Category Archives: Legal News Roundup

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Patrick Lorio, CLS ’18

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in Gloucester v. G.G., a case determining whether Title IX gives transgender students the right to use school restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The Trump Administration, however, recently rescinded an Obama administration directive that told public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. In response, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded Gloucester to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to be re-argued now that the Obama-era directive is no longer in place. Although the Fourth Circuit had originally decided the case in light of the directive, the Fourth Circuit could still find that either Title IX itself—rather than just the administration’s interpretation of it—or the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment protects transgender students’ rights. [SCOTUS Blog, NY Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone]

After the chaos following the  implementation of a travel ban from seven majority-Muslim countries, which resulted in a nationwide injunction, the Trump Administration announced a new travel ban on March 6. The new ban excludes Iraq from the list of banned countries, exempts permanent legal residents, and removes priority entry for Christian refugees, an alleged religious test. The new ban, however, will soon have its day in federal court as well. Hawaii became the first state to challenge the ban, arguing that it still amounts to a “Muslim ban” that violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. [CNN, NY Times, Washington Post]

On March 6, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, which concerned a challenge to Colorado’s “no impeachment” rule. The rule, which is similar to those in many other state and federal jurisdictions, prevents jurors from testifying about statements made during jury deliberations. The convicted defendant sought to have a new trial because of alleged racist comments by two jurors during deliberations; the “no impeachment” rule, however, provided a bar to a new trial. Acknowledging that “no impeachment” helps ensure robust and frank discussion among jurors, the Supreme Court held that the rule cannot be invoked when jurors are claimed to have made remarks based on racial stereotypes. Justice Kennedy noted, “Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns,” justifying the exception to an otherwise sound rule. [SCOTUS Blog, NY Times]

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Courtney Irons, CC’18

In preparation for the upcoming fraud trial against Trump University, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel rejected Donald Trump’s request for a blanket ban on statements Trump made in the course of his presidential campaign. Trump’s lawyers argued that President Trump’s comments during the campaign regarding issues like sexual assaulting women, failing to pay federal income taxes, and using money from his charity foundation to buy a golden statue of himself were irrelevant to the case and unfairly prejudicial. Lawyers for the students argued that the statements were necessary to weigh Trump’s credibility in the fraud trial. The judge declined to issue a general ban on those comments, which included Trump’s statements on the judge himself, whom the President called “biased” because of his Mexican heritage. (Source: Reuters)

Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani declined to rule out the possibility of pressing charges against Hillary Clinton when Donald Trumps takes office. One of Donald Trump’s more controversial campaign promises was to jail Clinton once he became president. Giuliani, a rumored favorite for the Attorney General position, refused to comment on whether or not charges would ever be brought. He stated that although the tradition in politics is to move forward, if the potential evidence was “really bad” a prosecution may be worth the political instability. (Source: CNN)

California voters strengthened the death penalty within the state by rejecting a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty and by passing a ballot measure designed to limit death penalty appeals. The measure that passed, Proposition 66, is designed to expedite the death penalty process by limiting appeals and imposing a strict timeline on judicial proceedings. Critics of the measure argue that it will increase the likelihood of executing innocent people because it would limit the introduction of new evidence. Voters in Nebraska and Oklahoma also reaffirmed their states use of the death penalty. (Source: NPR)

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Rachel MacDonald, CLS’17

Mary Jo White announced Monday, November 14 that she will be stepping down as the Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of President Barack Obama’s term, three years before the end of her current term. White’s tenure resulted in more than 2,850 enforcement records, a three-year record for the SEC. White’s resignation will create room for President-elect Donald Trump to appoint his own nominee. President-elect Trump has pledged to restrict or remove the Dodd-Frank Act, a financial reform law enacted post-recession. The Washington Post reports that President-elect Trump has appointed Paul Atkins, a former SEC Commissioner under George W. Bush and outspoken opponent to Dodd-Frank, to replace White. (Source: ABA Journal)

