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Mexico’s supreme court decriminalizes recreational use of cannabis

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down laws which criminalized the recreational use of cannabis on Monday evening.

The decisive 8-3 ruling comes after advocates pushed for decriminalization as a means to reduce drug-fueled cartel violence in the country. The court declared the prohibition of cannabis unconstitutional in 2018, leading lawmakers to move forward on passing a bill. However, after a bill signed by Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struggled to make it through Congress deliberations weeks after the set deadline, the court moved to vote.

Now to legally obtain cannabis, citizens must apply for a permit from the country’s health regulator, the Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Cofepris), the Supreme Court said. Once permitted, anybody over 18 years of age can possess up to 28 grams of cannabis, the Supreme Court ruled.

Before, Mexican citizens were able to access cannabis but only after filing a court injunction. The use of medicinal marijuana has been legal in Mexico since 2017. Mexico will also allow the cultivation and harvesting of marijuana plants, after obtaining a permit from Cofepris, a statement from the Supreme Court said.

The court ruled that minors should not consume cannabis and that one should not operate a vehicle or other dangerous activities after consuming it.

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Oklahoma high court strikes down governor’s Medicaid plan

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to privatize much of the state’s Medicaid program is unconstitutional.

The court determined in a 6-3 ruling Tuesday that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority did not have the legislative approval to move forward with the plan. The Republican governor has pushed the plan to outsource management of the state’s Medicaid system to for-profit insurance companies. He maintains that approach will maximize health care quality while cutting costs. But a group of medical organizations filed suit in February seeking to stop the plan.

Plaintiffs included the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Dental Association.

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Student’s Snapchat profanity leads to high court speech case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fourteen-year-old Brandi Levy was having that kind of day where she just wanted to scream. So she did, in a profanity-laced posting on Snapchat that has, improbably, ended up before the Supreme Court in the most significant case on student speech in more than 50 years.

At issue is whether public schools can discipline students over something they say off-campus. The topic is especially meaningful in a time of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic and a rising awareness of the pernicious effects of online bullying.

Arguments are on Wednesday, via telephone because of the pandemic, before a court on which several justices have school-age children or recently did.

The case has its roots in the Vietnam-era case of a high school in Des Moines, Iowa, that suspended students who wore armbands to protest the war. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court sided with the students, declaring students don’t “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

Ever since, courts have wrestled with the contours of the decision in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969.

Levy’s case has none of the lofty motives of Tinker and more than its share of teenage angst.

Levy and a friend were at a convenience store in her hometown of Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, when she took to social media to express her frustration at being kept on her high school’s junior varsity cheerleading squad for another year.

“F——— school f——— softball f——— cheer f——— everything,” Levy wrote, in a post that also contained a photo in which she and a classmate raised their middle fingers.

The post was brought to the attention of the team’s coaches, who suspended Levy from the cheerleading team for a year.

Levy, now 18, is finishing her freshman year in college. “I was a 14-year-old kid. I was upset, I was angry. Everyone, every 14-year-old kid speaks like that at one point,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Her parents knew nothing about the Snapchat post until she was suspended, she said. “My parents were more concerned on how I was feeling,” Levy said, adding she wasn’t grounded or otherwise punished for what she did.

Instead, her parents filed a federal lawsuit, claiming the suspension violated their daughter’s constitutional speech rights.

Lower courts agreed and restored her to the cheerleading team. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held that “Tinker does not apply to off-campus speech.” The court said it was leaving for another day “the First Amendment implications of off-campus student speech that threatens violence or harasses others.”

But the school district, education groups, the Biden administration and anti-bullying organizations said in court filings that the appeals court went too far.

“The First Amendment does not categorically prohibit public schools from disciplining students for speech that occurs off campus,” acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote on behalf of the administration.

Philip Lee, a University of District of Columbia law professor who has written about regulation of cyberbullying, said it makes no sense to draw the line on policing students’ speech at the edge of campus.

“Most cyberbullying content is created off campus on computers, iPads, all kinds of electronic devices,” said Lee, who joined a legal brief with other education scholars that calls for a nuanced approach to regulating student speech in the Internet age.

“But at same time, you don’t want situation where schools are monitoring everyone’s speech at home,” he said.

The Mahanoy Area School District declined to comment on the case, its lawyer, Lisa Blatt, said.

But in her brief for the district, Blatt wrote, “This case is about how schools address the bad days.”

Schools should not be forced “to ignore speech that disrupts the school environment or invades other students’ rights just because students launched that speech from five feet outside the schoolhouse gate,” Blatt wrote.

The school’s approach would allow educators to police what students say round the clock, said Witold “Vic” Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Levy.

