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Validity of Obama health care law at issue in appeal hearing
Attorney News | 2019/07/07 01:41

An appeals court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether Congress effectively invalidated former President Barack Obama’s entire signature health care law when it zeroed out the tax imposed on those who chose not to buy insurance.

It’s unclear when the three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel will rule in a case that appears destined for the Supreme Court, which has reviewed the law, and its coverage and insurance protections for millions of Americans, before. The ultimate outcome will affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid expansions covering roughly 12 million people, and subsidies that help about 10 million others afford health insurance.

Tuesday’s arguments are the latest in a lawsuit filed by Republican officials in 18 states, led by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. It was filed after Congress ? which didn’t repeal the law, despite pressure from President Donald Trump ? reduced to zero the unpopular tax imposed on those without insurance.

In challenging the law anew, “Obamacare” opponents noted the 2012 ruling of a divided Supreme Court that upheld the law. Conservative justices had rejected the argument that Congress could require everyone to buy insurance under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. But Chief Justice John Roberts, joining four liberal justices, said Congress did have the power to impose a tax on those without insurance.

With no tax penalty now in effect, the Texas lawsuit argues, the individual mandate is unconstitutional and the entire law must fall without it. Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed in a December ruling. The law’s supporters appealed.

In addition to the 18 states, two individual taxpayers are part of the lawsuit. The Trump administration is not defending the law and has filed arguments in favor of O’Connor’s ruling.

California’s attorney general represents a coalition of mostly Democratic-led states and the District of Columbia seeking to overturn O’Connor’s ruling and uphold the law. The House of Representatives has joined them. Among the arguments by the law’s supporters: Those who filed suit have no case because they aren’t harmed by a penalty that doesn’t exist; the reduction of the tax penalty to zero could be read as a suspension of the tax, but the tax’s legal structure still exists; and that, even if the individual mandate is now unconstitutional, that does not affect the rest of the law known as the Affordable Care Act.


The Latest: Trump considers executive order on census query
Attorney News | 2019/07/02 01:43

President Donald Trump says he is “very seriously” considering an executive order to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The Justice Department says it will continue to search for legal grounds to force the inclusion of the question.

Trump says his administration is exploring a number of legal options, but the Justice Department has not said exactly what options remain now that the Supreme Court has barred the question, at least temporarily.

The government has already begun the process of printing the census questionnaire without that question.

The administration’s focus on asking broadly about citizenship for the first time since 1950 reflects the enormous political stakes and potential costs in the once-a-decade population count. The Justice Department says it will continue to look for legal grounds to force the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

But the department says it’s unclear how that will happen.

That’s according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs who took part in a conference call Friday with government lawyers and a federal judge who demanded clarification of the administration’s plans. President Donald Trump had reopened what appeared to be a final decision by his administration to proceed without the citizenship question on the next census.


High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Legal PR | 2019/06/25 17:49

The Supreme Court struck down a section of federal law Monday that prevented businesses from registering trademarks seen as scandalous or immoral, handing a victory to California fashion brand FUCT.

The high court ruled that the century-old provision is an unconstitutional restriction on speech. Between 2005 and 2015, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ultimately refused about 150 trademark applications a year as a result of the provision. Those who were turned away could still use the words they were seeking to register, but they didn’t get the benefits that come with trademark registration. Going after counterfeiters was also difficult as a result.

The Trump administration had defended the provision, arguing that it encouraged trademarks that are appropriate for all audiences.

The high court’s ruling means that the people and companies behind applications that previously failed as a result of the scandalous or immoral provision can re-submit them for approval. And new trademark applications cannot be refused on the grounds they are scandalous or immoral.

Justice Elena Kagan said in reading her majority opinion that the most fundamental principle of free speech law is that the government can’t penalize or discriminate against expression based on the ideas or viewpoints they convey. She said Lanham Act’s ban on “immoral or scandalous” trademarks does just that.

In an opinion for herself and five colleagues, both conservatives and liberals, Kagan called the law’s immoral or scandalous provision “substantially overbroad.”

“There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment,” she wrote.


Census, redistricting top remaining Supreme Court cases
Court Line | 2019/06/24 00:50

The Supreme Court enters its final week of decisions with two politically charged issues unresolved, whether to rein in political line-drawing for partisan gain and allow a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Both decisions could affect the distribution of political power for the next decade, and both also may test Chief Justice John Roberts’ professed desire to keep his court of five conservatives appointed by Republican presidents and four liberals appointed by Democrats from looking like the other, elected branches of government. Decisions that break along the court’s political and ideological divide are more likely to generate criticism of the court as yet another political institution.

In addition, the justices could say as early as Monday whether they will add to their election-year calendar a test of President Donald Trump’s effort to end an Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation. The court’s new term begins in October.

Twelve cases that were argued between November and April remain to be decided. They include disputes over: a trademark sought by the FUCT clothing line, control of a large swatch of eastern Oklahoma that once belonged to Indian tribes and when courts should defer to decisions made by executive branch agencies.

But the biggest cases by far involve the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the census and two cases in which lower courts found that Republicans in North Carolina and Democrats in Maryland went too far in drawing congressional districts to benefit their party at the expense of the other party’s voters.

The Supreme Court has never invalidated districts on partisan grounds, but the court has kept the door open to these claims. The court has struck down districts predominantly based on race.



EU court says Poland's Supreme Court reforms unlawful
Legal PR | 2019/06/22 00:52

The European Union's top court ruled Monday that a Polish law that pushed Supreme Court judges into early retirement violates EU law, a setback for Poland's right-wing government but a move welcomed by critics who worried the measure would cause a serious erosion of democratic standards.

In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said the measures breach judicial independence. An interim decision from the Luxembourg-based court in November ordered the Polish government to reinstate judges who were forced to retire early and to amend the law to remove the provisions that took about one-third of the court off the bench.

The court said the law "undermines the principle of the irremovability of judges, that principle being essential to their independence."

There was no immediate reaction from Poland's government, but the decision is a blow to the ruling authorities, who since winning power in 2015 have increasingly taken control of the judicial system.

The government and president have said they wanted to force the early retirement of the Supreme Court judges as part of a larger effort to purge communist-era judges.

But legal experts say that argument holds no water because most communist-era judges are long gone from the judicial system 30 years after the fall of communism. Many critics believe the true aim is to destroy the independence of the Polish judiciary.

The biggest fear is that the judiciary could become so politicized that those not favored by the ruling authorities could be unfairly charged with crimes and sentenced, essentially deprived of fair hearings. Though a separate court, the Constitutional Tribunal, and other bodies are already under the ruling party's control, many judges have continued to show independence, ruling against the authorities, even the justice minister, in recent cases.


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