Free Speech Is Starting to Dominate the US Supreme Court's Agenda
Legal Business | 2017/11/16 19:03
To get the Supreme Court's attention these days, try saying your speech rights are being violated.

Whether the underlying topic is abortion, elections, labor unions or wedding cakes, the First Amendment is starting to dominate the Supreme Court's agenda.

The court on Monday granted three new speech cases, including a challenge to a California law that requires licensed pregnancy-counseling clinics to tell patients they might be eligible for free or discounted abortions. The nine-month term now features six cases, out of 44 total, that turn on the reach of the Constitution's free speech guarantee.

Several will be among the term's most closely watched. They include a high-profile fight over a Colorado baker who refuses to make cakes for same-sex weddings and a challenge to the requirement in some states that public-sector workers pay for the cost of union representation. Both of those cases offer the prospect of ideological divides that could put the court's five Republican appointees in the majority, backing free speech rights.

Free speech also plays a central role in what could be a watershed case involving partisan voting districts. The court's liberals could join with Justice Anthony Kennedy to allow legal challenges to partisan gerrymanders for the first time. During arguments in October, Kennedy suggested those challenges would be based on the First Amendment's protections for speech and free association.

The free speech clause has had a special resonance with the court's conservative wing under Chief Justice John Roberts. The court invoked the First Amendment in the landmark 2010 Citizens United decision, which said corporations could spend unlimited sums on political causes. Writing for the five-justice majority, Kennedy equated federal spending restrictions with using "censorship to control thought."

The court has also backed speech rights with more lopsided majorities in cases involving violent video games, depictions of animal cruelty, abortion-clinic buffer zones and anti-homosexual protesters.


Court gives go-ahead for minimum alcohol price in Scotland
Legal Business | 2017/11/16 03:08
Britain's Supreme Court has given the go-ahead for the introduction of minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland — a watershed moment for public health advocates alarmed at the level of abuse.

The court on Wednesday rejected the Scottish Whisky Association's challenge to the policy of setting a floor price per unit of alcohol. Health advocates argue that the increasing affordability of alcohol is leading to an increase in consumption.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted on Wednesday that she was "absolutely delighted" by the decision that she says will prove to be a "bold and necessary move to improve public health."

During the 1980s alcohol deaths in Scotland had been relatively stable, at roughly 600 per year, but in 2006 drink-related deaths peaked at 1,546.


Feds head to court to seek dismissal of Twin Metals lawsuit
Areas of Focus | 2017/11/14 03:08
Government lawyers go to federal court Tuesday to seek dismissal of a lawsuit by developers of the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine who are seeking to regain their mineral rights leases.

The Obama administration last year declined to renew the longstanding leases that Twin Metals needs for the underground mine near Ely in northeastern Minnesota. The government cited the potential harm to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Twin Metals sued last fall to get those leases back, saying it has already invested $400 million, while its congressional supporters are trying to persuade the Trump administration to reverse that decision.

The government argues that the U.S. District Court for Minnesota should dismiss the lawsuit because it's a contract dispute that must be brought in the Court of Federal Claims.


Kenya court set to hear petitions challenging repeat vote
Attorney News | 2017/11/13 03:09
Kenya's Supreme Court is poised to hear petitions challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election in a repeat presidential poll.

The court made history when it nullified Kenyatta's re-election in August. It cited irregularities and illegalities in the vote count and the electoral commission's failure to allow scrutiny of its servers to dispel opposition leader Raila Odinga's claim of fraud. It then ordered a new vote.

There are concerns about intimidation after the court failed to find a quorum to consider a petition seeking to postpone the repeat presidential election on Oct. 26, a day after a bodyguard of one of the judges was shot.

Politician Harun Mwau and activists Njonjo Mue and Khelef Khalifa seek to nullify the Oct. 26 election, which Odinga boycotted citing lack of electoral reforms.



Samsung worker killed by brain tumor wins compensation case
Legal Interview | 2017/11/11 03:09
Overturning an appeal court's decision, South Korea's Supreme Court said Tuesday the family of a Samsung worker who died of a brain tumor should be eligible for state compensation for an occupational disease.

The ruling on Lee Yoon-jung, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 30 and died two years later, reflects a shift in the handling of such cases in South Korea.

Workers used to have the onus of proving the cause of a disease caused by their work. But after years of campaigning by labor advocates to raise awareness about the obstacles workers face in getting information about chemicals used in manufacturing, courts have begun to sometimes rule in favor of workers.

Lee worked at a Samsung chip factory for six years from 1997 to 2003 but there was no record available of the levels of chemicals she was exposed to while working there.

An appeals court denied the claim filed by Lee, based on government investigations into the factory conducted after she left the company. The investigations reported that the workers' exposure to some toxins, such as benzene, formaldehyde and lead, were lower than maximum permissible limits. They did not measure exposure levels to other chemicals or investigate their health risks.

The Supreme Court said such limitations in government investigations should not be held against a worker with a rare disease whose cause is unknown.

The case filed by Lee's family is the second time this year South Korea's highest court has ruled in favor of a worker. In August, the Supreme Court struck down a lower court's ruling that denied compensation to a former Samsung LCD factory worker with multiple sclerosis.

The government-run Korea Workers' Compensation & Welfare Service, the defendant in the case, did not respond to requests for comment.

Lim Ja-woon, the lawyer representing Lee, said brain tumors are the second-most common disease, after leukemia, among former Samsung workers who sought compensation or financial aid from the government or from Samsung for a possible occupational disease. He said 27 Samsung Electronics workers have been diagnosed with brain tumors, including eight people who worked at the same factory as Lee.


Trump choosing white men as judges, highest rate in decades
Attorney News | 2017/11/11 03:09
President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America's federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation's diversity.

So far, 91 percent of Trump's nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of Trump's most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and Trump has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges.

That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country. The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.



Florida man back at Supreme Court with 1st Amendment case
Legal Interview | 2017/11/10 17:10
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a First Amendment case brought by a Florida man who previously won a landmark ruling from the justices on whether his floating home was a house, not a boat subject to easier government seizure under laws that govern ships and boats.

This time, the justices agreed to hear a case in which Fane Lozman sued after being charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at a public meeting.

Lozman, 56, was never brought to trial on the charges — prosecutors dropped them after concluding there was no possibility of a conviction. Lozman then sued Riviera Beach, claiming his arrest at a 2006 city council meeting violated the First Amendment's free speech guarantee because it was in retaliation for opposing a marina redevelopment plan and accusing council members of corruption.

A jury sided with the city after a trial and an appeals court upheld that verdict. Lozman, however, took the case to the Supreme Court, arguing in part that U.S. appeals courts across the country are split on the issue of retaliatory arrest versus free speech.


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