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Supreme Court Eases Campaign Finance Restrictions
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/26 14:42

Free speech rights take precedence over government restrictions on political advertising, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a decision that opens the door for greater influence by interest groups in the closing days of an election. In a 5-4 ruling, the court eased legal barriers aimed at corporate- and union-financed television ads, a decision whose tone suggests greater hostility on the court to federal limitations on money in politics.

The decision upheld an appeals court ruling that a Wisconsin anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group's First Amendment rights, the court said.

The law, a provision in the 2002 campaign finance act, banned corporations and unions from paying for political "issue ads" that mentioned a candidate for federal office within 60 days of a federal election and 30 days of a primary or caucus.

"Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. "Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

The law's provision not only applies to organized labor and business corporations, but also to any special interest that operated as a corporation, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club -- groups frequently involved in elections. The ruling does not change a ban on ads that specifically call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

"This decision helps put the NRA in the same playing field as the politicians and the big media conglomerates going into the 2008 elections," Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said in an interview.

A first test of the impact of the court's opinion could come as early as December, a month before presidential caucuses and primaries in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina open the nomination process.

The case addressed television ads by Wisconsin Right to Life that asked voters to contact the state's two senators, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and urged them not to filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees. Because Feingold was up for re-election at the time, the Federal Election Commission said the ads violated the 2002 campaign finance law that Feingold and Sen. John McCain helped write.

Campaign finance experts said that while the court's decision, written by Roberts, applied specifically to the Wisconsin case, the ruling has far-reaching implications.

In making his argument, Roberts said ads that focus on a legislative issue, take a position on an issue and urge the public to contact a public official is a legitimate "issue ad" that should run no matter how close to the election. Whether the ads intend to affect an election, Roberts said, does not matter.

"I don't think (Chief) Justice Roberts is naive," Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, said. "He knows full well that the test that the court has articulated today will lead to a great deal of corporation- and union- funded election advertising."

Writing more broadly, Roberts said the court has upheld contribution limits and some limits on expenditures in the interest of preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption. But he said that interest "must be stretched yet another step" in the Wisconsin case.

"Enough is enough," Roberts wrote.

Some campaign finance experts said Roberts' phrase carried a deeper meaning.

"For anybody who is looking for trouble ahead, that's certainly one of the places you would look," Robert Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer who is representing Barack Obama's presidential campaign. "He wants to remind everybody that having reviewed the entire line of argument up to this point he had quite enough of it."

The court's decision does not address the more far-reaching component of the campaign finance law -- it's ban on the ability of political parties to raise unlimited and unrestricted amounts of money from unions, corporations and wealthy donors.

But some campaign finance experts said that by opening the door to corporate and union-financed advertising, the court set the stage for a broader challenge to the law.

"Fundamentally what this case does is destabilize the state of campaign finance law as it existed when Justice (Sandra Day) O'Connor was on the court," said Nathaniel Persily, professor of law and political science at Columbia Law School.

The decision means the FEC likely will have to step in and write specific rules about advertising that reflects the court's opinion. The commission may face pressure to act before the end of the year.

The decision is a setback for McCain, who is now running for president. McCain has come under criticism from conservatives for attempting to restrict political money and political advertising.

"Obviously, I regret that decision, but it was very narrow," McCain told reporters in Columbia, S.C.

Presidential rival Mitt Romney cheered the ruling: "It's the beginning of an opening, I believe, to remove McCain-Feingold and its provisions that affect free speech and hopefully its broader provisions." Another candidate, Rudy Giuliani, praised the ruling as "a welcome victory for free speech and personal liberty." He previously had expressed support for the campaign finance reform act.

The court's majority was itself divided on the issue, with Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito saying only that the Wisconsin group's ads are not the equivalent of explicit campaign ads. They specifically said they were not overruling a 2003 court opinion that upheld the campaign finance law provision.

The three other justices that formed the majority -- Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- would have overruled the court's 2003 decision.

Justice David Souter, joined by his three liberal colleagues, said in his dissent that the court "effectively and, unjustifiably, overruled" the earlier decision.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens joined Souter's dissent.

Bush Remarks on Stem Cell Research
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/21 14:04

Text of President Bush's remarks on stem cell research Wednesday, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions.America is a nation that leads the world in science and technology. Our innovative spirit is making possible incredible advances in medicine that could save lives and cure diseases.America is also a nation founded on the principle that all human life is sacred. And our conscience calls us to pursue the possibilities of science in a manner that respects human dignity and upholds our moral values.

I appreciate the fact that we're joined by a lot of folks who share the deep desire to advance science and at the same time uphold our moral values.

I appreciate the fact that Mike Leavitt's here, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

I want to thank the members of the United States Congress and Senate who have joined us. Thank you for taking your time to be here on this important announcement today.

