[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Tuesday in New Process Steel v. National Labor Relations Board [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report] on whether the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] has the authority to decide cases where only two of the five-member board are present. Section 3(b) of the National Labor Relations Act [29 USC § 153(b)] provides that three members are enough to constitute a quorum of the NLRB. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the NLRB had acted appropriately and affirmed its decision in full. Counsel for the petitioner, New Process Steel, argued that the "National Labor Relations Act clearly states that at all times, a quorum of the board will be not less than three members." Counsel for the NLRB argued that the plain text of the statute allows for a two-member board in certain circumstances. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has urged the Court to uphold [JURIST report] all decisions by the two-member board.
[JURIST] The attorneys general (AGs) of 13 states filed suit [complaint, PDF] in federal court in Florida on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials]. The suit comes the same day that President Barack Obama signed the bill into law [JURIST report]. The suit is being led by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is joined by the AGs of South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Michigan, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alabama, South Dakota, Louisiana, Idaho, Washington and Colorado. Among the allegations in the suit are that the new law violates Article I, Sections Two and Nine, and the Tenth Amendment [text] of the US constitution by levying a tax without regard to census data, property or profession, and for invading the sovereignty of the states. The plaintiffs also assert that the law should not be upheld under either the commerce clause or the spending power [materials] granted to Congress under Article I. The suit asks for a declaratory judgment that the act is unconstitutional, an injunction against its enforcement, and attorney's fees.
The suit by the AGs is the latest chapter in the contentious issue of health care reform in the US. Last week, Idaho Governor CL Otter became the first governor [JURIST report] to sign into state law a bill barring the federal mandate to purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report], that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit today originally threatened this action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill. The House of Representatives originally passed its version [JURIST report] of the bill in November.
[JURIST] US President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law [transcript of remarks] a bill to significantly alter the US health care system. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [HR 3590 materials] was presented to the president on Monday after being passed [JURIST report] by the House of Representatives by a margin of 219-212 on Sunday. The new law will prohibit insurance providers from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and dropping individuals from insurance plans because of illness, and will require all insurance providers to provide a rationale for proposed increases in premiums. Prior to signing the bill, Obama made a series of remarks, paying homage to the individuals past and present who had worked for reform in the health care system.
In remarks [transcript] made at the Department of the Interior after signing the bill, Obama indicated that many of the provisions will require several years before they are fully implemented, though some, such as the prohibition on excluding children for pre-existing conditions, will take effect immediately.
The passage of the health care reform bill has been extremely controversial. The same day that the bill was signed into law, the attorneys general (AGs) for 13 states filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the new law [JURIST report]. Last week, the Idaho Governor CL Otter, signed into law [JURIST report] a bill banning a federal mandate that citizens purchase health insurance. Earlier in March, the Virginia legislature passed a similar bill [JURIST report], that Governor Bob McDonald has indicated he will sign. The AGs who filed suit Tuesday originally threatened the action in December, after the Senate passed its version [JURIST reports] of the health care overhaul bill.
[JURIST] The proposed amendments [text, PDF; in Turkish] to Turkeys Constitution [text, in Turkish] threaten separation of power and judicial independence, the president of Turkey's Supreme Court [official website, in Turkish] Hasan Gerceker [official profile, in Turkish] declared on Monday in an interview [video, in Turkish] televised on NTV [official website, in Turkish]. "I want to indicate very clearly that some of the proposals being made are completely contrary to the principal of separation of power which has been enshrined in the Constitution since it was first adopted," he said. The government has declared that the proposed changes comport [Reuters report] with European Union (EU) standards, but Gerceker said that does not mean they should be blindly applied in Turkey.
The Turkish government unveiled [JURIST report] the controversial proposed amendments to 22 articles of the Turkish Constitution on Monday in hopes of making the government more democratic and strengthening the country's bid to join the EU [admission criteria]. The proposed amendments cover a wide range of issues [Hurriyet report], including the judicial system, women's rights, and collective bargaining for civil servants. The major reforms proposed include an amendment that would make party closures more difficult and an amendment to restructure the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HYSK) and the Constitutional Court [official websites, in Turkish]. Also included is an amendment to Article 15, which bans the prosecution of the 1980 coup leaders. The reform movement, led by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish], has been challenged by the opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP). The bill will now go before Parliament, where it must be approved by two-thirds of the 550 members to become law.
[JURIST] Google [corporate website] officially stopped censoring search results to Chinese users on Tuesday after a legal impasse was reached between the Internet giant and the Chinese government. Google announced Monday that it would be rerouting [press release] the Google.cn website through the company's Hong Kong site, which is not censored. Google explained its decision, stating:
Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced - it's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision.