On Monday, November 14, 2016, a federal court of appeals denied Adidas AG’s trademark challenge against Christian Faith and Fellowship Church’s “Add a Zero” fundraising slogan by ruling that the slogan had been used in interstate commerce. The Court of Appeals held that there was no de minimis exception to the Lanham Act’s use-in-commerce requirement, and that the out-of-state sale of two hats embroidered with the slogan was sufficient. Adidas brought the challenge against the church after being denied a trademark registration for its Adizero clothing line. Adidas’ trademark was denied due to possible confusion with the church’s trademark, which was registered in 2006. When registering for the trademark in 2006, the church had to certify that the trademark was to be used in interstate commerce under the Lanham Act; Adidas brought action for the cancellation of the trademark on several grounds, including lack of use in interstate commerce. (Source: Reuters Legal)

Internet Movie Database (IMDB), owned by Amazon, is suing the state of California over a law requiring the company to remove an actor’s age from its website upon the actor’s request.  IMDB argues the law, AB 1687, violates its right to free speech. While IMDB admits that age discrimination among actors is a problem worth addressing, the company claims that AB 1687 is written to unfairly target IMDB narrowly and does not ease age discrimination. A Seattle jury ruled in favor of IMDB regarding a similar issue in 2013. (Source: BBC News)

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Joshua Burger-Caplan, CC’18

The new CEO of Wells Fargo, Tim Sloan, remains committed to “cross-selling,” which is the practice of selling related or complementary products to Wells Fargo customers. This commitment comes mere months after it was discovered that, facing high sales targets, employees of Wells Fargo used cross-selling to create fake accounts and credit cards without customers’ knowledge. The elevation of Sloan, who has worked at Wells Fargo for 29 years, has led some to criticize the bank for not being critical enough in examining its internal culture. Sloan has insisted that this is not the case, and promised to bring in independent culture consultants to evaluate the bank. (Source: The Financial Times)

U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Pennsylvania Republicans. The suit challenged a law that disallows poll watchers from observing voting in counties other than the county in which they are registered to vote. The Republicans challenging the law argued that it infringed on their rights under the First Amendment to participate in the political process. In the past, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has warned Pennsylvanians about voting fraud that may take place, and has said that he will only lose Pennsylvania if the election is stolen from him. (Source: Huffington Post)

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina appears to have softened his stance on confirmation of a potential Supreme Court nominee should Hillary Clinton win the presidency, saying that he would “assess the record of any Supreme Court nominee.” On Saturday, October 29, he said at a private gathering that he would do his best to make sure that, should Hillary Clinton become president, she would not be able to confirm a new Supreme Court justice. Burr’s comments followed similar comments by Senators John McCain and Ted Cruz. McCain also walked back his remarks in the face of further media inquiry. (Source: Associated Press)

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Daniel Rodriguez, CC’18

The FBI announced in December 2015 that it would “dramatically expand[] the information it gathers on violent encounters” between law enforcement and citizens.  Acknowledging that “[p]eople want to know what police are doing, and they want to know why they are using force,” the FBI made this data collection “the highest priority.”  FBI Director James Comey recently speculated, however, that the numbers will not support the common notion that “there’s an epidemic of police shootings of black people.”  According to Director Comey, “a small group of videos” underlies the misconception that there is an epidemic of police shootings against people of color.  Whether Director Comey’s prediction will come to fruition will be determined after 2017, when the FBI begins collecting the information. [Washington Post, CNN]

Two criminal trials are receiving national attention.  The trial of the six men and one woman that occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January came to a close as closing arguments wrapped up on Wednesday.  During the six weeks of testimony, the prosecution focused “on the main charge of conspiring to prevent federal employees from doing their jobs at the refuge.”  The defendants attempted to recast the trial as revolving around “regulatory overreach by the federal government” rather than any negative impact on the jobs of the federal employees.  Whether the jury buys the defendants’ argument that they were “mere protesters who should not have been feared” by federal employees may have repercussions for future protests. [NPR, OPB]