“And that is super dangerous. Not only would students like Brandi not be able to express non-threatening, non-harassing bursts of frustration, but it would give schools the possibility of regulating important political and religious speech,” Walczak said.

An unusual alliance of conservative and liberal interest groups has formed behind Levy, all pointing to the dangers of expanding school regulation of students speech.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and Christian Legal Society urged the court to affirm the appellate ruling because of “the perils of schools regulating off-campus speech. Religious speech, in particular, provokes debate and inflames passions.”

Mary Beth and John Tinker, the siblings at the center of the 1969 case, also are on Levy’s side. Their protest, updated for the digital age, would have included a social media component, perhaps a black armband digitally imposed on their school’s logo, they wrote in a high-court brief.

The outcome proposed by the school district would have left them subject to discipline, the Tinkers wrote.

Walczak, the ACLU lawyer, acknowledged that the “speech here is not the most important in the world. This isn’t political or religious speech.”

But Levy’s outburst has made her a potential successor to the Tinkers and their antiwar protest from the 1960s.

“I’m just trying to prove a point that young students and adults like me shouldn’t be punished for them expressing their own feelings and letting others know how they feel,” Levy said.

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Supreme Court to take up right to carry gun for self-defense

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an appeal to expand gun rights in the United States in a New York case over the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.

The case marks the court’s first foray into gun rights since Justice Amy Coney Barrett came on board in October, making a 6-3 conservative majority.

The justices said Monday they will review a lower-court ruling that upheld New York’s restrictive gun permit law. The court’s action follows mass shootings in recent weeks in Indiana, Georgia, Colorado and California.

The case probably will be argued in the fall.

The court had turned down review of the issue in June, before Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

New York is among eight states that limit who has the right to carry a weapon in public. The others are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

In the rest of the country, gun owners have little trouble legally carrying their weapons when they go out.

Paul Clement, representing challengers to New York’s permit law, said the court should use the case to settle the issue once and for all. “Thus, the nation is split, with the Second Amendment alive and well in the vast middle of the nation, and those same rights disregarded near the coasts,” Clement wrote on behalf of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association and two New York residents.

Calling on the court to reject the appeal, the state said its law promotes public safety and crime reduction and neither bans people from carrying guns nor allows everyone to do so.

Federal courts have largely upheld the permit limits. Last month an 11-judge panel of the federal appeals court in San Francisco rejected a challenge to Hawaii’s permit regulations in an opinion written by a conservative judge, Jay Bybee.

“Our review of more than 700 years of English and American legal history reveals a strong theme: government has the power to regulate arms in the public square,” Bybee wrote in a 7-4 decision for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The issue of carrying a gun for self-defense has been seen for several years as the next major step for gun rights at the Supreme Court, following decisions in 2008 and 2010 that established a nationwide right to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

In June, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, complained that rather than take on the constitutional issue, “the Court simply looks the other way.”

But Barrett has a more expansive view of gun rights than Ginsburg. She wrote a dissent in 2019, when she was a judge on the federal appeals court in Chicago, that argued that a conviction for a nonviolent felony – in this case, mail fraud – shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone from owning a gun.

She said that her colleagues in the majority were treating the Second Amendment as a “second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.”

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Oklahoma court tosses 5 more first-degree murder convictions

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma’s highest criminal appeals court tossed out five more first-degree murder convictions on Thursday based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision about criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.

Two of the rulings by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals also affirm that Congress never formally disestablished the reservations of the Choctaw and Seminole nations and because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in what is known as the McGirt case, the state lacks jurisdiction to prosecute crimes by or against Native Americans inside those historic boundaries.

Combined with similar previous rulings about the reservations of the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, state prosecutors no longer have criminal jurisdiction over crimes involving Indians in nearly the entire eastern half of the state.

Among the latest rulings were decisions to vacate the first-degree murder convictions of Kadetrix Devon Grayson, 28, a Seminole Nation citizen convicted in the shooting deaths of two people in Seminole in 2015; and Devin Warren Sizemore, 26, a Choctaw Nation citizen convicted in the drowning death of his 21-month-old daughter near Krebs in 2016.

Seminole is within the historic boundaries of the Seminole Nation, while Krebs is inside the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation reservation, the court ruled. The other first-degree murder cases thrown out Thursday involved killings inside the reservation boundaries of the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations, which the court had already determined had never been disestablished.

Thursday’s rulings are the latest in a flood of appellate court rulings overturning criminal convictions based on McGirt that have led to a dramatic increase in workload for federal prosecutors who must now retry the cases in federal court. They will remain in custody pending federal proceedings.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that while Thursday’s rulings were not unexpected, they underscore the need for Congress to pass legislation allowing the state and tribes to reach compact agreements on criminal jurisdiction.

