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U.S. Supreme Court roundup: conviction for Facebook threats tossed, win for Muslim denied job over headscarf

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man accused of making threats on Facebook.

The justices ruled Monday that it was not enough for prosecutors to show that the comments of Anthony Elonis would make a reasonable person feel threatened.

Elonis was prosecuted for making illegal threats after he posted Facebook rants in the form of rap lyrics about killing his estranged wife, harming law enforcement officials and shooting up a school.

Elonis claimed the government had no right to prosecute him if he didn’t actually intend his comments to be threatening to others. But the Obama administration said that the test is whether the comments would strike fear in a reasonable person.

In other decisions Monday:

  • The court sided with a Muslim woman who did not get hired after she showed up to a job interview with clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch wearing a head scarf.

    The justices said that employers generally have to accommodate job applicants and employees with religious needs if the employer at least has an idea that such accommodation is necessary.

    Job applicant Samantha Elauf did not tell her interviewer she was Muslim.

    But Justice Antonin Scalia said for the court that Abercrombie “at least suspected” that Elauf wore a head scarf for religious reasons. Scalia said: “That is enough.”

  • The court rejected an Arizona county’s attempt to reinstate a state law that denies bail to people in the country illegally who are charged with certain crimes.

    The justices left in place a lower-court ruling that struck down the law that Arizona voters approved in 2006.

    The law denied bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and have been charged with a range of felonies that include shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder.

    As a result, immigrants spent months in jail and often simply pleaded guilty and were turned over to federal immigration authorities for deportation.

    Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have heard the case. It takes the votes of four justices to hear an appeal.

    Thomas, in an opinion for himself and Scalia, said the court’s action could give lower courts “free rein to strike down state laws on the basis of dubious constitutional analysis.”

    He said it is “disheartening” that another justice wouldn’t also want to review the lower court ruling.

    In November, the justices refused a request from Maricopa county to keep the law in place while the appeal played out at the Supreme Court. Thomas dissented from that vote, too.

  • A unanimous court said homeowners who declare bankruptcy can’t void a second mortgage even if the home isn’t worth what they owe on the first mortgage.

    The justices ruled in favor of Bank of America in two Florida cases where bankrupt homeowners wanted to “strip off” a second loan because they were underwater on the primary mortgage.

    Lower courts allowed both homeowners to nullify the second loans and the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed both cases.

    But Bank of America said the rulings conflicted with Supreme Court precedent. The company argued that the second loan might be repaid eventually if the property’s value rises.

    The homeowners argued that the second loans were basically worthless.

  • The court held that former Delaware prison administrators are immune from a lawsuit over a 2004 inmate suicide.

    The justices on Monday ruled against the family of Christopher Barkes, who hanged himself just hours after being arrested for violating probation.

    A federal appeals court ruled last year that the family could pursue claims that the prison violated Barkes’ constitutional rights by failing to conduct a proper suicide prevention screening.

    But the justices in an unsigned opinion said there was no clearly established law at the time giving inmates a right to adequate suicide prevention protocols.

  • The court also overturned the deportation of a Tunisian man whose crime was possessing drug paraphernalia.

    Mones Mellouli was deported after he pleaded guilty to the minor drug crime in Kansas state court. The item in question was a sock that contained four pills of the stimulant Adderall.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the court that federal law does not authorize deportation for such a minor offense. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

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