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2003 News Archive

This page is an archive of articles presented on the Current News page of the USConstitution.net site. On this page are articles that were posted in 2003.


12/15/03 New rules for automotive arrests set by Court
A unanimous Supreme Court authorized arrest of all passengers in a car when drugs are found in the car and no one admits ownership. In Maryland v Pringle, Joseph Pringle and two others in a car with him were arrested when during a traffic stop, police found a large amount of money and crack cocaine in the car. None of the three admitted ownership, so the police arrested all three. Pringle later confessed and was tried and convicted. He appealed the conviction on the grounds that the police did not have probably cause to arrest him. The Court disagreed with Pringle, reversing a Maryland court ruling. Writing for the Court, Chef Justice Rehnquist said that it was proper for the officer "to infer a common enterprise among the three men."


12/10/03 Court upholds campaign finance limits
In another sharply divided 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today upheld most of the provisions of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Law. Writing for the majority was Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the swing vote in the case. The law, which has been in effect since the start of 2003, severely limits so-called soft money contributions. These formerly unlimited and unregulated donations were given to political parties and other special-interest groups. The law also limits advertising that is funded by groups' general funds in a two-month window prior to the general election. Such advertising is still permitted, but only when paid for from funds raised specifically for such ads. The case is McConnell v Federal Election Commission.


12/03/03 Twenty seconds is long enough, Court rules
When Lawshawn Banks failed to answer the door because he was in the shower, the police were justified in failing to wait any longer when they broke in and found him in possession of cocaine, according to the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling. The Court ruled that the police do not have to wait more than 15 or 20 seconds after announcing themselves at the door when serving a search warrant before forcibly entering a home. To have to wait longer places too much of a burden on the police and would provide too much time to a suspect to flee, to destroy evidence, or to prepare an armed defense. On evidence, the police knocked at Banks' front door loud enough to be heard by officers at his back door, but Banks failed to answer. After a pause, officers broke in to find the cocaine their search warrant authorized them to look for, and a wet Banks, just out of the shower. Banks contended that the police did not wait long enough for him to respond.


11/10/03 Supreme Court will hear Guantanamo case
Over the objections of the executive branch, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that look at the indefinite interment of "enemy combatants" who are held at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. The prisoners have not been given access to family, lawyers, or the courts, with the President saying that they have no legal rights to any of these things. The prisoners, caught in actions in Afghanistan, were brought to Guantanamo for detention and interrogation. Lower courts have ruled that they have no jurisdiction over foreign nationals held by the military. The case was brought by 16 British, Australian, and Kuwaiti nationals held at Guantanamo. The case will not be heard until March.


11/10/03 States starting to abandon primary process
Calling them expensive and pointless, more and more states are dropping their primary elections, leaving political parties to fend for themselves. Maine, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Utah all dropped primaries for 2004, along with the legislatures in Arizona and Missouri, though those bills were vetoed. In some states, primaries cost millions of dollars to run, and because of early primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and other states, the remaining states have felt like their primaries are ineffectual in determining a party candidate. When a state does not have a primary election, the parties generally hold caucuses, party meetings that have a much lower attendance rate than even the poorly-attended primaries. Some parties hold a primary election, but fund it themselves, when possible.


11/03/03 Court refuses to hear Alabama Ten Commandments case
The Supreme Court today rejected an appeal of a federal court order requiring that a monument to the Ten Commandments, erected in a state court building by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Row Moore, be removed. The rejection means that the federal court order stands. Moore is scheduled for disciplinary action by an Alabama judicial court for defying the order.


