Honolulu — A U.S. Supreme Court justice on Friday issued a temporary stay blocking the counting of votes in an election that would be a significant step toward Native Hawaiian self-governance.

Supreme Court justice blocks Native Hawaiian vote count

Jennifer Sinco Kellerher, Associated Press 1:26 p.m. EST November 27, 2015

Honolulu — A U.S. Supreme Court justice on Friday issued a temporary stay blocking the counting of votes in an election that would be a significant step toward Native Hawaiian self-governance.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s order also stops the certification of any winners pending further direction from him or the entire court.

Native Hawaiians are voting to elect delegates for a convention next year to come up with a self-governance document to be ratified by Native Hawaiians. Voting ends Monday.

A group of Native Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians is challenging the election, arguing Hawaii residents who don’t have Native Hawaiian ancestry are being excluded from the vote, in violation of their constitutional rights. They argue it’s an unconstitutional, racially exclusive process.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright in Honolulu ruled last month the purpose of the private election is to establish self-determination for the indigenous people of Hawaii. Those elected won’t be able to alter state or local laws, he said.

The challengers appealed and also filed an emergency motion to block the votes from being counted. Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the emergency motion, prompting the challengers to appeal to the high court.

“Enormous political, social and economic consequences are at stake,” the application to the Supreme Court said. “The delegates chosen through this election will decide whether to adopt a new government that will affect every individual living in the state, as well as hundreds of thousands of individuals identified as Native Hawaiians.”

They argued without Supreme Court intervention, there would be “no remedy if the votes in this election are counted and the results certified,” the application said. “This election cannot be undone.

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Supreme Court orders Iberia ‘habitual offender’ to be resentenced

Anthony Daye was sentence to life as a habitual offender.  (Source: Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office)

 

The Louisiana Supreme Court has reversed an appellate court’s decision that an Iberia Parish’s man’s life sentence as a habitual offender was excessive and unconstitutional.

At issue was Anthony Daye, a 34-year-old fifth-felony offender, who was convicted of second-offense marijuana possession in 2012 and sentenced to life under the habitual offender law.

The Supreme Court agreed that Daye’s sentence should be reconsidered by the trial court in Iberia Parish, but only because there was not enough explanation in the sentencing. They reversed the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling that Daye should be sentenced to "lower than the maximum" of life. The minimum sentence was 20 years in prison.

"The court’s decision should not be read necessarily to limit the district court’s discretion in resentencing the defendant. On the facts before us, a life sentence may very well be constitutionally permissible. But it can only be so if the trial court clearly articulates its reasons," Justice Scott J. Crichton wrote in a ruling released Friday.

Daye was arrested for possessing a little over an ounce of marijuana in 2010. His other prior felony convictions includes: introduction of contraband into a penal institution; attempted possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; aggravated second degree battery; possession with intent to distribute cocaine and distribution of cocaine.

Daye is serving his sentence at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

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Colorado Supreme Court to hear case of man fired over medical marijuana –

 

 

By Rachel Estabrook Sep 29, 2014

Tomorrow, Colorado’s Supreme Court will consider whether employers should be able to fire workers for using medical marijuana.

Brandon Coats, the plaintiff, is suing Dish Network for firing him in 2010 from his job as a telephone operator after he tested positive for marijuana.

As a teenager, Coats was injured in a car accident, which left him unable to walk. 

“I use marijuana at nighttime, and just a little bit gets my spasms to where my body’s not going out of control,” he says.

Dish Network did not respond to Colorado Public Radio News’ requests for comment, but has said in court that the firing is in line with a policy that complies with federal law making marijuana illegal. Lower courts in Colorado have sided with Dish Network.

Coats has appealed to the Supreme Court because, he says, he wants to work again.

“There’s a lot of people out there like me  who would like to have a job but cannot, because their impairment requires them to use marijuana, and because marijuana’s looked down on for employment, they’re not able to get jobs,” he says.

Despite the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana, Colorado law does not require employers to allow marijuana use. The statute authorizing medical use of marijuana states, “Nothing in this section shall require any employer to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.” Amendment 64, which approved recreational marijuana use for Colorado adults, has a similar provision.

But Coats’ attorney has cited a Colorado law called the “Lawful Activities” statute, which prohibits an employer from discharging an employee for engaging in lawful activity off the premises of the business during nonworking hours.

