Nation & World Briefs 07-01-14 Americans confidence in the Supreme Court erodes, now 30 percent

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There was time when a majority of Americans were confident in their Supreme Court, but those positive feelings have been eroding in the last quarter of a century so that just 30 percent now say they have confidence in the institution, according to a Gallup poll.

The poll, released Monday, had good news and bad news for the high court, a unique institution that serves as a check and balance in the United States. People have more confidence in the court than in any other arm of government, but that may not be saying that much when confidence in the presidency stands at 29 percent and in the Congress at 7 percent.

Judges on the Supreme Court are appointed for life and, unlike members of Congress or the president, do not have go through the rigors of elections. But as national attitudes change on controversial issues including abortion, racial segregation and same-sex marriage, so too does the legal system's response. The Supreme Court may not follow polls, but changing attitudes can have an impact.

Since 1991, the first year Gallup began asking regularly about all three branches of government, the Supreme Court and the presidency have alternated as the most trusted branch, while Congress has been the laggard.

Can't make nonmembers pay fees: The Supreme Court dealt a blow to public sector unions Monday, ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover a union's costs of collective bargaining. In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.

Authorizes more toxic algae research: President Barack Obama has signed a bill authorizing $82 million for new research aimed at controlling toxic algae outbreaks nationwide. Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson from Florida sponsored the bill. The legislation streamlines existing national efforts to study and fight harmful algae blooms. It amends the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The president of the advocacy group Ocean Champions applauded the legislation Monday, saying that the frequency and intensity of algae blooms are increasing. David Wilmot said harmful algae outbreaks cost the country nearly $100 million a year.

Interest rates to increase: Interest rates go up today for students taking out new federal loans. This hike is relatively minimal but could foreshadow more increases to come. The change stems from a high-profile, bipartisan deal brokered last year by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama that ties the rates to the financial markets. Interest rates go from 3.86 to 4.66 percent on undergraduate Stafford loans. Graduate student loans go from 5.41 percent to 6.21 percent. Interest rates on Plus loans for parents go from 6.41 percent to 7.21 percent.

Ex-pastor pleads no contest: A former Pennsylvania pastor serving a life sentence in the fatal bludgeoning of his second wife entered a surprise no-contest plea Monday to charges that he killed his first wife in 1999. Arthur "A.B." Schirmer pleaded no contest to third-degree murder during a pretrial hearing in Lebanon County Court. Authorities reopened the investigation after Schirmer was charged in Monroe County with using a crowbar to kill his second wife, Betty, in 2008, and staging a car accident in an effort to conceal the crime.

McAllister will seek re-election: Republican U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister announced Monday that he's changed his mind and intends to run for re-election despite the scandal caused by a video showing him kissing a married female aide. In April, the freshman congressman said he wouldn't seek another term. But two months later, McAllister has reversed course and said he will be on the Nov. 4 ballot as a candidate for Louisiana's 5th District. "Without a doubt this decision comes after much thought and prayer," McAllister said in a statement.

Deemed generally safe: The latest analysis of childhood vaccines confirms they're generally safe. The report should be reassuring to parents, the researchers said. For example, there still is no evidence the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. Nor is there any proof vaccines cause childhood leukemia. The assessment mirrors and updates a 2011 report on vaccine safety by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. That report found vaccines can cause certain side effects but serious ones are very rare. Experts said such risks need to be balanced against the benefits of vaccines -- the prevention of millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths annually.

Sarkozy detained in corruption probe: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been detained and is reportedly being questioned by financial investigators in a corruption probe. A judicial official said today that Sarkozy is in custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named discussing an ongoing investigation, would not provide further details. French media reports said Sarkozy is being questioned in an investigation into financing for his 2007 presidential campaign. The case centers around whether Sarkozy and his lawyer were kept informed of insider information on the investigation by a friendly magistrate.

Iraq's new parliament convenes: Iraq's new parliament has convened amid pressure on lawmakers to quickly choose a new prime minster who can confront a militant blitz that threatens to rip the country apart. The inaugural session opened today with the playing of Iraq's national anthem. The proceedings are chaired by the legislature's oldest member, Mahdi al-Hafidh. The country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urged lawmakers last week to agree on a prime minister, president and parliament speaker before meeting in hopes of averting months of wrangling that could further destabilize the country.

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