10/21/03 Court rules that counsel need not be eloquent to be effective
The Supreme Court today ruled that just because someone's defense counsel is not "Aristotle or even Clarence Darrow," does not mean that the lawyer is ineffective. The case, Yarborough v Gentry, centered around Lionel Gentry's lawyer, unnamed in the decision, and his closing argument. In the monologue, he called his client a "drug addict, stinking thief, [and a] jail bird." The lawyer's point was that despite these things, Gentry should not be automatically judged on an assault with a deadly weapon charge. The jury convicted Gentry after six hours of deliberation. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Gentry that his counsel was ineffective. The Supreme Court reversed the 9th, saying, "The Sixth Amendment guarantees reasonable competence, not perfect advocacy judged with the benefit of hindsight."


10/14/03 Court agrees to hear Pledge case
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case the challenges the requirement that school children say the words "under God" when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The words, added to the Pledge in 1954, were the target of Michael Newdow, who sued on the behalf of his daughter last year. The 9th Circuit Court agreed with Newdow and struck down the words, though this decision was later stayed by the Circuit Court. The school appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. The Court also agreed to hear testimony on the legal standing of Newdow to bring the case, as his custody of his daughter has been called into question. Justice Scalia, who has spoken publicly against the 9th Circuit's decision, will not take part in the deliberations.


10/07/03 Court hears two federalism cases
The Supreme Court today started its docket by hearing two cases that hinge on federalism and states' rights. The first, Frew v Hawkins, is before the Court because Texas refuses to assent to an agreement that it signed onto. The other, Virginia v Maryland, is a relatively rare original jurisdiction case pitting the two states against each other over the Potomac River. In Frew, Texas took federal Medicare funds, signing a consent decree at the time agreeing to allow itself to be sued if it violated the decree. When the state was actually sued, it refused to recognize its own prior agreement. Though the Court has generally been seen to be moving toward stronger states' rights, the questions from the bench were skeptical of the reneging by the state. In Virginia, Maryland is suing Virginia for placing a water intake pipe in the Potomac, though the river is fully within the borders of Maryland. A special master found that Virginia had the right to the water, but Maryland is disputing the master's finding. Though ownership of the river would seem to support Maryland's claim, the master, and the justices, will look at historical agreements and compacts between the two states.


10/06/03 Supreme Court starts new term
The Supreme Court's new term started today, though the Court did not hear any arguments because of a conflict with Yom Kippur. The Court has granted certiorari in several key cases, focusing on the rights of the accused, including a look at Miranda rights, search and seizure rights, and the death penalty. The war on terror will also play a large part in the term. Other cases involving church and state, federalism in environmental controls, election disputes, discrimination, and employments will also be heard.


09/17/03 Ohio finalizes ratification of the 14th Amendment
Though its ratification of the 14th Amendment on January 4, 1867 is recognized as the official date of ratification, Ohio only today recognized its own ratification. That is because on January 15, 1868, Ohio rescinded its ratification, an act not recognized by the Secretary of State on July 28, 1868. Regardless of the federal recognition of the original date of ratification, an effort started by University of Cincinnati law students last year made the Ohio ratification final as the Ohio legislature authorized the ratification clarification.


08/29/03 Janklow charged with manslaughter
South Dakota Republican Representative and former governor Bill Janklow has been charged with manslaughter in the August 16 death of a motorist. Janklow, who is alleged to have been traveling at over 70 miles per hour when he drove through a stop sign, was elected to the House in 2002. Randolph Scott was killed when his motorcycle struck Janklow's car as it passed through an intersection and failed to stop.


08/20/03 Ten Commandments sculpture removal appealed
With his appeals rebuffed by two federal courts, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore has taken his case to the Supreme Court. Moore, who had a sculpture of the Ten Commandments placed inside the Alabama Supreme Court. The sculpture has been ordered dismantled and removed by Wednesday the 21st by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Moore asked Justice Anthony Kennedy, who hears emergency appeals from the 11th Circuit, to stay the ruling. Kennedy may act on his own or ask the full Court to rule in the request. If Kennedy takes no action, the ruling of the 11th Circuit will stand. Without a stay, the federal judge who required the removal has threatened to impose a $5000 per day fine on the state as long as the monument remains. The monument was installed two years ago by Moore in the rotunda of the state judicial building.