Lara Makinen says most employers in Colorado have drug-free workplace policies spurred by the federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988. Makinen is on the board of the Colorado chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management. And she says, only a very small portion of employers have relaxed those policies since the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in Colorado. Many employers have actually tightened their drug testing policies, according to a survey by the Mountain States Employers Council.

Makinen holds regular phone calls and writes a newsletter for other human resources professionals in the state, and she says she has gotten a lot of questions about marijuana. “They want to know whether to stop drug testing, whether to change their policies,” she says. “They want to know, if someone’s smoking pot in their car at lunch, do I have to let them keep working after lunch?”

She says she’s sympathetic to Brandon Coats’ case, but worries that a ruling in his favor would open up employers to more lawsuits, and potentially embolden some employees to show up at work impaired. “Especially in jobs that have high safety standards, physicians, operating machinery… we have to be able to say as an employer, you have to come here clean and clear-headed,” Makinen says.

Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans, says his case isn’t about recreational marijuana, nor about using medical marijuana at work.

“We’re looking for something that both employers and employees can find a reasonable, working, practical solution,” he says. “For somebody in Brandon’s situation, who uses it after work, and who’s in a safe position answering phone calls from a desk… I think we can find a way to live together and not terminate these people.”

The Coats v. Dish case has gotten significant national attention. Makinen says there is no precedent, despite the fact that 22 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. “The bottom line is there’s no one else who has policies on this stuff,” she says.

– See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorado-supreme-court-hear-case-man-fired-over-medical-marijuana#sthash.mpfNvmqL.dpuf

Chemerinsky: Hurt by a government official? SCOTUS is making it harder and harder to sue

Posted Jun 24, 2014 8:40 AM CDT
By Erwin Chemerinsky

In a series of cases this term, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it much more difficult for plaintiffs to recover for civil rights violations. These decisions continue a pattern in recent years of the Supreme Court significantly expanding the immunity accorded to government officials sued for violating the Constitution.

Suing individual government officers is often the only way that an injured person can recover for constitutional violations. Yet suits against government entities are often difficult, if not impossible, to win. Both the federal and state governments are protected by sovereign immunity, which greatly limits suits against them for damages. Local governments may be held liable for civil rights violations only if there is a municipal policy or custom that led to the injury.

State and local government officials may be sued for constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S. Code Sec. 1983, and federal officers may be sued pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 1971 decision, Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. The Supreme Court, however, has said that all government officials sued for money damages may raise immunity as a defense. Some government officers have absolute immunity to suits for money damages: among them are judges performing judicial tasks, prosecutors performing prosecutorial tasks, legislators performing legislative tasks, police officers testifying as witness, and the president for acts taken in office.

All other government officers have qualified immunity. In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, the Supreme Court held in 1982 that “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

In the 30 years since Harlow, courts have struggled with how to determine if there is a clearly established law that the “reasonable person would have known.” Must there be a case on point to say that there is such clearly established law?

In Hope v. Pelzer, the court in 2002 seemingly resolved this and held that there need not be a prior decision on point for the plaintiff to show the existence of clearly established law. Rather, officers may be held liable so long as they had fair warning that their conduct was impermissible.

The case involved a prisoner who was tied to a hitching post and left in the hot sun. The federal court of appeals found that this was cruel and unusual punishment, but that the officers were protected by qualified immunity because there was no case on point holding that such use of the hitching post violated the Constitution. The Supreme Court reversed and said that a case on point is sufficient to show clearly established law, but it is not necessary.

In the decade since Hope v. Pelzer, including three cases this term, the Supreme Court repeatedly has found qualified immunity based on the absence of a case on point. The court has not overruled Hope v. Pelzer or even distinguished it; the court has simply ignored it. In the process, the court has made it much harder for plaintiffs to overcome qualified immunity and hold government officers liable for constitutional violations.

In Lane v. Franks, issued June 19, the court unanimously held that a government employee’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired for truthful testimony he gave pursuant to a subpoena. This result seems so obvious: of course it is wrong to fire a person for testifying honestly in a criminal trial, especially when the individual had no choice but to testify because of a subpoena.

