Supreme Court may boost gay marriage; justices signal they may void key part of federal law
WASHINGTON (AP) — Concluding two days of intense debate, the Supreme Court signaled Wednesday it could give a boost to same-sex marriage by striking down the federal law that denies legally married gay spouses a wide range of benefits offered to other couples.
As the court wrapped up its remarkable arguments over gay marriage in America, a majority of the justices indicated they will invalidate part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — if they can get past procedural problems similar to those that appeared to mark Tuesday's case over California's ban on same-sex marriage.
Since the federal law was enacted in 1996, nine states and the District of Columbia have made it legal for gays and lesbians to marry. Same-sex unions also were legal in California for nearly five months in 2008 before the Proposition 8 ban.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote in close cases, joined the four more-liberal justices in raising questions Wednesday about a provision that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purposes of federal law.
It affects more than 1,100 statutes in which marital status is relevant, dealing with tax breaks for married couples, Social Security survivor benefits and, for federal employees, health insurance and leave to care for spouses.
Senators promise immigration overhaul bill by April after tour of US-Mexico border
NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — A bipartisan group of senators crafting a sweeping immigration bill vowed Wednesday that they would be ready to unveil it when Congress reconvenes in less than two weeks after getting a firsthand look at a crucial component of their legislation: security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The four senators — Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado — are members of the so-called Gang of Eight, which is close to finalizing a bill aimed at securing the border and putting 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship
The lawmakers' reassurance that their work would be complete by the week of April 8 came after a public feud erupted between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO over a low-skilled worker provision in the bill — a spat that remained alive Friday as Congress began a two-week recess. But Flake noted Wednesday that negotiations over the worker program had resumed; an AFL-CIO negotiator also confirmed the talks were back on.
During the tour, the senators saw border agents apprehend a woman who had climbed an 18-foot-tall bollard fence.
"You can read and you can study and you can talk but until you see things it doesn't become reality," said Schumer, who toured the border for the first time. "I'll be able to explain this to my colleagues. Many of my colleagues say, 'Why do we need to do anything more on the border?' and we do. We should do more."
Colo. theater shooting suspect offers guilty plea to avoid death, awaits prosecution response
DENVER (AP) — Colorado theater shooting suspect James Holmes has offered to plead guilty and serve the rest of his life in prison to avoid the death penalty — a deal that would bring a swift end to the sometimes wrenching courtroom battle and circumvent a prolonged debate over his sanity.
Prosecutors haven't said whether they would accept the offer, and victims and survivors of last summer's massacre were divided on what should be done.
Melisa Cowden, whose ex-husband was killed in the theater, said Wednesday she was resolutely opposed to a plea deal.
"He didn't give 12 people the chance to plea bargain and say, 'Let's see if you're going to shoot me or not,'" said Cowden, whose two teenage daughters were with their father when he was killed.
"No. No plea bargain," she said.
Newly released documents provide fresh look at Ariz. shooting rampage that wounded Giffords
PHOENIX (AP) — Almost everyone who crossed paths with Jared Loughner in the year before he shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords described a man who was becoming more unhinged and delusional by the day.
He got fired from a clothing store and thrown out of college, shaved his head and got tattoos of bullets on his shoulder. He showed up at the apartment of a friend with a Glock 9 mm pistol, saying he needed it for "home protection." He made dark comments about the government, and, according to one acquaintance, appeared suicidal.
Loughner's spiral into madness hit bottom on Jan. 8, 2011. He broke down in tears when a wildlife agent pulled him over for a traffic stop. He went to a gas station and asked the clerk to call a cab as he paced nervously around the store. Gazing up at the clock, he said, "Nine twenty-five. I still got time."
About 45 minutes later, Giffords lay bleeding on a Tucson sidewalk along with 11 others who were wounded. Six people were dead.
The information about Loughner's mental state — and the fact that no one did much to get him help — emerged as a key theme in roughly 2,700 pages of investigative papers released Wednesday. Still, there was nothing to indicate exactly why he targeted Giffords.