07/24/03 Internet used to promote freedom of assembly
Flash mobbing. A new activity requires the creation of a new term to describe it. Using the Internet, groups of people in certain cities, New York in particular, are organizing ad hoc gatherings where participants, identified by something unique like holding a copy of a particular book, perform a benign action once gathered, and then quickly disperse. The action is not known by participants until they arrive. In one example, the gathered group met in a hotel lobby, were told to applaud for 15 seconds, and then leave. Shortly after 7:00 pm, 200 people gathered, gave their applause, and left as quickly as they arrived. As word of the phenomenon is spreading, flash mobs are being organized around the world. Some have been political protests against the Iraq war or to promote a candidate. American organizers use the Freedom of Assembly as rationale for their own flash mobs.


07/21/03 Pledge case feud reaches Supreme Court
Michael Newdow, praised and cursed for bringing suit in California asking that "under God" be banned from the Pledge of Allegiance, is locked in a family law matter that could have a negating effect on the Court of Appeals decision that the two words must not be mandated by schools. Newdow, who sued on the behalf of his young daughter, is accused by the girl's mother, Sandra Banning, of having no significant contact with the girl, and hence having no standing in the original matter. If Newdow had no standing to bring the case, the case would be mooted and the Supreme Court would have no case to hear or rule upon. Banning, who is represented before the Court by Kenneth Starr, said she does not want her daughter to be involved in Newdow's legal battles.


07/01/03 Change in line of succession debated
By tradition, the order of the cabinet secretaries in the line of presidential succession is in the order the departments have been added to the cabinet. With the addition of the Department of Homeland Security, however, there is talk of breaking that tradition, and moving the Secretary of Homeland Security higher up the list. Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) says that the Secretary should come after the Attorney General in the line, because of the high profile nature of the office and the responsibilities of the department. A bill rearranging the cabinet in the line has passed the Senate and has been introduced in the House.


06/26/03 Texas sodomy law overturned
A Texas law that made it a crime to engage in homosexual sex was overturned in a 6-3 decision by the Supreme Court today. The ruling overturns a 1986 decision that upheld a similar Georgia law. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy characterized that decision as "not correct when it was decided, and ... not correct today." The Court ruled that the law violated due process rights. The case is Lawrence and Garner v Texas.


06/23/03 Internet filters in libraries upheld
The Supreme Court today upheld a statute the forced the use of Internet filtering software in public libraries. The Court ruled that forcing libraries to use the software, designed to shield children and other patrons from online pornography, is constitutional, and not a violation of free speech. The ruling noted that computers without filtering software can be installed in a library if the computers are not funded with federal dollars, and that procedures to disable the software for adult patrons who ask is also permitted. The case, U.S. v American Library Association, was decided 6-3.


06/23/03 Affirmative action affirmed and struck down
The Supreme Court today clarified its position on affirmative action as it alternately struck down one policy and upheld another. Both policies are in place at the University of Michigan - the unconstitutional one was in place for undergraduate admissions, and the other in place for the law school. The decisions reaffirmed the Court's position in the Bakke case, but did posit the imposition of a sunset on the constitutionality of any affirmative action in admissions. The law school's policy gives extra consideration to non-white students. The undergrad policy used a strict point-based system where race was assigned a point value. The Court said that the difference is in the inflexible or automatic nature of the point system, whereas the "extra consideration" system is more flexible. Pundits called the decision a road map for college admissions policies in the future. The law school case was decided in a 5-4 decision; the undergrad case in a 6-3 decision.


06/16/03 Limits on family prison visits affirmed
Noting that the "very object of imprisonment is confinement," the Supreme Court today unanimously upheld strong rules put in place in Michigan prisons, restricting family visits to prisoners. Under the Michigan law, no minors except children and grandchildren can visit, nor with former prisoners unless they are family members. To help reduce the risk of smuggling, inmates with two or more substance abuse violations could see only clergy and lawyers. The Supreme Court ruled on non-contact visits, as a lower court had already upheld the rules for contact visits.