I'm joined on stage by two good docs, really smart, capable people: Dr. Bill Hurlbut, professor of Stanford University Medical Center, Dr. Don Landry, professor at Columbia University Department of Medicine. Actually, he's the chairman of the department.

The reason they're here is these are brilliant biologists who are seeking new ways to develop stem cell lines without violating human life. And these are smart folks, and I cannot thank them enough for coming to Oval Office to share with me their wisdom and their _ and their vision.

I'm also up here with Carol Franz. She has whipped cancer twice by using stem cell _ adult stem cells. In other words, adult stem cells have saved her life.

She's a determined woman who believes strongly that there are different alternatives available to use stem cells other than that _ those which are created as the result of destruction of human life.

And finally, I'm up here with the McNamara family. Kaitlyne is with us. I'm going to talk about her in a second.

I do want to thank the other stem cell patients and researchers and advocates who are here with us today. If you're not in any of those categories, you're welcome, too.

In 2001, I announced a policy to advance stem cell research in a way that is ambitious, ethical and effective. I became the first president to make federal funds available for embryonic stem cell research, and my policy did this in ways that would not encourage the destruction of embryos.

Since then, my administration has made more than $130 million available for research on stem cell lines derived from embryos that had already been destroyed. We provided more than $3 billion for research on all forms of stem cells, including those from adult and other non-embryonic sources.

This careful approach is producing results. It has contributed to proven therapeutic treatments in thousands of patients with many different diseases. It's opening the prospect of new discoveries that could transform lives.

Congress has sent me a bill that would overturn this policy. If this legislation became law, it would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line.

Last year, Congress passed a similar bill. I kept my promise by vetoing it. And today I'm keeping my word again: I'm vetoing the bill that Congress has sent.

Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical. And it is not the only option before us.

We're already seeing remarkable advances in science and therapeutic uses of stem cells drawn from adults and children and the blood from umbilical cords with no harm to the donor.

Researchers value embryonic stem cells because they are pluripotent, which means that they have the potential to develop into nearly all the cell types and tissues in the body. Researchers are now developing promising new techniques that offer the potential for new pluripotent stem cells without having to destroy human life.

For example, several new studies released earlier this month showed the potential of reprogramming adult cells, such as skin cells, to make them function like embryonic stem cells.

It's exciting new research taking place in the United States of America.

Scientists from all over the country hail this as an important breakthrough. And I'm pleased to report to you that my administration and the NIH helped fund this exciting work.

The taxpayers' dollars are going to new kinds of therapies, new kinds of science, new kinds of work that do not cross a moral and ethical line.

A few months earlier, scientists discovered that cells extracted from amniotic fluid and placentas could also provide stem cells that seem to do what embryonic cells can.

Still other researchers are investigating how to combine reprogramming and other innovative techniques to produce stem cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells, without creating or destroying embryos.

There's a lot of interesting work going on that's ethical and moral.

Scientists are exploring ways to collect stem cells in the same manner that doctors now rescue organs from patients who have died.

With us today are patients who are benefiting from ethical stem cell research, including Kaitlyne McNamara.

Kaitlyne was born with spina bifida, a disease that damaged her bladder. None of the treatments her doctor tried had worked. She was in danger of kidney failure.

Then her doctors took a piece of her bladder, isolated the healthy stem cells, and used them to grow a new bladder in a laboratory, which they then transplanted into her. And here she stands, healthy.

Scientific advances like this one are important and should give us hope that there's a better way forward than scientific advances that require the destruction of a human life.

The researchers pursuing these kinds of ethically responsible advances deserve our support. And there is legislation in Congress to give them that support.

Recently, the United States Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Norm Coleman and others, that would authorize additional federal funding for alternative stem cell research. The bill was approved with the backing of 70 United States senators.

The House leaders need to pass similar legislation that would authorize additional funds for ethical stem cell research. It would be an important advancement. It would be an important statement, because we can't lose the opportunity to conduct research that would give hope to those suffering from terrible diseases and help this country move beyond the controversies over embryo destruction.

We have a good chance to put aside all the politics, focus on a good piece of legislation that advances science and doesn't cross an ethical line.

Norm, I want to thank you and Johnny Isakson for sponsoring that piece of legislation.

In the meantime, my administration is taking immediate action to increase our support for researchers and their vital work. Earlier today, I issued an executive order to strengthen our nation's commitment to research on pluripotent stem cells.

This order takes a number of important steps.

The order directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH to ensure that any human pluripotent stem cell lines produced in ways that do not create, destroy or harm human embryos will be eligible for federal funding.

The order expands the NIH embryonic stem cell registry to include all types of ethically produced human pluripotent stem cells.

The order renames the registry, calls it this: the Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry. So it reflects what stem cells can do, instead of where they come from.

The order invites scientists to work with the NIH so we can add new ethically derived stem cell lines to the list of those eligible for federal funding.

