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Legal news from Saturday, May 14, 2011




DOJ petitions federal appeals court for rehearing in wiretapping decision
Erin Bock on May 14, 2011 6:33 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official websites] to reconsider a ruling [opinion, PDF] that plaintiffs in Amnesty v. Blai [ACLU materials] had standing to sue the US government over surveillance. The plaintiffs, including attorneys, journalists and rights organizations, facially challenged [JURIST report] Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [50 USC § 1881(a)], which was added by the FISA Amendments ACT of 2008 (FAA) [HR 6304 materials]. The law created procedures to allow electronic government surveillance of individuals living outside of the US for foreign intelligence purposes, which the plaintiffs alleged was violative of the Fourth Amendment, First Amendment and Article III of the Constitution. A 2009 ruling [JURIST report] from the US District Court in Manhattan dismissed the suit after finding the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they did not suffer an injury in fact. A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit determined that the plaintiffs had standing [JURIST report] because the law put them in a "lose-lose" situation whereby they could continue with their activities and risk monitoring or they could incur financial and professional costs in order to avoid monitoring. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU} [advocacy website], one of the plaintiffs in the case, urged the court to reject the petition for rehearing [statement], calling the government's efforts to block the FAA from judicial review "disappointing and dangerous."

The ACLU has been critical of other government surveillance programs. In February, Congress approved an extension of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST report] with no new privacy measures, allowing for continued use of roving wiretaps, tracking of "lone wolf" terrorism suspects and the government's ability to seize "any tangible items" in the course of surveillance. The ACLU criticized Congress for failing to add civil liberty and privacy protections into the bill and instead choosing to "punt [the] critical issue down the road." In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] dismissed [JURIST report] a constitutional challenge to the Patriot Act due to lack of standing. The US District Court for the District of Oregon [official website] had previously ruled that certain provisions of the act were unconstitutional [JURIST report].




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Bosnian Serb leader cancels referendum on war crimes court
Erin Bock on May 14, 2011 5:38 PM ET

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[JURIST] Milorad Dodik [official profile, in Serbian], president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska [official website], announced on Friday that he has cancelled a referendum on the legality of the war crimes court that was set to take place next month. The referendum would have gauged support amongst citizens of Republika Srpska for the federal judiciary as well as the international envoy [Reuters report]. Proponents of the referendum insist that the judiciary is biased against Serbs in war crimes cases. Critics of the referendum questioned its legality, arguing that it is a violation of the Dayton Accords [materials], which separated Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) into two entities—Republika Srpksa is a mostly Serbian entity, and the Bosniak-Croat Federation is composed of mostly Muslims and Croats. Opponents argued that allowing only one region to determine the validity of a national system is illegal and would lead to increased ethnic tensions [Bloomberg report]. Dodik canceled the referendum in light of assurances made by Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton [official profile] that the EU would review the judiciary [BBC report].

The War Crimes Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina [official website] was established in 2005 to reduce the caseload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website]. In March, the court confirmed the indictment of a former police officer for genocide [JURIST report] for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive]. In January, the court sentenced a Muslim commander to 10 years in prison [JURIST report], overturning a 2008 acquittal regarding his failure to prevent the deaths of four prisoners in his custody and participating in their inhumane treatment. In December, the court convicted four former Bosnian Serb policemen [JURIST report] of killing at least 150 civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive].




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Georgia governor signs anti-illegal immigration bill
Dan Taglioli on May 14, 2011 3:56 PM ET

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[JURIST] Georgia Governor Nathan Deal [official website] signed into law on Friday an "Arizona style" anti-illegal immigration bill [HB 87 text] that allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in criminal investigations. The law also imposes fines and prison sentences of up to one year for anyone who knowingly transports illegal immigrants during the commission of a crime, and requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify [official website] system to check the immigration status of potential employees, providing that workers convicted of using fake identification to gain employment could face up to 15 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. One report described the measure as one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration measures [CNN report] enacted by an individual state. In addition to demonstrations outside the capitol, the legislation has drawn threats of both lawsuits and boycotts, as did similar recent anti-illegal measures in other states.

The Georgia General Assembly [official website] approved the bill [JURIST report] in April. Several other state legislatures have also acted recently to implement so-called "Arizona style" immigration laws. Last month, the Indiana House of Representatives [official website] approved legislation [JURIST report] to revoke tax credits from businesses that hire illegal immigrants and require the use of the E-verify system to check the eligibility status of employees. Legislation similar to Georgia's has also been approved in Alabama, Virginia and Oklahoma [JURIST reports]. Arizona's law is currently enjoined, and Governor Jan Brewer has pledged to appeal to the US Supreme Court [JURIST reports].




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UN officials concerned over Middle East rights violations
Dan Taglioli on May 14, 2011 1:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] UN human rights officials expressed concern [UN News Centre report] Friday over rights violations in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen where governments have responded to ongoing reform protests with crackdowns and military deployments. The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] is worried about NGO reports from Syria indicating as many as 850 people have been killed and thousands more arrested since demonstrations began in March. The UN Human Rights Council [official website] has ordered an assessment of the situation on the ground pending approval from Syrian authorities. Also in the Middle East, reports from Bahrain have indicated incommunicado detentions and denial of due process for hundreds of people connected with protests in the country, along with the reported torture and even death of some detainees. OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville stated:
We reiterate our call for prompt, impartial and transparent investigations into these allegations of grave human rights violations. We are deeply concerned about the reported scale of arbitrary detention and of the trials of civilians before military courts leading to life imprisonment and death sentences, which we have already said is illegal.
Colville also publicly urged Bahraini security forces to refrain from using force against peaceful protesters in planned upcoming demonstrations. Regarding nearby Yemen, Colville said the situation on the ground is difficult to assess due to authorities' lack of cooperation for humanitarian access, especially to afflicted areas. However, the OHCHR has condemned continued rights violations and killings across the country, and stands ready to deploy human rights officers to assess the situation, should Yemeni officials grant permission for such a visit.

At the end of April, the Human Rights Council, in an emergency special session, publicly condemned the violence [JURIST report] used by Syrian authorities against peaceful protesters. Also last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called for Syria to immediately halt the killings [JURIST report] and violence against civilian protesters in response to the fatal shootings of peaceful anti-government protesters. Pillay also urged the government of Bahrain to release detained activists [JURIST report] and exercise restraint against protesters. She expressed concern over the prosecution of medical professionals and the death sentences [JURIST report] handed to four activists last month. Earlier this month, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text; PDF] urging the international community to pressure Yemeni authorities to investigate the deaths of protesters [JURIST report]. The report chronicles reports of beatings and use of excessive force by security forces including shootings of peaceful protesters. AI criticized the response of authorities to the mounting death tolls as woefully inadequate.




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Unprecedented Notice of Warrantless Wiretapping in a Closed Case
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