06/16/03 Court allows limited drugging of defendants
In certain limited circumstances, the government can administer drugs to defendants, allowing them to be in a state where they can stand trial. The case, Sell v U.S., pitted Charles Sell, arrested for fraud and suffering from mental illness, against prosecutors who had him placed on anti-psychotic drugs so he could stand trial. The Court vacated the medication order and put in place tough new standards that must be followed to administer drugs. The 6-3 opinion outlined the rules: important government interests must be at stake; involuntary medication must further these interests; the administration of the medication must be in the defendant's best medical interests. A court could find that side effects of a drug could cause this last test to fail.


06/09/03 Agent Orange case ends in rare tie vote
Vietnam veterans seeking to sue the maker of defoliant Agent Orange got another chance to take their case to court when the Supreme Court deadlocked in a rare 4-4 tie. Justice John Paul Stevens did not participate in the case, and gave no reason for his recusal. In 1984, claims against Dow Chemical, Monsanto, and other companies were settled in a $180 million settlement. This case arose from former soldiers who got cancer after all the settlement money was spent. The case, Dow Chemical v Stephenson, will continue in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


05/28/03 State workers can apply for Family Leave relief
In a move some Court-watchers found surprising, a Supreme Court today ruled against states and for state employees, finding that state workers can sue for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The 6-3 ruling is seen as a blow to states rights from a Court that has upheld states rights in case after case for nearly a decade. In the case of Nevada v Hibbs, the Court found that the law intended to correct historical discrimination against male workers who were discouraged from taking unpaid time off of work to care for sick family members, a task usually left to women. The sex-discrimination angle distinguished the case from other similar ones won by states in past years. The Court's ruling means that states must provide the FMLA's mandated 12 week unpaid leave to care for sick family members.


05/19/03 Maine drug pricing rules can go into effect
In the case of Pharmaceutical Research v Walsh, the Supreme Court ruled today that Maine may enact a law requiring drug manufacturers enter into pricing agreements with the states or risk having their pharmacopeia be subject to a lengthy approval process. The drug manufacturers alleged that the law violated Commerce Clause provisions. The Court found that the companies did not meet their burden to prove a violation prior to the law taking effect. Ruling that the Maine law would not regulate the price of any out-of-state drug or out-of-state transaction, and did not favor in-state producers, the Court found that the law can go into effect. The ruling, delivered in a tangle of concurring opinions, was decided 6-3 and opens the door for similar laws waiting in the wings in other states.


05/19/03 Parking hearings need not be held within five days, Supreme Court rules
In an unsigned ruling, the Supreme Court today ruled that when the city of Los Angeles fined Edwin David $134 for illegal parking and had his car towed, the city was within the limits of due process to have held a hearing on the matter within 30 days. David had argued that his due process rights had been violated because of the length of time between the towing and the hearing - 27 days. The Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed, finding that a time of two to five days should have been sufficient. The Supreme Court overturned the Appeals Court, noting that the 30-day delay was nothing more than a routine delay, and not a violation of due process. The case was Los Angeles v David.


05/08/03 No recovery of missing 18 1/2 minutes possible
The Archivist of the United States, John Carlin, has determined that there is no hope of recovery of the infamous "missing 18 1/2 minutes" on the tapes of President Richard Nixon. The Archivist had convened a panel to determine if the erased portion of the tapes could be recovered without harming the tapes themselves. Using the same machines used to record and erase the sound, test tones were recoverable from test tapes, but intelligible voice was not recoverable. Carlin said, "We will continue to preserve the tape in the hopes that later generations can try again to recover this vital piece of our history." The White House tapes, and the gap in tape 342, were instrumental in the downfall of the Nixon presidency in 1974.


