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High court strikes down ‘scandalous’ part of trademark law
Court Center | 2019/06/25 18:15
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.


Court tosses black man's murder conviction over racial bias
Court Center | 2019/06/20 01:19
Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the court's majority opinion. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

In Flowers' sixth trial, the jury was made up of 11 whites and one African American. District Attorney Doug Evans struck five black prospective jurors.

In the earlier trials, three convictions were tossed out, including one when the prosecutor improperly excluded African Americans from the jury. In the second trial, the judge chided Evans for striking a juror based on race. Two other trials ended when jurors couldn't reach unanimous verdicts.

"The numbers speak loudly," Kavanaugh said in a summary of his opinion that he read in the courtroom, noting that Evans had removed 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors over the six trials. "We cannot ignore that history."

In dissent, Thomas called Kavanaugh's opinion "manifestly incorrect" and wrote that Flowers presented no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination."

Flowers has been in jail more than 22 years, since his arrest after four people were found shot to death in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, in July 1996.

Flowers was arrested several months later, described by prosecutors as a disgruntled former employee who sought revenge against the store's owner because she fired him and withheld most of his pay to cover the cost of merchandise he damaged. Nearly $300 was found missing after the killings.



Brazil's supreme court votes to make homophobia a crime
Court Center | 2019/06/14 06:51
Brazil's supreme court officially made homophobia and transphobia crimes similar to racism on Thursday, with the final justices casting their votes in a ruling that comes amid fears the country's far-right administration is seeking to roll back LGBT social gains.

Six of the Supreme Federal Tribunal's 11 judges had already voted in favor of the measure in late May, giving the ruling a majority. The final justices voted Thursday for a tally of eight votes for and three against.

Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years. The court's judges ruled that homophobia should be framed within the racism law until the country's congress approves legislation specifically dealing with LGBT discrimination.

The court's judges have said the ruling was to address an omission that had left the LGBT community legally unprotected.

"In a discriminatory society like the one we live in, the homosexual is different and the transsexual is different. Every preconception is violence, but some impose more suffering than others," said justice Carmen Lucia.

Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, one of the judges who voted against the measure, recognized the lack of congressional legislation on the issue but said he voted against putting homophobia inside the framework of the racism legislation because only the legislature has the power to create "types of crimes" and set punishments.


Washington Supreme Court weighing legislative records case
Court Center | 2019/06/13 06:54
Washington Supreme Court justices had pointed questions Tuesday for lawyers representing the Legislature and a media coalition who argued that lawmakers have been violating the law by not releasing emails, daily schedules and written reports of sexual harassment investigations.

The high court heard oral arguments on the appeal of a case that was sparked by a September 2017 lawsuit from a coalition led by The Associated Press. The group sued to challenge lawmakers' assertion they are not subject to the law that applies to other elected officials and agencies.

A Thurston County superior court judge in January 2018 ruled that the offices of individual lawmakers are in fact subject to the Public Records Act, but that the Washington Legislature, the House and Senate were not.

The media coalition's lawsuit had named the individual entities of the Legislature, as well as four legislative leaders. The Legislature has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the legislative offices, and the media coalition has appealed the portion of the ruling that applies to the Legislature, House and Senate.

The Public Records Act was passed by voter initiative in 1972. The Legislature has made a series of changes in the decades since, and lawyers for the House and Senate have regularly cited a 1995 revision in their denials to reporters seeking records.


Kansas court OKs school funding law but keeps lawsuit open
Court Center | 2019/06/13 06:52
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.



Kevin Spacey appears at court for hearing in groping case
Court Center | 2019/06/02 02:19
Sporting a gray suit and glasses, Kevin Spacey appeared Monday at a Massachusetts courthouse where a judge is set to hold a hearing in the case accusing the disgraced actor of groping a young man at a Nantucket bar in 2016.

Spacey’s appearance comes somewhat as a surprise as he was not required to attend the hearing and has stayed away from the courthouse except for a brief hearing in January, which he also tried to avoid.

The 59-year-old former “House of Cards” actor, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of indecent assault and battery, did not comment as he walked in with his lawyers. Spacey faces up to 2 ½ years in jail if convicted.

Spacey’s attorneys have stepped up their attacks on the credibility of the man who brought the allegations. In court documents filed Friday, defense attorney Alan Jackson accused the man of deleting text messages that support Spacey’s claims of innocence.

It’s the only criminal case that has been brought against the two-time Oscar winner since his career fell apart amid a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations in 2017.

The case first came to light that year when former Boston TV anchor Heather Unruh said Spacey got her son drunk and then sexually assaulted him at the Club Car, a popular restaurant and bar on the resort island off Cape Cod.


South Africa's Zuma must wait 3 months for court decision
Court Center | 2019/05/24 05:14
Former South African president Jacob Zuma will hear in three months' time whether corruption, racketeering and money laundering charges against him might be dropped.

Pietermaritzburg High Court judges have reserved judgment on his application for a permanent stay of prosecution. No date was announced.

Zuma was president from 2009 until 2018, when his ruling African National Congress party forced him to resign amid persistent corruption allegations. The scandal was seen as damaging the reputation of the ANC, which has been in power since the end of the harsh system of apartheid in 1994.

Public frustration over government corruption contributed to the ANC's weakest-ever election showing earlier this month, and current President Cyril Ramaphosa has apologized and vowed to crack down .

The scandals also have damaged confidence in South Africa's economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.

Zuma is accused of receiving bribes related to a 1999 arms deal. The charges were raised more than a decade ago and later withdrawn, then reinstated after a court ruled there were sufficient grounds to bring him to trial.


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