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Benefits wrongly denied, justices rule

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the government has wrongly denied monthly benefits and free medical care to poor, disabled children by imposing stringent, unfair guidelines for eligibility. The ruling may affect tens or even hundreds of thousands of low-income, handicapped children denied Social Security benefits over the past 15 years. The court ordered federal officials to individually evaluate children to see if they are disabled, rather than rely on a list of disabling conditions, as they have done since 1974, when children were first made eligible for the benefits.School district's appeal rejected

The Supreme Court rejected the appeal of a Georgia school district that has been ordered to pay legal fees incurred in administrative hearings. The hearings involved a couple who successfully fought to get their handicapped daughter a "free and appropriate" education as provided by federal law. The court, without comment, let stand a ruling that the federal law authorizes such lawyer-fee awards. Lawyers for the Muscogee County School District had argued that the fees may be awarded only when parents who invoke the federal law prevail in court, not in administrative proceedings.

Libel suit ordered held in Virginia courts

The Supreme Court refused to block a state court libel lawsuit against the NAACP by a white Virginia police officer who fatally shot a 22-year-old black man. The justices, without comment, let stand a ruling that the suit against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and one of its officials must be tried in state, rather than federal, court. The officer, Eddie Upchurch of Virginia Beach, shot and killed Fred T. Gilchrist on June 20, 1987. Upchurch said he fired unintentionally when Gilchrist tried to grab his gun. Aaron Wheeler of the local NAACP branch was quoted in the Virginia Pilot as calling the shooting a murder. The NAACP tried to have the case moved from state courts, arguing that a black accused of libeling a white cannot get a fair trial in Virginia.

Nevada speed-limit challenge rejected

The Supreme Court rejected Nevada's challenge of a federal law that requires states to set a speed limit of 55 mph in return for highway construction money. In 1985, Nevada raised the speed limit on some rural highways to 70 mph on the grounds that the lower limit imposed hardships on its residents. After the Transportation Department threatened to cut off Nevada's highway financing, the state went to court, arguing that the law unconstitutionally coerces states to comply with national policies. While the case was pending, Congress amended the law to allow states to raise the speed limit on certain interstate highways in rural areas to 65 mph. The justices rejected Nevada's appeal in a brief order.

Dismissal of shuttle suit stands

The Supreme Court let stand the dismissal of a $500-million lawsuit by the wife of the pilot killed in the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. Jane Smith, wife of Navy Capt. Michael Smith, sought damages for the alleged negligence by the U.S. government and Lawrence Mulloy, who was the manager of the NASA's rocket-booster program. Lower courts had rejected the lawsuit, citing a 1950 Supreme Court ruling that gives the U.S. government broad immunity from lawsuits for injuries to military personnel for service-related activities.

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