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White House disagrees with Gitmo trial ruling
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/05 15:41

The White House on Tuesday said it disagreed with rulings by U.S. military judges to drop all war crimes charges against two Guantanamo prisoners facing trial, and that the Defense Department was considering whether to appeal. "We don't agree with the ruling on the military commissions," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters in Prague where President Bush is meeting with leaders of the Czech Republic.

The judges on Monday said they lacked jurisdiction under the strict definition of those eligible for trial by military tribunal under a law enacted last year.

The Defense Department "will make a determination as to whether it's appropriate to file an appeal or not," Fratto said. "It does show that the system is taking great care to be within the letter of the law."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was traveling in Asia, said he was not familiar with the details of the ruling.

"If it is as described, that's the reason we have a judicial process in all of this and we'll have to take a look at it and see what the implications are," he said.

Setback for administration
The rulings did not affect U.S. authority to indefinitely hold the terrorism suspects detained at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in southeast Cuba.

But it was the latest setback for the Bush administration's efforts to put the Guantanamo captives through some form of judicial process.

"In no way does this decision affect the appropriateness of the military commission system," Fratto said.

The surprise decisions do not spell freedom for the detainees.

Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen and Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was 15 when he was arrested on an Afghan battlefield, were the only two of the roughly 380 prisoners at Guantanamo charged with crimes under a reconstituted military trial system.

Experts blame haste

Defense attorneys and legal experts blamed the rush by Congress and President Bush last year to restore the war-crimes trials after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the previous system, declaring it unconstitutional. In a remarkable coincidence, it was Hamdan's lawsuit that wound up in the Supreme Court.

In both of Monday's cases, the judges ruled that the new legislation says only "unlawful enemy combatants" can be tried by the military trials, known as commissions. But Khadr and Hamdan previously had been identified by military panels here only as enemy combatants, lacking the critical "unlawful" designation.

"The fundamental problem is that the law was not carefully written," said Madeline Morris, a Duke University law professor. "It was rushed through in a flurry of political pressure from the White House ... and it is quite riddled with internal contradictions and anomalies."

Prosecuting attorneys in both cases indicated they would appeal the dismissals. But the court designated to hear the appeals - known as the court of military commissions review - doesn't even exist yet, said Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, chief of military defense attorneys at Guantanamo Bay.

Army Maj. Beth Kubala, spokeswoman for the Office of Military Commissions that organizes the trials, said "the public should make no assumption about the future of military commissions."

She said they will continue to operate openly and fairly and added that dismissals of the charges "reflect that the military judges operate independently."

She declined to comment on how the Office of Military Commissions planned to respond to the setbacks, saying she didn't want to speculate.

Military prosecutors declined to appear before reporters after their cases collapsed.

The distinction between classifications of enemy combatants is important because if they were "lawful," they would be entitled to prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions.

A Pentagon spokesman said the issue was little more than semantics.

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said the entire Guantanamo system deals with people who act as "unlawful enemy combatants," operating outside any internationally recognized military, without uniforms or other things that make them party to the Geneva Conventions.

"It is our belief that the concept was implicit that all the Guantanamo detainees who were designated as 'enemy combatants' ... were in fact unlawful," Gordon said.

But Morris said the Military Commissions Act defines a lawful enemy combatant, in addition to a uniformed fighter belonging to a regular force - as "a member of a militia, volunteer corps or organized resistance movement belonging to a state party engaged in such hostilities and who meets four additional criteria."



Congresswomen Rallying Against High Court Ruling
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/01 12:42

Democratic congresswomen moved quickly this week in an attempt to counter a Supreme Court ruling on equal pay. On Tuesday, the court said an employee could not bring a pay discrimination case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because of discrimination that occurred years earlier. But the 5-4 ruling came with an unusual vocal dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court's only female member. "In our view," she said, speaking for herself and the other three dissenters, "the court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination."

A group of seven House members, led by Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, agreed, declaring in a statement, "The Supreme Court effectively rolled back efforts to ensure equal pay."

The court's decision, they said, "completely ignores the reality of the workplace and is based on the illogical conclusion that a victim of pay disparity will be able to document - despite the typical office secrecy over income - a discriminatory difference in the salaries within six months. It completely overlooks that a victim may be afraid to file a complaint."

They are pushing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would allow victims the right to back pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for intentional wage discrimination. They also will try to ensure that people who have been victims of wage discrimination would not be penalized because of time limitations.

