she will defend life, protect the Constitution, and uphold our freedoms when she is officially sworn in as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court,” Aderholt said.

Barrett is a Notre Dame graduate, has served on the U.S. Seventh Court of Appeals and is a former clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I clerked for Justice Scalia more than 20 years ago, but the lessons I learned still resonate,” Barrett said. “His judicial philosophy is mine, too: A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold.”

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Barrett vowed to keep an open mind on any matter that comes before the court, though Democrats fear she is prepared to overturn Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act.

That the Republican controlled committee will recommend that Barrett be confirmed appears certain. A vote to confirm Barrett to the nation’s highest court by the full Senate could occur just days ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

President Donald Trump has been the president of the United States for less than four years but if Barrett is confirmed, then he will have selected one third of the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett fills a place created by the death of the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September.

Aderholt is in his 12th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District. He faces Democratic nominee Rick Neighbors in the Nov. 3 general election.

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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.

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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.”

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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