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Kennedy seems conflicted in Supreme Court wedding cake case

WASHINGTON — On a sharply divided Supreme Court, the justice in the middle seemed conflicted Tuesday in the court’s high-stakes consideration of a baker who refused to make a wedding case for a same-sex couple in 2012.

The court’s fault lines were laid bare in a riveting argument that focused equally on baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse to put his artistic talents to use in support of something in which he disagrees and the Colorado couple’s right to be treated like any other two people who wanted a cake to celebrate their marriage.

Both views were reflected in the questions and comments of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of all the court’s major gay-rights decisions and a fierce defender of free speech. The outcome of the case seemed to rest with the 81-year-old justice, who often finds himself with the decisive vote in cases that otherwise divide the court’s conservatives and liberals.

Phillips and the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, were in the courtroom for arguments in the closely watched case that could affect other situations where there’s a clash between social conservatives’ claim of religious freedom and the LGBT community’s fight to preserve hard-won rights.

President Donald Trump’s administration is supporting Phillips in his argument that he can’t be forced to create a cake that violates his religious beliefs. It appears to be the first time the federal government has asked the justices to carve out an exception from an anti-discrimination law.

On the one hand, Kennedy pointed to photographers, florists, graphic designers and even jewelers who might likewise be able to refuse working on a same-sex wedding if the court rules for Phillips.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said the author of the 2015 opinion extending same-sex marriage nationwide.

If you win, Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could the baker put a sign in his window: “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings?”

When Francisco said that would be permissible, Kennedy said, “And you would not think that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco replied that there “are dignity interests on the other side here, too.”

On the other hand, Kennedy criticized the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that found Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

“It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said. Craig and Mullins, he noted, could have been served by “other good bakery shops that were available” in the Denver suburbs.

Protesters on both sides filled the sidewalk in front of the court shortly before the start of the argument.

“We got Jack’s back,” Phillips’ supporters said. Backers of Craig and Mullins countered: “Love wins.”

Inside the packed courtroom, the liberal justices peppered Kristen Waggoner, Phillips’ lawyer, and Francisco with questions about how to draw a line to accommodate Phillips without eviscerating laws that require businesses that are open to the public to serve all customers.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan ticked off other categories of people who are involved in weddings to ask if they, too, might be able to refuse a same-sex couple.

A hair stylist? A makeup artist?

No, Waggoner said, “because it is not speech.”

Kagan replied: “Some people might say that about cakes, you know?”

More generally, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “What is the line? That’s what everybody is trying to get to.”

When Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger and the American Civil Liberties Union’s David Cole stood up to defend the commission’s ruling against Phillips, the conservative justices pounced.

Because same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado in 2012, Justice Samuel Alito noted, Craig and Mullins could not have obtained a marriage license where they lived or gotten a local official to marry them. Yet Phillips supposedly “committed a grave wrong” when he refused to make them a cake, Alito said. That struck him as unfair, he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed both Cole and Yarger on whether a Roman Catholic legal services agency that provides free aid would have to take up a case involving a same-sex couple despite the religious opposition to gay marriage.

Yes, Cole said, “if they’ve provided the same services to couples who are straight.”

Colorado native Neil Gorsuch, taking part in the most important gay rights case since he joined the Supreme Court in April, asked Cole whether a baker who made a cake shaped like a red cross to celebrate relief efforts would have to make the same cake for the Ku Klux Klan.

Cole said no because Colorado’s anti-discrimination law refers to race, sex and sexual orientation, among other categories, but does not protect KKK members.

One other possible result that emerged from the argument is that the justices could return the case to the Colorado commission for reconsideration if the court finds its first decision was tainted by the religious bias of a commissioner. Kennedy described comments made by one of the seven Colorado commissioners in the case as hostile to religion.

Colorado is among only 21 states with statewide laws barring discrimination against gays in public accommodations.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 16-111, will be decided by late June.

Kennedy seems conflicted in Supreme Court wedding cake case

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — On a sharply divided Supreme Court, the justice in the middle seemed conflicted Tuesday in the court’s high-stakes consideration of a baker who refused to make a wedding case for a same-sex couple in 2012.

The court’s fault lines were laid bare in a riveting argument that focused equally on baker Jack Phillips’ right to refuse to put his artistic talents to use in support of something in which he disagrees and the Colorado couple’s right to be treated like any other two people who wanted a cake to celebrate their marriage.