05/05/03 McCarthy hearings opened
Fifty years after secret hearings were held by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, the files were opened. The files showed no evidence that Communism was sweeping America during the Red Scare, despite the lives and reputations ruined by, what has been called in the years since, a witch hunt. McCarthy's investigative committee prompted the creation a the word McCarthyism, which used public fear and witness intimidation to further a political goal.


04/28/03 Ten Commandments case rejected by Supreme Court
A Kentucky case that pitted the state against 1st Amendment advocates was rejected by the Supreme Court today. The Court will not review a federal court's ruling that a six-foot tall sculpture that included the Ten Commandments cannot be erected on the grounds of the state capitol. In 2000, the governor of Kentucky signed a law requiring the sculpture.


04/23/03 Exception to Comity Clause upheld by Court
The Supreme Court today ruled that Nevada did not err when it allowed a suit against the California Franchise Tax Board to proceed in Nevada courts. The CFTB asked to have penalties applied to a former California resident, now living in Nevada. The resident, Gilbert Hyatt, moved to Nevada immediately prior to receiving payments for licensing fees for which substantial California tax would have been due. Hyatt sued the CFTB for committing torts against him. California law did not allow such suits, but Nevada law does. The CFTB asked the Nevada Supreme Court to reject the suits, but the court did not. The CFTB appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled unanimously that its current precedent regarding full faith and credit still applied. Namely, that a state did not have to apply another state's laws when doing so would violate the public policy of the forum state. The case is CFTB v Hyatt.


04/22/03 Court clarifies when to count directors as employees
The Supreme Court today ruled that four doctors who serve as the shareholders of a small medical practice are not to be counted as employees. In the case, a former employee of the gastroenterology practice sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that she was fired for her disability. The ADA law does not apply to businesses with under 15 employees. If the four doctors were classified as employees, it would have had more than 15 employees. If classified just as directors, it would have fewer. The District Court had found the doctors to be directors; the 9th Circuit Court found them to be employees. The Court agreed with the District Court. The Court, however, found that other circumstances may make the ADA apply, and sent the case back to the District Court for further findings. The case, decided 7-2, is Clackamas Gastroenterology v Wells.


04/07/03 Excessive punitive damages are unconstitutional, Court rules
Punitive damages in the amount of $145 million are excessive and violate the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment, when compensatory damages amount to only $1 million. The Supreme Court, split 6-3, ruled that using its recent decision in BMW v Gore, which overturned a $2 million punitive judgment on a $4000 claim, the $145 million award was far in excess of what is permissible. Though the Court noted that it has been reluctant to issue a permissible ratio, because cases differ and the "reprehensibility" of acts differ, it did note that in most cases, a single-digit ratio would be sufficient. The case, State Farm v Campbell, was remanded back to Utah for recalculation of the punitive award. The dissenters, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg, stated that they did not feel it the place of the Court to dictate "reasonableness" to state courts.


04/07/03 Court rules in cross burning case
The Supreme Court today affirmed that cross-burning can be banned by a state when the clear intent to intimidate can be ascertained. However, the challenge to a Virginia law, which found that the burning of a cross was in itself evidence that intimidation was the intended result, is unconstitutional. The law, in its plain language, stated "Any such burning of a cross shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate." Justice O'Connor wrote the Court's opinion. Several justices files concurring opinions, with dissent on several key points. Justice Thomas was the lone full dissenter, concluding in his opinion, simply, "Because I would uphold the validity of this statute, I respectfully dissent."


03/31/03 Court OK's judicial redistricting
The Supreme Court today upheld the redrawing of Mississippi's congressional districts by a federal court. State Democrats had asked a state court judge to redraw the lines, while state Republicans asked a federal court to do the same, after the state legislature was unable to come up with its own plan. The state court's plan was rejected by a federal court because it was not ready for approval in time for the 2002 elections. In 2002, Mississippi lost one congressional seat, and six districts had to be changed to five. The court also ruled that because the federal court's plan was upheld, an alternative plan, to hold at-large elections in the entire state, was unnecessary. The case, Branch v Smith, won unanimous approval of the court, though Justices O'Connor and Thomas dissented by saying that the at-large elections would have been the proper remedy.


