High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Court News | 2019/06/25 17:30
The Supreme Court struck down a section of federal law Monday that prevented businesses from registering trademarks seen as scandalous or immoral, handing a victory to California fashion brand FUCT.

The high court ruled that the century-old provision is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. Between 2005 and 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ultimately refused about 150 trademark applications a year as a result of the provision. Those who were turned away could still use the words they were seeking to register, but they didn’t get the benefits that come with trademark registration. Going after counterfeiters was also difficult as a result.

The Trump administration had defended the provision, arguing that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.

The high court’s ruling means that the people and companies behind applications that previously failed as a result of the scandalous or immoral provision can re-submit them for approval. And new trademark applications cannot be refused on the grounds they are scandalous or immoral.

Justice Elena Kagan said in reading her majority opinion that the most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints they convey. She said Lanham Act’s ban on “immoral or scandalous” trademarks does just that.

In an opinion for herself and five colleagues, both conservatives and liberals, Kagan called the law’s immoral or scandalous provision “substantially overbroad.”

“There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment,” she wrote.

Kagan’s opinion suggested that a narrower law covering just lewd, sexually explicit or profane trademarks might be acceptable.

The justices’ ruling was in some ways expected because of one the court made two years ago . In 2017, the justices unanimously invalidated a related provision of federal law that told officials not to register disparaging trademarks, finding that restriction violated the First Amendment. In that case, an Asian-American rock band sued after the government refused to register its band name, “The Slants,” because it was seen as offensive to Asians.


Court rules UK must reconsider arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Court News | 2019/06/19 22:46
A British court ruled Thursday that the U.K. government acted unlawfully in selling weapons to Saudi Arabia that were used in the Yemen war, though it did not order a halt to the exports.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of anti-weapons campaigners, who argued that the sales should not have been allowed because there was a clear risk the weapons might be used in violation of international humanitarian law.

The British government plans to appeal the ruling, but while the case is ongoing, Trade Secretary Liam Fox said no new licenses for arms sales to Saudi Arabia would be granted.

Campaign Against Arms Trade argued that British bombs and fighter jets are fueling violence in Yemen, where a Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels has raged since 2015. The Gulf kingdom faces wide international criticism for indiscriminate airstrikes that have struck markets, hospitals and other civilian targets.

Three judges said the British government's decision-making "was wrong in law in one significant respect" — that they had "made no attempt" to find out whether the Saudi-led coalition had breached international law.


Supreme Court rules against oil drilling platform workers
Court News | 2019/06/08 04:03
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday against workers on oil drilling platforms off California who argued they should be paid for the off-work time they spend on the platform, including sleeping.

The high court said that federal law applies to the workers and doesn’t require them to be paid for nonworking time spent at their work location on the Outer Continental Shelf. The workers had argued that California law, which would require them to be compensated for that time, should apply.

Justice Clarence Thomas said in an opinion that “federal law is the only law” that applies on the Outer Continental Shelf and “there has never been any overlapping state and federal jurisdiction there.” The question, he said, was whether federal law addressed the question of off-work time spent on the oil rig. He said it did and didn’t require the workers to be paid.

The case before the Supreme Court involved Brian Newton, who worked on drilling platforms off California’s coast near Santa Barbara from 2013 to 2015. Like others living and working on the platform, he worked 14-day shifts, spending 12 hours working and 12 hours off work but on standby, where he could not leave the platform.

In 2015, Newton filed a class action lawsuit arguing that his former employer, Parker Drilling, was violating California law by, among other things, failing to pay workers for the time they spent on standby, including the time they spent sleeping.

In making their ruling, the justices had to grapple with a 1953 law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. It says federal law applies on the Outer Continental Shelf. But the law also says the laws of the adjacent state are federal law to the extent they are “applicable and not inconsistent” with other federal law. If “federal law applies to a particular issue, state law is inapplicable,” Thomas wrote.


Carnival will pay $20m over pollution from its cruise ships
Court News | 2019/06/02 23:40
Carnival Corp. reached a settlement Monday with federal prosecutors in which the world’s largest cruise line agreed to pay a $20 million penalty because its ships continued to pollute the oceans despite a previous criminal conviction aimed at curbing similar conduct.

Senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz approved the agreement after Carnival CEO Arnold Donald stood up in open court and admitted the company’s responsibility for probation violations stemming from the previous environmental case.

“The company pleads guilty,” Arnold said six times in a packed courtroom that include other senior Carnival executives, including company chairman and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison.

“We acknowledge the shortcomings. I am here today to formulate a plan to fix them,” Arnold added

“The proof will be in the pudding, won’t it?” the judge replied. “If you all did not have the environment, you would have nothing to sell.”

Carnival admitted violating terms of probation from a 2016 criminal conviction for discharging oily waste from its Princess Cruise Lines ships and covering it up. Carnival paid a $40 million fine and was put on five years’ probation in that case, which affected all nine of its cruise brands that boast more than 100 ships.

Now Carnival has acknowledged that in the years since its ships have committed environmental crimes such as dumping “gray water” in prohibited places such Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and knowingly allowing plastic to be discharged along with food waste in the Bahamas, which poses a severe threat to marine life.

The company also admitted falsifying compliance documents and other administrative violations such as having cleanup teams visit its ships just before scheduled inspections.

Seitz at an earlier hearing threatened to bar Carnival from docking at U.S. ports because of the violations and said she might hold executives individually liable for the probation violations.

“The concern I have is that senior management has no skin in the game,” Seitz said, adding that future violations might be met with prison time and criminal fines for individuals. “My goal is to have the defendant change its behavior.”

Under the settlement, Carnival promised there will be additional audits to check for violations, a restructuring of the company’s compliance and training programs, a better system for reporting environmental violations to state and federal agencies and improved waste management practices.


Utah judge suspended for making anti-Trump comments
Court News | 2019/05/26 08:26
A longtime Utah judge has been suspended without pay for six months after making critical comments online and in court about President Donald Trump, including a post bashing his “inability to govern and political incompetence.”

Judge Michael Kwan’s posts on Facebook and LinkedIn in 2016-2017 violated the judicial code of conduct and diminished “the reputation of our entire judiciary,” wrote Utah State Supreme Court Justice John A. Pearce in an opinion posted Wednesday.

Kwan’s Facebook account was private but could have been shared by friends, Pearce wrote.

“Judge Kwan’s behavior denigrates his reputation as an impartial, independent, dignified, and courteous jurist who takes no advantage of the office in which he serves,” Pearce said.


Brazil's supreme court votes to make homophobia a crime
Court News | 2019/05/24 04:41
A majority in Brazil's supreme court has voted to make homophobia and transphobia crimes like racism, a decision coming amid fears the country's far-right president will roll back LGBT social gains.

Six of the Supreme Federal Tribunal's 11 judges have voted in favor of the measure. The five other judges will vote in a court session on June 5, but the result will not be modified. The measure will take effect after all the justices have voted.

Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years. The court's judges ruled that homophobia should be framed within the racism law until the country's congress approves legislation specifically dealing with LGBT discrimination.

Brazil's Senate is dealing with a bill to criminalize discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender with sentences of up to five years.

"Racism is a crime against flesh and blood, whether it is a member of the LGBT community, a Jew or an Afro-descendant," justice Luiz Fux said Thursday.


Students in Colorado shooting face murder, other charges
Court News | 2019/05/11 22:45
Two students suspected of opening fire at their school are charged with over a dozen counts of murder and attempted murder as well as theft and arson, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The charges came on the same day a memorial service was being held for the one student who was killed in the May 7 shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7. Wight students were injured.

The accused gunmen, 18-year-old Devon Erickson and 16-year-old Alec McKinney, were arrested at the school and investigators say they opened fire inside using handguns.

The charges were listed in electronic court records. It wasn't clear if McKinney was being charged as an adult.

The celebration of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo's life will be held at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch. The senior was just days from graduating when he was fatally wounded.

Castillo along with classmates Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones are credited with helping minimize the bloodshed by charging at one of the suspects in a classroom.

According to Bialy, Castillo sprang into action against the shooter "and immediately was on top of him with complete disregard for his own safety." Jones said he was shot twice in the leg during the ordeal. Bialy said he was able to take the attacker's weapon.

All the injured students have been released from hospitals.


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