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Supreme Court takes Conrad Black, separation of powers, employment cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in four cases. In Black v. United States [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider the appeal of former media mogul Conrad Black [CBC profile; JURIST news archive] to determine whether the "honest services" clause of 18 USC § 1346 [text] applies in cases where there is no finding that the defendant or defendants "reasonably contemplated identifiable economic harm" in cases of mail and wire fraud under § 1341 [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] held that § 1346 may be applied in a private setting [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] regardless of whether the defendant's conduct risked any foreseeable economic harm to the victim, rejecting Black's appeal. The courts of appeals are divided on the issue. Black was convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in 2007, sentenced to 78 months in prison [JURIST reports], and ordered to pay $125,000 and forfeit another $1 million.

In Free Enterprise Fund and Beckstead and Watts, LLP v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 [GPO materials] violates Constitutional separation of powers by affording members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) [organization website] executive power while removing any presidential authority to control the exercise of such power. The law was passed to reform business practices [NYT report] and prevent corporate fraud by overseeing the accounting industry and punishing corrupt auditors. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] held that the Act is constitutional [opinion, PDF] because Congress is able to restrict the president's removal power in any way it "deems best for the public interest" and because the constitutional authority to appoint implies the authority to limit, restrict, and regulate the removal of such appointments.

In Lewis v. City of Chicago [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider whether the 300-day filing period for an equal employment opportunity complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [text] begins after the announcement of the discriminatory practice or after the employer's use of the discriminatory practice. In this case, African-Americans seeking employment as firefighters in Chicago sued the city over an allegedly disparate racial impact resulting from a written test administered to job applicants. The original complaint was filed 420 days after the notice of the test results were sent out but within 300 days of the hiring of applicants based on the test results. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled in favor of the city of Chicago [opinion, PDF], holding that the "statute of limitations begins to run upon injury (or discovery of the injury) and is not restarted by subsequent injuries." The plaintiffs contend that the hiring of applicants by reliance on the test results constituted a new violation that allows their complaint to fall within the statute of limitations.

In Beard v. Kindler [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the Court will consider if a state procedural rule is inadequate under the adequate state grounds doctrine because the rule is discretionary rather than mandatory. The adequate state grounds doctrine bars Supreme Court jurisdiction of cases decided by a state court based on both federal and non-federal law if the state ground for the decision is adequate to support the judgment and is independent of federal law. The Pennsylvania courts applied the state's fugitive forfeiture rule and concluded that Kindler waived his right to seek appellate review, dismissing his appeal without reaching the merits of his claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] affirmed the district court's grant of federal habeas relief [opinion, PDF], rejecting the argument that Pennsylvania's fugitive waiver rule was an adequate and independent state ground for precluding such relief.

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