[JURIST] The Maryland Court of Appeals [official website], the state's highest court, ruled [opinion, PDF] Friday that a lesbian couple legally married in California can get a divorce in Maryland. Even though Maryland does not currently allow same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder], the court ruled 7-0 that valid same-sex marriages performed out-of-state should be recognized for purposes of divorce. The court concluded:
Under the principles of the doctrine of comity applied in our State, Maryland courts will withhold recognition of a valid foreign marriage only if that marriage is "repugnant" to State public policy. This threshold, a high bar, has not been met yet; e.g., no still viable decision by this Court has deemed a valid foreign marriage to be “repugnant,” despite being void or punishable as a misdemeanor or more serious crime were it performed in Maryland. The present case will be treated no differently. A valid out-of-state same-sex marriage should be treated by Maryland courts as worthy of divorce, according to the applicable statutes, reported cases, and court rules of this State.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley signed a same-sex marriage bill [JURIST report] into law in March, and the law is set to take effect in January, making Maryland the eighth US state to allow same-sex marriage.
This legislation is about protecting the integrity of Mississippi's elections. ... This legislation is a direct result of the majority of Mississippians expressing their desire for a constitutional voter ID requirement in the state. We want everyone to participate in the election process, and we want that process to be fair and secure.
The bill will not take effect immediately, however. Because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, the new legislation must be approved by the US Department of Justice [official website] under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The DOJ has recently rejected similar laws in Texas and South Carolina [JURIST reports].
There are now 32 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, but the issue remains controversial. Earlier this month, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's new voter ID law [JURIST reports]. Last month a Wisconsin appeals court refused to rule on an injunction [JURIST report] currently blocking that state's voter ID law. In February the Virginia Senate approved a voter ID law [JURIST report]. Last June Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [official website] vetoed [JURIST report] a law requiring persons to present photo ID at voting booth.
[JURIST] The US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee [official website] approved legislation [press release] Thursday that would suspend foreign aid to countries that host Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [ICC materials; JURIST news archive] who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on genocide and war crimes charges. The provision is part of the Fiscal Year 2013 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which must be voted on by the full House of Representatives and then reconciled with a separate Senate version. The amendment, passed by voice vote, was backed by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) [official website], who called it [press release], "an example of effectively utilizing US foreign assistance to further US interests and to support oppressed and marginalized people in Sudan and around the globe."
Al-Bashir remains an extremely controversial figure in international politics for his actions during the Darfur conflict. The Kenyan High Court ruled in November that al-Bashir must be arrested [JURIST report] if he ever returns to Kenya. The ruling was in response to his second visit [JURIST report], where Kenya joined the ranks of the other African countries that have refused to enforce the ICC arrest warrant. The ICC requested in October that the Republic of Malawi explain [JURIST report] why that country's authorities failed to arrest al-Bashir during his widely reported visit there for a trade summit. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website], in a press release on the day of al-Bashir's visit, urged Malawi to arrest the Sudanese president [JURIST report] and surrender him to the ICC for prosecution. Last June AI urged Malaysia to withdraw an invitation for al-Bashir to participate in an event there and to arrest him if he travels to the country [JURIST report]. Also in June, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo issued a statement claiming that al-Bashir has continued to commit crimes against humanity [JURIST report] in Darfur. Last May the ICC urged Djibouti to arrest al-Bashir [JURIST report].
[JURIST] The Brazilian Access to Information Act took effect Wednesday, increasing government transparency. The law will allow citizens to seek access to information that has previously been shrouded in secrecy despite a constitutional provision [Article 5, XXXIII text] requiring public access to information. Speaking at a ceremony Wednesday to mark the swearing in of a truth commission [JURIST report] that will investigate human rights abuses under the country's military dictatorship, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff [official profile, in Portuguese] said [statement, in Portuguese] that, "the new law represents a major institutional improvement to Brazil, expression of the transparency of the State, guaranteeing basic security and protection for the citizens."
The new information law and the creation of the truth commission have been hailed by many as positive steps forward for Brazil. The commission is authorized to investigate abuses that occurred under Brazil's military dictatorship, which reigned the country from 1964 to 1985, but its findings will not lead to any trials [Al Jazeera report] due to a military-era amnesty. During the swearing-in ceremony, Rousseff, who was herself imprisoned for three years [BBC profile] during the military dictatorship, said "Brazil deserves the truth, new generations deserve the truth, andabove allthose who lost friends and relatives and who continue to suffer as if they were dying again each day deserve the truth."
[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that a New York town council beginning its meeting with prayer is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Town board meetings in Greece, NY [official website] are led with prayer, typically Christian-based, although the town maintains that any faith is welcome to lead the council in prayer. Due to this stipulation, the plaintiffs alleging that this practice violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment [text] received a summary judgment dismissal in district court. The Second Circuit overturned that judgment and ruled that while prayer may not be disallowed at the meetings, the current standards reflected a Christian viewpoint.