03/19/03 War in Iraq begins
With bombs and missiles targeting Baghdad, the United States today, along with allies from Britain and Australia, began a war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The primary goal of the war is to topple Saddam himself and to bring down his Ba'ath Party's supremacy.


03/12/03 Census estimates it over counted 2000 census
The Census Bureau announced today that it estimates that it over counted the population of the United States by about 1.3 million person in 2000. It determined that whites, Asians, young children, and Indians on reservations were over counted while blacks and Hispanics were under counted. The announcement will not affect the current distribution of House seats.


03/10/03 Local governments qualify as "persons," Court rules
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today that whistle-blowers can expose a local government's misuse of federal funds under federal law. The challenged law, the False Claims Act of 1863 (amended in 1986), allows the whistle-blowers to sue local governments on the behalf of the federal government. Cook County, accused of mishandling $5 million in federal funds in 1993 through 1995, argued that the Act applies only to "persons," and not local governments. The Supreme Court had ruled in 2000 that state governments were not "persons" under the Act. However, the Court ruled, local governments are covered in the definition of a "person," and can be sued. The case is Cook County v U.S.


03/10/03 Supreme Court rules on asbestos claim
A split Court ruled today that the anxiety felt by someone possibly exposed to asbestos in the work place can be taken into account when calculating pain and suffering damages. Though the railroad workers in the case must prove that their fears were real and genuine, the 5-4 decision was a blow to the railroad that tried to have a $5.8 million jury award challenged. In another issue in the case, the Court ruled unanimously: when an injury was caused by several parties, the injured party can collect damages from just the railroad, placing the burden of collecting damages from other injuring parties on the railroad, and not the injured person. The case was a challenge to the federal Employers' Liability Act.


03/06/03 Man arrested for wearing "Peace" shirt
A lawyer was arrested last Monday for purchasing and donning a t-shirt that read "Give Peace a Chance." After purchasing the shirt in a Guilderland, New York, mall, 61-year-old Stephen Downs sat down to eat in the food court with his adult son. He was then approached by two mall security guards who requested he remove the shirt. When he refused, the police were called and Downs was arrested, charged with trespassing. The charge could carry a one-year prison sentence. The mall dropped the charges today, though it reiterated that it stands by its policy that no anti-war messages be allowed on its premises.


03/05/03 Strong Three-Strikes Law Upheld
California's Three-Strikes Law, whereby a career criminal can be sentenced more harshly upon an third felony conviction, was upheld by the Supreme Court today. The law, touted in California as the toughest in the nation, has several features which were challenged, including the "promotion" of some misdemeanors to felony status for the third conviction requirement. The law requires a 25-to-life sentence for the third offense. In Ewing v California, Gary Ewing was convicted of stealing golf clubs to support a drug habit. He had been previously convicted of four felonies. The theft is a "wobbler" crime, which can be classified as a misdemeanor or felony at the court's discretion. Ewing, sentenced to 25-to-life, appealed on 8th Amendment grounds. The Court was split 5-4 in the ruling. The Court also ruled on Lockyer v Andrade on a similar matter, also decided 5-4.


03/05/03 Sex Offender Registration Upheld
In a pair of rulings today, the Supreme Court upheld sex offender registration programs as constitutional public protections, and ruled that they are not unconstitutional double punishments. The programs, commonly know as Megan's Law programs, typically require convicted sex offenders to register with local police when they move into a neighborhood. The case, Connecticut Department of Public Safety v Doe, decided unanimously, was brought over the Connecticut version of the law that publishes the name, address, and photograph of registrants on the Internet. Two lower courts had held for Doe, saying that the law denied the offenders a liberty interest because the information was published without a finding of each persons' "current dangerousness." The Court ruled that the law in question did not require a hearing to determine a fact that is not material under the law - whether the person is currently dangerous. The law merely publishes the fact of an offender's prior conviction. In a second case, Smith v Doe, the Court ruled 6-3 that listing sex offenders released from prison before an Alaska registration act went into effect was not a violation of the Ex Post Facto clause.