Nonetheless, the court found that the defendant responsible for the firing was protected from liability by qualified immunity. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the court, said that “[t]he relevant question for qualified immunity purposes is this: Could Franks reasonably have believed, at the time he fired Lane, that a government employer could fire an employee on account of testimony the employee gave, under oath and outside the scope of his ordinary job responsibilities?” The court reviewed precedents, especially from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which earlier ruled on the case, and found that none had clearly held that this violates the First Amendment. But Hope v. Pelzer said that a case on point is not necessary: Shouldn’t every government officer know that it is wrong to fire a person for truthfully testifying in court?

In Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, the court again found that government officials were protected by qualified immunity. Police officers pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Donald Rickard was the driver of the Accord, and Kelly Allen was in the passenger seat. The officer asked Rickard if he had been drinking, and Rickard responded that he had not. Because Rickard failed to produce his driver’s license upon request and appeared nervous, the officer asked Rickard to step out of the car. Rather than comply with the officer’s request, Rickard sped away.

A high-speed chase then occurred that lasted five minutes and reached speeds greater than 100 mph. At one point, the officers appeared to have Rickard’s car pinned. But when the car pulled away, officers fired three shots into the car. As the car attempted to speed away, another 12 shots were fired by the police. Both the driver and the passenger were killed. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the police used excess force and violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed, ruling in favor of the police. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court and held that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court said that the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and that the police were justified in shooting at the car to stop it. The court said “it stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.” Moreover, the court said that even if there were a Fourth Amendment violation, the officers were protected by qualified immunity, in that the law had not clearly established that the conduct violated the Fourth Amendment.

This is a disturbing holding. The Supreme Court now has said that whenever there is a high-speed chase that the officers perceive could injure others–and that would seem to be true of virtually all high speed chases–the police can shoot at the vehicle and keep shooting until it stops. The car was stopped for having only one working headlight. If the driver refused to stop, why not just let the car go and then track the driver down later? Why should death be the punishment for making the extremely poor choice to begin a high-speed chase?

Finally, in Wood v. Moss, also decided on May 27, the court found that Secret Service agents were protected by qualified immunity when they engaged in viewpoint discrimination with regard to speakers. President George W. Bush was in Oregon and the Secret Service agents allowed supporters of President Bush to be closer and pushed the opponents further away. The law is clear that the government cannot discriminate among speakers based on their views unless strict scrutiny is met.

Nonetheless, the court, in a unanimous decision with the majority opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, found that the Secret Service agents were protected by qualified immunity because there were no cases on point concerning when Secret Service agents may violate the First Amendment. But why do there need to be specific cases since the law is clearly established that viewpoint discrimination violates the First Amendment?

All of these cases were unanimous. All found qualified immunity because of the absence of a case on point. Together they show a court that is very protective of government officials who are sued and that has made it very difficult for victims of constitutional violations to recover.

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, is one of the nation’s top experts in constitutional law, federal practice, civil rights and civil liberties, and appellate litigation. He is the author of seven books, the latest being The Conservative Assault on the Constitution (Simon & Schuster, 2010). His casebook, Constitutional Law, is one of the most widely read law textbooks in the country. Chemerinsky has also written nearly 200 law review articles in journals such as the Harvard Law Review, Michigan Law Review, Northwestern Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Stanford Law Review and Yale Law Journal. He frequently argues appellate cases, including matters before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeal, and regularly serves as a commentator on legal issues for national and local media. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.S. from Northwestern University.

Canada: Marijuana Party candidate files case to Supreme Court

ByRob O’Flanagan

GUELPH – A Guelph candidate in the last federal election will contest the local result to the country’s highest court.

Kornelis (Case) Klevering, who collected 171 votes as the Marijuana Party candidate in the May 2011, filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada last week. The appeal came days after the Federal Court of Canada rejected Klevering’s contention that the election results in Guelph should be annulled on the grounds that fraudulent and illegal practices misdirected local voters.

In her ruling, prothonotary Martha Milczynski of the federal court found Klevering’s case lacking. Milczynski acknowledged that "Guelph may be singled out as one of, if not the most egregious example of the voter suppression efforts" that marred the election. Voters were misdirected through automated telephone calls, or robocalls, fraudulently informing them of the relocation of polling stations.

But she ruled that Klevering was unable to prove through solid evidence that voter suppression "had an impact on the election results in the riding of Guelph or on the integrity of the election such that there is even the slightest chance that the results would be annulled and the electorate in Guelph put through a byelection."

