Nation and World briefs for February 9

Abortion case shows Roberts firmly at Supreme Court’s center

WASHINGTON — Chief Justice John Roberts broke with the Supreme Court’s other conservative justices and his own voting record on abortion to block a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

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Roberts didn’t explain his decision late Thursday to join the court’s four liberal justices. But it was the clearest sign yet of the role Roberts intends to play as he guides a more conservative court with two new members appointed by President Donald Trump.

Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy last summer, Roberts has become the court’s new swing vote. He is, by most measures, a very conservative justice, but he seems determined to keep the court from moving too far right too fast and being perceived as just another forum for partisan politics in Washington.

“People need to know that we’re not doing politics. They need to know that we’re doing something different, that we’re applying the law,” Roberts said during an appearance this week at Tennessee’s Belmont University.

Roberts’ vote in the Louisiana case was the fourth time in recent weeks that he has held the decisive vote on 5-4 outcomes that otherwise split the court’s conservative and liberal justices.

Rare tiger kills prospective mate in London at first meeting

LONDON — For 10 days, the London Zoo kept its newly arrived male Sumatran tiger Asim in a separate enclosure from Melati, the female tiger who was supposed to become his mate.

Zoologists gave them time to get used to each other’s presence and smells, and waited for what they felt would be the right time to let them get together. On Friday, they put the two tigers into the same enclosure — and Asim killed Melati as shocked handlers tried in vain to intervene.

It was a tragic end to hopes that the two would eventually breed as part of a Europe-wide tiger conservation program for the endangered Sumatran subspecies.

“Everyone here at ZSL London Zoo is devastated by the loss of Melati and we are heartbroken by this turn of events,” the zoo said in a statement.

It said the focus now is “caring for Asim as we get through this difficult event.”

Acting AG overseeing Mueller probe says he’s not interfered

WASHINGTON — Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Friday that he has “not interfered in any way” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation as he faced a contentious and partisan congressional hearing in his waning days on the job.

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was the first, and likely only, chance for newly empowered Democrats in the majority to grill an attorney general they perceive as a Donald Trump loyalist and whose appointment they suspect was aimed at suppressing investigations of the Republican president. They confronted Whitaker on his past criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller’s work and his refusal to recuse himself from overseeing it, attacked him over his prior business dealings and sneeringly challenged his credentials as the country’s chief law enforcement officer.

“We’re all trying to figure out: Who are you, where did you come from and how the heck did you become the head of the Department of Justice,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. When Whitaker tried to respond, the New York Democrat interrupted, “Mr. Whitaker, that was a statement, not a question. I assume you know the difference.”

Yet Democrats yielded no new information about the status of the Mueller probe as Whitaker repeatedly refused to discuss conversations with the president or answer questions that he thought might reveal details. Though clearly exasperated — he drew gasps and chuckles when he told the committee chairman that his five-minute time limit for questions was up — Whitaker nonetheless sought to assuage Democratic concerns by insisting he had never discussed the Mueller probe with Trump or other White House officials, and that there’d been no change in its “overall management.”

“We have followed the special counsel’s regulations to a T,” Whitaker said. “There has been no event, no decision, that has required me to take any action, and I have not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation.”

Thai princess’ political bid sunk by her brother, the king

BANGKOK — Thailand’s chaotic politics took two astonishing turns Friday when the sister of the king made a historic bid to become prime minister, only to have him shut down her effort as “inappropriate” because it violated tradition and the constitution, which keep the monarchy from getting involved in politics.

The royal order from King Maha Vajiralongkorn was read on national television late Friday night, effectively scuttling the move by his older sister, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, to become a candidate for the prime minister’s office after parliamentary elections scheduled for March 24.

It was the latest event to roil Thailand, which has been buffeted by coups, political comebacks and street violence for more than a decade.

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Ubolratana’s registration as a candidate was a stunning move, not only because it would have broken a taboo on a senior royal running for public office, but also because it would have allied her with the Thai Raksa Chart Party, considered by many royalists to be unsympathetic to the monarchy.

It is one of several parties linked to the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire who roared to power in 2001 with populist policies that made him practically unbeatable. The army eventually ousted him from the prime minister’s office in a 2006 coup.

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