Both views were reflected in the questions and comments of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of all the court’s major gay-rights decisions and a fierce defender of free speech. The outcome of the case seemed to rest with the 81-year-old justice, who often finds himself with the decisive vote in cases that otherwise divide the court’s conservatives and liberals.

Phillips and the couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, were in the courtroom for arguments in the closely watched case that could affect other situations where there’s a clash between social conservatives’ claim of religious freedom and the LGBT community’s fight to preserve hard-won rights.

President Donald Trump’s administration is supporting Phillips in his argument that he can’t be forced to create a cake that violates his religious beliefs. It appears to be the first time the federal government has asked the justices to carve out an exception from an anti-discrimination law.

On the one hand, Kennedy pointed to photographers, florists, graphic designers and even jewelers who might likewise be able to refuse working on a same-sex wedding if the court rules for Phillips.

“It means that there’s basically an ability to boycott gay marriages,” said the author of the 2015 opinion extending same-sex marriage nationwide.

If you win, Kennedy asked Solicitor General Noel Francisco, could the baker put a sign in his window: “We do not bake cakes for gay weddings?”

When Francisco said that would be permissible, Kennedy said, “And you would not think that an affront to the gay community?”

Francisco replied that there “are dignity interests on the other side here, too.”

On the other hand, Kennedy criticized the Colorado Civil Rights Commission that found Phillips violated the state’s anti-discrimination law.

“It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs,” Kennedy said. Craig and Mullins, he noted, could have been served by “other good bakery shops that were available” in the Denver suburbs.

Protesters on both sides filled the sidewalk in front of the court shortly before the start of the argument.

“We got Jack’s back,” Phillips’ supporters said. Backers of Craig and Mullins countered: “Love wins.”

Inside the packed courtroom, the liberal justices peppered Kristen Waggoner, Phillips’ lawyer, and Francisco with questions about how to draw a line to accommodate Phillips without eviscerating laws that require businesses that are open to the public to serve all customers.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan ticked off other categories of people who are involved in weddings to ask if they, too, might be able to refuse a same-sex couple.

A hair stylist? A makeup artist?

No, Waggoner said, “because it is not speech.”

Kagan replied: “Some people might say that about cakes, you know?”

More generally, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “What is the line? That’s what everybody is trying to get to.”

When Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger and the American Civil Liberties Union’s David Cole stood up to defend the commission’s ruling against Phillips, the conservative justices pounced.

Because same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado in 2012, Justice Samuel Alito noted, Craig and Mullins could not have obtained a marriage license where they lived or gotten a local official to marry them. Yet Phillips supposedly “committed a grave wrong” when he refused to make them a cake, Alito said. That struck him as unfair, he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed both Cole and Yarger on whether a Roman Catholic legal services agency that provides free aid would have to take up a case involving a same-sex couple despite the religious opposition to gay marriage.

Yes, Cole said, “if they’ve provided the same services to couples who are straight.”

Colorado native Neil Gorsuch, taking part in the most important gay rights case since he joined the Supreme Court in April, asked Cole whether a baker who made a cake shaped like a red cross to celebrate relief efforts would have to make the same cake for the Ku Klux Klan.

Cole said no because Colorado’s anti-discrimination law refers to race, sex and sexual orientation, among other categories, but does not protect KKK members.

One other possible result that emerged from the argument is that the justices could return the case to the Colorado commission for reconsideration if the court finds its first decision was tainted by the religious bias of a commissioner. Kennedy described comments made by one of the seven Colorado commissioners in the case as hostile to religion.

Colorado is among only 21 states with statewide laws barring discrimination against gays in public accommodations.

The case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 16-111, will be decided by late June.


Trump forges ahead on Jerusalem-as-capital despite warnings

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump forged ahead Tuesday with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump also told the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in phone calls that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.

Trump is to publicly address the question of Jerusalem on Wednesday.

U.S. officials familiar with his planning said he would declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state’s claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America’s consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.

Trump is likely to do the same, U.S. officials said, though less quietly. That’s why he plans to couple the waiver with the declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, according to the officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. Key national security advisers including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.

The concerns are real: Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could be viewed as America discarding its longstanding neutrality and siding with Israel at a time that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a “deal of the century” that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.” The president isn’t planning to use the phrase “undivided capital,” according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and would imply Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek for their own future capital.

