WASHINGTON — The last time the Supreme Court took a hard look at how to impose sales taxes on home shopping, it was the era of mail-order catalogs — “before Amazon was even selling books out of Jeff Bezos’ garage,” lawyers recently told the justices.

In 1992, the high court upheld a constitutional rule that barred states from requiring mail-order sellers to collect sales taxes if the vendors had no “physical presence” in that state.

The rule was immediately seen by some as legally suspect. And with the explosion of internet sales over the decades, it costs state and local governments tens of billions of dollars in lost tax revenues.

Now lawyers for 35 states are urging the high court to overturn the physical-presence rule as outdated and unfair to them as well as to the struggling “brick and mortar” retailers who must collect sales taxes.

They have on their side a crucial ally: Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. Two years ago, he said the court should re-examine the 1992 Quill Corp. v. North Dakota decision as soon as possible. The ruling was “questionable” at the time, he said, and it is “now inflicting extreme harm and unfairness on the states.”

On Friday the justices will review dozens of pending appeals.

—Tribune Washington Bureau


Climate scientists exiled by Trump form panel to continue work

The Trump administration disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change last year but the scientists on the panel won’t be deterred. They’re taking their research elsewhere.

Columbia University’s Earth Institute has hired one of the committee’s researchers, Richard Moss of the University of Maryland, who will reconvene most of the former panel members and produce the same report.

The shadow panel, announced Thursday, is the latest example of how President Donald Trump’s antipathy toward climate change research and policy is pushing scientists into internal exile.

As a visiting scientist, Moss and the panel will produce the report, which is an addendum to the quadrennial National Climate Assessment, released in early November, that focuses on local impacts of the warming world. The effort is expected to receive some financial backing from New York state as well as administrative support from the American Meteorological Society, a professional group based in Boston. The report will be available for public and peer review in June.

—Bloomberg News


Missing Texas girls found safe in Colorado

DALLAS — Two girls thought to have been abducted from Round Rock, Texas, after their mother was found dead in their home were found safe Wednesday evening in Colorado, police said.

Police had been looking for Terry Allen Miles in connection with the abduction of Lilianais Victoria Cake Griffith, 14, and Luluvioletta Mariposo Bandera-Magret, 7.

The sisters, whom officials had been looking for since Sunday, were found safe, and Miles was taken into custody Wednesday in Colorado without incident, Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks said.

Miles was named a person of interest in the death of the girl’s mother, Tonya Bates, whose body was discovered Sunday when officers responded to a welfare concern at a home in the 2600 block of Leslie Court, police said.

Her death was determined to be a homicide.

The discovery set off a search for the girls and Miles, and an Amber Alert, which was canceled Wednesday, was issued.

Miles was a roommate at the home where Bates, 44, and the two girls lived. Police knew of no other relationship between Miles and Bates.

Miles, 44, was initially thought to have been headed to Louisiana but was spotted on surveillance footage Dec. 30 at a business in Trinidad, Colo., in the southern part of the state.

—The Dallas Morning News


South Korea says Trump agrees to pause military drills during Olympics

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump agreed not to conduct annual joint military drills with South Korea while the country hosts the winter Olympics next month, the South Korean president’s office said after the two leaders held a 30-minute phone call.

During the call, President Moon Jae-in assured Trump that South Korea would fully coordinate with the U.S. during bilateral talks between the two countries that are set to take place later this month to discuss the possibility of North Korea sending a delegation to the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Moon’s office said.

While the White House didn’t immediately provide a summary of the call, Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, appeared to confirm the decision to delay scheduled joint exercises, saying in a statement Thursday that “the Department of Defense supports the President’s decision and what is in the best interest of the” U.S.-South Korean alliance.

South Korea asked that the annual exercise be rescheduled to avoid exacerbating tensions around the Olympics. In a New Year’s Day statement in which he opened the door to talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un repeated his standing demand that the U.S. and South Korea halt exercises.

—Bloomberg News


20 dead in suicide bombing at Kabul police checkpoint

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 20 people have been killed in a suicide bombing that targeted a mobile police checkpoint in Kabul on Thursday night.

As many as 30 others were injured in the incident, Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, told dpa.

Casualties included both civilians and policemen, Rahimi said.

Rahimi said a protest held in the area earlier was over, but that protest organizers were still in discussions with police at the time of the bombing.

Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack through its mouthpiece Amaq news agency, according to Site Intelligence Group, a nongovernmental counterterrorism organization.

The militants said 80 police and intelligence personnel were killed and wounded in the attack.

According to Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, riot police were deployed to the area after protests turned violent, only to be hit by the suicide bomber.

Afghan police had launched an operation Wednesday in two Kabul city districts to arrest the sellers of alcohol and drugs — both of which are illegal substances in Afghanistan — and made 11 arrests.


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