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Supreme Court seems divided over Texas redistricting
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/23 00:25
The Supreme Court appeared divided Tuesday over Texas' appeal to preserve congressional and legislative districts that a lower court struck down as racially discriminatory.

The justices heard arguments in the latest round of court action over Texas electoral districts that began in 2011.

At issue are two congressional districts and statehouse districts in four counties, and what the challengers say are efforts by Texas Republicans who control the state government to restrain the political influence of a growing Hispanic and African-American population.

The liberal justices seemed favorable to minority voters and civil rights groups that sued over the districts. The court's conservatives appeared to lean toward the state, which also has the support of the Trump administration. Justice Anthony Kennedy said nothing to indicate where his potentially decisive vote would fall.

The justices last year kept the challenged districts in place, even after the lower court ruling. Texas held primary elections in those districts in March.

Max Renea, Hicks, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told the justices Tuesday that even if his side wins at the high court, it is unlikely that new districts would be used before the 2020 elections, the last voting cycle before the next census.

The case is the third major dispute this term that is focused on redistricting, the drawing of electoral maps following the once-a-decade census. The high court's other cases, from Maryland and Wisconsin, focus on the drawing of political districts for partisan advantage.

The Texas situation is unusual. Based on the 2010 census, Texas was awarded four new congressional districts, attributable mainly to the influx of Hispanics.

After the state's original electoral maps were found to be probably unconstitutional, a three-judge federal court produced interim districting plans that were used in the 2012 elections.

In 2013, Republicans rushed to permanently adopt those maps to use for the rest of the decade.

But opponents criticized the adopted maps as a quick fix that didn't purge all districts of the impermissible use of race.

In 2017, the same judges who approved the interim maps in 2012 agreed with the challengers that the maps were the product of intentional discrimination.


Supreme Court rejects anti-abortion pastor's appeal on noise
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/16 04:22
The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from a pastor who challenged a state law's noise limit that was used to restrict his anti-abortion protest outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland, Maine.

The justices offered no comment Monday in rejecting the appeal from the Rev. Andrew March. He sued after he said Portland police officers repeatedly told him to lower his voice while he was protesting outside the clinic. March says police invoked a part of the Maine Civil Rights Act that applies to noise outside health facilities.

March says the law "targets pro-life advocates" in violation of the Constitution. A district judge temporarily blocked its enforcement, but the federal appeals court in Boston reversed that ruling.



Russian court blocks popular messaging app in privacy row
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/09 01:30
A Russian court on Friday ordered the blocking of a popular messaging app, Telegram, after it rejected to share its encryption data with authorities.

The Moscow court on Friday ruled in favor of the Russian communications watchdog, which had demanded that Telegram be blocked in Russia until it hands over the keys to its encryption.

The ban comes after a protracted dispute between Telegram and Russian authorities, who insist they need access to the encryption keys to investigate serious crimes, including terrorist attacks. Telegram is arguably the first widely popular means of communications in Russia that has been officially banned.

Telegram, a popular app developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, argues that Russia's FSB intelligence service is violating consumer rights, while authorities say the app has been used by violent extremists.

Durov had asked his lawyers not to attend Friday's court hearing because he said he saw the verdict as a foregone conclusion.

Pavel Chikov, one of Telegram's lawyers, said in a post on his Telegram channel that the company would not back down in the face of the Russian intelligence services because the court hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes, showed that the case against Telegram is politically motivated.



Retailers hope for certainty as Supreme Court hears tax case
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/06 01:31
Retailers are hoping for a resolution this year from the Supreme Court, which hears arguments Tuesday in a decades-old dispute: Whether companies must collect sales tax on items sold in a state where they don't have a store or other building.

If the court backs government officials who say they're losing billions of dollars in uncollected taxes, thousands of small companies could be forced to start charging their out-of-state customers for them. Some businesses fear that could alienate customers used to tax-free shopping. On the other side: Retailers who do collect sales tax and believe those who don't have an unfair advantage.