China quickly responded to Google's rerouting plans and has now begun blocking results from the Hong Kong website as well. China claims that Google did not uphold agreements [Xinhua report] the firm had made when it entered the Chinese market in 2006, and that the company "violated its written promise" when it ceased censoring Internet searches. Chinese Foreign Ministry [official website, in Chinese] spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu stated in a press conference that the dispute with Google will not affect relations [transcript, in Chinese] between the US and China "unless someone politicizes the issue."
In February, China issued new regulations tightening restrictions on Internet use [JURIST report] by requiring citizens operating websites to submit identity cards and meet with regulators before their sites can be registered. The new policies came amid negotiations with Google regarding the Internet company's January threat to discontinue operations in China [JURIST report] due to the country's overarching Internet censorship. Google's action was in response to a cyber attack on its Gmail service in December, which targeted the e-mail accounts of human rights activists in China and drew the ire of rights groups around the world. Google indicated that it would work with the Chinese government to find a way to allow an, "unfiltered search engine within the law as well," but also noted that if an agreement cannot be reached, it would close its offices there and shut down its Google.cn website. China responded [JURIST report] by reiterating its commitment to open Internet, but stressed that international Internet companies must follow Chinese law. A week later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [official website] referenced the threat [JURIST report] by Google in a speech promoting Internet freedom and criticizing censorship, declaring that China "risk[s] walling themselves off from the progress of the next century." Zhaoxu criticized Clinton for her remarks stating that they were harmful to bilateral relations between the US and China.
[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Espinosa [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a bankruptcy court can discharge a student loan debt even if the student has not filed a claim of "undue hardship" under 11 USC § 523 [text]. The ruling affirms a decision [opinion, PDF] from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that student loans can be discharged within a Chapter 13 plan if the creditor receives notice of the plan and fails to object. Writing for the court, Justice Clarence Thomas said:
Where, as here, a party is notified of a plan's contents and fails to object to confirmation of the plan before the time for appeal expires, that party has been afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate, and the party's failure to avail itself of that opportunity will not justify ... relief. We thus agree with the Court of Appeals that the Bankruptcy Court's confirmation order is not void.
[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [judgment materials; press release, PDF] Tuesday that Google [corporate website, JURIST news archive] did not violate trademark law by selling advertising linked to trademarked names. The court reasoned that Google was merely a platform for ads, clearing all search engines from trademark liability and protecting their main source of revenue. The luxury-goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) [corporate website] first brought suit four years ago accusing Google's AdWords [service website] system of infringing upon companies' trademarks by allowing advertisers, including competitors and those selling imitation or counterfeit products, to purchase advertising space when a user searches for a product or trademarked name. While the court found AdWords to be a legal "information society service," it charged advertisers to make it clear that their products are different than the trademarked keyword. Google responded that the judgment reinforced [press release] the "fundamental principle behind the free flow of information over the internet." Additionally, Google stated that it works with brand owners to remove links to websites selling counterfeit goods.
Tuesday's judgment follows an advisory opinion against LVMH [JURIST report] issued by the EJC last year after the case was referred by the Cour de Cassation [official website, in French], France's highest court. In a separate case, a French court in February ordered Internet auction house eBay to pay LVMH 200,000 ($275,000) in damages [JURIST report] for paying search engines to direct customers to counterfeit LVMH products. The court found that eBay registered names similar to Louis Vuitton with search engines knowing that consumers looking for counterfeit products would search using those terms and be led to auctions on eBay selling those goods. In 2008, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled [JURIST report] that eBay has no duty to actively monitor its site for counterfeit goods. Earlier in 2008, however, a French court ordered eBay to pay LVMH $63 million [JURIST report] for failing to prevent the sale of counterfeit luxury goods.
[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Monday ordered the release of a Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] detainee who had been accused of planning the 9/11 [JURIST news archive] terrorist attacks. Mohamedou Ould Slahi [NYT materials], a Mauritanian who has been in US custody for over seven years, brought a habeas corpus petition, claiming that he had been tortured in prison [Miami Herald report] and had made confessions under duress. Slahi was once considered a key al Qaeda leader and prosecutors had sought the death penalty against him [WSJ report]. However, a prominent government prosecutor stepped down from the case [PBS interview] because he did not support the alleged abusive treatment used against Slahi. The judge's decision is currently classified, although the court suggested that the files will become available at a future date.
