March 2012 Archives


Ninth Circuit upholds Washington immigrant food stamp cuts
Brandon Gatto on March 1, 2012 2:22 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday ruled [opinion, PDF] that the state of Washington did not violate the constitutional rights of certain legal immigrants when it discontinued their food stamp benefits to save approximately $7 million in state funds. In reversing an injunction [text] by the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website], the Ninth Circuit upheld budget cuts responsible for eliminating the benefits provided by the state program Basic Food [official website], asserting that "States constitutionally can do precisely what Washington did here: provide supplemental benefits when the state's coffers bulge, but eliminate them when the state's resources diminish." Plaintiff Monica Pimentel, a legal immigrant and mother of three, argued that the state's decision to terminate the food assistance program violated the Equal Protection Clause [Cornell University backgrounder] of the Fourteenth Amendment [text], but to no avail. In rejecting the argument, the court reasoned that Washington denied Pimentel "benefits that it did not and still does not grant to citizens and other aliens." Rather, distinguished the court, those citizens and other aliens receive help from a program that lies "firmly in the hands of the federal government," and federal benefits have no bearing on how a state chooses to distribute the funds it receives.

Washington terminated the Basic Food program in February 2011 due to budget constraints, effectively cancelling state benefits for more than 10,000 households. Qualified citizens and non-citizens, however, continued to receive federal food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) [official website]. Though the federal program has always provided assistance for both citizens and non-citizens, the federal government in 1996 cut benefits for non-citizens and required that they meet a number of additional prerequisites to qualify for aid, including a five-year residence requirement. In response, Washington compensated by providing state food benefits to legal immigrants who no longer qualified under SNAP. Originally enacted as the Food Stamp Act [text, PDF], Washington has participated in the program by distributing federal benefits to citizens and non-citizen residents since its inception in 1964.




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Federal judge rules medical marijuana providers not shielded from federal prosecution
Rebecca DiLeonardo on March 1, 2012 1:31 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [order, PDF] a lawsuit challenging the US Attorney's authority to prosecute medical marijuana [JURIST news archive] providers in the state. The suit was filed by the El Camino Wellness Center Collective [website; Facebook page], a Sacramento dispensary and a medical marijuana user. The plaintiffs relied on a 2009 memorandum [text, PDF] from the Deputy Attorney General directing all US attorneys to avoid allocating resources to the prosecution [JURIST report] of "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana." In his order, Judge Garland Burrell ruled that the memorandum was not legally enforceable. In a statement [text] on its Facebook page, the El Camino Wellness Center said they were disappointed with the court's decision and they planned to appeal. This lawsuit is one of four similar suits filed in California after US Attorneys in the state announced their intent to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries.

Federal courts have been cracking down on state medical marijuana laws recently. In January, a federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Montana [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that the state's medical marijuana law does not protect providers of the drug from federal prosecution. Earlier in January the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] was granted a motion to dismiss [JURIST report] a lawsuit brought by the Arizona Governor. The governor argued an Arizona medical marijuana law placed lawmakers at risk of federal prosecution for implementing the law. In October, medical marijuana advocates filed suit [JURIST report] in a California federal court seeking relief against the federal government for its crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in the state. In June, a judge in Ontario stayed a ruling [JURIST report] finding that the country's marijuana laws were unconstitutional. In January 2010, the California Supreme Court [official website] overturned [JURIST report] a 2003 law limiting the amount of marijuana that may be possessed under the state's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP) [materials].




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EU official: Google privacy changes are in breach of EU law
Jamie Reese on March 1, 2012 1:27 PM ET

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[JURIST] Google's [corporate website] new privacy policy [text], which took affect Thursday, is in violation of European law according to the EU's Justice Commissioner Vice-President Viviane Reding [official website]. The new policy allows data collection from one Google service to be shared among all services, including YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps and Blogger. The new privacy agreement is mandatory when using Google services, and an individual's search history will personalize the advertising encountered. Reading told BBC that EU transparency rules had not been applied [BBC report]. EU data authorities are concerned about the sharing and combination of personal data across services and its compliance with European data protection legislation [text]. EU regulators are expected to send questions to Google by the middle of March.

