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High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Business Law Info | 2019/06/25 17:36
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
Class Action News | 2019/06/25 00:37
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
Business Law Info | 2019/06/22 00:39
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.


Supreme Court upholds cross on public land in Maryland
Class Action News | 2019/06/21 00:41
A World War I memorial in the shape of a 40-foot-tall cross can continue to stand on public land in Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The justices, in ruling 7-2 in favor of the cross' backers, concluded that the nearly 100-year-old memorial's presence on a grassy highway median doesn't violate the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over others.

The case had been closely watched because it involves the place of religious symbols in public life. Defenders of the cross in Bladensburg had argued that a ruling against them could doom of hundreds of war memorials that use crosses to commemorate soldiers who died.


"The cross is undoubtedly a Christian symbol, but that fact should not blind us to everything else that the Bladensburg Cross has come to represent," Justice Samuel Alito wrote.

"For some, that monument is a symbolic resting place for ancestors who never returned home. For others, it is a place for the community to gather and honor all veterans and their sacrifices to our Nation. For others still, it is a historical landmark. For many of these people, destroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment. For all these reasons, the Cross does not offend the Constitution," he wrote.


Option to undo some DUI convictions yet to be widely sought
Business Law Info | 2019/06/19 00:42
Court officials and lawyers in North Dakota say few people have tried to undo convictions for refusing DUI blood tests in the year since a state Supreme Court opinion offered a narrow pathway for doing so.

The North Dakota high court ruled in 2018 that a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision found it unconstitutional to criminalize refusal of a warrantless blood draw applies retroactively. The 2016 decision was based on cases in North Dakota and Minnesota involving alcohol testing.

The North Dakota justices said in their ruling that any post-conviction relief applies "in very limited circumstances" such as time of the conviction and the "legal landscape" as it existed at the time of each case. Even so, Bismarck attorney Dan Herbel, who argued in both the 2016 and 2018 cases, said it doesn't appear many people are taking advantage of the state ruling.

"I don't know if a lot of people are even aware that they have the option of vacating a prior conviction based upon these cases," Herbel told The Bismarck Tribune.

The Minnesota Supreme Court in late 2018 also ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court case applies retroactively.

Attorney Jonathan Green, of Wahpeton, said he's sent letters to people he can find who have convictions for refusing warrantless blood draws. He's received phone calls from about a dozen people and has filed petitions for about half. Judges earlier this month vacated Burleigh County convictions for a Fargo woman and a Bismarck man for whom Green sought relief under the state Supreme Court ruling.


Kansas court OKs school funding law but keeps lawsuit open
Business Law Info | 2019/06/14 16:27
The Kansas Supreme Court signed off Friday on an increase in spending on public schools that the Democratic governor pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature, but the justices refused to close the protracted education funding lawsuit that prompted their decision.

The new school finance law boosted funding roughly $90 million a year and was enacted in April with bipartisan support. The court ruled that the new money was enough to satisfy the Kansas Constitution but also said it was keeping the underlying lawsuit open to ensure that the state keeps its funding promises.

"The State has substantially complied with our mandate," the court said in its unsigned opinion, referencing a decision last year that the state wasn't spending enough.

Gov. Laura Kelly had hoped the Supreme Court would end the lawsuit, which was filed by four local school districts in 2010. The districts' attorneys argued the new law would not provide enough new money after the 2019-20 school year and wanted the court to order additional increases.

Kansas spends more than $4 billion a year on its public schools — about $1 billion more than it did during the 2013-14 school year — because of the court's decisions. Some Republican lawmakers, particularly conservatives, have complained that the court has infringed on lawmakers' power under the state constitution to make spending decisions.



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