Milczynski also ruled that Klevering’s application was filed late – well beyond the 30-day limit after election results were officially published in the Canada Gazette.

Guelph MP Frank Valeriote, who won the 2011 election by just over 6,200 votes, opposed Klevering’s application to the federal court, and said Monday he would opposed the Supreme Court appeal as well.

Klevering said in an interview Monday that he is no stranger to Supreme Court proceedings, having filed five previous appeals to the high court related to "constitutional issues with respect to cannabis marijuana."

His latest filing includes a sworn affidavit related to personal finances which should ensure that he can appeal the case without personal expense. The Supreme Court received his filing last Friday. He believes contesting the case on charter grounds is the best way to ensure the rights of voters are upheld.

The best result, he added, would be for the Supreme Court to determine if the election in Guelph was free and fair according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and if the integrity of the election was compromised enough to call a byelection. That would ensure that all voters in Guelph have the same opportunity to cast a ballet, as opposed to being unfairly redirected to a fraudulent polling station.

"It’s a constitutional question that has to be dealt with at the Supreme Court, not the federal court," Klevering said, adding that the matter must be decided by a judge with more authority than Milczynski. A prothonotary is a principle clerk in a court of law, not a judge.

"She said there was no evidence, which is ridiculous because there is evidence," Klevering said, explaining that the Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer ruled there were thousands of robo-calls in Guelph alone. Klevering added that Justice Richard Mosley had previously ruled that fraud had occurred in six ridings during the election, particularly in Guelph. That is evidence enough of wrongdoing, he said.

"For me it’s more a charter violation," he said. "Section 3 of the charter says all elections are supposed to be free and fair. That certainly didn’t happen for everybody in Guelph. Based on that, I am asking the court to rule if the integrity had been compromised to the point where the election was no longer free and fair."

Valeriote said Klevering has, like all Canadians, "the right to be heard, provided the circumstances are such that an argument is warranted." In this case, Valeriote said, the federal court decision was clear.

"I’m satisfied with the result, but more importantly the court held that the fraud that was the centre of Case’s argument was fraud that was perpetrated by someone who had access to the Conservative database, and that it did strike at the integrity of the electoral process in attempted to dissuade voters from voting," Valeriote added.

Quoting Mosley’s findings, Milczynski said evidence of fraud was "mostly clearly demonstrated in the Guelph investigation," and that it was clear that a database maintained by the Conservative Party of Canada was accessed by unknown person or persons in placing the fraudulent calls. There is no evidence the access was approved or condoned by the party.

While in other jurisdictions where robo-calls took place the outcome may have been influenced by those fraudulent calls, Valeriote added there was no evidence of that being the case in Guelph, where the margin of victory was wide.

"So I really have to challenge now why Case would continue with this given that the judge said it did not affect the ultimate result," Valeriote said. "Because of the result, it’s clear that the voters of Guelph spoke quite loudly and clearly on election day, notwithstanding the voter fraud on election day."

Valeriote said there will be a financial cost to him in challenging the Supreme Court appeal. His lawyer will represent him at the proceedings when they are held. Klevering said a date for a hearing has not been decided.

[email protected]

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Evil Monsanto Aggressively Sues Farmers for Saving Seeds

Farmers have always saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year. But Monsanto and other big seed companies have changed the rules of the game.

June 20, 2013 |  

The following content originally appeared on TruthOut.

There has been mixed news for the agrochemical giant Monsanto recently. On the one hand, there was the  surprise announcement on June 1 by company spokesman Brandon Mitchener: "We are no longer working on lobbying for more cultivation in Europe…  Currently we do not plan to apply for the approval of new genetically modified crops."

The embattled corporation has decided to stop tilting against the windmill of European resistance to its controversial biotech seeds. Eight EU nations have already prohibited GM (genetically modified) cultivation on their territory and banned the import of genetically modified foods from abroad.

But Monsanto’s prospects in the United States took a very different turn last month when the US Supreme Court ordered Indiana farmer Vernon Bowman to pay Monsanto over $80,000 for planting its GM soybean seeds. Bowman had purchased the seeds from a grain elevator rather than from Monsanto itself, as their corporate contract requires. The seeds had been saved from an earlier crop. 

