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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 2002.
12/24/02 Bush issues pardons
President George Bush exercised his pardon power for the first time today, pardoning seven persons convicted of various crimes since 1957. One case involved Olgen Williams, a former postal worker who served a year in prison for stealing $10.90 from the mails over 30 years ago. Since his release, Williams had earned three college degrees and runs an Indianapolis community center. The pardon wipes the conviction from Williams' record. Another case involved Douglas Rogers, a devout Jehovah's Witness who was convicted in 1957 is draft dodging. One other involved a moonshiner whose conviction in 1962 for tax evasion led to a denial of a gun license 40 years later; the pardon will allow Kenneth Copley to purchase and own a gun.
12/22/02 Shake-up in Senate leadership
Following the resignation of Republican Senate leader Trent Lott, it appears that the first choice of President George Bush for the spot will be Senator Bill Frist. Lott, who ignited a storm of controversy over remarks made at retiring Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party on December 5, announced on the 20th that he would not run for the office, which would have made him Senate Majority Leader when the new Republican majority is sworn in next month. Lott commented that the United States would be a much different place had Thurmond won the presidency in 1948. In 1948, Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat, on an segregationist platform. The statement was taken to be insensitive to black Americans and though Lott apologized, the controversy would not die.
12/10/02 Court upholds legal Catch-22 in gun case
A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled that a felon wishing to restore his right to own a gun may not apply for a waiver through the court system. The waiver must be applied for through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. However, the BATF is not processing such waiver requests, on the orders of Congress. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the courts would be an applicable venue if the waiver application were denied. The BATF is not currently processing any waiver requests, and Thomas ruled that this is not the same as a denial, and the plaintiff argued.
12/09/02 GAO suit against Cheney dismissed
A federal judge dismissed the General Accounting Office's suit against the office of the Vice President today, saying the GAO lacked standing. The GAO, the investigative arm of the Congress, had brought suit to force Vice President Dick Cheney to release the names of energy executives with whom he met while formulating White House energy policy, long with date and times of meetings and topics of conversation. The GAO can appeal. The decision does not affect a similar suit brought by private groups.
12/09/02 President nominates new Treasury Secretary
Following the resignation last week of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, President Bush nominated CSX Chair John Snow to replace O'Neill. The nomination was a surprise, as few had thought of Snow as a replacement. Snow was an assistant secretary of transforation in the Ford administration, and has chaired CSX, one of the nation's largest rail lines, since 1991.
12/03/02 Federal rules no bar to state court case
The facts that there is a federal law governing boat safety, and that Coast Guard sets rules about boat safety, do not preclude someone from bringing state action against a boat manufacturer, the Supreme Court ruled today. In Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, the Court ruled that a state tort action could be taken against Mercury for its lack of propeller guards on an engine that maimed and killed a passenger who fell out of a boat onto a spinning propeller, even though the Coast Guard had ruled that propeller guards were not necessary, and that the Federal Boating Safety Act of 1971, which was intended to establish minimum safety standards. Mercury argued that because of the federal rules, state action was pre-empted. The decision allows Sprietsma to pursue his case in state court. The decision of the Court was unanimous.
12/02/02 Court to reexamine Miranda, again
With the new war on terror adding a twist, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case questioning the Court's 1962 Miranda warning requirement. In 1997, Oliverio Martinez was shot by police. Martinez had been riding his bicycle through a field where police were questioning a drug suspect. Martinez was found to be wearing a large knife and officers felt he was reaching for another officer's weapon when they shot him five times. Sgt. Ben Chavez questioned Martinez in the ambulance and in the hospital, but never Mirandized Martinez. Martinez admitted to reaching for the officer's gun during questioning. Martinez is suing Oxnard, CA, over the incident - he is now blind and paraplegic. Martinez argues the confession cannot be used against him in his suit. Oxnard argues that since the confession was not used against Martinez in court, it should be allowed.
11/27/02 Congress adjourns, Senators retire
With the adjournment of Congress's lame duck session, the Senate will bid adieu to two long-time Senators. 48-year veteran Strom Thurmond (R-SC) and 24-year veteran Jesse Helms (R-NC) are both retiring. Both had garnered checkered pasts because of their opposition to civil rights issues. Thurmond filibustered for over 24 hours in 1957, against a civil rights bill. Helms filibustered against making Martin Luther King Jr Day a national holiday. Only firebrand Robert Byrd (D-WV) remains as an old-school user of the filibuster.
11/27/02 Judge refuses to move Cheney trial
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected a White House request that the case against Vice President Dick Cheney be moved to a federal appeals court. The ruling lets stand a demand that the White House turn over documents created by and for Cheney's energy task force. The Justice Department, on November 12, filed an appeal of Sullivan's order in the appeals court - a decision on that appeal is still pending. Sullivan has originally set a November 5 deadline, but extended it to December 9. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club, who brought the case, both applauded Sullivan's ruling.
