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U.S. Department of Justice sues Texas over new political maps – The Texas Tribune

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Texas lawmakers illegally discriminated against voters of color by drawing new political districts that give white voters more political power despite rapid growth of Hispanic and Black populations, the department claims in its lawsuit.

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The U.S. Department of Justice is throwing its weight into the legal fight over Texas’ newly drawn maps for Congress and the state House, filing a lawsuit Monday that claims Texas lawmakers discriminated against voters of color by denying Latino and Black voters equal opportunities to participate in the voting process and elect their preferred candidates.
The Biden administration filed its lawsuit in federal court in Texas, joining what’s expected to be a protracted fight over the political boundaries the state will use for elections to come. It joins a collection of individual voters and organizations representing voters of color that have already sued the state over maps that help solidify the GOP’s dominance while weakening the influence of voters of color.
The maps face at least five legal challenges based on claims that the districts drawn by the Texas Legislature are unconstitutional and violate the federal Voting Rights Act because they diminish the voting strength of voters of color.
The justice department suit also asks the federal court to block the state from conducting the upcoming March primaries under the challenged maps.
At a press conference Monday, U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the maps passed into law by the Republican-controlled Legislature showed an “overall disregard for the massive minority population growth” the state experienced over the last decade.
“Our investigation determined that Texas’ redistricting plans will dilute the increased minority voting strength that should have developed from these significant demographic shifts,” Gupta said.
Texas lawmakers this year took on the work of redistricting to incorporate a decade of population growth into the state’s maps and equalize the population of districts. But their work, signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, was largely not reflective of the state’s growth, 95% of which was attributable to people of color.
Republicans opted to give white voters effective control of the two new congressional districts the state gained because of its explosive population growth, even though the state’s white population has remained relatively stagnant. The state’s new congressional map also reduces the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven, while the number of districts with Black residents as the majority of eligible voters drops from one to zero. Half of the 4 million residents the state gained in the past 10 years were Hispanic.
In its complaint, the DOJ takes specific aim at the redrawing of the 23rd Congressional District in West Texas, a long fought-over district, which it argues was reconfigured by switching out voters and splitting precincts so that the final product would “eliminate a Latino electoral opportunity.” The DOJ also points to the configuration of districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where it argues the map “effectively turns back a decade of rapid Latino population growth and preserves Anglo control of most remaining districts.”
Republicans redrew congressional districts in the area with almost surgical precision, stranding urban and suburban voters of color in vast rural districts.
The department is also challenging Texas’ new state House map where it argues lawmakers eliminated Latino electoral opportunities “through manipulation or outright elimination of districts where Latino communities previously had elected their preferred candidates.”
The map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30.
Throughout the redistricting process, Republicans argued their maps comply with federal laws protecting voters of color from discrimination, though they declined to offer specifics about their legal analysis.
“The Department of Justice’s absurd lawsuit against our state is the Biden Administration’s latest ploy to control Texas voters,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a post on Twitter. “I am confident that our legislature’s redistricting decisions will be proven lawful, and this preposterous attempt to sway democracy will fail.”
Decade after decade, including after the 2011 redistricting cycle, the state has faced allegations — and subsequent federal court rulings — that lawmakers discriminated against voters of color, intentionally working to undermine the power of their votes.
Monday’s announcement signals that the administration is taking a more significant role in the state’s redistricting fight after the Trump administration switched sides in favor of the state at the tail end of litigation over the last round of redistricting, which also landed the state in federal court over similar allegations. It also underscored the changing legal landscape for voting rights in the country.
This year’s political mapmaking marked the first time in nearly half a century that Texas lawmakers were free to redraw the state’s maps without federal oversight, known as preclearance, that was meant to protect voters of color from discrimination. Texas regularly ran afoul of that protection, which blocked the state’s voting laws and maps from immediately going into effect, but the U.S. Supreme Court dissolved that protection in a 2013 ruling.
“Were that preclearance tool still in place, we would likely not be here today announcing this complaint,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Monday.
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.
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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

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Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.

Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”

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Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.

“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.

The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.

The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.

“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”

President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”

In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.

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The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.

The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

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White House promises ‘major sanctions’ on Russia in response to Alexei Navalny’s death

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White House promises ‘major sanctions’ on Russia in response to Alexei Navalny’s death

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House said Tuesday it is preparing additional “major sanctions” on Russia in response to opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death last week in an Arctic penal colony.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the sanctions, on the eve of the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, “will be a substantial package covering a range of different elements of the Russian defense industrial base, and sources of revenue for the Russian economy that power Russia’s war machine, that power Russia’s aggression, and that power Russia’s repression.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. had not determined how Navalny had died, but insisted that the ultimate responsibility lay with Putin.

“Regardless of the scientific answer, Putin’s responsible for it,” he told reporters.

Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and have refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, members of his team said.

The Treasury Department declined to comment on the details of the upcoming sanctions. Brian Nelson, the department’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, is in Europe this week to continue working on Russia sanctions ahead of the invasion’s two-year anniversary.

“The global coalition imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia’s war machine has thrown sand in the gears of the Kremlin’s efforts to equip and supply its military. President Biden recently expanded Treasury’s authorities to target those funding Russia’s war production efforts – even if they’re located in third countries – and Treasury is aggressively pursuing those who attempt to evade our sanctions,” the Treasury department said last week. “Multilateral sanctions and export controls have forced hard tradeoffs for Putin and damaged his ability to project power now and in the future.”

So far, the U.S. and its allies have sanctioned thousands of Russian people and firms, frozen Russian Central Bank funds, banned certain Russian goods, restricted Russian banks’ access to SWIFT — the dominant system for global financial transactions — and imposed a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil and diesel, among other measures.

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Policy experts have advanced an array of proposals meant to further starve Russia of the money it needs to continue its invasion — from seizing the nation’s Central Bank funds housed largely in Europe to lowering the Group of Seven price cap in Russian oil.

A February working paper from the International Working Group on Russian Sanctions at Stanford University calls for heavier sanctions in Russia’s energy market – from lowering the current $60 price cap on Russian-produced oil to $30, as well as completing the EU and G7 ban on Russian hydrocarbons.

Asked about more sanctions on Russia during a Council on Foreign Relations media briefing Tuesday, Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the organization, said “the choices are rather limited — but it’s not zero.”

Sestanovich said it is also possible that the U.S. and allies could lower the price cap on Russian oil, since it is an area where “the U.S. and EU have not been particularly aggressive.”

“They could try to go lower and put the squeeze on and force the Russians to sell more oil at a discount,” he said, adding that he anticipates the U.S. to impose more personal sanctions on Russian officials.

Charles Kupchan, also a CFR senior fellow and professor of international affairs at Georgetown University said, “sanctions are always in the quiver, but they’re not going to matter that much — because let’s be honest, the sanctions have not had a huge impact on the Russian economy.”

“What will make a big difference is military and economic assistance to Ukraine, full stop,” Kupchan said.

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