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it’s also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday were still debating the particulars of the president’s expected speech as they fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

Any U.S. declaration on Jerusalem’s status, ahead of a peace deal, “would harm peace negotiation process and escalate tension in the region,” Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told Trump Tuesday, according to a Saudi readout of their telephone conversation. Declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the king said, “would constitute a flagrant provocation to all Muslims, all over the world.”

In his calls to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump delivered what appeared to be identical messages of intent. Both leaders warned Trump that moving the embassy would threaten Mideast peace efforts and security and stability in the Middle East and the world, according to statements from their offices. The statements didn’t speak to Trump’s plans for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, the head of the Arab League, urged the U.S. to reconsider any recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, warning of “repercussions.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Parliament such recognition was a “red line” and that Turkey could respond by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he reminded Trump in a phone call Monday that Jerusalem should be determined through negotiations on setting up an independent Palestine alongside Israel. Meeting U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said actions undermining peace efforts “must be absolutely avoided.”

Despite Trump’s comments to world leaders, U.S. officials said an embassy announcement wasn’t seen as imminent. Instead, they said Trump on Wednesday would likely sign a waiver pushing off any announcement of moving the embassy to Jerusalem for another six months.

Trump also will give wide latitude to his ambassador in Israel, David Friedman, to make a determination on when a Jerusalem embassy would be appropriate, according to the officials. Friedman has spoken in favor of the move.

As international pressure has mounted, officials have said Trump could try to limit the impact of anything he says on Jerusalem. Among the ideas under consideration: A Trump nod to Palestinian “aspirations” for a capital in east Jerusalem or his endorsement of a two-state solution to the conflict, something he hasn’t clearly given. The officials said it’s unclear if any of that might be included.

Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’ diplomatic adviser, said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator.

“This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded reaction by a Palestinian official. He said such recognition would lead the Palestinians to eliminate contacts with the United States.

Changing Jerusalem’s status would be “a stab in the back,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestinians’ chief delegate to Washington, told the AP.

Palestinian political factions led by Abbas’ Fatah movement called for daily protest marches this week, starting Wednesday. East Jerusalem, now home to more than 300,000 Palestinians, was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed in a move most of the international community has not recognized.


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Car chase through yards, cornfield leads to OWI 6th for Lake Hallie man

A Lake Hallie man is facing a felony charge of intoxicated driving 6th offense after fleeing through several yards and a cornfield after a traffic stop, resisting a blood draw and claiming to be deaf after holding conversations with law enforcement.

According to a Tuesday press release from the Lake Hallie Police Department:

On Monday, Lake Hallie police stopped Brian E. Nelson, 36, of Lake Hallie, driving a Honda Civic on 130th Street for a vehicle registration violation. Nelson told officers he was “Kathy,” the name of Nelson’s mother and the car’s registered owner.

After making contact with Nelson, the officers walked back to their vehicle. Nelson sped away from the scene, driving through the a subdivision known as the Horgan Addition, travelling between 55 and 70 miles per hour and making his way through “at least one residential yard.”

Nelson continued to drive at 40 to 50 miles per hour in 25 mile per hour zones, through several more backyards and a cornfield, toward his residence at the end of 43rd Avenue.

Nelson parked and attempted to walk away, but refused to cooperate when officers stopped him, “hiding his hands and kicking his feet.” Officers used a Taser on Nelson, but he still resisted entering the patrol vehicle. Officers suspected Nelson was intoxicated, and eventually drove him to a hospital for a blood draw, the department said.

At the hospital, Nelson had to be carried inside and refused to give consent for a blood draw. He then attempted to physically trip the officers, the department alleges, and claimed he was legally deaf, despite speaking with people in the officers’ presence.

After officers got a search warrant, a blood draw was eventually conducted. Nelson was arrested and charged with a felony OWI 6th offense, felony fleeing from traffic officers, resisting arrest and felony bail jumping. He was also cited for reckless driving and operating without required lamps lit.

It will be up to the Chippewa County District Attorney’s office to decide if charges will be filed in Chippewa County court.

On Dec. 7, Judge James Isaacson set a $2,500 cash bond for Nelson. Nelson is to return to court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16. Isaacson ordered Nelson to submit to daily preliminary alcohol breath tests at the Chippewa County Jail or enroll in the Soberlink or IDIP programs.


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City passes $12.5M budget, slightly higher tax rate

Chippewa Falls residents can expect to see their tax bills shrink this year.