03/04/03 Indian tribe can sue U.S., Court rules
The White Mountain Apache tribe can sue the United States under the provisions of the 1960 Indian Tucker Act. The U.S. set aside 400 acres of the tribe's reservation for use as a school in 1923. The Congress placed the land in the trust of the United States for the tribe, and granted the Secretary of the Interior the ability to use the land and any buildings for as long as needed. The government has maintained a presence on the land ever since. The tribe brought suit against the United States in 1999, charging that the now historic buildings were in need of repair. The suit asked for $14 million to repair and maintain the buildings, and was filed in Federal Claims Court, according to the terms of the Act. The government denied it could be sued, but a divided court decided that it could be. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Souter stated simply, "We granted certiorari to decide whether the 1960 Act gives rise to jurisdiction over suits for money damages against the United States, and now affirm." The case is U.S. v White Mountain Apache Tribe.


02/13/03 2003 budget passes Congress
Six months before the start of fiscal year 2004, the 2003 budget was finally passed by the House and Senate today. The $400 billion budget passed with wide margins and included spending for every government department except the Department of Defense. The bill passed its House committee only hours before it was voted on on the floor, prompting complaints from many Representatives that they had no idea what was really in the 3000 page bill. The Senate quickly adopted the House version verbatim.


02/07/03 GAO drops suit against Cheney
Thwarted by the Vice President and by the courts, the General Accounting Office has abandoned its attempt to get Vice President Dick Cheney to make public the records of his energy task force. The GAO's comptroller general said that while he finds the court's December 9, 2002 ruling for the Vice President to be in error, he did not feel that continued litigation was the best use of the GAO's resources.


01/24/03 New Department officially open for business
The new Department of Homeland Security was formally created today. The Department's Secretary, Tom Ridge, was sworn in today, taking the oath of office from Vice President Dick Cheney. The Department will eventually assimilate up to 180,000 employees from 22 other federal departments. The move from the various departments to the new Department's office space will begin March 1.


01/22/03 Ridge confirmed as head of new department
The Senate today voted to confirm President Bush's choice to head the new Department of Homeland Security, current Office of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. The Senate voted unanimously, 94-0, to confirm Ridge. The department is scheduled to become an actual department on January 24.


01/15/03 Extension of copyright within Congressional power
The Congress can enact laws extending the length of copyrights, so long as the terms have a definite end date, the Supreme Court said today in a 7-2 ruling. The decision is a victory for publishers whose body of works were set to have their copyrights expire after 1998. Congress extended the copyright period for 20 years, to a total of 70 years after an author's death. It not only created that term for new works, but automatically included all works, including those scheduled to revert to the public domain. The suit claimed that the death-plus- 70 term outstripped the constitutional authority of the Congress to grant copyright.


01/14/03 Court refuses to hear Columbine case
In 1997, two years before the shooting tragedy that brought it national attention, Colorado's Columbine High School started a program that allowed students and others to decorate tiles used in school renovations. School rules forbid tiles that were religious in nature. The tile tradition continued after the 1999 shootings, but grew litigious when the school rejected several tiles that included religious themes, including two made by Brian Rohrbough, whose son Danny was killed in the attack. Rohrbough created two tiles, one with 13 crosses (one for each student killed), and another with a Biblical passage. When they were rejected, Rohrbough sued to have them included. A federal judge overruled the rejection on free speech grounds, but then the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision, saying that the district had a right to censor a school-sponsored activity. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, letting the Court of Appeals ruling stand.


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