By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday gave local government officials across the United States more leeway to begin public meetings with a prayer, ruling that sectarian invocations do not automatically violate the U.S. Constitution. The court said on a 5-4 vote that the town of Greece in New York state did not violate the Constitution's ban on government endorsement of religion by allowing Christian prayers before monthly meetings. Although such prayers have long been a tradition in some communities, the high court had never before expressly said sectarian prayers could be constitutional in some circumstances or specifically held that prayers could be given before meetings of local government entities. Politicians from both major political parties, including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had backed the town.
By Bernard Vaughan NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Texas woman pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of arranging illegal contributions to the 2010 campaign of embattled U.S. Representative Michael Grimm, a New York Republican. Diana Durand, a former fundraiser for Grimm, pleaded not guilty in New York to charges of funneling more than $10,000 to two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 with the help of straw donors, in violation of a federal law that capped individual contributions to political candidates at $4,800. The three-count indictment handed down last month does not name Grimm, though Durand's lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, confirmed after Monday's hearing at federal court in Brooklyn that Grimm was one of the candidates in question. The complaint filed against Durand included an excerpt from an April 2010 e-mail in which prosecutors said she thanked two straw donors, who use someone else's money to make campaign contributions in their own name.
By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former prosecutor and critic of the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks was picked on Monday to head a Republican-led congressional investigation of the deadly assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, a member of the House Oversight Committee, will lead a new panel investigating the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. "I know he shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration," House Speaker John Boehner said, announcing Gowdy as his pick as chairman of the select committee. Boehner had announced he was forming the new panel on Friday, the same day the Oversight Committee announced a rare subpoena of a cabinet official, Secretary of State John Kerry, to testify about Benghazi.
By Edith Honan NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released a plan on Monday to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade - a centerpiece of his strategy to address economic inequality in the nation's largest city. The liberal mayor's proposal, requiring a $41 billion investment to build 80,000 units and preserve 120,000 more, would provide enough housing for more than half a million New Yorkers. "And so we are marshaling every corner of government and the private sector in an unprecedented response." De Blasio, who took office in January as the city's first Democratic mayor in two decades, campaigned for office decrying the "tale of two cities" that has emerged as New York is torn by a yawning gap between rich and poor. A report released last month by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that almost half of all New Yorkers spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, while a third spend at least half on housing.