The Chippewa Falls City Council quickly and smoothly passed a $12.5 million budget for 2017-2018 on a 6-0 vote Tuesday, then confirmed the vote at a meeting later in the night.

That’s a bump up from last year’s $12.3 million budget. The extra money will accommodate a fire battalion chief position, health insurance increases, wage increases and a debt payment increase of $60,000, said city finance manager Lynne Bauer.

The council also passed a tax rate of $9.18 per $1,000 of equalized property value, an increase of 1.6 percent over last year’s rate of $9.04 – but with the state forestry tax eliminated this year, many Chippewa Falls residents can expect their bills to be slightly smaller than last years’.

“We’re fortunate the overall taxing impact is (small),” said Chippewa Falls mayor Greg Hoffman.

Combined with the county, school district and technical college levies passed earlier this year, Chippewa Falls property owners will know what to expect on their property tax bills.

The owner of a Chippewa Falls house appraised at $100,000 will pay approximately $2,138.68 in total property taxes, according to city figures; that same homeowner would have paid $22.15 more last year if the house’s value stayed the same.

The tax levy for the city of Chippewa Falls comes to $6.7 million, a 2.4 percent increase over last year’s levy of $6.5 million.

Requests from Lake Wissota Improvement and Protection Association and the Chippewa Area History Center – both of which had approached the city in 2017 to ask for funding – were not included in the budget, Bauer said. The city may review those requests after the end of the year.

Hoffman thanked Bauer, the committees involved and the city’s department heads for their work drawing up the budget.

In other news, the council voted to transfer a liquor license from Glen Loch Saloon’s owners to an Eau Claire restaurant owner who is currently leasing the Chippewa Falls tavern.

Jordan Hedrington, owner of Bug-Eyed Betty’s restaurant on South Hastings Way in Eau Claire, appeared before the council Tuesday to request a liquor license transfer from the owners.

He plans to clean and “turn around” the tavern, Hedrington said, and may consider buying the building if his business does well during his lease.

Chippewa Falls Police Chief Matt Kelm brought up concerns, saying Hedrington has several past offenses that are alcohol-related: “There’s a number of these offenses that show a predication to not obey the rules.”

Hedrington told the council he regrets his past offenses, and that his bartenders will be licensed and certified in food safety.

The council ultimately voted 4-3 to grant Hedrington the license transfer, with Robert Hoekstra, C.W. King and Chuck Hull voting to deny the transfer.


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Stillson choir showcases talent on Eau Claire stage for Christmas

Student musicians from Chippewa Falls’ Stillson Elementary will get an opportunity to show Eau Claire their skill onstage this holiday season.

The Stillson Singers Children’s Choir will perform alongside the Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra at a “Sounds of the Season” concert at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the State Theatre in Eau Claire.

The musical group – this year, 104 students strong – is wrapping up its eighth year, and its numbers have never been better, its director Jennifer Kuehl said Tuesday.

In an average year the choir has about 60 members, Kuehl said. She attributes this year’s growth to Stillson students showing a growing interest in after-school music activities. “The first year I did it, eight years ago, I said, let’s just try this. My kids were singing really well in music class … When then numbers turned out like they did, it was very successful.”

The Stillson Singers’ big break came when Molly Nordin, a longtime director of Chippewa Falls school orchestras and violinist with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, proposed that Kuehl’s students sing with the symphony several years ago.

The opportunity fell through twice, Kuehl said. But this spring she jumped at another chance, and the Stillson Singers are now slated to perform several pieces at Saturday’s concert. “Third time’s the charm,” she said. “It’s an almost sold-out concert. They’re very excited.”

Due to the choir’s growing size and the lack of a large rehearsal space at Stillson, Kuehl now holds rehearsal two nights per week, and she praised her students’ work ethic.

She’s also surprised at the number of male students in her choir. “I’ve got 38 or 39 boys out of 104 (students) … that really excites me, that over the years, we’ve built up the idea that singing is for boys too.”

The concert’s set list includes the traditional hymn “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” “We Need a Little Christmas” and “Bring Us Peace,” with an audience sing-along slated for later in the night.

Kuehl has been with Stillson for 11 years, and has previously taught in Eau Claire.

The Stillson Singers Children’s Choir and Chippewa Valley Symphony Orchestra will perform at 4:30 p.m. at the State Theatre, 316 Eau Claire Street, Eau Claire. Tickets begin at $28 for adults and $7 for children. Visit www.eauclairearts.com for more information.