Puget Sound island landslide destroys 1 home, isolates, threatens 33 more; residents evacuated
SEATTLE (AP) — Residents of a hillside overlooking scenic Puget Sound heard the thunder of a large landslide early Wednesday that knocked one home off its foundation, and isolated or threatened more than two dozen others on Whidbey Island, about 50 miles north of Seattle.
A man who escaped from the damaged home was evacuated by rescuers in an all-terrain vehicle, Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue Chief Ed Hartin said. Some people are completely cut off from their properties.
Many of the homes are summer cabins or weekend getaways and were unoccupied. Some are larger, upscale properties and others are more modest dwellings.
Eleven people from 16 homes along a road close to the water were evacuated by boat because the road was blocked by the landslide, he said.
And, another 20 to 25 people were evacuated from 17 homes along a road higher up the hill that is being undermined by the slide. Land is falling away just 10 feet from one home.
NJ to investigate agency visit to home of man who posted photo of son with military-style gun
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie has asked his attorney general to investigate the state's visit to the home of a man who had posted online a photo of his son holding a military-style rifle, saying news reports raised "troubling questions" about how the case was handled.
The state's child welfare agency and local police went to the Carneys Point home of Shawn Moore on March 14, following what police say were anonymous calls expressing concern about the safety of a child.
Moore has said he believes he was investigated solely because of the photo he shared online of his son, Josh, holding the gun he got for his 11th birthday. The weapon was a .22-caliber rifle made to look like an assault weapon. He says caseworkers were aggressive and the visit unwarranted.
No charges were filed.
In a March 22 letter, the governor asked Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to determine "whether all applicable laws were appropriately followed, and to take any remedial, investigative or other actions that may be required."
Koch brother fights Calif. businessman in NYC, exposing flaws in market for trophy wines
NEW YORK (AP) — As experts can testify, super sleuths in the wine business must study the cork, glass, sediment, wrapping, labels and how full a bottle of wine is to ascertain whether it's the real deal. And as two uber-wealthy wine collectors can tell you as they square off in federal court over some questionable bottles, even that sometimes is not enough.
Testimony began Wednesday in a civil trial six years after Florida energy maven William Koch, a yachtsman and collector, sued onetime-billionaire California businessman Eric Greenberg in U.S. District Court in Manhattan over $320,000 he spent in 2005 on two dozen bottles of wine that turned out to be duds.
The trial threatens to pop the cork on the dirty secrets of the wine auction world, which like the art market has been stung in recent years by a proliferation of fakes.
At the opening, there was plenty of talk of how difficult it is to be sure a bottle is real and how good a fake can be. It's heartbreaking for a true collector to learn that wine is inauthentic because it's more than just a bottle and a flavor, Koch's attorney John Hueston said.
"Koch will say these are links to history," he said, adding that great wines transport people to another era. "It's not just the juice in the package."
Comedian Louie Anderson says he's still hurting from diving mishap on hit TV show 'Splash'
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Comedian Louie Anderson says he's been in pain all week from a recent diving mishap during a taping of the ABC celebrity diving show "Splash."
Anderson, who weighs more than 400 pounds, was trying to do a flip from the 5-meter board when he slammed into the water, landing on his face and chest.
"If I were lying down right now, you would have to help me up," the 60-year-old Anderson said Wednesday. "It's been almost a week and it still hurts almost as much."
Anderson, who skipped diving practice Tuesday night to take the stage in Sioux Falls, S.D., for a show benefiting the Brennan Rock & Roll Academy, said he asked the "Splash" staff after the accident if he was suffering internal bleeding or damage but was told no.
"They said, 'That's your abs. You've never worked them,'" Anderson joked. "The last time I worked them was when I was struggling to get out of my mother. That was it, and I haven't worked them since."
Heat's winning streak ends at 27 with 101-97 loss in Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) — The Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak was snapped Wednesday night by the Chicago Bulls, 101-97, when a furious comeback by LeBron James and his teammates fell short.
The Heat finished six games short of the record held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.