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Supreme Court hears arguments on treaty powers, patent infringement

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Tuesday in three cases. In Bond v. United States [transcript, PDF; JURIST op-ed] the court heard arguments on whether there are limits to Congress' authority to intrude on local and state programs with a valid international treaty. Carol Anne Bond attempted to poison her husband's lover by applying two toxic chemicals to her nemesis' mailbox, car door handles and house doorknob. She was then convicted under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act [18 USC § 229 text], a federal law that enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention [materials], which intends to ban the spread of international chemical weapons. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the conviction [opinion]. However, the justices challenged the government's broad interpretation of the weapons treaty, stating that even chocolate or vinegar may be within the treaty's reach. "If you told ordinary people that you were going to prosecute Ms. Bond for using a chemical weapon, they would be flabbergasted. It's so far outside of the ordinary meaning of the word," Justice Samuel Alito said. "This statute has an enormous breadth, anything that can cause death or injury to a person or an animal." Counsel for petitioner Carol Bond argued for a narrower interpretation of the law, that would only apply to "warlike" uses of chemicals.

In Sprint Communications v. Jacobs [transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments over how to apply Younger v. Harris [opinion], which creates a duty for a federal court to delay proceedings while a similar state court proceeding is ongoing, in cases where state regulations affect telephone-via-internet calls. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled [opinion] that federal courts could abstain from hearing the case until state proceedings ended. Counsel for the petitioners, Sprint Corporation, argued that if the Eighth Circuit decision stands, "virtually all state agency decisions, even on issues of Federal law, would be subject to challenge only in state court."

Finally, In Medtronic, Inc v. Boston Scientific Corp. [transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments over whether, in a declaratory judgment action brought by a patent licensee, the licensee has the burden to prove that its products do not infringe the patent, or whether the patentee must prove infringement. Counsel for petitioner Medtronic argued that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit erred when it held [opinion, PDF] that when the declaratory judgment plaintiff is the only party seeking the aid of the court, that party must bear the burden of persuasion. However, counsel for the respondent Boston Scientific argued that "there was no shifting of the burden of proof. … the normal default rule is perhaps one of the most fundamental tenets of our jurisprudence. It says that if a party files a complaint and seeks relief, it has the responsibility to prove that it is entitled to that relief."

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