“We need it for Oklahomans, both Native American and non-Native American,” Hunter said in a statement. “Victims of crimes continue to pay the price every day because of the ramifications of the McGirt decision. State law enforcement officials continue to express frustration about their inability to hold criminals accountable. We are facing a situation that will not resolve itself.”

For some less serious crimes, Native American defendants may also be prosecuted in tribal courts. The Choctaw Nation announced Thursday that it has beefed up its tribal prosecutor’s office with six full-time attorneys and is prepared to file more than 125 criminal cases in its district court.

“Our coordination with the state of Oklahoma, district attorney offices within our reservation, and our Choctaw Nation Department of Public Safety should prevent any currently incarcerated individual from being released based solely on a McGirt jurisdictional claim,” said Kara Bacon, a Choctaw Nation tribal prosecutor.

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The Cherokee Nation acknowledges that descendants of people once enslaved by the tribe should also qualify as Cherokee

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A longstanding dispute over who can be considered a citizen of the Cherokee Nation finally came to a conclusion this week.

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the tribal nation remove the phrase “by blood” from its constitution and other tribal laws. That change formally acknowledges that the descendants of Black people once enslaved by the tribe — known as the Cherokee Freedmen — have the right to tribal citizenship, which means they are eligible to run for tribal office and access resources such as tribal health care.

The recent decision by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court is a response to a 2017 ruling by a US district court, which determined that the descendants of the Cherokee Freedmen are entitled to full tribal citizenship rights under a treaty the Cherokee Nation made with the US in 1866.

“Freedmen rights are inherent,” Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice Shawna S. Baker wrote in the opinion. “They extend to descendents of Freedmen as a birthright springing from their ancestors’ oppression and displacement as people of color recorded and memorialized in Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty.”

Enslaved Black people journeyed on the Trail of Tears

The history of the Cherokee Freedmen is an example of just how complex and layered issues of race, inequality and marginalization are in the US.

Many Native Americans were enslaved alongside African Americans during the colonial period — Brown University historian Linford D. Fisher estimates that 2 million to 5.5 million Native people were enslaved from the time of Christopher Columbus to around 1880.

But some wealthier tribal citizens, particularly in tribes in the Southeast that had adopted certain norms of White settlers, also practiced slavery themselves. That includes the Cherokee people, some of whom in the early 1800s had started to enslave African Americans.

Then in the late 1830s, the US government forcibly expelled the Cherokee from their homeland and ordered them to relocate to present-day Oklahoma — an exodus known as the Trail of Tears. What’s not as widely known, though, is that enslaved African Americans made the journey along with the Cherokee citizens who enslaved them.

About 4,000 enslaved Black people were living among the Cherokee people by 1861, according to the National Museum of the American Indian.

The tribe abolished slavery in 1863. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Cherokee Nation signed a treaty with the US government that granted full citizenship rights to those formerly enslaved by Cherokee citizens.

But in practice, Freedmen were often denied those rights and excluded from the tribe, wrote Lolita Buckner Inniss in a 2015 article published in the Columbia Journal of Race and Law. Over the past several decades, Cherokee Freedmen have fought to protect those rights through various legal proceedings.

Freedmen have long been fighting to protect their rights

In 2007, the Cherokee Nation amended its constitution to restrict tribal citizenship to those with “Indian blood.” That expelled about 2,800 descendants of Cherokee Freedmen from the tribe, the website for the National Museum of the American Indian states.

Chad Smith, the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time, argued that the tribe was a sovereign nation and should therefore have the right to determine who qualifies for tribal citizenship. But the Freedmen pushed back, resulting in a series of legal battles over the next decade.

In 2017, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Freedmen — a decision that the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has now reaffirmed.

“The ‘by blood’ language found within the Cherokee Nation Constitution, and any laws which flow from that language, is illegal, obsolete, and repugnant to the ideal of liberty,” Baker wrote in the recent opinion. “These words insult and degrade the descendants of the Freedman much like the Jim Crow laws found lingering on the books in Southern states some fifty-seven years after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. commended the decision.

“Cherokee Nation is stronger when we move forward as citizens together and on an equal basis under the law,” he said in a statement on Monday. “…The court has acknowledged, in the strongest terms, our ancestors’ commitment to equality 155 years ago in the Treaty of 1866. My hope is that we all share in that same commitment going forward.”

About 8,500 descendants of Freedmen are currently enrolled as citizens of the Cherokee Nation, according to a news release from the tribe.