[JURIST] The Kansas House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday approved several new restrictions on abortion [JURIST news archive]. Bills 2035 [text, PDF] and 2281 [text, ODT] passed overwhelmingly, in voice votes of 96 to 25 [text, ODT] and 91 to 30 [text, ODT], respectively. If the bills are approved by the Senate, Kansas residents will not be able to obtain an abortion after the 20-week mark, when some studies suggest a fetus can begin feeling pain. Other restrictions include a stringent parental consent and notification system for a minor's abortion and "clear and convincing" evidence for a judicial bypass of parental consent; the ability to bring a civil suit against abortion providers if they violate Kansas law; the right for criminal prosecution of abortion providers if they violate Kansas law; and for abortion providers to inform patients that the fetus is a "whole, separate, unique, living human being." Opponents of the fetal-pain regulation believe this limitation violates the Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey [text], which allows for abortions until the fetus can survive viably outside the womb, typically at 22 or 23 weeks. There is no indication when the Senate will vote on either bill, though they are both expected to pass.
The bill, similar to a recent Nebraska act [JURIST report] based on a fetal-pain guideline, was formulated partly in reaction to the assassination of late-term abortion provider doctor George Tiller [BBC report], who practiced out of Wichita. Kansas' bills are the first major actions on abortion in the US in 2011, although several state legislatures are considering similar measures. In December the Alaska Superior Court upheld a parental consent notification law, whereas in November, Colorado voters rejected an amendment [JURIST reports] that would have granted fetuses a "personhood" status, effectively banning abortion. In June, then-Florida governor Charlie Crist vetoed a bill [JURIST report] that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound or listen to a detailed description of the fetus before the procedure would be performed. Oklahoma lawmakers approved a bill [JURIST report] in May requiring women seeking an abortion to complete a questionnaire containing information on marital status, reason for seeking the abortion and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. This followed laws passed the month before [JURIST report], prohibiting abortions performed because of the gender of the fetus, protecting medical employees who refuse to participate in procedures such as abortion based on religious beliefs, and regulating the use of RU-486, or mifepristone, a chemical used in abortion procedures.
[JURIST] The trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] on Wednesday declined [press release] a request from lawyers for accused Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo [case materials; JURIST news archive] to stay the proceedings against him. The trial chamber, in a confidential ruling, rejected contentions of prosecutorial misconduct [AP report] levied by Lubanga's defense team, including allegations that prosecutors, through proxies, offered bribes to witnesses and coached testimony. Lubanga had previously been ordered released from custody and his trial stayed until prosecutors complied with a directive to provide certain information to the defense, though the ICC appeals chamber later rescinded those orders and directed [JURIST reports] the trial to proceed.
Lubanga is accused of war crimes for allegedly recruiting child soldiers to fight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002-2003. His trial began in January 2009 but was halted soon after when one of the child witnesses recanted his testimony [JURIST report] that Lubanga had recruited him for the militia. The prosecution concluded its case [JURIST report] last July after presenting 22 weeks of testimony. Lubanga maintains he is innocent [JURIST report] of the charges against him. He became the first war crimes defendant to appear before the ICC, formed in 2002, after he was taken into custody [JURIST report] in March 2006.
[JURIST] A group of law professors asked Congress Wednesday
to extend the Code of Conduct for United States Judges [text, PDF] to apply to the Supreme Court [official website]. In a letter [text, PDF] to the House and Senate Judiciary Comittees [official websites], more than 100 law professors representing 67 schools urged Congress to advance legislation to apply the Code to Supreme Court justices, establish a procedural framework for enforcement, require a written opinion for every denial of a motion to recuse and create a review procedure for those decisions. In support of their position, the professors cited the court's own ruling in Caperton v. AT Massey Coal [JURIST report], a 2009 case in which the court decried the self-judging of ethics issues by judges. The group argued that, by its own reasoning, the lack of review for the same judgments made by Supreme Court justices is inappropriate:
Unlike Caperton, where the Supreme Court reversed the self-judged view of a single state court judge, there is no review procedure for recusal decisions by Supreme Court justices. Individual justices rule themselves on motions to recuse, or decide sua sponte to recuse in cases where no motion is filed. No written opinion is required in either situation. The opacity and non-reviewability of this process erodes public confidence in the integrity of the Court. The fundamental principle that "no man may be a judge in his own case" was articulated by Lord Coke in the seventeenth century, yet inexplicably we still allow Supreme Court justices to be the sole judge of themselves on recusal issues.