For as long as humans have been growing food, farmers have saved seeds from their harvest to sow the following year. But Monsanto and other big seed companies have changed the rules of the game. They have successfully argued that they spend millions of dollars developing new crop varieties and that these products should be treated as proprietary inventions with full patent protection.  Just as one can’t legally reproduce a CD or DVD, farmers are now prohibited from copying the GM seeds that they purchase from companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta. 

In one sense, these corporations no longer sell seeds – they lease them, requiring farmers to renew their lease with every subsequent growing season. Monsanto itself compares its GM seeds to rental cars. When you are finished using them, rights revert to the owner of the "intellectual property" contained within the seed.

Some farmers have saved their seeds anyway (called "brown bagging"), in some cases to save money, in others because they don’t like the big companies telling them how to farm. Monsanto has responded with an all-out effort to track down the brown baggers and prosecute them as an example to others who might be tempted to violate its patent. By aggressively enforcing its "no replant policy," Monsanto has initiated a permanent low-grade war against farmers. At the time of this writing, the company had not responded to emailed questions about its seed saving policies.

"I don’t know of [another] company that chooses to sue its own customer base," Joseph Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety told Vanity Fair Magazine. " It’s a very bizarre business strategy."

Yet the strategy appears to be working. Over 90 percent of the soybeans, corn, canola and cotton grown in the United States are patented genetically modified organisms (commonly known as GMOs). The soybean variety that Bowman planted has proved popular with farmers because it has been modified to survive multiple sprayings by Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, whose active agent is glyphosate. While Monsanto claims that GMOs increase crop yields, there is little evidence that this is the case. The chemical giant turned seed company also claims that the new technology decreases the need for agrochemicals. Yet 85 percent of all GM crops are bred to be herbicide resistant, which has meant that pesticide use is increasing as a result of the spread of GM crops. What GMOs were designed to do – and indeed accomplish – is create plants that can be grown efficiently in the chemical-intensive large scale monocultures that dominate American agriculture.

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US Supreme Court to consider challenge to 1965 Voting Rights Act

By Tom Carter
12 November 2012

 

On Friday, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider a legal challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act ranks among the most significant reforms that emerged from the upheavals of the civil rights period. The act overruled and abolished the myriad state laws designed to disenfranchise black voters in many Southern states, and established a strict regime of federal oversight for those areas of the country that had a history of discriminatory voting practices.

The Voting Rights Act followed on the heels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed racial segregation in schools, workplaces and other institutions. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks were in attendance when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law on August 6, 1965. Soon after its enactment, the Supreme Court ruled that the act was constitutional.

In the period leading up to the enactment of the act, demands for the abolition of the racist institutions maintained in the southern region of the United States won broad and determined support in the working class, both inside the United States and internationally.

One of the stricter provisions of the act, known as “Section 5,” requires certain local authorities with a history of voter discrimination to obtain “pre-clearance” from the federal government before enacting any laws or regulations that pertain to voting. The purpose of Section 5 is to prevent those authorities from reenacting the antidemocratic legislation that existed before the passage of the act.

Since 1982, the “pre-clearance” provisions have been invoked more than 2,400 times to prevent state and local laws and regulations from being enacted, including several times in the run-up to last week’s presidential elections.

In July of this year, the Voting Rights Act was successfully invoked on appeal to block a reactionary voter ID law in the state of Texas that could have prevented 1.5 million people from voting in that state. (See “Voting rights in America under attack”) Similar legislation was recently blocked in Florida and South Carolina.

The Voting Rights Act has always been a thorn in the side of right-wing local administrations, particularly in the southern region of the US, and in recent years the attacks on the act have grown bolder. This year, the state of Texas argued through one of its attorneys that it should be free to enact literacy tests, which are strictly prohibited by the 1965 act.

In 2009, Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts stated that “things have changed in the South” and that he thought certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act raised “serious constitutional questions.” Supreme Court commentators have generally understood this statement to mean that the court will welcome cases challenging the act.

The challenge to the Voting Rights Act accepted by the Supreme Court on Friday was brought by Shelby County, Alabama. The suit alleges that legislation signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush reaffirming and reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional because the problems that the act sought to address have already been cured. Naturally, a decision on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act would affect not just that county in Alabama, but tens of millions of voters throughout the South. Naked short-term political interests are no doubt in play, as the direct beneficiary of any weakening of the Voting Rights Act would be the Republican Party, and, in particular, its various Southern groupings.