In addition, House and Senate members - including some men - will introduce new legislation to clarify the intent of the Civil Rights Act in regard to pay discrimination.

The act says that any charge must be filed within 180 days "after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." The Supreme Court ruled this week that the 180 days begins on the date an employer makes the initial pay-setting decision. But opponents want the time to run from the date an employee gets a check with discriminatory pay, making it easier for potential victims to seek help.



Actor/Politician Fred Thompson May Run for President
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/31 16:42

Thompson's entry will have an immediate impact on the battle for the GOP nomination, adding a fourth candidate to the field's top tier, which includes former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. All three have struggled to win the confidence of conservative Republicans. Thompson will attempt to make the case that he is the true heir to the mantle of Ronald Reagan and, if successful, would become a formidable candidate for the nomination. But Republican strategists cautioned that Thompson will need a more refined message and an error-free start to live up to the publicity surrounding his all-but-certain candidacy.

"That's what the campaign will be all about for him -- persuading a significant portion of the party that he truly is the right leader for a set of issues and an outlook on the world," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

By tomorrow, aides said, the actor and former senator from Tennessee will incorporate a committee called Friends of Fred Thompson and will begin actively raising money for a White House bid. He launched the fundraising effort this week in a conference call with more than 100 supporters, whom he has dubbed his "First Day Founders."

Within the next few weeks, advisers say, a real campaign will take shape, even without a final decision or formal announcement. A Web site will be posted, campaign headquarters will be selected, and a staff will be hired. The signature red pickup truck from Thompson's Senate campaigns will be dusted off.

A senior adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Thompson has not formally announced his intentions, said he is confident about the future.

"This is not someone who is awkward in his own skin," the adviser said. "This will not be a D.C.-centric campaign. He has natural assets that appeal to conservatives, but at the same time he is not threatening to independents and Democrats."

Thompson will give a speech in Virginia this weekend and is scheduled to appear next month on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." An announcement could come as soon as the first week of July, using the hoopla of the national holiday as a backdrop. But those plans are in flux and could change, two sources said yesterday. One source said a formal announcement is likely to come "around that time."

As a lawmaker, Thompson exuded a folksy charm that supporters say could help him capture the attention of many Republican primary voters. His decades of movie and television appearances give him an immediate national presence that rivals that of the others in the campaign. Thompson has played District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order," but he told the television show he will not return in September, although he did not indicate any political intentions, producer Dick Wolf said in a statement.

Thompson, a senator from 1994 to 2003 and a guest host on Paul Harvey's show on ABC Radio, has already begun to reach out to party conservatives. He has been outspoken in his support of the war in Iraq and blasted the immigration deal reached in the Senate. He recently used a spat with liberal filmmaker Michael Moore to draw attention on conservative blogs, issued a Web video featuring himself chomping a cigar and chiding Moore for going to Cuba to film part of his new documentary.

Republican strategists predicted yesterday that Thompson will get an immediate boost in the polls by entering the race. "I think overnight he becomes the alternative," one strategist said.



Congress votes to raise minimum wage
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/25 17:52

The US Congress passed the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007 Thursday, raising the federal minimum wage for the first time in almost a decade. The provision was introduced as an amendment to the Iraq War Supplemental Budget, and will raise the current minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $5.85 an hour within 60 days of enactment and to $7.25 an hour within two years of enactment. The provision, and the Iraq war spending bill, passed the Senate 80-14 and the House 280-142. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) called the raise "long overdue" and criticized Republicans for preventing previous minimum wage bills from passing earlier this year by joining measures that would give tax breaks to businesses. The White House voiced support for the increase, but spokesperson Tony Fratto said that we would "very much prefer that it be paired with appropriate offsets for small businesses who would be disproportionately impacted by the minimum-wage increase." A $4.9 billion tax package also passed along with the minimum wage bill.

The National Restaurant Association (NRA), which represents an industry that employs approximately 12.8 million workers in 935,000 locations, issued a statement Thursday criticizing the minimum wage increase, saying that it "will cost our industry jobs... and that the current $4.9 billion tax package" would not provide sufficient relief for employers most impacted. The NRA claims that the industry "lost more than 146,000 jobs" and delayed the employment of 106,000 new employees as a result of the 40-cent minimum wage increase in 1997.



