News Roundup

Afternoon Briefs: 2 death-row inmates test positive for COVID-19; US attorney in Missouri will resign

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2 federal inmates test positive for COVID-19 ahead of January executions

Cory Johnson and Dustin John Higgs, two federal prisoners who are scheduled to be executed on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15, respectively, have tested positive for COVID-19. In their announcement Friday, Johnson’s lawyers asked federal authorities to strike their client’s execution date. Higgs’ lawyer shared the news about his client a day earlier, after previously raising concerns that Higgs could contract the virus as cases increase in the federal prison system. As of Thursday, there were more than 300 inmates with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, where federal executions are carried out. The Bureau of Prisons confirmed in a statement that inmates held on federal death row and an employee who works in the unit have tested positive for COVID-19. (The Associated Press)

US attorney related to Michael Flynn case announces plan to resign

Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, announced Thursday that he will resign Dec. 30 and join a private law firm in the St. Louis area. He was nominated in 2017 by President Donald Trump and attracted national media attention in May, when he reviewed the prosecution of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice dismiss the criminal case against him. Flynn had pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI regarding his interactions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Jensen will be replaced by Sayler Fleming, the acting U.S. attorney. (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Associated Press)

EEOC offers employers guidance on requiring COVID-19 vaccines

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said this week employers can require their employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of going to work. The guidelines, which were published Wednesday, also say an employee can decline because of a disability or religious beliefs. In these cases, employers must offer reasonable accommodations, such as working remotely. Previous guidance from the EEOC said employers can require flu vaccines, as long as employees can seek an exemption for medical reasons under the Americans with Disabilities Act or for religious reasons under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (The Chicago Tribune, Law360)

Appeals court rules that elephant isn’t a human being

A New York state appeals court on Thursday affirmed a lower court’s ruling that Happy the Elephant is not a human being, and she is not unlawfully imprisoned at the Bronx Zoo, where she has lived for 40 years. The Nonhuman Rights Project, the group that brought the lawsuit in 2018, had argued that if the elephant was declared a “person,” she would be entitled to protection under the writ of habeas corpus. In its decision, the court said designating anything other than humans as “persons … would lead to a labyrinth of questions that common-law processes are ill-equipped to answer.” (The Bronx Times, the New York Daily News, the Associated Press)

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