Google not only faced international criticism in regards to its new privacy policy, but national concerns as well. Last week, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] dismissed a suit [JURIST report] from consumer privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website] asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] to block Google's then proposed changes. The group brought suit in February [JURIST report] and alleged the changes violated a consent order [JURIST report] between the FTC and Google. February also brought criticism from the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) [official website] who sent a letter [JURIST report] to Google, signed by 36 state attorneys general, expressing concerns about the company's new privacy policy. Three US representatives sent a letter [text, PDF] to the FTC asking it to look into [JURIST report] Google's new privacy policy. In January, Google issued a letter [JURIST report] in response to concerns raised by members of Congress regarding consumer privacy rights as impacted by the new policy. US Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) [official website] and seven other lawmakers sent a letter [text, PDF] to Google CEO Larry Page containing 11 questions regarding consumer privacy rights [JURIST report] as affected by Google's new privacy policies.




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HRW report: Bahrain convicting hundreds in unfair trials
Katherine Getty on March 1, 2012 1:07 PM ET

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[JURIST] Bahrain is convicting hundreds of opposition activists in unfair and politically motivated trials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Tuesday. The 94-page report details alleged due process violations [press release] in both civilian and military courts. The report is based on information obtained from interviews with more than 50 defendants, lawyers and witnesses to the proceedings. It also includes recommendations to the government of Bahrain, the UN, western countries and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website]. The report urges Bahrain to conduct its own investigation into the actions and hold the guilty accountable. Additionally, the report requests that the country stop convicting people asserting their rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association. According to HRW, the Bahrain government should:
Withdraw all charges and expunge all convictions lodged since February 2011 in the National Safety Courts or civilian courts based on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and all convictions based solely on confessions [and] release immediately all individuals who have been detained or convicted solely for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. [Additionally, they should] terminate ongoing prosecutions and not institute future prosecutions against any individual based solely on the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
In early February King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa stated that Bahrain did not have any political prisoners and that the only people arrested were criminals.

In response to a report [text, PDF] released in November by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) detailing human rights violations [JURIST report], Al Khalifa swore that reforms would be made. Al Khalifa promised last month to amend the nation's constitution [text] to allow the National Assembly [official profile] more oversight of ministers and cabinet members [JURIST report]. In early February, a Bahraini court overturned the death sentences for two protesters convicted of killing two police officers during the demonstrations that took place in the country last year. The original conviction [JURIST report] was rendered by a special security court set up as part of the emergency law in place while the country's Sunni rulers attempted to silence a Shiite-led to effort bolster civil and political rights in the country. In December, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that the Bahrain government should release prisoners detained during peaceful protests [JURIST reports] and focus on rebuilding national trust in the government. Pillay's statement followed a visit by a team of human rights officials to Bahrain at the invitation of the Bahrain government.




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Georgia House passes ban on late-term abortions
Jennie Ryan on March 1, 2012 11:06 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Georgia House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday approved legislation [HB 954] banning late-term abortions [JURIST news archive]. The bill, passed in a vote of 102-65, would prohibit most abortions performed beyond five months of pregnancy except in situations where continued pregnancy would affect the life or health of the mother. The legislation is premised on the controversial notion that a fetus begins to feel pain [AP report] at approximately 20 weeks of gestation. Opponents of the legislation argue that such a law would disproportionately affect poor women who could not afford to travel out of state to receive abortion services. Representative Sharon Cooper (R) [official profile] expressed concern that women would be forced to carry a badly damaged fetus that has no chance of surviving outside of the womb to term. In voicing her opposition to the bill, Cooper, a nurse, said that "[m]aking a mother carry that child to term is cruel and inhumane punishment." HB 954 goes to the Georgia State Senate [official website], and, if it passes there, Georgia would become the sixth state to impose such an abortion restrictions based on the notion that a fetus can feel pain.