The justices will hear online retailers Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg challenging a South Dakota law enacted last May requiring out-of-state retailers that have sales of more than $100,000 or over 200 transactions a year in the state to collect sales tax. Their decision could have national implications on e-commerce, although Congress can pass legislation afterward that broadens or narrows the law.

It's not only about the money, says Stephanie Harvey, owner of exit343design in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. There are more than 10,000 sales tax jurisdictions in the United States: 35 states, the District of Columbia, counties and municipalities.

"Adding this sales tax isn't just about the tax itself — it's about the cost of time to navigate and file (taxes) or the additional expense of hiring someone to do so on behalf of the business," says Harvey, whose design and printing company has an online store and sells merchandise to other retailers.

The justices are likely to rule by June on whether to overturn a 1992 decision, Quill v. North Dakota, that said companies cannot be forced to collect sales tax from customers in a state where they don't have a physical presence like a store or distribution center. Collecting tax from online sales hasn't been a question for big online retailers like Walmart or Macy's since they have physical stores in most or all states. They also have accounting systems and financial staffs to handle the work.

Small retailers have software options to help collect taxes and do the administrative work, but it's an added cost. Whether it's worth it may depend on how much revenue a seller gets from other states. The most comprehensive software can work with the programs retailers use to process sales transactions. The software sellers determine the correct sales tax rate and submit payments and reports to tax authorities.



North Carolina court allows case against dance instructors
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/04 01:29
North Carolina's highest court says dance instructors who glided away to a competing dance studio can still be sued by the employer who wrangled the foreign-born pair's permission to work in the United States.

Happy Dance Inc. studio owner Michael Krawiec said Wednesday he's not yet discussed with his lawyer how to proceed after last week's ruling by the state Supreme Court.

The court decided breach of contract and other claims can continue against two dance instructors from Bosnia and Serbia, but the Charlotte studio that hired them away is largely out of the woods.

U.S. dance studios face a chronic search for instructors and have filled the gap by importing foreign workers from Eastern Europe and other countries where learning to waltz or tango is part of growing up.


Drug companies want Supreme Court to take eye drop dispute
U.S. Legal News | 2018/04/02 04:38
Eye drop users everywhere have had it happen. Tilt your head back, drip a drop in your eye and part of that drop always seems to dribble down your cheek.

But what most people see as an annoyance, some prescription drop users say is grounds for a lawsuit. Drug companies' bottles dispense drops that are too large, leaving wasted medication running down their faces, they say.

Don't roll your eyes. Major players in Americans' medicine cabinets — including Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Merck and Pfizer — are asking the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

On the other side are patients using the companies' drops to treat glaucoma and other eye conditions. Wasted medication affects their wallets, they say. They argue they would pay less for their treatment if their bottles of medication were designed to drip smaller drops. That would mean they could squeeze more doses out of every bottle. And they say companies could redesign the droppers on their bottles but have chosen not to.

The companies, for their part, have said the patients shouldn't be able to sue in federal court because their argument they would have paid less for treatment is based on a bottle that doesn't exist and speculation about how it would affect their costs if it did. They point out that the size of their drops was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and redesigned bottles would require FDA approval. The cost of changes could be passed on to patients, possibly resulting in treatment that costs more, they say.

Courts haven't seen eye to eye on whether patients should be able to sue. That's why the drugmakers are asking the Supreme Court to step in. A federal appeals court in Chicago threw out one lawsuit over drop size. But a federal appeals court in Philadelphia let the similar case now before the Supreme Court go forward. That kind of disagreement tends to get the Supreme Court's attention.

And if a drop-size lawsuit can go forward, so too could other packaging design lawsuits, like one by "toothpaste users whose tubes of toothpaste did not allow every bit of toothpaste to be used," wrote Kannon Shanmugam, a frequent advocate before the Supreme Court who is representing the drug companies in asking the high court to take the case.


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