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The Supreme Court agreed Friday to wade into the issue of sales tax collection on internet purchases in a case that could force consumers to pay more for certain purchases and allow states to recoup what they say is billions in lost revenue annually.

Under previous Supreme Court rulings, when internet retailers don't have a physical presence in a state, they can't be forced to collect sales tax on sales into that state. Consumers who purchase from out-of-state retailers are generally supposed to pay the state taxes themselves, but few do. A total of 36 states and the District of Columbia had asked the high court to revisit the issue.

Large brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target have long bemoaned the fact that they have to collect sales tax on online purchases because they have physical stores nationwide. Meanwhile, smaller online retailers, who don't have vast networks of stores, don't have to collect the tax where they don't have a physical presence.

Internet giant Amazon.com fought for years against collecting sales tax but now does so nationwide, though third-party sellers on its site make their own decisions. But the case before the Supreme Court does directly affect other online retailers, including Overstock.com, home goods company Wayfair and electronics retailer Newegg, who are part of the case the court accepted.

States say the court's previous rulings have also hurt them. According to one estimate cited by the states in a brief they filed with the high court, they'll lose out on nearly $34 billion in 2018 if the Supreme Court's previous rulings stand. The Government Accountability Office, which provides nonpartisan reports to Congress, wrote in a report last year that state and local governments would have been able to gain between $8.5 billion and $13 billion in 2017 if they could require out-of-state sellers to collect tax on sales into the state. All but five states charge a sales tax.


U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor will speak at the University of Alabama law school next month.

Sotomayor will participate in a discussion with dean Mark Brandon and U.S. District Judge Harold Albritton III on Sept. 12. Brandon says in a statement the school is honored to have her.

Former President Barack Obama appointed Sotomayor to the court in 2009. The New York native served on federal district and circuit courts before that.

Alabama isn’t an Ivy League university, but it has had a lot of success in luring Supreme Court justices to speak at its law school. Eleven justices have spoken in Tuscaloosa since a lecture series began in 1996.



A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected Ohio's new three-drug lethal injection process, jeopardizing the upcoming executions of several condemned killers.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati found the proposed use of a contested sedative, midazolam, unconstitutional. The court also ruled that Ohio's planned use of two other drugs the state abandoned years ago prevents their reintroduction in a new execution system.

After repeatedly saying it would no longer use those drugs — pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride — "but now attempting to execute condemned inmates with these very drugs, the State had taken directly contradictory positions," Judge Karen Nelson Moore ruled for the majority.

The court also favored arguments by attorneys for death row inmates that use of another drug altogether — pentobarbital — is still an option, despite Ohio's arguments that it can't find supplies of that drug.

An appeal is likely. Options including asking the full appeals court to consider the case or appealing straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office.

The ruling was a blow to the state, which hoped to begin executing several condemned killers next month. The first of those, Ronald Phillips, is scheduled to die May 10 for raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993.

Allen Bohnert, a lawyer for death row inmates challenging Ohio's lethal injection system, applauded the decision, saying the appeals court was correct in rejecting the execution process.

Executions have been on hold since January 2014, when inmate Dennis McGuire took 26 minutes to die under a never-before-tried two-drug method that began with midazolam. The same drug was involved in a problematic execution later that year in Arizona.

Ohio announced its three-drug method in October and said it had enough for at least four executions, though records obtained by The Associated Press indicated the supply could cover dozens of executions.

The drugs are midazolam, rocuronium bromide — like pancuronium bromide, a drug used to paralyze inmates — and potassium chloride.

The prison system used 10 milligrams of midazolam on McGuire. The new system calls for 500 milligrams. The state said there's plenty of evidence proving the larger amount will keep inmates from feeling pain.

Ohio also said the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of midazolam in 2015 in a case out of Oklahoma.

The court on Thursday said arguments by death row inmates that even 500 milligrams of midazolam could lead to a risk of pain were more convincing than counterarguments from the state.


The Supreme Court seemed to struggle on Monday over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

Justices considered the cases of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding pension plans covering about 100,000 employees. But the outcome ultimately could affect the retirement benefits of roughly a million employees around the country.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law and have been treated as such for decades by the government agencies in charge. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Workers suing the health systems argue that Congress never meant to exempt them and say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits.

"I'm torn," Justices Sonia Sotomayor said at one point during the hour-long argument. "This could be read either way in my mind."

Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Internal Revenue Service issued hundreds of letters over more than 30 years approving the hospitals' actions. That shows they were "proceeding in good faith with the assurance of the IRS that what they were doing was lawful," he said.

The case could affect dozens of similar lawsuits over pension plans filed across the country.

Much of the argument focused on how to read a federal law that generally requires pension plans to be fully funded and insured. Congress amended that law in 1980 to carve out a narrow exemption for churches and other religious organizations.


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