Nov 19
3:40 PM

No Redress for Torture in the Seventh Circuit

On November 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a 2011 decision allowing two Americans to recover damages from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for torture they endured at the hands of the American military in Iraq.  In Vance v. Rumsfeld , the court held that “a common-law right of action for damages should not be created” and that in any case Rumsfeld and other “remote superiors” were entitled to immunity for such conduct.

The court’s decision is in line with recent decisions out of the Fourth Circuit and the District of Columbia Circuit, although the ruling is said to go further (see a New York Times editorial here).  Importantly, the decision also marks a departure from the 41-year-old Supreme Court precedent in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).  In Bivens, the Court held that when federal agents inflict harm in violation of the Fourth Amendment, individuals suffering such harm may recover damages.

The dissent in Vance contended that the ruling confers “absolute civil immunity to the U.S. military for violations of civilian citizens’ constitutional rights” and “leave[s] citizens legally defenseless to serious abuse or worse by their own government.”  [REG]

Nov 12
3:09 PM

Election 2012: State Results

With the election now over, the real work is just beginning in many states.  Two of the most talked-about state election results?  Marijuana and same-sex marriage.

In both Washington and Colorado, residents voted to legalize marijuana: adults over the age of 21 may legally possess small amounts of marijuana (under one ounce).  Importantly, possession is not limited to state residents – visitors to the state will also be afforded protection under the law, which has led many to fear a surge in marijuana-related  tourism.  However, those fears may be premature, as the drug is still considered illegal under federal law; although the states will be preparing for the new laws, they are also proceeding cautiously amid rumors that the U.S. Department of Justice may take the matter to court.

Marriage equality was also on the ballot, as voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington passed laws allowing same-sex couples to marry – and Minnesota voters rejected a ban on same-sex marriage.  Meanwhile, same-sex marriage proponents in California await word from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to decide later this month whether to hear the case challenging Prop. 8 (the 2008 Proposition that banned gay marriage).  Although California courts have declared Prop. 8 unconstitutional, a stay is in place preventing couples from marrying pending continued litigation.  If the Supreme Court chooses not to hear the case, California is expected to start issuing marriage certificates early next year. [REG]

Nov 5
12:44 PM

Is Voting-by-Smartphone Around the Corner?

With much of the east coast devastated by Hurricane Sandy, many communities are worried about voter accessibility.  In response to this concern, Governor Chris Christie has opened electronic voting to displaced New Jersyans.  At this point, electronic voting is limited to e-mail and fax: interested citizens may e-mail or fax their clerk a mail-in ballot application, the clerk will then send an electronic ballot, and the ballot may then be returned via e-mail or fax.

This development may very well just be the first step in nationwide electronic voting.  As our society becomes increasingly comfortable with and dependent on technology, most areas of government are already going electronic to some extent.  While you may not be able to vote by smartphone for tomorrow’s election, it may not be too many years away.

For more information on New Jersey’s e-mail and fax voting, visit Gov. Christie’s site here.  Meanwhile, remember to go to the polls tomorrow and MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT!  (If you’re registered in San Diego County, you can check your polling location through here – enter your registered address on the top right of the screen). [REG]