Wednesday's letter comes amid a wave of criticism for the court as a series of politically charged and divisive decisions has been followed by accusations of ethically troubling activities by justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito [Oyez profiles]. Of particular focus have been questions surrounding Thomas and Scalia's relationships with conservative businessmen David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries [corporate website], a multibillion dollar company with large oil, gas and paper operations which is involved in hundreds of cases currently before federal judges. In January, Common Cause [advocacy group] petitioned [text] the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to investigate the justices' relationship with the company and the impact it may have had on the court's controversial 5-4 decision [text, PDF; JURIST report] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission [materials] last year. Thomas has also fallen under fire for his wife's founding of Liberty Consulting [corporate website], a right-leaning political consultancy, shortly after leaving her position as the head of Liberty Central [NYT report], a conservative website with ties to the Tea Party movement.
[JURIST] The number of hate groups in the US rose to more than 1,000 [press release] during 2010, according to a report [text] released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) [advocacy website]. The SPLC reports this is the first time that these types of groups have exceeded 1,000 since the it started its monitoring in the 1980s. According to SPLC's hate group map [official map] the highest number (68) of hate groups exist in California, while the lowest number (0) were reported in Alaska and Hawaii. The SPLC also noted that more than 300 new "Patriot" movements [complete list] appeared in 2010. These groups embrace conspiracy theories about the US government and tend to view the government as their enemy. Finally, there are now 319 Nativist extreme groups [complete list] in the US. The classification of some groups has been disputed. In particular, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official profile] and Minnesota State Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota protested [CSM report] the SPLC's listing of the conservative Family Research Council as a hate group. SPLC has defended the classification saying that the groups deliberately disseminated untrue information about gay people. In its report, SPLC cites a number of dramatic incidents, including the shooting [JURIST report] of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) [official website] and the January arrest of a neo-Nazi at the Arizona border who was armed with grenades, as acts of "terrorism" committed by the swelling number of radical groups in the US.
In June of last year, federal prosecutors filed additional charges [superseding indictment, PDF] against four members of the "Christian warrior" militia, Hutaree, alleging possession of machine guns and unregistered rifles [JURIST report], as well as use of firearms during a violent crime. Nine members of the militia were originally indicted [JURIST report] in March on charges of seditious conspiracy, attempted use of weapons of mass destruction, teaching the use of explosive materials, and possessing a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with a plan to kill Michigan law enforcement officers. Four members of the militia, including one of the men named in the new indictment, were released on bail [JURIST report] one month earlier. Militia groups such as the Hutaree are reportedly on the rise in the US. A recent report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center [advocacy website] suggests that a lack of regulation on the Internet [JURIST report] is fueling this increased prevalence. A 2009 report [JURIST comment] by SPLC noted that these groups are making a comeback [JURIST report] after declining in number for several years. The SPLC said that such groups are generally anti-tax, anti-immigration, and increasingly racially motivated since the election of the country's first African-American president, Barack Obama. The SPLC also warned that these groups could soon pose a security risk to the country, quoting one official as saying "[a]ll it's lacking is a spark. I think it's only a matter of time before you see threats and violence."
[JURIST] Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie (D) [official profile] signed [official pres release] the same-sex civil unions bill [SB 232 text, PDF] into law on Wednesday, legalizing same-sex civil unions [JURIST news archives] in the state. The legislation will go into effect on January 1, 2012, and extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union. At the signing, Abercrombie said, "[t]he legalization of civil unions in Hawai'i is long overdue. ... Civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy, and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha." Last week, Hawaii's Senate [official website] voted [JURIST report] 18-5 [bill history] to give final approval to the bill. Prior to that, Hawaii's House of Representatives approved the same bill [JURIST report]. A similar bill was vetoed [JURIST report] in July by former governor Linda Lingle (R), who felt that, because it was an issue of "such significant societal importance," it was better suited for a vote in a public referendum. Hawaii is now the seventh state to offer essentially the same benefits and protections afforded to marriages to civil unions.
Earlier this month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn (D) signed a bill [JURIST report] legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state. The "Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act," seeks to provide "adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union" as well as to provide "persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses." Additionally, it will allow religious institutions within the state to choose whether to observe or officiate the union. Opponents fear that this bill will move Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive] and threaten the sanctity of marriage. The new law is set to take effect on June 1. In contrast, last month the Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 in favor of a constitutional amendment [JURIST report] that would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from any jurisdiction. The decision, which was split down party lines, will advance to the state House of Representatives, where it needs a two-thirds vote to succeed. If approved there, it will need to be signed by Governor Matt Mead (R) and then appear as a referendum item on the 2012 ballot. The following day, the House Judiciary Committee also voted 5-4 [Star-Tribune report] to defeat House Bill 150, which would have recognized civil unions in the state.