11/20/02 Race decided: Washington Supreme Court dominated by
After election returns became final, Washington's Supreme Court officially was dominated by women. Mary Fairhurst beat out challenger Jim Johnson for a seat on the Court. Fairhurst joins four other women and four men on the Court. Minnesota's Supreme Court was dominated by women in the early 1990's, though it no longer is.
11/14/02 Congressional pay raise not stopped
The Senate, in its lame duck session, had a chance to block a Congressional pay increase, but failed to pass the vote needed to block the automatic raise. The House had failed to block the raise in July. Members of Congress are given an automatic pay raise, in legislation that went into effect prior to the ratification of the 27th Amendment. The law provides the increase unless it is blocked. The new pay rate will be $154,700 per years for both Senators and Representatives. Members of the leadership make slightly more.
11/06/02 Supreme Court grants execution stay
The Supreme Court today granted a stay of execution for a mentally ill Texas man. The stay gives James Colburn and his lawyers have 90 days to file a new appeal. Colburn's lawyers have argued that he is too mentally ill to be held accountable for his crime of murder. Colburn had to be sedated so heavily during trial for his paranoid schizophrenia that he slept through most of it. The Supreme Court has recently rejected the use of the death penalty for the mentally retarded.
11/04/02 Independent named to replace Wellstone
Independent Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura named Dean Barkley to assume Paul Wellstone's seat in the Senate. Barkley is also an independent, and will serve until the winner of the upcoming election is sworn in. It is unknown at this time if the leadership of the Senate will shift. Currently, there are 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and one independent in the Senate.
10/25/02 Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone dies in plane
Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone died today in a place crash. Also killed in the crash were his wife and daughter. He is survived by two other children. Wellstone was in the midst of a tight reelection campaign, though his opponent, Republican Norm Coleman expressed his own grief at the loss. Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura squashed speculation that he might appoint himself to finish out Wellstone's term, and said that after a period of mourning, he would decide on a replacement. Fellow Minnesotan and former Vice President Walter Mondale's name has been mentioned. The Democratic Party was scrambling to find a replacement for Wellstone on the November ballot. Minnesota law allows replacement of names of deceased candidates up to four days before the election.
10/24/02 ACLU, others, sue government for USA Patriot
In an effort to keep a tight rein on the powers of the government, expanded in legislation passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the American Civil Liberties Union and three other civil liberties groups filed suit against the government today. The suit demands information about enhanced surveillance powers granted by the USA Patriot Act. The powers of interest of the suit include the use of library records to show what books library patrons have checked out, and records to show when pen registers, which record the numbers dialed to place outgoing phone calls, were used. The Justice Department refused a request for the information earlier in the year, stating that it was classified.
10/17/02 Court orders Cheney to turn over documents
A federal court today ordered Vice President Dick Cheney to turn over the records of his energy task force to the public. The judge required that Cheney release documents that show who the participants in the task force were, how it operated, and the Vice President's role in the task force. These documents, requested by Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club as part of discovery, were found to not be privileged. The judge was told by Justice Department lawyers that though it had been argued for months that many of the documents were too sensitive to be released publicly, none of the documents had ever actually been reviewed for sensitivity. The judge called this a "startling revelation."
10/07/02 Supreme Court rejects New Jersey election case
Perhaps hoping to avoid the imbroglio that surrounded the 2000 Presidential election, the Supreme Court decided not to review an appeal of the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling concerning the upcoming senatorial election. The Court, which began its 2002 term today, gave no reasoning behind the rejection, as is normal practice.
10/02/02 New Jersey court rules Senator can be replaced on the
Days after Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli withdrew from the New Jersey senatorial race, the state Democratic Party asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to allow the party to replace Torricelli's name with another of the party's choosing. Arguing against the change, the Republican party said that the law clearly provided for a 51-day window prior to Election Day. Torricelli withdrew 36 days before the election. Democrats argued that the 51 day deadline was arbitrary, designed to give enough time for ballots to be printed. Two third- party candidates also argued against replacement. The Supreme Court agreed with the Democrats, requiring the Party to pay for reprinting costs. Republicans filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
09/19/02 White House asks for war resolution
The White House today asked the Congress to introduce and pass a bill authorizing the United States to take unilateral action against Iraq. President Bush said the by supporting his call for authorization of the use of force, the Congress would be supporting his administration's ability to keep the peace. The administration said that the resolution would give the United States leverage in talks with other nations and the United Nations.
09/17/02 Interior Secretary ruled in contempt of court
When a federal judge rules a Cabinet-level government official in contempt of court, heads turn. That was certainly the case when federal district court judge Royce Lamberth said the Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and her department had acted in the most "egregious" fashion he had ever seen. The case involves U.S. trusteeship of billions of dollars of Indian money, and the government's mismanagement of the money. The ruling said that Norton failed to produce documents required by the court, and that the Department had "failed as a trustee." Said the judge, "I may have life tenure, but at the rate the Department of Interior is progressing that is not a long enough appointment." Lamberth ordered a special master to oversee the funds. The Departments of Interior and Justice announced plans to appeal the ruling.
