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Hawaii lawmakers shelve civil union bill
Legal Career News | 2007/02/28 19:06

Hawaii legislators have shelved a proposal to create civil unions for same-sex couples, indicating that the state legislature did not have enough votes to pass the law.

The state House Judiciary Committee declined to vote on the proposal after hours of testimony Tuesday without explaining the reasons for deferring debate. Hawaii was one of the first states to consider same-sex marriage when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that same-sex couples cannot be denied marriage, but a 1998 constitutional amendment defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey each recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, while Massachusetts is the only US state to legally recognize same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, New Jersey became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage and civil unions from out of state jurisdictions.

DOJ sued for release of FISC wiretapping order
Court Feed News | 2007/02/28 16:08

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a complaint Tuesday against the Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking the release of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order that authorized government surveillance of transmissions coming into or going outside of the country where one party was suspected of association with a terrorist organization.

The EFF filed their complaint under Section 552(a)(4)(B) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which grants the federal court "jurisdiction to enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant." The EFF complaint alleges that the DOJ denied the EFF's January 23, 2007 FOIA request seeking:

copies of all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court...orders referenced by the Attorney General in his letter to Sens. Leahy and Specter, and all FISC rules and guidelines associated with such orders and/or referenced by Mr. Snow in the January 17 press briefing.

Gonzales revealed the existence of the FISC order in January through a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which Gonzales announced that Bush administration will submit all domestic surveillance requests to the FISC for review and approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. While maintaining the legality of the NSA domestic surveillance program, Gonzales said in the letter that the President will not reauthorize the program when its current authorization expires, and will instead submit all surveillance requests through the FISC.

CA appeals court upholds stem cell research program
Legal Career News | 2007/02/28 06:32

A California state appeals court ruled Monday that the state's stem cell research program "suffers from no constitutional or other legal infirmity," leading the way for approximately $3 billion in grant money to be awarded to researchers. The Court of Appeal of the State of California First District upheld last year's lower court decision upholding the constitutionality of the program, operated by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The lower court determined that the stem cell program was being administered with sufficient state control and did not violate ballot initiative or conflicts of interest rules.

The research program, known as Proposition 71, was approved in a 2004 state referendum by a 59 percent margin. In its ruling, the appeals court noted the delay in research that the litigation had caused:

The objective of the proposition is to find, "as speedily as possible," therapies for the treatment and cure of major diseases and injuries, an aim the legitimacy of which no one disputes. The very pendency of this litigation, however, has interfered with implementation for more than two years.
The lawsuit against the program was brought by the California Family Bioethics Council and two anti-tax organizations - the People's Advocate and the National Tax Limitation Foundation. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said they would consider an appeal after reviewing the court's opinion, admitting that the California Supreme Court refuses to hear many appeals.

Croatia might drop lawsuit against Serbia
Legal World News | 2007/02/28 05:07

Croatia might drop its suit against Serbia at the highest UN court and seek an out of court settlement with it, a Croatian negotiator said yesterday.

The decision reflects the country's scepticism about its case after the court cleared Serbia of genocide in Bosnia.

Like Bosnia, Croatia also sued Serbia at the International Court of Justice for genocide committed here during the 1991 war, when Serbia backed Croatian Serbs' armed rebellion against Croatia's independence from the ex-Yugoslavia.

DOJ Releases New Americans with Disabilities Act
Legal Career News | 2007/02/28 02:38
The Department of Justice today released new technical assistance materials to help state and local governments comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The materials are part of the “ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments,” a project announced by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in October 2006.

“In our work with state and local governments throughout the country, we see many common problems with ADA compliance,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department is issuing the Tool Kit to help state and local government officials gain a better understanding of how to ensure equal access to government programs and services for all of their citizens with a disability.”

The Tool Kit is a commonsense guide to achieving ADA compliance. Chapters 3 and 4 of the Tool Kit, released today, address the ADA requirement of ensuring effective communications for people with disabilities. “People who are deaf or hard of hearing, those who are blind or have low vision, and individuals with other types of disabilities are entitled to equal access to state and local government programs, services and activities,” added Assistant Attorney General Kim. “These new chapters of the Tool Kit contain practical guidance, including checklists and action steps, that state, county and city officials can use to identify and resolve ADA compliance issues in government agencies and programs across the country, including public hospitals, courts, law enforcement agencies, 9-1-1 emergency communication systems, and recreation programs.”

During the past six years, through its Project Civic Access initiative, the Civil Rights Division has worked cooperatively with city and county officials to improve access for more than 2 million people with disabilities. The Department has reached 152 agreements that improve access for people with disabilities to city and county office buildings, courts, polling places, emergency shelters, museums, parks, law enforcement and corrections facilities, and websites.

Mississippi grand jury fails to indict in Till murder case
Court Feed News | 2007/02/27 20:29

A grand jury in Mississippi Tuesday refused to indict Carolyn Bryant on charges of manslaughter for the 1955 kidnap and murder of Emmett Till due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Carolyn is the wife of Rob Bryant, who, along with his half brother J.W. Milam, was acquitted in 1955 by an all-white jury on all charges related to the murder. Rob Bryant later confessed to the killing. A friend of Till called the grand jury's decision racist, telling AP "we had overwhelming evidence, and they came back with the same decision. Some people haven't changed from 50 years ago."

The Till case leads a series of attempts by federal law enforcement authorities to settle unfinished civil rights cases. Following a probe of investigative errors, the US Justice Department re-opened the case in 2004. Last year, the FBI reported that no federal civil rights charges would be filed in the Emmett Till case, and subsequently turned over to the local Mississippi district attorney.

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