[JURIST] The Indiana Senate [official website] on Tuesday approved a bill [SB 590 text; bill materials] by a vote of 31-18, proposing a strict illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] policy comparable to the controversial Arizona law [JURIST news archive]. The bill would require individuals suspected of being illegal to provide proof of their legal status and calls for all public meetings, websites and documents to be in English only. Illegal immigrants would also be ineligible for in-state tuition rates, financial aid, grants or scholarships at Indiana state colleges and universities. Following the vote, Senator Mike Delph (R) [official website], author of the legislation, said [press release]:
Today's vote was a key step in the legislative process. I will continue to work with my fellow lawmakers to send a clear message that Indiana will no longer be a sanctuary for people who are in our state and country illegally because of our federal government's failure to act on illegal immigration. It's time that we put an end to press one for English and two for Spanish in our state. We also must remove the handcuffs from our law enforcement by providing them with the tools and training necessary to identify individuals in our country illegally and then transfer them to federal custody.
Various Indiana employers and business groups oppose the legislation [Reuters report], including the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce [official website], which says it will have a chilling effect on business. The legislation would strip businesses of tax deductions for each illegal employee and require the use of the E-Verify System to check the eligibility status of employees. The bill now moves to the Indiana House of Representatives.
Earlier this week, the Utah House of Representatives [official website] also passed [JURIST report] an Arizona-style immigration law. Unlike its Arizona predecessor, the Utah immigration bill does not provide an avenue for private citizens to sue local police who do not enforce the law. The issue of illegal immigration [JURIST news archive] has been the subject of legislation and lawsuits across the country, and several states have enacted or proposed legislation [JURIST reports] similar to the controversial Arizona immigration law. The Arizona law, which has been widely criticized as unconstitutional for allegedly legalizing racial profiling, has sparked a nationwide debate on immigration policy, prompting calls for immigration reform [JURIST report] from President Barack Obama [official profile]. In October, a judge for the US District Court in the District of Arizona [official website] denied [order, PDF] motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging the constitutionality of the Arizona law. Two other lawsuits [JURIST report] challenging the law were filed last year and are still pending.
[JURIST] Former Libyan Justice Minister Mustafa Abel-Jalil on Wednesday alleged that Muammar Gaddafi [BBC report] ordered [Expressen report, in Swedish] the 1988 Lockerbie [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] bombing, according to Swedish newspaper Expressen [website, in Swedish]. During the 40-minute interview, Abel-Jalil, who resigned [AP report] earlier this week in opposition of the country's violent response to protesters [JURIST report], claimed to have evidence that Gaddafi gave direct orders to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to conduct the bombing. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the Pan Am bombing and sentenced to 27 years in prison, which he subsequently appealed. Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence official, was released from custody [JURIST report] in August 2009 on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and subsequently returned to his native Libya. Libyan officials began lobbying for Megrahi's release after his diagnosis in September 2008, stating that allowing Megrahi to die in Scottish custody would be the equivalent of a death sentence. Libyan officials threatened "severe ramifications to UK interests" if Megrahi was not released. According to Abel-Jalil, Gaddafi did everything in his power to have Megrahi released and returned from Scotland, while concealing his own involvement.
Earlier this month, the UK's top civil servant reported [JURIST report] that the previous administration "[did] all it could" to facilitate a Libyan appeal to allow for the release of Megrahi from a Scottish prison, but that the decision-making power was solely within the province of the Scottish Government. Last August, the Obama administration urged Libyan authorities to return Megrahi to a Scottish prison [JURIST report] to serve the remainder of his sentence. Also in August, the opposition Scottish Labour Party [party website] called for the publication of all medical evidence [JURIST report] related to Megrahi's release. In July, US lawmakers called for an investigation [JURIST report] into the role that British Petroleum (BP) [corporate website; JURIST news archive], which was engaged in contract negotiations to explore drilling in Libya and was suffering "significant financial loss" while these contracts remained unsigned, may have played in Megrahi's release. Megrahi's release was controversial, with both US officials and the Scottish Parliament [JURIST reports] condemning it. Libya made its final compensation payment [JURIST report] to a US fund for victims' families in November 2008 after agreeing to accept responsibility for the 1988 airline bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed all 259 on board [memorial website] and 11 others, including 180 Americans.
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