09/16/02 Florida poll workers balk at blame
Following another Florida voting debacle, poll workers who were universally panned for not know enough about new touch-screen ballots are coming to their own defense. After Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Janet Reno and Bill McBride competed in a primary were separated by only 8000 votes, and reports of issues with the new machines were made public, one of the key scapegoats were the typical poll worker: senior citizens who cannot keep up with the latest technology. Poll workers, some of whom stayed at the polls as their frustrated colleagues went home, said that no other part of the government has to rely on thousands of volunteer workers, and that the poll workers should be lauded for their performance, rather than criticized for it.
09/12/02 President addresses U.N. concerning Iraq
The day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the President addressed the United Nations General Assembly, calling for the UN to tighten its grip on Iraq, threatening to take unilateral action if the international body remains silent. The President called for a future where a democratic Iraq, Palestine, and Afghanistan could become leaders in the Middle East: "These nations can show by their example that honest government and respect for women and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond." The alternative, he said would be devastating: "The attacks of September 11 would be a prelude to far greater horrors."
09/09/02 Chair threatens to withhold renewal of USA PATRIOT
Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the Department of Justice, which his committee oversees, stating that unless the Department release requested information, it is putting renewal of the USA PATRIOT act into jeopardy. The Act is due to sunset in 2005. The Committee sent the Department a list of questions, only some of which were answered, and not all in totality. The Attorney General has refused to release some information due to security concerns, though all members of the Judiciary Committee have clearance. Sensenbrenner says that not even in the days of the Reagan White House and a Democratic House, or in the more recent days of the Republican House and Attorney General Janet Reno, has there been so much trouble getting cooperation between the two bodies.
09/05/02 White House refuses to release energy group
Citing "unconstitutional burdens," the White House today refused to release information to litigants in a law suit that attempts to force the Vice President to reveal details of his energy group meetings. The judge in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, had already ordered that discovery begin in two cases filed by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch. The White House's decision is in direct violation of the judge's orders, and seems to set up a fight between the courts and the President.
08/29/02 Justices signal future review of minor death
After the Supreme Court denied a stay of execution for Toronto Patterson, Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Stevens wrote that they feel it is time for the Court to address the constitutionality of the death penalty for those who committed murder as a minor. Patterson, who was convicted of murder in 1995, was 17 when the crime was committed. In the unusual dissent to a stay denial, Stevens reiterated his position against the death penalty for minor offenders, and the Breyer and Ginsburg expressed a need for the Court to address the issue more comprehensively in its next term. Patterson was executed on August 28th.
08/29/02 White House will seek Congressional approval for war with
According to CNN, a White House official has said that before any action is taken in Iraq, the White House will seek Congressional approval. The official said that the President and Vice President will continue to make the case for preemptive action, without actually taking such action. The official indicated that the White House is aware that it cannot take the step of military action without the support of the public and the Congress.
08/26/02 White House lawyers decide invasion of Iraq
White House lawyers advising the President have decided that no congressional action would be required to invade Iraq. The White House announced that the 1991 resolution authorizing the Gulf War was still in effect, and that anti-terrorism acts passed after 9/11 gave the President the authority to invade Iraq without authorization from Congress. The announcement was made after Vice President Dick Cheney told a veterans group that preemptive action should be taken against Iraq.
07/27/02 House passes Homeland Security bill
In a 295-132 vote, the House passed a bill that would create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. A primary concern of many Democrats is provisions in the bill that supersede labor contracts, allowing the administration to hire, fire, and transfer personnel at will. Language restricting this power is a part of the Senate version of the bill, currently in committee.
07/24/02 Traficant expelled
By a vote of 420-1, Ohio Representative James Traficant, under fire from colleagues and recently convicted on graft charges, was expelled from the House of Representatives today. Traficant becomes only the fifth member ever expelled. Before Traficant, the most recent expulsion was in 1980, when Michael Myers (D-PA) was expelled for his role in the Abscam scandal. The three other members were expelled at the outset of the Civil War for being Confederate sympathizers.
07/18/02 Convicted Representative strikes at foes
Representative James Traficant (D-OH) refuted charges, allegations, and his own conviction on bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. In hearings to determine if Traficant should be removed from the House, Traficant accused his accusers of lying, saying "if they lie again, I'm going to go over there and kick them in the crotch." The House ethics committee voted unanimously, 10-0, to recommend that Traficant be expelled. If the full House votes, by two-thirds majority, to do just that, he will be just the second member since the Civil War to be expelled.
07/10/02 Lawsuit filed against Cheney and energy company
The same watchdog group that was a thorn in the side of President Bill Clinton continues to act as a governmental gadfly, this time filing a civil suit on the behalf of shareholders against the Halliburton Company and against Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton. Judicial Watch's case alleges that Halliburton, partially under Cheney's direction, deceived shareholders with creative accounting practices that recognized revenue that had not been collected. The suit alleges that the company reported hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue that was uncollected, and though that in itself is not illegal, the company failed to provide timely notification to stockholders of the accounting change.
