Daily Archives: October 2, 2011

House Republicans Want to Defund NPR, Education Program

On Thursday, House Appropriators released a draft spending bill that ends funding for NPR, President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education program, healthcare reform, and Planned Parenthood.

The bill also has a number of anti-union policy riders.

The $153.4 billion Labor, Health and Human Services bill reflects the August debt ceiling agreement. It is greater than the bill House Republicans sought to craft. Two fiscal conservatives have held up the bill because they want a lower figure.

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On This Day…

Polski: Thurgood Marshall

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first black person to serve on the high court.

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Supreme Court Term Starts Tomorrow, with Many Interesting Cases

U.S. Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court clerk will cry “Oyez!” for the first time of the term tomorrow. The upcoming term will likely end with a bang, as the Court will decide the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The decision on the Affordable Care Act will not come until spring, but there are many interesting cases between now and then.

Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tests how far a church’s designation of an employee as a “minister” can protect it from statutes barring discrimination. Cheryl Perich was a teacher at Lutheran school with the status of “commissioned minister,” though she was actually a teacher. She taught ordinary subjects and four thirty-minute Bible classes weekly. When Perich was diagnosed with narcolepsy, the school fired her despite statutory protections for the disabled. The EEOC sued on her behalf, and the school invoked the ministerial exception. Now the Court must decide how wide this exception is.

Golan v. Holder asks whether Congress can seize intellectual property from the public domain and give it to its foreign owners. Copyright is a fixed term of years, and works enter the “public domain” after the term ends. In 1994, Congress passed legislation to make American law more protective. The law restored copyright protection to many works by foreign authors that had already entered the public domain.  The plaintiffs created “derivative works” and must now pay royalties to the copyright owners. They claim this violates their First Amendment rights.

Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders tests whether jails can require strip searches upon entry even when there is no reason to suspect a new inmate of smuggling contraband.  Albert Florence was a passenger when his wife was pulled over for speeding. Florence showed the officer documents that showed he had mistakenly had a warrant issued against him but that it was later canceled. The officer did not accept the documents and arrested Florence on the mistaken warrant. Florence was held fir eight days and strip searched twice, though jail policy forbade strip searches for those accused of minor offenses. The extension of automatic searches to every jailed person would create a broad exception to the idea of physical privacy.

Zivotofsky v. Clinton asks whether the President’s “foreign affairs power” ousts Congress from directing foreign policy. When an American citizen is born in Jerusalem, the State Department issues a passport with “place of birth” listed as “Jerusalem.” In 2002, Congress passed a statute allowing parents to be able to choose “Jerusalem” or “Israel” as the “place of birth,” but the State Department has refused to comply. The family of a child is now suing to require Secretary of State Clinton to amend the passport to state the place of birth is “Israel.” The Bush and Obama administrations maintain that Congress cannot order the President to conduct foreign policy according to its rules.

United States v. Jones involves a nightclub owner suspected by the police and FBI of cocaine dealing. Authorities got a warrant to attach a GPS transmitter to his car, but they did not place it until the day after the warrant expired. The GPS was in place for four weeks and its data helped convict him. He argues that the GPS was placed illegally; the government argues the GPS was not a “search” at all, so it did not require a warrant. The Court is likely to focus on the physical act of putting the GPS device on the car and decide whether that requires a warrant.

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Justice Stevens Regrets Only Death Penalty Vote

John Paul Stevens, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

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Retired Justice John Paul Stevens has no regrets about his thirty-five years on the Supreme Court except one: his 1976 vote in Jurek v. Texas (part of the Gregg v. Georgia cases) to reinstate the death penalty.

At the time, Justice Stevens thought the death penalty would be confined “to a very narrow set of cases.” However, he acknowledges in his book Five Chiefs that he regretted his vote “because experience has shown that the Texas statute has played an important role in authorizing so many deaths sentences in that state.”

President Ford appointed Justice Stevens in 1975. Five Chiefs is about his time arguing in front of and working with five different Chief Justices.

Justice Stevens was replaced by Justice Elena Kagan, who he says is doing “wonderfully” on the Court. “I guess I say that not only because I agree with almost every– every vote she’s made since she’s-taken on the court,” he said. “But she writes beautifully.  And she has written some very fine opinions.”

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Facebook Starts a PAC

The Silicon Valley social media company Facebook has formed a political action committee it will use to distribute cash to candidates in the coming elections.

Companies like Facebook are moving to increase their influence in Washington amid increasingly complex legislative debates about monopolies, patents, and privacy.

Other media organizations are getting into politics, as well. Recently, Google co-sponsored a Republican Presidential debate with Fox News. On Monday, Facebook held a town-hall meeting featuring House Republicans just hours after LinkedIn held a similar meeting with President Barack Obama.

Facebook executives declined to say to which races it would give.

Facebook hired its first District of Columbia employe in 2007; the office now has more than a dozen people, including one federally registered lobbyist.

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