The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether it is unconstitutional to exclude people living in Puerto Rico from Supplemental Social Security Income. The justices said they would hear an appeal, first filed by the Trump administration, of a lower-court ruling that held that residents of the U.S. territory should have the same access to SSI benefits as older, disabled and blind Americans in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The administration argues that a pair of 40-year-old Supreme Court decisions already upheld the federal law that created SSI and excluded Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories from it. Congress later added in the Mariana Islands. In recent months, a federal judge ruled that Puerto Rico residents should have access to other federal welfare benefits from which they have been excluded as well.
Girl dies after ‘exorcism’ in Sri Lanka: Police in Sri Lanka said Monday they arrested two people in connection with the death of a 9-year-old girl who was repeatedly beaten during a ritual participants believed would drive away an evil spirit. The two suspects — the woman performing the exorcism and the girl’s mother — appeared in court Monday to hear charges over the girl’s death, which occurred over the weekend in Delgoda, a small town about 25 miles northeast of the capital, Colombo. The court ordered the suspects detained until March 12.
According to police spokesperson Ajith Rohana, the mother believed her daughter had been possessed by a demon and took her to the home of the exorcist so a ritual could be performed to drive the spirit away. Rohana said the exorcist first put oil on the girl and then began to repeatedly hit her with a cane. When the girl lost consciousness, she was taken to a hospital, where she died. An autopsy was scheduled for Monday.
Rohana urged the public to be careful about such services as the girl was not the first to die during such a ritual.
French ex-President Sarkozy sentenced for bribery: Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been sentenced to three years on charges of bribery and influence peddling, a court in Paris ruled in a historic sentence Monday. The sentence includes one year in prison and two years of suspended sentence, according to a report by the press agency AFP and other French media.
Sarkozy was accused of trying, with the help of his legal adviser in 2014, to learn investigative secrets from Gilbert Azibert, then an advocate general at the Court of Cassation, regarding a separate investigation concerning campaign financing. In return, the ex-president is said to have offered to support the lawyer in applying for a post in Monaco.
The accusations were based on evidence from wiretaps. Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, and Azibert were also sentenced to three years each, both also including two years of suspended sentence. The trial is unique, as there have not been any allegations of corruption levelled against an ex-head of state in the Fifth Republic of France, which was founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.
U.N. experts urge independent probe into Navalny poisoning: Two top U.N. human rights experts urged an international probe into the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called Monday for his immediate release from prison. Agnès Callamard, the Special U.N. Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Irene Khan, the Special U.N. Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said Navalny’s poisoning was intended to “send a clear, sinister warning that this would be the fate of anyone who would criticize and oppose the government.”
“Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny’s poisoning,” they said in a statement. Navalny, the most prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell sick Aug. 20 during a domestic flight in Russia and was flown while still in a coma to Berlin for treatment two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the poisoning.
Prince Philip moved to specialized heart hospital: Prince Philip was transferred Monday to a specialized London heart hospital to undergo testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition as he continues to be treated for an unspecified infection, Buckingham Palace said. The 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II was moved from King Edward VII’s Hospital, where he had been treated since Feb. 17, to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which specializes in cardiac care.
The palace said Philip “remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week.’’ Philip was admitted to the private King Edward VII’s Hospital in London after feeling ill.
— Associated Press