Federal court strikes down Michigan districts

WASHINGTON — A three-judge panel on Thursday ruled that Michigan must use new congressional and legislative maps in 2020, potentially setting up a more favorable battlefield for House Democrats, who flipped two seats in the state last fall.

The federal court invalidated portions of the existing maps, drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2011, pointing to an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander that violates the First and 14th Amendment rights of voters.

The League of Women Voters and some Democrats had challenged the state’s 162 legislative and congressional districts, but the final suit only targeted 34 of those districts. Michigan has 14 congressional districts. The plaintiffs challenged the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th congressional districts.

After the 2018 midterms, Democrats now hold five of those nine seats, and the full delegation is evenly split between the two parties, 7-7.

The court found that all nine of the challenged congressional districts are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders “because they dilute the views of Democratic voters.” The court reached the same conclusion for seven state Senate districts and 11 state House districts.

The state legislature has until Aug. 1 to draw new maps and have them signed into law by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The court will draw remedial maps itself if that doesn’t happen, or if the new maps fail to address the “constitutional harm” the court found.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two partisan gerrymandering cases last month and is expected to issue rulings at the end of June.

— CQ-Roll Call

Judge grants $750K bond for triple-murder suspect accused of killing parents, brother

ORLANDO, Fla. — A judge Thursday granted a $750,000 bond for Grant Amato, who’s accused of killing his parents and brother in their Chuluota home in January.

Amato, 29, could be released from the Seminole County Jail if he procures $75,000. As part of the bond, Amato is forbidden from accessing the internet and will have to be monitored by a GPS device. He cannot leave Central Florida or contact any witnesses in the case, including his surviving brother, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler ruled.

Amato is accused of shooting his brother, Cody Amato, and parents Margaret and Chad Amato to death in their home Jan. 25. Authorities say Grant Amato was kicked out of his home that night after violating his father’s ultimatum to stop talking with a Bulgarian woman he met on an adult website.

Authorities say Amato stole more than $250,000 from his family to spend on tokens to talk with the woman. He’s forbidden from using funds from his parents’ estate to post bond.

Assistant State Attorney Stewart Stone requested bond be set at $25 million during the Thursday hearing, noting that Amato has extensive knowledge in computers.

“You can do a lot with a computer,” Stone said. “You can create false identification, change your identity, create travel documents. … A person can virtually disappear.”

Stone also said he was concerned about Amato’s connection with Silvie, the Bulgarian woman whom he claimed to be in love with.

“That is certainly one incentive for him to leave this country and go to Bulgaria,” Stone said.

Amato’s attorney, Jeff Dowdy, said his client has been cooperative since his arrest in January. He said Amato had the opportunity to flee after Seminole County Sheriff’s investigators released him for a short while after he was initially interviewed by detectives.

— Orlando Sentinel

Ocasio-Cortez deletes tweet misidentifying a fellow House Democrat as an ‘older male’ Republican

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is seeing red.

The rookie New York Democrat tweeted and quickly deleted a post Thursday that misidentified Kentucky’s only Democratic member of Congress as a Republican “older male.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s since-deleted tweet was referencing a post issued by the Republican Party of Kentucky featuring a photo of Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., grinning next to a cardboard cutout of the Bronx-born Democrat.

“GOP: Let’s pose our older male members next to cardboard cutouts of young female legislators,” Ocasio-Cortez posted in response to the Kentucky GOP’s post.

The Kentucky Republican Party’s post accused Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive Democrats of attempting to force Yarmuth to “bend to their radical, extremist will” by suggesting he could face a primary challenge in 2020 if he doesn’t voice support for “Medicare for All” legislation.

Within an hour, Ocasio-Cortez, 29, had deleted the post following pushback from Republican social media users who pointed out that Yarmuth is one of her Democratic colleagues.

“Maybe if @AOC spent more time interacting with lawmakers and less time making coloring books, she’d recognize the other socialist Democrats in her caucus,” the House Republican campaign committee tweeted.

A spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment.

— New York Daily News

FBI to meet with Florida governor to discuss election-hacking attempts by Russians

MIAMI — Silent so far on new information that Russian hackers may have phished their way into a local elections office, the FBI has agreed to meet next month with Florida officials to brief them on the topic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, both Republicans, each said Thursday that the FBI has reached out about scheduling a meeting within the next few weeks to discuss election hacking. The current and former governor have been critical of federal authorities for remaining silent in the weeks since Robert Mueller’s Russian elections interference report said the FBI believes Russian hackers were able to “gain access” to “at least one” Florida county government computer network.

“They won’t tell us which county it was. Are you kidding me? Why would you not say something immediately?” DeSantis said Thursday in Miami, where he made an appearance to name two new members of the Third District Court of Appeal. “We’re looking for answers. I think finally next week we’re going to get somebody, or maybe the week after we’re going to have somebody come brief us on what happened.”

DeSantis’ office did not provide additional details about the meeting, and the FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was widely known long before Mueller’s report was published last week that hackers tried to worm their way into Florida elections offices by sending emails with malware-laced attachments. At least 120 emails, which Mueller confirmed were sent by hackers associated with the Russian intelligence agency GRU, were created to look like they were coming from a popular elections vendor.

But Mueller’s report was the first official statement to indicate that any of those attempts may have been successful.

Some local election officials have confirmed that they received emails made to look like they were coming from vendor VR Systems, but none say they were successfully hacked. On Thursday, Broward’s elections office confirmed for the first time that it, too, received three of the fake emails but only after the office’s email quarantine system flagged the attachments and kept them from being opened.

Florida election officials continue to insist that they have no evidence to suggest that the network was hacked. Secretary of State Laurel Lee says she spoke with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after the Mueller report was released and was assured that the 2016 election results were not affected.

— Miami Herald