06/29/02 Bush briefly turns reins of power over to
President Bush today underwent a medical procedure that required him to be placed under anesthesia. In accordance with the law, Bush first wrote a letter to the leaders of Congress turning over the powers of the Presidency to Vice President Richard Cheney for the duration of the procedure. Bush had a colonoscopy to check for more previously-discovered polyps; none were found. Upon recovery, the President resumed his duties.
06/27/02 Expanded student drug testing upheld
Students not suspected of using drugs can be tested for drugs anyhow, a 5-4 Court ruled today. In previous cases, the Supreme Court had upheld the legality of testing when there was reasonable suspicion of drug use in the student population. In Pottawatomie County v Earls, the Court upheld testing that was not based on any suspicion at all. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, noted that the policy, which required all students participating in any extracurricular activity, "reasonably serves the School Districts important interest in detecting and preventing drug use among its students."
06/27/02 Government-funded school vouchers can be used for parochial
The Supreme Court today ruled that school vouchers used in Ohio, where the failing Cleveland school system was essentially put on life support, can be used to fund parochial school enrollment. The Court, in a 5-4 vote, decided that since the vouchers are provided to parents, who are then given a list of schools to choose from, both parochial and nonreligious, and it is then the parents that choose the school and not the state, the provision of state funds is not a governmental endorsement of religion. The program falls under the Court's Private Choice doctrine, which allows government funds to be used for such purposes if the choice to use them is made by a private citizen. In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, "The question presented is whether this program offends the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. We hold that it does not." The case is Zelman v Simmons-Harris.
06/27/02 Court upholds free speech rights of judicial
In a 5-4 vote in a case challenging Minnesota's election laws, the Supreme Court today ruled that candidates for elected judicial positions cannot be prevented from expressing their stance on public policy issues. Candidates would still be barred from declaring how they would vote on any particular issue brought before them if elected. Federal judges are appointed, as are some or all in several states. But in 39 states, some judges are elected. In Texas, it is estimated to cost $2 million to win an election for a judgeship. Some feel the relaxed rules will allow more people to run as they can now build constituency. Others criticized, noting that judges may now feel beholden to contributors to rule in certain ways in certain cases. In her concurring opinion, Justice O'Connor criticized the election of judges and Minnesota's defense of its own law, saying in essence that if the states want elected judges, they will have to put up with the vagaries of elections. The case is Republican Part of Minnesota v White.
06/27/02 Pledge judge stays own order
Judge Alfred Goodwin who judged the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional when recited in public schools, stayed the enforcement of the ruling, pending appeals. The Justice Department, named as a party in the case, announced that it would request the full 9th Circuit hear the case. The en banc hearing would include all 11 judges.
06/26/02 Court ruling on Pledge of Allegiance touches off political
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, found the Pledge of Allegiance, when containing the words "under God," to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion in the context of a school setting. The ruling has an effect only on the western states covered by the 9th Circuit. The ruling touched off a storm of controversy, with the Senate abruptly suspending debate on a bill to pass a resolution condemning the ruling. The House plans a similar resolution tomorrow. The President also condemned the ruling from Canada, where he is attending the G8 summit. Several judicial watchers predicted that the full 9th Circuit will rehear the case and rule en banc, which could kill the ruling; others looked forward to a Supreme Court hearing on the issue.
06/24/02 Court upholds lower evidentiary burden in plea
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that prosecutors do not have to reveal all of their evidence, including witness lists, to accused criminals who are contemplating plea bargains. Such disclosure is mandatory when a case is actually prosecuted. The Court overturned a 9th Circuit Court decision that held that all evidence that could influence the defendant's decision regarding a plea had to be revealed.
06/24/02 Judges cannot impose death penalty, Court rules
In an attempt to reconcile two conflicting opinions, the Supreme Court today overturned a 12-year-old decision that allowed judges to impose the death penalty. In 1990's Walton v Arizona, the Court allowed judicial imposition of the death penalty. In 2000's Apprendi v New Jersey, however, the Court did not allow a judge to issue a finding of fact in sentencing proceedings which would allow imposition of a harsher sentence than the facts decided by the jury would allow. The ability of the judge to determine that some facts allowed imposition of the death penalty was in conflict with Apprendi. Rather than overturn Apprendi, the Court overturned Walton, in a 7-2 decision. In several states, judges or panels of judges impose the death penalty; death sentences in these states will have to be reviewed. In some other states, juries make a recommendation of the death penalty, though a judge may overrule the jury; these future of these sentences is uncertain. In all remaining states, juries alone decide - these sentences are unaffected.
06/20/02 Utah loses bid to nab back congressional seat
The Supreme Court today ruled that Utah did not have a case against North Carolina and the Census Bureau over reapportionment of the House of Representatives. The apportionment, based on the results of the 2000 census, gave North Carolina an extra congressional district while Utah lost one. The House is a fixed size, with a proportion of the seats going to each state based on their population. The dispute was over a method known as hot-deck imputation to infer populations of homes that did not respond to the census questionnaire. The Court's vote was 5-4.