Laws restricting access to abortions have been passed in other states recently. In August 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging a Kansas law [HB 2075 materials] that prohibits insurance companies from including coverage for abortion in their comprehensive plans. In July 2011, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Kansas [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] to block a regulation [SB 36 materials] requiring clinics within the state to obtain a license to perform abortions. In April 2011, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (R) [official website] signed two pieces of legislation [JURIST report] restricting abortions in the state. The Abortion Reporting Accuracy and Parental Rights Act [HB 2035, PDF] requires unemancipated minors to obtain notarized parental signatures before an abortion may be performed, and the "fetal pain bill" [HB 2218, PDF] restricts abortions beyond 22 weeks of pregnancy based on the belief that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of gestation.




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Federal judge rules tobacco warning label requirements unconstitutional
Saheli Chakrabarty on March 1, 2012 9:50 AM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF; order, PDF] Wednesday that a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] regulation [text] requiring cigarette packaging and advertisements to display more prominent graphic health warning labels [materials] is unconstitutional, issuing a permanent injunction. The regulation mandating nine new warning signs, initially set to take effect in September 2012, was deemed a violation of the tobacco companies' First Amendment rights. Rather, Judge Richard Leon suggested less restrictive alternatives to the warnings to convey the repercussions of smoking to the public. His suggestions include increasing anti-smoking advertisements, raising cigarette taxes, improving efforts to prevent unlawful sale to minors or changing display requirements. In his ruling, Leon wrote:
This Court is acutely aware of the health risks of smoking. And although the Government may want to convince consumers to stop smoking to protect their health, plaintiffs are correct in stating that their industry should not "serve as the government's unwilling spokesman in that paternalistic endeavor."
The ruling follows a preliminary injunction issued by Leon last November, which is currently being appealed [JURIST reports] by the FDA. The FDA is also expected to appeal Wednesday's decision.

US President Barack Obama [official website] signed [JURIST report] the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA) [HR 1256 text] into law in 2009, granting the FDA certain authority to regulate manufactured tobacco products. The legislation heightens warning-label requirements, prohibits marketing "light cigarettes" as a healthier alternative and allows for the regulation of cigarette ingredients. The proposed implementation of new tobacco warning labels has also drawn criticism abroad. In Australia, Philip Morris has filed a complaint [JURIST report] to block new graphic warning label requirements [AUS Health Dept. backgrounder] recently enacted in that country.




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Federal judge blocks enforcement of Arizona day laborer law
Kevin Green on March 1, 2012 9:48 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] on Wednesday blocked [order, PDF] Arizona from enforcing a section of the state's 2010 immigration enforcement law [SB 1070 materials] that bans drivers from blocking traffic to acquire or offer day labor services. The plaintiffs contend that the contested portions of the legislation violate the First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] right to commercial free speech. Judge Susan Bolton applied the commercial speech test to determine whether the legislation was an unconstitutional restriction on commercial speech and concluded that the legislation was unlawfully restrictive:
The Court finds that Defendants have not shown that A.R.S. § 13-2928(A) and (B), which are content-based restrictions of speech, are drawn to achieve the substantial governmental interest in traffic safety. As an initial matter, because the regulation is content-based and applies only to solicitation of employment, not other types of solicitation, it appears to be structured to target particular speech rather than a broader traffic problem. The adoption of a content-based ban on speech indicates that the legislature did not draft these provisions after careful evaluation of the burden on free speech.
Bolton ordered that, because the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the merits of their case and would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, injunctive relief was appropriate. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website], in a statement [text, PDF] released after the order was handed down, contended that the portions of the legislation related to day laborers was a "necessary traffic safety measure."