Bush appointments may dominate court
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/20 18:41

In the years since President Bush took office, he has picked three of the seven U.S. District Court judges in Colorado and The Pueblo Chieftain has learned he will have the chance to pick two more of them. If the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate confirms the Republican president's next two choices, he will have picked more of the court's full-time judges than any president since Colorado became a state. The president will get that opportunity next spring because two of the court's seven full-time judges disclosed in interviews that's when they will switch to part-time service, creating vacancies.

At that point, all of the judges will have been appointed by President Bush except for one judge picked by Democrat President Bill Clinton and one picked by President Bush's father, the first President Bush.

Switching to part-time service are Lewis Babcock of Denver and Walker Miller of Greeley.

Babcock is a native of Rocky Ford and was a state district court judge in Otero, Bent and Crowley counties from 1978 to 1983. Babcock was picked in 1988 for the court by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Miller was picked in 1996 by Clinton over Pueblo District Judge Dennis Maes, who wanted the job.

Judgeships on the U.S. District Court are coveted and prestigious. The judges, paid $161,000, are entitled to hold their jobs as long as they want.

Persons significantly involved in the matter say a deal between the president and the Senate is needed. A deal would make it more likely that nominees by the lame-duck president of one party will be confirmed by the Senate controlled by another party.

Otherwise, the court will be two judges short, creating a backlog of cases and slower-than-usual disposition of them.

If the two replacement judges are not confirmed before President Bush leaves office in January 2009, it is likely to be late in 2009, at the earliest, that the vacancies, which will occur early in 2008, would be filled.

Court veterans say a significant slow-down in handling cases, detrimental to persons with cases in the court, are likely if the court becomes two judges short.

The majority Senate Democrats, hoping their party's candidate will be elected president in November, could block confirmation of Bush's choices.

The state's two U.S. senators, Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Ken Salazar, could play a key role in getting a deal to make it more likely that replacements will be in place promptly.

Allard's chief of staff, Sean Conway, said Friday that the senators met last month with Babcock, chief judge for the past seven years, and Edward Nottingham, who becomes chief judge on June 8 for a seven-year term, to discuss the need for promptly filling the expected vacancies.

Conway said the two senators plan to work together to try to get replacement judges in office as soon as possible "once the White House makes nominations based on our recommendations and with bipartisan support."

Conway said the two senators have "a very good working relationship," but have not yet decided on what process they will use to make recommendations to the president. In the past, senators have appointed bipartisan committees to offer suggested judgeship candidates to them before deciding whom to recommend to the president.

Salazar and his staff did not make themselves available for comment.

Bush in recent years picked Marcia Kreiger of suburban Denver, Robert Blackburn, who lived in Las Animas, and Phillip Figa of suburban Denver for the court. When those three were confirmed by the Senate it was controlled by Republicans and the president was not a lame-duck, so the potential was much less for political fighting over who would become judges.

Figa is seriously ill with a brain tumor, but has been working part time while undergoing extended treatment. He hopes to return to handling a fuller caseload when his health permits.

If he is unable to do that, his position could become open.

The first President Bush picked Nottingham, then of Grand Junction, in 1989. The other judge among the seven, Wiley Daniel of Denver, was picked in 1995 by Clinton.

In addition to the seven full-time judges, known in federal court parlance as "active" judges, the court now has three part-time judges, known as senior judges. There will be five part-time judges when Miller moves to that status in March and Babcock in April.



CA Gov.proposes new death penalty protocol
U.S. Legal News | 2007/05/17 08:16

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger submitted a capital punishment proposal Tuesday in an effort to persuade US District Judge Jeremy Fogel to lift a moratorium on executions in the state. The proposal includes the construction of a new execution chamber and a revised protocol on the procedure for lethal injections in the state. Speaking on the plan, Schwarzenegger said that he is "committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that the lethal injection process is constitutional so the will of the people is upheld."

In December, Schwarzenegger ordered his administration to "correct court-identified deficiencies in California's lethal injection protocol to ensure the death penalty procedure is constitutional" after a federal court issued a memorandum of intended decision concluding that California's lethal injection  procedure creates "an undue and unnecessary risk" of cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution. The memorandum came after the execution of Michael Morales was postponed indefinitely in February 2006 when a court ruling held that medical professionals must monitor executions by lethal injection to be sure that the inmate feels no pain. The ruling imposed a virtual moratorium on executions in California as anesthesiologists refused to take part in the execution.



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