06/20/02 Executions of the mentally retarded are
The Supreme Court spared the life of Virginia death row inmate Daryl Atkins today when it ruled that it was a violation of the 8th Amendment to execute the mentally retarded. Atkins, who has an IQ of 54, shot and killed an airman in 1996 as Atkins attempted to steal beer money. The court, in its 6-3 ruling, stated that "We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty." The ruling does not address the death penalty in general. States that previously allowed the execution of the retarded are now bracing for a rash of applications by death row inmates for IQ testing.
06/17/02 Unmirandized bus search ruled constitutional
The Supreme Court today ruled that passengers on a bus can have their luggage and persons searched with the passengers' consent, and no Miranda warning is required, even though, legally, the searches can be refused. In the case of two men you submitted to a pat-down search by police officers searching a Greyhound bus, a kilo of cocaine was found. The passengers were not told they could refuse the search, and the two were arrested. In the 6-3 ruling, the majority wrote that the evidence clearly showed that the consent to search was not coerced. The facts of the case may lead to limited applicability, hinging as it is upon the lack of coercion.
06/17/02 Door-to-door religious solicitation upheld
Religious groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, have a right to solicit door- to-door, the Supreme Court ruled today. The court struck down a law that required such groups from obtaining a permit to conduct solicitations. The rule was struck down on 1st Amendment free speech grounds, and applies to religious groups as well as the door-to-door distribution of hand bills. The court ruled 8- 1 on the case.
06/10/02 ADA cannot force an employer to overlook employee
A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled that companies do not have to give disable workers jobs that would be of detriment to their own health. In the case of Chevron v. Echazabal, an subcontractor with liver disease sought to be hired by Chevron, working in an area of a refinery with chemicals that could have worsened his condition. Echazabal's employer laid him off when Chevron asked that he be assigned to another job. Echazabal's argument hinged upon a provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows an employer to refuse to hire or advance an employee to a position where the employee would pose a threat to others. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's rule extends the "threat to others" provision of the law to a "threat to self" rule which Chevron relied upon. Chevron argued that the rule makes sense in the context of Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations which requires employers to provide "safe and healthful working conditions."
06/10/02 Sex offender program ruled constitutional
In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today held that a Kansas program for sex offenders, where the convicts are required to own up to their crimes and provide a sexual history, a history which is not privileged and could be used against them in future proceedings, does not violate the prisoners' 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The Court found that the incentives, such as commissary privileges, offered to participants do not amount to compelled self-incrimination. Writing for the Court, Justice Kennedy said, "A prison clinical rehabilitation program, which is acknowledged to bear a rational relation to a legitimate penological objective, does not violate the privilege against self-incrimination if the adverse consequences an inmate faces for not participating are related to the program objectives and do not constitute atypical and significant hardships in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. Along these lines, this Court has recognized that lawful conviction and incarceration necessarily place limitations on the exercise of a defendants privilege against self-incrimination." The case is McKune v. Lile.
06/06/02 New Department proposed by White House
The President announced to the nation today that he was requesting that Congress form a new Department of Homeland Security. The Department would be a full Cabinet-level organization tasked with coordinating homeland security efforts. Under the White House plan, several groups and organizations would be moved from their current departments to the new one. These include the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Customs Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The FBI and CIA would not become a part of the new department, but they would be required to provide data and analysis to the department so that it can fulfill one of its other roles - analyzing all incoming data and providing a daily threat report for the government. The last new department added to the Cabinet was the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1988.
05/31/02 Capitol demonstration limits overruled
A federal appeals court unanimously overturned a ban on sidewalk protests in front of the Capitol Building, calling the ban a clear violation of First Amendment rights. In 1997, Robert Lederman was arrested by Capitol Police for protesting on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol. The sidewalk, the court noted, was regularly used by pedestrians and tourists, and rejected the government's argument that it was part of a security zone that allowed the prohibition of protest and leafleting. Lederman also sued the officers who arrested him, but the court found that they enjoyed qualified immunity in the commission of their jobs, even though the rule has been found unconstitutional.
05/30/02 New powers for FBI announced
In a move that law enforcement representatives are calling long overdue, and which civil libertarians are calling scary, the FBI has given itself new investigatory powers. At the same time as the FBI will allow its field agents to do research on the Internet and using public sources in libraries, it is granting those agents wider autonomy, including the ability to start investigations and conduct them for up to a year before getting authorization from Washington. The changes announced by FBI Director Robert Mueller reverse decades of self-imposed restraint that many have said allowed the FBI to miss key signs and clues that could have led to intervention in the 9/11 attacks.