The District Court's ruling is part of a long line of challenges to SB 1070. Since SB 1070's passage, similar laws have been passed in Utah, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Indiana [JURIST reports]. Even though SB 1070 has influenced the passage of similar laws in other states, it has attracted sharp criticism. Attorneys for Brewer filed a brief with the US Supreme Court [official website] in February, asking the court to lift an injunction [JURIST report] that has blocked several provisions of SB 1070 from taking effect. In December, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Arizona's controversial immigration law is preempted by federal law [JURIST report]. In November, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] urged the Supreme Court not to hear Arizona's appeal [JURIST report] of a decision enjoining four provisions of SB 1070. The Supreme Court in May ruled in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting [Cornell LII backgrounder] that Arizona's controversial employment related immigration law [materials] is not preempted [JURIST report] by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).




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UN Human Rights Council denounces Syria crackdown
Keith Herting on March 1, 2012 9:10 AM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] voted Thursday to pass a non-binding resolution [text, PDF] condemning Syrian authorities for continued bloodshed and violations of human rights. The resolution calls for the Syrian government to immediately end attacks on civilians [press release]. The measure was affirmed with 37 nations voting for the proposal while three voted against and three other nations abstained. The UNHRC urged the Syrian government to:
"Immediately put an end to all human rights violations and attacks against civilians, to cease all violence, to allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas, and to permit humanitarian agencies to deliver vital relief goods and services to all civilians affected by the violence."
The resolution comes as Syrian forces under President Bashar al-Assad [Al Jazeera profile] continue an eleven month long siege on its own citizens which has escalated of late. The number of casualties has spiked as government forces have closed in on Baba Amr [BBC report] which has been the principle stronghold of the Syrian rebel force.

The official condemnation from the rights body comes on the heels of a demand for a cease-fire [JURIST report] by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] earlier this week. Syrian officials announced Monday that over 80 percent of voters in the country approved the new constitution [JURIST report], which imposes term limits on the president and provides for a multi-party system. However, Western leaders called the referendum a "farce" and condemned [Independent report] the "sham vote" as incapable of resolving the ongoing violence. Last month, the UN-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria accused the government of violating international human rights law [JURIST report] after finding that Syrian forces are engaging in torture and killings under orders from high level government officials. Also in February, both Pillay and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called for an end to the violence in Syria, with Pillay asking the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria [JURIST reports] to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Pillay urged an investigation of Syrian government and military officials for possible crimes against humanity. The OHCHR reports that more than 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began last March. The increasing unrest in Syria has garnered international attention and has sparked controversy in America about what its role should be [JURIST op-ed].




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Supreme Court hears arguments on equal protection in taxation
Julia Zebley on March 1, 2012 7:49 AM ET

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] on Wednesday in Armour v. Indianapolis [transcript; JURIST report] on tax equality under the Equal Protection clause [text] of the Constitution. In Indianapolis, a tax scheme was changed mid-project, and several residents were forgiven the remainder of their balances on that tax. The petitioners, a group of citizens who paid their taxes in full, argued that this amnesty program violates the Fourteenth Amendment: "The fact that an arbitrary classification may yield a desirable result does not render it any less arbitrary. The city must have a reason for drawing the distinction; but paying one's taxes in good faith does not equal treatment." The city argued that it was good public policy to forgive the remainder of taxes when they switched plans: "[S]ometimes things that make policy sense that the public likes also make good government sense." The city continued that an interest in making public policy that pleases people is rational enough that the classification should not be seen as arbitrary.

Indianapolis assessed a property tax [SCOTUSBlog report] on citizens in a certain residential area to fund a new sanitation project in 2001. Residents were given the option of paying the $9,278 tax in full, or paying it in increments over several decades. Several paid in full, while others paid considerably under the installment plan. In 2005, the city decided to revise the tax policy to fund the plan, and forgave the remaining balances on all of the residents. This put many in the position where they had paid above the new $2,500 fee for the sanitation project. The city government refused to refund those taxes, but property owners were refunded in a private suit. They then pursued litigation against the forgiveness policy that had allowed other property owners to pay below the initial tax. The Indiana Supreme Court [official website] ruled for the city [opinion text].




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