The emerging pretext for weakening or abolishing the Voting Rights Act—namely that “things have changed” and that voting rights are more or less secure—should be viewed with the deepest skepticism. Voting rights in the US are, in fact, under mounting attack, as documented by a recent World Socialist Web Site report: “The 2012 elections and the assault on voting rights in the US”.

Reactionary “Voter ID” laws such as were recently passed in the state of Indiana threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters. Meanwhile, restrictive ballot access laws in effect in many states limit access to the ballot to those parties with millions of dollars to spend petitioning and litigating in court. Parties fortunate enough to secure ballot access return the following election to find that the ballot access requirements have been raised.

In all, 13 Republican congressmen retained their seats in last week’s elections because they were the only candidates on the ballot.

The borders of congressional districts are redrawn almost every year (a process known as “gerrymandering”), resulting in voting districts with absurd spaghetti-like shapes. Many people in the recent elections went to the same polls they visited in previous years only to discover that they were now voting in a different district.

Last week’s election, like many previous elections, was plagued with myriad troubles, and details are still emerging of voter intimidation, malfunctioning voting machines, confusing directions, misleading automated phone calls (voters were reminded on election day to “vote tomorrow”), discouraging long lines at the polls (four hours in one area of Detroit), and official results at odds with exit polls.

In one cellphone video posted on YouTube, a voter repeatedly attempts to cast a vote for Obama using a touchscreen voting machine, but even though the voter’s finger clearly touches Obama’s name, the screen repeatedly selects Romney’s name instead.

A decision by the Supreme Court overturning or weakening the Voting Rights Act would open the floodgates for antidemocratic and discriminatory laws and regulations to be enacted at the local level around the country, and would constitute a further blow to democratic legal protections won by the working class in earlier struggles. Most importantly, such a decision would add momentum to the campaign by the ruling class to strip down or eliminate all significant social reform legislation dating from the 20th century.

A decision in the case is expected by June.

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Court To Review Marijuana’s Medical Benefits

Lucia Graves

[email protected]

 

 

mmj3

It started with a coalition of disgruntled Americans, then a handful of governors took up the cause last year, and now — for the first time in nearly 20 years — a federal court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the classification of cannabis as a dangerous drug without medical benefits.

In the case, Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration, the court will be presented with scientific evidence regarding the medicinal effects of marijuana, and is expected to rule on whether or not the Drug Enforcement Administration acted appropriately in denying a petition to reclassify cannabis, filed by a collection of public interest organizations back in 2002.

“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” Joe Elford, chief counsel with ASA, said in a recent statement. “This is a rare opportunity for patients to confront politically motivated decision-making with scientific evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy.”

Under federal law, a schedule I prohibited substance is defined as having “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment.” Heroine and LSD are classified alongside marijuana as schedule I, while cocaine, opium and methamphetamine are classified as schedule II, meaning they have “some accepted medical use.”

Other groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians, support medical access to the drug or its reclassification, while the California Medical Association has called for full legalization.

Donald Abrams, chief of hematology-oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, recently described the effectiveness of medical marijuana in the treatment regimens of cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. “I see patients who have loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting from their chemotherapy, pain on and off of opiates, anxiety, depression, and insomnia,” he said in a press briefing last week, adding that these are just some of the conditions that can be alleviated by the use of medical marijuana.

In its rejection of the ASA’s rescheduling petition in 2011, the DEA cited a 4-year-old Department of Health and Human Services paper that found no consensus on medical uses for marijuana, but it did not take into account studies showing the medical benefits of marijuana on the grounds the studies did not meet the standard of double-blind FDA approval trials.

“[T]here are no adequate and well-controlled studies proving (marijuana’s) efficacy; the drug is not accepted by qualified experts…” wrote DEA administrator Michele Leonhart in a July 8, 2011 letter. “At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy.”

A similar petition calling for marijuana to be reclassified as a schedule II drug was filed with the DEA in 1972, and in 1988, following a federal hearing, Administrative Law Judge Francis Young ruled that marijuana should indeed be reclassified. But that verdict was rejected by then-DEA administrator John Lawn and in 1994, his rejection was upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The current case will be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Oct. 16.

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