05/29/02 Supreme Court sides with state over United
In a now-familiar 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Carolina over the Federal Maritime Commission in a dispute over docking rights for a gaming ship. Justice Breyer, in a rare move, criticized the majority from the bench as well as in a written opinion, stating that the decision could jeopardize federal efforts at worker safety and even national security. The case surrounded a gaming ship, the Tropic Sea, which was denied docking rights in Charleston Harbor in 1999. The owners asked the Maritime Commission to intervene, but each court the case went through found for the state. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, said that the decision was made to favor the state and maintain one of the balances of power established in the Constitution.
05/20/02 Misdemeanor cases with possible jail time must afford public
In a now-familiar 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court today ruled that when a state prosecutes someone for a misdemeanor, the state must supply counsel even when the crime would involve a suspended sentence. The Court has already ruled in prior cases on the need for public counsel in all cases, felony or misdemeanor, where jail time occurs. This is the first time that the same standard has been applied for crimes where a suspended sentence is the norm. Saying that only 16 states do not afford as much or more protection than the Constitution, Justice Ginsburg rejected cries that taxed justice systems would now become more so.
05/16/02 Appeals court rules web site content illegal
In a closely-watched case, an appeals court has ruled that a web site's placement of abortion doctors' faces in "wanted posters," along with personal information, does not qualify as free speech and can be restricted by the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The 6-5 ruling is sure to be appealed to the Supreme Court as the owner of The Nuremberg Files web site fights to keep his content on the Internet. The court ruled that the wanted posters amounted to illegal threats, and not free speech. The decision reverses the same court's upholding of the site's rights last year. The court sent the punitive damage award back to lower courts for downward adjustment.
05/13/02 Supreme Court upholds another Internet porn law
The Supreme Court today ruled 8-1 that the 1998 Child Online Protection Act (COPA) is not unconstitutional in its use of "community standards" to determine whether material is obscene. The law, which has never taken effect due to the challenges filed immediately upon its enactment, has other provisions that the Court found to be not constitutionally sound. The Court sent the law back to the lower courts for a more thorough review of the constitutionality of its provisions.
05/02/02 Proposal to new Homeland cabinet-level office
Frustrated by the White House's continued refusal to have Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge testify before Congress, some in the Senate have proposed the idea of making the office a Cabinet department. A bipartisan group of Senators introduced a bill that would create the department, create a Secretary that would be answerable to Congress, and give the department a budget, something Ridge operates without at this point. The senators indicated that agencies such as the Coast Guard and the Customs Service would fall under the new department's control.
04/29/02 Court rules that seniority takes precedence over
The Supreme Court ruled today that a company's rules concerning job placement and seniority can legally override federal law requiring accommodation of the disabled. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court agreed with US Airways, which granted a position in the company to someone with seniority to get the job, when someone with a disability claim also asked for the job. In 1990, Roger Barnett injured his back while working for US Airways. He asked to be transferred to a position in the company mail room. Two other employees with seniority also sought the mail room position, and Barnett was not given the job. Writing for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer noted that he thought that most seniority systems would prevail when put up against a disability accommodation claim.
04/16/02 Virtual child porn law struck down
1996's CPPA, the Child Pornography Prevention Act, came under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court today, and lost. A provision of the CPPA which outlawed "virtual" child porn, images where it appears that minors were used but where make-up or digital enhancement was used to modify adult subject, was struck down in a 6-3 decision. Ruling that the law's rules against "any visual depiction [that] is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct" was overly broad. The Court stated that the CPPA could have banned entire books because of one image, essentially overruling the Court's established rules. The case, one of many brought to the Court, was Ashcroft v Free Speech Coalition.
04/04/02 Senators urge appearance by Ridge
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge offered to appear informally before the Senate Appropriations Committee, an offer rejected by the committee's chair, Robert Byrd (D-WV). Ridge has refused to testify before Senate hearings, insisting that his office is not under the auspices of the Congress, but only of the President. The President's office argues that since Ridge is in an advisory and coordinating role only, and not directly in charge of any funds, he is not answerable to Congress. Senators Byrd and Ted Stevens (R-AK) wrote to President Bush to set up a meeting to discuss the impasse.
04/01/02 Court reverses itself in job discrimination
After deciding in December to hear a case that asked if a 1967 law that allowed workers to sue employers for job discrimination if a company policy or decision impacted older workers disproportionately, the Supreme Court today reversed itself, saying in an unsigned, unanimous decision that the decision to hear the appeal was "improvidently granted." The ruling essentially means that the Court thinks it made a mistake. The case, brought by 120 former Florida Power Corp. workers, was dismissed after oral arguments were heard. Prior to the hearing by the Supreme Court, the workers' case had been rejected by the Court of Appeals, which said the case could not be pursued under an age discrimination claim.
03/26/02 Court upholds zero-tolerance eviction policy
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld a Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) policy that allows for zero drug tolerance for tenants of federally subsidized housing. The case was brought by tenants of the Oakland Housing Authority who had been evicted after guests of the tenants were found to be using or selling drugs. The tenants were not accused of having any involvement in the drugs, but the Authority's policy, authorized by HUD, is for tenants to be evicted even if the drugs are found on guests or household members. Using a plain language test, the Court found that the rules concerning eviction were unambiguous and constitutional. Justice Breyer did not take part in the case.
