Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 26, 2019

Judges rule Michigan's voting maps were unfairly gerrymandered, Biden quickly collects endorsements, and more


Judges rule Michigan election maps unfairly gerrymandered by GOP

A three-judge panel ruled Thursday that Michigan's congressional and state legislative maps were unconstitutional, saying the Republicans who drew them violated Democrats' 1st and 14th Amendment rights by packing them into overwhelmingly Democratic districts to water down their voting power and benefit Republicans. "Today, this court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," wrote Judge Eric Clay, one of the judges on the panel. Similar cases have already been referred to the Supreme Court. The outcome of those cases could determine whether Michigan will have to draw new maps in time for the 2020 elections.


Biden quickly collects endorsements

Former Vice President Joe Biden received a wave of endorsements Thursday within hours of announcing that he was running for president. His supporters included Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.). Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) said Biden's experience, relationships, and "gravitas" made him "exactly what America needs right now." According to FiveThirtyEight, Biden has received the most out-of-state endorsements of any 2020 Democrat, and he enters the 20-candidate field for the Democratic nomination as an instant front-runner. Biden's former colleagues touted his experience and legislative accomplishments, with Casey also stressing his electability. Former President Barack Obama, through a spokesperson, praised Biden on Thursday but did not endorse him, and Biden told reporters he asked Obama not to do so.


Report: North Korea demanded $2 million for Otto Warmbier's hospital care

North Korea reportedly billed the U.S. $2 million for Otto Warmbier's medical care before handing over the then-comatose University of Virginia student in 2017. A U.S. envoy signed an agreement to pay with the approval of President Trump, who insists "nothing" was paid to get back American "hostages" from North Korea. Warmbier, who was 21, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after he was accused of a "hostile act against the state" — taking down a propaganda poster in his hotel. He fell into a coma for disputed, murky reasons shortly after his sentencing. He died days after his release. Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, said the so-called hospital bill sounded more like a "ransom."


Sri Lanka lowers death toll from bombings

Sri Lanka on Thursday lowered the official death toll from the Easter Sunday suicide bombings from 359 to 253. The Sri Lankan Health Ministry said the initial overestimate was caused by the fact that the blasts at three churches and three hotels were so powerful that they blew apart some of the victims' bodies, "making the identification of full bodies difficult." Authorities have arrested at least 58 people in connection with the attacks, including a wealthy spice trader whose two sons were among the alleged suicide bombers. The U.S. Embassy warned places of worship could be targeted in fresh attacks this weekend, and some churches canceled prayer gatherings.


FBI agents raid office, home of Baltimore mayor

FBI agents on Thursday raided Baltimore City Hall and the home of Mayor Catherine Pugh under an expanding investigation into allegedly suspicious sales of her self-published "Healthy Holly" children's book series. Maryland's Republican governor, Larry Hogan, asked the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor early this month to look into sales of the Democratic mayor's books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she served on its board. "Mayor Pugh has lost the public trust," Hogan said after the raids. "She is clearly not fit to lead. For the good of the city, Mayor Pugh must resign." Pugh already has taken a leave of absence. Her lawyer said her legal team "will continue to vigorously defend the mayor, who is entitled the presumption of innocence."


Trump administration postpones offshore drilling expansion after court loss

The Trump administration has postponed indefinitely its plan to dramatically expand offshore oil and gas drilling, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal in an article published Thursday. The move comes after a federal judge in Alaska last month put the proposal on hold pending what could be time-consuming appeals. Coastal communities have protested President Trump's lifting of former President Barack Obama's ban on drilling in some sections of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The Trump administration is expected to appeal the judge's decision. Bernhardt said the plan would remain on hold while the court proceedings continue.


Former Florida police officer sentenced for killing black motorist

A Florida judge on Thursday sentenced former police officer Nouman Raja to 25 years in prison for fatally shooting black motorist Corey Jones, whose SUV had broken down on an I-95 exit ramp. Jones, 31, was a musician returning from a nightclub performance early on Oct. 18, 2015. He was on the phone with a roadside assistance service when Raja, a plainclothes Palm Beach Gardens police officer, pulled up in an unmarked van. Jones, who had a $10,000 drum kit in his vehicle, thought he was being robbed, and pulled out his legally held pistol. Raja shot him repeatedly without identifying himself as a police officer. Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, one of the Jones family attorneys, said Raja was the first Florida police officer convicted for killing a black person in decades, so his sentencing marked "a milestone."


Federal judge blocks Trump abortion 'gag rule'

A federal judge in Washington state on Thursday temporarily blocked new Trump administration restrictions that would have barred federally funded health-care providers from referring women for abortions. U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian said the Department of Health and Human Services policy, which critics call a "gag rule," likely violated funding and health-care laws. "It reverses long-standing positions of the Department without proper consideration of sound medical opinions and the economic and non-economic consequences," he wrote. The restrictions would apply to Title X program family planning funds that benefit four million low-income women. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health services in the U.S., would have been hit especially hard. Groups already are barred from providing abortions with the funds.


Massachusetts judge charged with obstruction in immigration case

Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged Massachusetts Judge Shelley Richmond Joseph with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping an immigrant avoid being taken into custody by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. The immigrant had been deported before, and barred from returning to the U.S. until 2027. ICE learned that the man had reentered the U.S. and been arrested on narcotics and fugitive-from-justice charges. The plainclothes ICE officer went to the courthouse to detain the immigrant on the day of his hearing. Prosecutors accused Joseph and then-trial-court officer Wesley MacGregor of conspiring to let the immigrant leave by a different exit while the ICE officer waited in the lobby. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the case "is about the rule of law," not the politics of immigration.


Avengers: Endgame opens with records in sight

Avengers: Endgame opened in the U.S. with Thursday previews as film-industry analysts predict the Marvel sequel will surpass Avengers: Infinity War's opening weekend of $257 million. Many have predicted the film will gross between $260 million and $270 million in what would be the biggest domestic opening in history, with some estimating North American debut ticket sales of $300 million. Only six movies in history have achieved a domestic opening greater than $200 million. With the movie opening in 4,600 theaters in North America, it will have the widest release ever. Endgame is expected to rake in $850 million to $900 million in its global debut, possibly even topping $1 billion. The film already has smashed records for pre-sold tickets.


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