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News Briefs I

Supreme Court Ruling Weakens Voting Rights Act Implementation

Los Angeles Times

The Supreme Court made it slightly harder Monday for the Justice Department to block changes in electoral districts that could reduce the political clout of African-Americans and other minorities.

Interpreting the Voting Rights of 1965, the court said the law empowers federal civil rights officials to "freeze" proposed changes only when it is clear they will cut back on the number of minority representatives.

A plan that may unfairly dilute the voting clout of a minority community can be challenged later, but not blocked in advance, the court said on a 7-2 vote.

The case from a rural Louisiana school board clarifies one provision of the 1965 law. A special provision known as Section 5 was added to prevent cities, counties, school boards and other government bodies throughout the South from switching their voting "standards, practices or procedures" so as to hurt minorities.

Marxists Demonstrate Their Importance to Italian Government

Los Angeles Times

Italy's center-left government, struggling to reform the welfare state and qualify for European monetary union, got a troubling reminder from voters Monday of its dependence on a minority party of diehard Marxists opposed to deep cuts in social spending.

Sunday's runoff elections for 77 mayors and five provincial leaders completed the first test of voter support for Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government since it took office in April 1996 and made Italy's entry into the single-currency club its top priority.

Returns Monday suggested a draw between Prodi's Olive Tree coalition and the right-wing opposition Freedom Alliance, each winning in four of the biggest cities up for grabs.

But outcomes in Milan and Turin, twin industrial centers of the north, underscored the small Refounded Communist Party's ability to spell the difference.

Turin's mildly leftist mayor, Valentino Castellani, had finished far behind his Freedom Alliance rival in first round voting April 27, but he won re-election by less than a 1 percent margin Sunday after seeking and winning the Refounded Communists' endorsement.

The Olive Tree candidate in Milan, Aldo Fumagalli, refused to court the hard-left party and lost to Gabriele Albertini of the Freedom Alliance in a race between businessmen to manage Italy's financial capital. The winner got 53 percent of the vote.

The Refounded Communists had won 8 percent of the first-round vote in Milan and 10 percent in Turin, prompting party leader Fausto Bertinotti to warn that Olive Tree candidates there faced "suicide" in the runoffs without his blessing. Bertinotti said Sunday's returns proved his party is indispensable to the ruling coalition.

Researchers Link Protein To Cause of Mental Retardation


Researchers have pinpointed the precise brain damage that results in Fragile X Syndrome, the most common genetic cause of mental retardation. The finding could ultimately lead to a way to correct the genetic defect, scientists say.

William Greenough, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, found that the protein missing in people with Fragile X Syndrome is necessary for brain cells to communicate with one another.

Specifically, the protein is crucial for normal chemical functioning at synapses, the junctions where brain cells meet and exchange signals. Without this protein, people may not be able to process information correctly, Greenough said.

The study was published in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.