03/25/02 Utah and North Carolina set to meet in court
In a battle over a congressional district, one which Utah lost to North Carolina after the last census tabulation, the case may hinge on the interpretation of the word "actual." The Census Bureau uses a bit of mathematical and statistical magic to account for some households, a detail that usually goes unnoticed. But in the 2000 census, that bit of magic shifted a seat from Utah to North Carolina. The magic involves households in which the Bureau cannot confirm population after six visits. The Bureau guesses that such homes have as many people living in them as the next nearest neighbor. North Carolina agrees with studies that show that this method is accurate 75% of the time. Utah argues that such households should be counted as 0. The difference would shift the seat back to Utah. The Supreme Court will hear the case tomorrow.
03/19/02 Supreme Court overturns agency's FMLA rule
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today found a Department of Labor rule regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act to be counter to the FMLA's intent, and hence unconstitutional. In the case of Ragsdale v Wolverine World Wide, Tracy Ragsdale was granted 30 weeks of medical leave by Wolverine. When she failed to report back to work after the 30 weeks, Wolverine fired her. Ragsdale sued, stating that Labor rules required Wolverine to give her the 12 weeks required by the FMLA, in addition to the 30 Wolverine granted. The Court found that under the rule, Ragsdale was correct, but that the rule itself was contrary to the intent of Congress. Said the Court, "Regardless of how serious the problem an administrative agency seeks to address, ... it may not exercise its authority in a manner that is inconsistent with the administrative structure that Congress enacted into law."
03/19/02 Ridge refuses to testify before Congress
In a move seen by some as another indication of the White House's contempt for the legislative branch, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has refused to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee. The President's administration has said that because Ridge is not a cabinet officer, but rather an advisor to the President, he cannot be compelled to testify. However, some, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, argue that since Ridge is coordinating efforts across departments, and has cabinet-level status, he should be cooperating with Congress, not battling it. Supporters of the administration's stand say that Ridge is too busy to visit each congressional committee. This latest row has had some speculate that the Office Homeland Security might need to be converted into a Department with legal Cabinet-level status.
03/05/02 Vermont towns support instant run-off voting
50 out of 54 town that had Instant Run-Off Voting on their ballots or town meeting agendas passed advisory articles, designed to prompt the state legislature to move instant run-off bills out of committee. In Vermont, Chapter 2, Section 47 specifies that in the elections for Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, and Treasurer, if there is no clear winner (no majority winner), then the legislature, when it convenes its next session, will choose a winner from the top three vote-getters. In this vote, it is entirely possible that the plurality winner will not be chosen. The instant run-off vote would allow voters to specify not only their first choice, but also their second choice, and so on, if they wish. If no candidate received a majority of the vote, the ballots that chose the lowest vote-getter would be removed, and any second choice votes would be added to the remaining candidates. This would continue until there is a majority winner. Though many think the new system could be implemented with out a constitutional amendment, it seems likely that an amendment would be required. In this case, the 2003 legislature could pass an amendment, which would have to be confirmed by the 2005 legislature, and approved by the voters after that.
02/25/02 Supreme Court rejects appeals in 1st Amendment
The Supreme Court today rejected two 1st Amendment cases that had been eagerly anticipated by some. The first was brought to the Court by Indiana, in an attempt to overturn a Federal District Court's decision that a monument to the Ten Commandments could not be placed on the grounds of a government building. The appeal was rejected without comment. The second case involves a home in Tampa, Florida. The home is used to house women who broadcast their daily activities over the Internet. The so-called Voyeur Dorm was to be shutdown for violating zoning laws governing adult entertainment businesses. The U.S. Appeals Court had ruled that the zoning law could not apply to the home because it does not physically host customers. The adult entertainment industry praised the rejection as an upholding of its rights to free-speech.
02/22/02 GAO files suit against White House
The next step in the Government Accounting Office's dispute with the White House over information about the National Energy Policy Development Group has been taken. The GAO today filed suite in federal court, the first time it has ever done so, to force the White House to turn over the information it has been requesting. The suit sets up a battle between the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, with the Judicial branch to referee. In a terse statement, the GAO stated that it "[hopes] that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously."
02/19/02 Student grading is not a violation of privacy
In a unanimous vote today, the Supreme Court reversed a Circuit Court ruling that declared that student grades for a single test or paper are "educational records," and as such are subject to privacy protection. As such, a practice known as "student grading," where students exchange papers and grade them as the teacher recites correct answers, was illegal. The Supreme Court decided that the papers are not subject to protection, nor that students are acting as agents of the educational facility when they perform student grading. The case arose when a student who graded another student's paper announced the grade to the class.