We conclude, on the record before us, that the town's prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials. We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town’s prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case. The town's process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint. Christian clergy delivered each and every one of the prayers for the first nine years of the town's prayer practice, and nearly all of the prayers thereafter. In the town's view, the preponderance of Christian clergy was the result of a random selection process. The randomness of the process, however, was limited by the town's practice of inviting clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town's borders. The town fails to recognize that its residents may hold religious beliefs that are not represented by a place of worship within the town. Such residents may be members of congregations in nearby towns or, indeed, may not be affiliated with any congregation. The town is not a community of religious institutions, but of individual residents, and, at the least, it must serve those residents without favor or disfavor to any creed or belief. In our view, whether a town's prayer-selection process constitutes an establishment of religion depends on the extent to which the selection process results in a perspective that is substantially neutral amongst creeds.
The ruling further suggested that government entities have "an obligation to consider how its prayer practice would be perceived by those who attended Town Board meetings." The court also made clear that they were not ruling against any form of prayer during the meetings, nor even nonsectarian ones, but that any prayer or invocation must be distanced to not be perceived as a government endorsement. The Alliance Defense Fund [advocacy website], which represented Greece in the case, plans to appeal [press release], stating "[t]here is no legal reason why a town cannot engage in this practice today with people from within its own community."
The Second Circuit also ruled [JURIST report] last year that the New York City Department of Education [official website] can enforce a rule prohibiting outside groups from using school facilities for after-school worship services. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit last July upheld a ruling by a federal district court that the Forsyth County, North Carolina, Board of Commissioners violated the First Amendment by beginning its public meetings with sectarian prayer. This ruling was analyzed [JURIST comment] by JURIST Guest Columnist Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina [advocacy website], who concluded that prayer at government functions that adheres to a particular religious dogma is unacceptable because it has a coercive impact on listeners and violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In April 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the National Day of Prayer (NDP) [official website], overturning an earlier lower court decision [JURIST report] that found the event in violation of the Establishment Clause by representing government-backed encouragement that Americans engage in non-secular activity.
[JURIST] Brazil President Dilma Rousseff [official profile, in Portuguese] on Wednesday swore in seven members of a truth commission [press release, in Portuguese] who will investigate alleged human rights violations that occurred under the country's military dictatorship. On the same day, the commission held its first meeting [Estadao report, in Portuguese], which dealt primarily with bureaucratic matters. The commission is authorized to investigate abuses that occurred under Brazil's military dictatorship, which reigned the country from 1964 to 1985, but its findings will not lead to any trials [Al Jazeera report] due to a military-era amnesty. During the swearing-in ceremony, Rousseff, who was herself imprisoned for three years [BBC profile] during the military dictatorship, said "Brazil deserves the truth, new generations deserve the truth, andabove allthose who lost friends and relatives and who continue to suffer as if they were dying again each day deserve the truth." Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] applauded the creation of the commission [statement] but also urged "the Commissioners to ensure that this Truth Commission works in an impartial, thorough and transparent way to guarantee the full disclosure of past crimes."
[JURIST] Illegal immigrants [JURIST backgrounder] face constitutional and human rights violations in Georgia detention centers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLUGA) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF; press release] Wednesday. The ACLUGA concluded that the suspected illegal immigrants live in squalor conditions, without access to appropriate medical care. It also documented overwhelming reports of due process rights being denied.
Violations include coercion by immigration judges and deportation officers to get detainees to sign stipulated orders of removal, overburdened court dockets, delays in the removal process, failure to provide pro bono representation information, and lack of adequate language access for non-English speaking detainees.
The report recommended a myriad of changes to remedy the situation, including no longer using two of the four detention centers in Georgia. It suggested that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) [official website] must push for stronger oversight of such facilities and end mandatory detention of suspected illegal immigrants.
The US government has faced criticism over the immigrant detention system. In September the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that immigrants who are imprisoned while fighting deportation cannot be held indefinitely [JURIST report] without a bail hearing and that the government must justify the need for the prolonged detention. Last year the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] released a report detailing investigations into immigrant detention centers [JURIST report]. The report expressed concern over increased use of detention by the US government, citing a doubling in detention of non-citizens by ICE. It criticized the US government for viewing detention as a necessity and not as an exception in its enforcement. The IACHR also found the average 30-day detentions troubling, arguing that it is likely to increase as backlogs of immigration cases increase. The number of immigration cases pending is expected to rise in light of the numerous state laws that have been enacted to address the issue of immigration.
[JURIST] Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin [official website] signed into law on Thursday a bill [H 464 materials] outlawing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking [JURIST news archive], making Vermont the first US state to ban the controversial technique used to extract natural gas from the ground. Fracking is the process of injecting a high pressured mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break through rock and release oil and natural gas. Most major oil companies [CNN report], including Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, employ this technique to obtain shale oil and gas. Proponents of fracking say that the practice could reduce US dependency on foreign oil by increasing energy production. At the moment there is no drilling [AP report] taking place in Vermont, and there is no evidence of a reserve of oil or gas in the state. Shumlin stated that:
This bill will ensure we do not inject chemicals into groundwater in a desperate pursuit for energy. It is a big moment. I hope other states will follow us. The science on fracking is uncertain at best. Let the other states be the guinea pigs. Let the Green Mountain State preserve its clean water, its lakes, its rivers and its quality of life.
Those opposed to fracking worry that the practice may cause mild earthquakes and the chemicals used may pollute the groundwater.
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