Now in its fifth week, the Bridgegate trial shifted to the defendants’ case in chief after prosecutors rested last week.  According to the federal prosecutors, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, two former high ranking officials in the Christie administration, knew that the George Washington Bridge lane closures were intended to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich “after he declined to endorse [Governor Christie] for re-election.”  Baroni, however, counters that he believed at the time that the lane closures were part of “a legitimate traffic study.”  Michael Drewniak, the Governor’s long-time spokesman, testified to something similar, stating that “traffic problem[s] at the George Washington Bridge ‘was in the bloodstream’ of the [Christie] administration” and that no senior staff had “any knowledge … that [the lane closures] had been a plot of political intimidation.”  Drewniak’s testimony had the troublesome effect of pitting the defendants against each other.  As Baroni’s witness, Drewniak testified that he “went to speak twice to Bridget Kelly [about the lane closures]… but … she brushed him off.”  Kelly is expected to take the stand in a few weeks, and all attention will focus on conversations she claims she had with Governor Christie that hopefully “convince[s] the jury that there is something fundamentally unfair to hold her responsible for conduct that was widely known within the governor’s office and directed by others.” [Politico, NJ.com]

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Samantha Shalowitz, CLS’18

US District Judge Daniel Jordan III ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood and blocked a Mississippi law that barred medical providers that perform abortions from receiving state Medicaid funds.  In his ruling, Judge Jordan cited a similar ruling by the Fifth Circuit holding that such laws violate federal law.  In its complaint, Planned Parenthood argued that the law unconstitutionally limited patients’ rights to choose their healthcare providers and prevented low-income patients from receiving care.  The governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, issued a statement voicing his support for the law and disagreement with the court’s decision.  (Source: Huffington Post)

A federal appeals court in Washington ruled that the president has the power to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Though it did not dismantle the agency, the court ruled that the appointment process was unconstitutional, and made the director’s job subject to supervision, direction, and change by the president.  The ruling weakens the CFPB, considered one of President Obama’s signature accomplishments.  The CFPB was established in 2011 as part of the Dodd-Frank Act in response to the financial crisis.  Republicans have repeatedly tried to weaken the agency, and the court appeared to agree with some of their criticism, holding that the practice of having a single “unaccountable, unchecked director” is atypical and “poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decision-making and abuse of power” than does multi-member leadership.  The CFPB is exploring how it may challenge the decision.  (Source: CNN)

US District Judge Sharion Aycock ruled that a Mississippi woman cannot sue the government after being jailed for 96 days after indictment without an arraignment or seeing a lawyer.  The plaintiff, Jessica Lauch, asserted her innocence in jail and asked for an arraignment, but did not request to see a lawyer.  The court held that her right to counsel was not violated, and that she had no right to an initial appearance because she was indicted.  Jauch was arrested after police pulled her over for traffic violations and noticed she had an outstanding arrest warrant.  However, evidence did not support the charges, and, after Jauch’s lawyer contacted the prosecutor, the charges were dropped.  Jauch has filed notice of appeal.  The case is part of a larger effort by civil liberties advocates to reform Mississippi’s criminal justice system, which they say “provides almost no state funding for public defenders.”  (Source: ABA Journal)

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Gahee Lee, CLS’18

The Massachusetts Superior Court dismissed a motion arguing that charter school attendance was a civil right. In response to plaintiffs’ complaints that they were being deprived of their constitutional rights to “adequate” education when denied admission to charter schools, the court held that even if the plaintiffs were currently attending schools that rated lowly on the state rating system for public schools and were denied admission to charter schools solely because the applications outnumbered the available seats, there existed no constitutional violation. Contrary to the plaintiff’s perspective that a subpar rating could be interpreted as the state’s negligence of some of the schools, the court stated that the grading system was established to “identify the schools most in need… and then provide such schools with the ways and means to improve.” The court also cited judicial deference to the legislature as yet another reason to defer judgment regarding school choices. [Source: Huffington Post]