02/15/02 House passes campaign finance bill
The House approved a bill yesterday, on a 240-189 vote, which would more closely regulate campaign finances. The House bill is similar to one passed in the Senate last year. The Senate will take up the House bill as soon as it is transmitted, according to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Accrediting the recent scandal over the collapse of Enron, and the contributions made to politicians by the doomed company, hopes are high for supporters that the time is right for the bill. Bill foes state that many of the provisions are unconstitutional violations of free speech.
01/30/02 GAO set to sue Executive branch
The Government Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the Congress, has announced that it plans to sue the Executive to force the release of information pertaining to Vice President Dick Cheney's meetings for the National Energy Policy Development Group. Cheney is trying assert executive privilege to deny the records to the GAO, saying that the when the executive needs to bring in outside advisors, it must be able to guarantee that advice and comments remain secret. The GAO counters that it is not asking for notes or transcripts, but simply a listing of who met with whom, when, for what topic, and how much the meetings cost. A letter to the President noted that it had planned to bring suit in September, plans which were delayed by the September 11 terrorist attacks. "This will be the first time that GAO has filed suit to enforce our access rights against a federal official," the letter comments. "We hope it is the last time that we will have to do so."
01/16/02 Cable is cable, says Court
The Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, ruled that cable attached to utility poles by cable television companies is to be seen as cable under the Pole Attachments Act, even if the cable carries high-speed Internet traffic as well as cable television. Relying on the long-established "plain text" rule, the Court said "No one disputes that a cable attached by a cable television company, which provides only cable television service, is an attachment by a cable television system. If one day its cable provides high-speed Internet access, in addition to cable television service, the cable does not cease, at that instant, to be an attachment by a cable television system." The decision upholds an FCC ruling and overrules a ruling of the Eleventh Circuit. Justices Thomas and Souter joined in an opinion that partially concurred and partially disagreed with the majority. Justice O'Connor did not participate.
01/15/02 Clarification of rules for vehicle searches
Stops and searches of vehicles by police need not be based on any one solid reasonable suspicion, if a large number of lesser suspicions can be reasonably be seen to add up to a solid reasonable suspicion, the Supreme Court ruled today. The case, U.S. v Arvizu, involved a man stopped in Arizona by a Border Patrol agent. The agent searched the car and found 100 pounds of marijuana. The Circuit Court divided the officer's suspicions and found that none of them taken alone gave reasonable suspicion for the stop. The Supreme Court, however, overruled the Circuit Court, chiding it for not looking at the suspicions in total, coupled with the experience of the agent. Said the unanimous Court, "Considering the totality of the circumstances and giving due weight to the factual inferences drawn by [the agent, he] had reasonable suspicion to believe that respondent was engaged in illegal activity."
01/15/02 Unanimous Supreme Court rules on Free Speech
The Supreme Court today ruled that if rules for the use of a public forum are content-neutral, they need not contain all the procedural safeguards the Court has required in past cases. In the case of Thomas v Chicago Park District, a group advocating the legalization of marijuana was denied a permit to hold a rally in a Chicago park. The city requires permits for any event held on public grounds that will involve more than 50 people. The rules for the permitting process are strictly codified, as are appeals processes. The petitioners applied for several permits, some of which were denied, and some of which were approved. The Court said that if the regulation was content-based, it would fall under its Freedman rules, but since the regulation had no reference to content, it was free of the Freedman rules.
01/09/02 Supreme Court rules juries must be better informed during
In a close 5-4 ruling, the more liberal side of the Supreme Court, and swing vote Sandra Day O'Connor, ruled that when facing a choice between sentencing a convicted murderer to either life in prison or the death penalty, the jury should know if the life sentence can include parole. In the case of murderer William Kelly, the jury was not told a life sentence would include no possibility of parole, and they applied the death penalty. Kelly argued that if the jury knew he could never be released, a life sentence might have been forthcoming. The Court sent the case back to state courts, where a new sentencing hearing is likely. The case is Kelly v. South Carolina.
01/09/02 Rules for unregulated barges clarified
In an 8-0 decision (with Justice Scalia not participating), the Supreme Court ruled that uninspected vessels, like tugs, fishing boats, and barges, are subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules. The counter argument had been that safety aboard such vessels was maintained by the Coast Guard and OSHA had no jurisdiction. The Court recognized the limited ability of the Guard to regulate thousands of small vessels, and said that just because the Guard does maintain jurisdiction over some safety aspects (such as life preservers) does not pre-empt the OSHA regulations. The case is Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling.
01/08/02 Work injuries not always covered by ADA
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today rejected a Tennessee woman's plea for relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ella Williams worked for Toyota when she developed carpal tunnel syndrome, preventing her from doing many assembly line tasks. Though initially assigned to less strenuous duties, she was eventually fired for being unable to perform on the line. She sued under the ADA. The Supreme Court noted that Williams was able to perform a vast majority of her work-at-home duties, such as bathing and cooking, and as such, she did not qualify as disabled under the ADA. Labor activists cried foul, but business representatives celebrated, noting the ADA is the "Americans with Disabilities Act" and not the "Americans with Injuries Act." The case is Toyota v. Williams.