Direct Secretary Leavitt to conduct an assessment of what resources will be necessary to support this important new research. This science that does not cross ethical lines requires money. I believe it is a good use of taxpayers' money to spend money on this kind of science and research, and Michael's going to expedite it. That's what that means: That's a fancy paragraph for saying he's going to get it done.

With these steps, we'll encourage scientists to expand the frontiers of stem cell research. We want to encourage science. We want to say, 'We stand on your side in an ethically responsible way.'

Scientists have recently shown they have the ingenuity and skill to pursue the potential benefits of pluripotent stem cell research. Here's two of them right here. That's why they're standing here; they have showed what's possible. I have confidence in their abilities to continue to develop new techniques.

With our expanded support of nondestructive research methods, we will make it more likely that these exciting advances continue to unfold.

Technical innovation in this difficult area is opening up new possibilities for progress without conflict or ethical controversy. So I invite policymakers and scientists to come together to speed our nation toward the destination we all seek, where medical problems can be solved without compromising either the high aims of science or the sanctity of human life.

Thank you all for coming. May God bless.

Congress Subpoenas Miers and Former Bush Aide
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/13 14:18

Two former White House officials were subpoenaed today as Congressional Democrats intensified pressure on the Bush administration over the dismissals of eight United States attorneys. Key Evidence of White House Involvement in Firings The Senate and House judiciary committees ordered Harriet E. Miers, the former White House counsel, and Sara M. Taylor, a former deputy assistant to President Bush and the White House director of political affairs, to appear before their panels.

Ms. Taylor was ordered to appear before the Senate committee on July 11. Ms. Miers, who was briefly a nominee for Supreme Court justice, was told to appear before the House panel the following day.

The committees had already voted to authorize such subpoenas, so it was not surprising that they decided today to go ahead and issue them. Still, the action stepped up the political confrontation over the dismissals, and over the general performance of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and the state of the Justice Department.

So far, the White House has said it will not make any current or former officials available to testify before the panels on the matter except in private interviews, with no transcripts kept. The lawmakers have disdained that arrangement as unacceptable.

"By refusing to cooperate with Congressional committees, the White House continues its pattern of confrontation over cooperation, and those who suffer most in this case are the public and the hard-working people at the Department of Justice," Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate committee, said in a statement today.

Representative John D. Conyers of Michigan, the chairman of the House committee, said the subpoenas were "a demand on behalf of the American people."

"The breadcrumbs in this investigation have always led to 1600 Pennsylvania," Mr. Conyers said, referring to the White House by its street address. "This investigation will not end until the White House complies with the demands of this subpoena in a timely and reasonable manner, so that we may get to the bottom of this."

The White House reacted quickly today to the subpoenas, arguing that the committees could easily obtain all the facts they need through interviews and relevant documents, but that the Democratic chairmen "are more interested in drama than facts," as Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, put it in an exchange with reporters.

The latest development follows the Senate Democrats’ attempt to pass a symbolic "no confidence" resolution against Mr. Gonzales. That attempt was thwarted on Monday when Mr. Gonzales’s critics fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle. That effort, too, was dismissed by the White House as a publicity stunt.

William Jefferson's Legal Bills Could Top $2 MIL
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/12 15:27

Attorneys say U-S Representative William Jefferson is facing legal bills that could reach two million dollars to fight complex public corruption charges that include bribery, racketeering and money laundering.

As of yesterday, the New Orleans Democrat had 136-thousand dollars in a legal defense account, a net debt in his campaign election fund and a congressional salary of 165-thousand, 200 dollars a year.

Election and white-collar defense attorneys in Washington say Jefferson's trial could last two to three months.

Evidence against him fills eight file cabinets.

Lawyers say a defense of that complexity and length easily could push Jefferson's defense costs into seven figures.

Campaign lawyer Ken Gross says the case involves a lot of witnesses and the case has a lot of tentacles.

A federal grand jury in Virginia indicted Jefferson last week on 16 counts of public corruption.

The indictment alleges Jefferson used his influence as co-chairman of the House Africa Investment Trade Caucus to broker deals in various African nations.

Jefferson maintains his innocence.

US Republicans block Gonzales no confidence vote
U.S. Legal News | 2007/06/11 23:36

Republicans blocked the Senate's no-confidence vote on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Monday, rejecting a symbolic Democratic effort to prod him from office despite blistering criticism from lawmakers in both parties. The 53-38 vote to move the resolution to full debate fell seven short of the 60 required. In bringing the matter up, Democrats dared Republicans to vote their true feelings about an attorney general who has alienated even the White House's strongest defenders by bungling the firings of federal prosecutors and claiming not to recall the details.

Republicans did not defend him, but most voted against moving the resolution ahead.

Short of impeachment, Congress has no authority to oust a Cabinet member, but Democrats were trying anew to give him a push. Gonzales dismissed the rhetorical ruckus on Capitol Hill, and President Bush continued to stand by his longtime friend and legal adviser.

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."

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