The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously struck down a law imposing restrictions on abortion providers, holding that the requirement that providers take samples of fetal tissue from patients younger than 14 and preserve them for state investigators violated the state constitution’s requirement that each legislative bill only address “one subject.” Designated to “thwart legislators from including provisions that would not normally pass in otherwise popular bills,” the “one subject” rule seeks essentially to prevent a situation where legislators must decide between either wholly passing, or rejecting, a bill. The court rejected the legislators’ explanation that the bill sought to both capture child rapists (by use of the fetal tissue) and protect women’s health. Four of the concurring judges noted that they would have rejected the law as an unconstitutional burden on a woman’ right to have an abortion. [Source: Reuters]

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida extended Florida’s voter registration deadline by at least 24 hours in light of Hurricane Matthew. The Florida Democratic Party has requested a longer extension given the “strong likelihood” that many of the state’s voters have evacuated to seek refuge from the storm. Governor Rick Scott, on the other hand, has refused to allow more time. The District Court’s judge is to determine on Tuesday, October 11th whether to further extend the deadline. [Source: CNN]

LEGAL NEWS ROUNDUP

Chad Klitzman, CLS’18

The Supreme Court has refused the Obama administration’s request for a rehearing of United States v. Texas. A 4-4 decision last term resulted in the upholding of a Texas court’s decision to blockade the implementation of President Obama’s executive actions for undocumented immigrants. In the event of a tie on the Supreme Court, the lower court’s decision is affirmed. The controversial program at issue, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), could assist more than four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States since 2010 and who have children who are either American citizens or permanent residents. [Source: CNN / CBS News]

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that indigent criminal defendants may sue for alleged inadequate funding in a Pennsylvania public defender’s office. The criminal indigents maintained that their inadequate representation resulted in impairments to their 6th and 14th Amendment rights to counsel. According to Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU, this decision will give criminal defendants the requisite standing to sue on the basis of inadequate public defender funding. [Source: ABA Journal]

President Obama commuted 102 sentences this week and has set a record for the greatest number of commutations in one year (590). In total, the President has commuted more than 774 sentences – more than the previous 11 presidents combined. The vast majority of the commutations are for drug crimes. White House Counsel Neil Eggleston explained that “The vast majority of [the grants] were for individuals serving unduly harsh sentences for drug-related crimes under outdated sentencing laws.” [Source: ABA Journal / USA Today]

Summer and Rusty Page are fighting to regain custody of their foster child in the face of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which was crafted in order to protect Native American children from large exercises of power by child welfare agencies. The legislation aimed to curtail the high percentage of Indian families broken up by the removal of their children, often without just cause, but the Pages contend that the law actually results in Indian children receiving disparate treatment – often resulting in placement against their own interests. [Source: ABA Journal]

Legal News Roundup

Sandra Bland's sister, Sharon Cooper, arrives at her funeral on July 25. Image via NY Times.
Sandra Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper, arrives at her funeral on July 25. Image via NY Times.

Media outlets continue to raise questions about the death of Sandra Bland, addressing the legality of her arrest and concerns that the dash cam video released by Texas officials was edited. The funeral for Ms. Bland takes place today. [ABC News, CNN, NY Times, ABA Journal]

Ted Olson and David Boies have voiced their support for the Equality Act, which seeks to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to comprehensively protect LGBT people from discrimination. Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU Louise Melling describes the added protections that the historic bill would provide as expanding the CRA to include a “more robust vision of equality.” [Politico, HuffPost]

The Eighth Circuit struck down a North Dakota law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat was detected, but urged the Supreme Court to reassess the viability standard. The Center for Reproductive Rights has called the law “the most extreme abortion ban in the U.S.” [ABA Journal, SCOTUS Blog, Center for Reproductive Rights]

The Texas Third Court of Appeals threw out one of the two felony counts against former Governor Rick Perry, finding that the applicable “coercion of a public servant” statute violated the First Amendment. Perry’s abuse of official capacity charge still stands. [Reuters]