[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [BBC profile] on Monday called on the UN to declare access to safe drinking water a basic human right, marking World Water Day [official website]. While addressing the UN General Assembly's High Level Interactive Dialogue on Water, UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro [official profile] reiterated the importance [press release] of access to clean water resources as "vital for economic growth" and "central to public health, food security and stable societies," but fell short of declaring it a basic human right. Migiro also stressed that continuing climate change will only make the problem harder to address. Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [official website] Irina Bokova also released a statement [press release, PDF] saying "water must be clean, it must stay clean and, most importantly, it must be accessible to all." Morales's administration has been working to increase access [NNN-Prensa Latina report] for Bolivian citizens to clean water since 2006, investing in new water and sewage systems throughout the country.
Morales has also been an advocate of other environmental reform. Disappointed in the outcome of the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) [official website] in Copenhagen, Denmark, Bolivia is hosting an international meeting on climate change [Guardian report] next month, one week after the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) [official website] is scheduled [JURIST report] to hold another round of formal climate talks. While no legally-binding agreement was reached [JURIST report] at the conclusion of the COP15 in December, 192 UN member countries agreed to "take note" [press release] of a non-binding Copenhagen Accord [text, PDF] developed by leaders from the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa in an effort to limit the global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. The Copenhagen Green Climate Fund was also established to assist poor nations in reducing the effects of climate change [JURIST news archive]. The accord creates annexes by which countries will pledge to attain national emission reductions by 2020, but the pledges are not binding. Critics of the Copenhagen Accord have said it lacks the enforcement mechanisms needed to ensure compliance, and that it is unlikely to limit global temperature rise to the indicated levels.
[JURIST] A German court on Tuesday sentenced former Nazi SS member Heinrich Boere to life in prison for the 1944 murders of three Dutch civilians. Boere's trial began in October after he was declared medically fit to stand trial. [JURIST report] During the trial, Boere admitted to the reprisal killings [BBC report] of a bicycle shop owner, a pharmacist, and a civilian member of the Dutch resistance, which he carried out as part of a SS death squad. Boere was sentenced to death [AP report] in absentia by a Dutch court in 1949, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison. Boere never served his sentence, as one German court refused to extradite him because of the probability that he was a German national, and another refused the request that he serve his sentence in a German jail due to the likelihood the trial was unfair because Boere was not present for the proceedings. Boere plans to appeal the court's decision and will not begin serving his sentence until the appellate process is finished.
In November, a German court began the trial [JURIST report] of accused Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk [NNDB profile, JURIST news archive], marking the first time a Nazi war crimes trial will focus on a low-ranking foreigner rather than a commander. The Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk faces 27,900 accessory accounts stemming from his alleged involvement as a guard at Sobibor [Death Camps backgrounder] concentration camp. In August, a German district court sentenced [JURIST report] former Nazi army officer Josef Scheungraber to life in prison for the 1944 reprisal killing of 10 Italian civilians. Scheungraber was convicted on 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for ordering soldiers to blow up a barn in Falzano di Cortona, Tuscany, after forcing 11 civilians inside.
[JURIST] The US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs [official website] on Monday voted 13-10 in favor of the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 [text, PDF; summary, PDF], aimed at increasing oversight of the American financial system in the wake of the recent economic crisis. The vote on the legislative initiative, introduced [JURIST report] by Senate Democrats earlier this month, was split along party lines, with all Republican members voting against the proposed legislation but declining to negotiate [NYT report] in committee despite the 401 amendments that had been filed. The bill includes proposals for creating consumer protection entities with oversight over consumer lending, complex companies, and the insurance industries; increased regulation for financial instruments, banking, and corporate governance; and new rules to strengthen accountability in applying financial regulation. Two prominent features of the bill are the Volcker Rule [WH materials] prohibiting banks from engaging in financial activities for profit where the funds do not benefit the banks' customers, and an initiative that gives the government power to break up financial institutions deemed "too big to fail." Ranking Republican senator Richard Shelby [official website] decried [statement] such an early vote, saying that "[f]orcing the Banking Committee to vote on this proposal in a single week is unrealistic and undercuts the potential for bipartisan agreement given the length and complexity of the bill." Senate voting on the bill is expected to be a protracted process until a version to which both Democrats and Republicans will agree is reached.
In December, the US House of Representatives approved a similar bill [JURIST report] to create a consumer financial protection agency. The House Financial Services Committee [official website] had approved the bill in October, after originally delaying [JURIST reports] it at the behest of financial industry leaders in July. The creation of the agency is a key step in achieving the Obama administration's stated goal of tightening financial industry regulations. In June, the administration proposed a broad series of regulatory reforms [press release; JURIST report] aimed at restoring confidence in the US financial system. In 2009, the first legislative proposal [text, PDF; JURIST report] to reform the financial system since the 2008 economic crisis was met with resistance and resulted in the committee's development of the current bill.
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