Weekly Legal News 10/27/14

The Supreme Court’s order that Texas can proceed with its strict voter-ID law in next month’s election ended what is likely to be just the first round in a legal battle over election-law changes made by Republican-led legislatures around the country. The court said Texas could use a photo-ID law that has been described as the toughest in the nation. A district judge had declared after hearing testimony about the law that it was unconstitutional, and would keep hundreds of thousands of voters from casting ballots and disproportionately harm African Americans and Hispanics. Challengers claim that the law could keep an estimated 600,000 registered voters from casting ballots. Texas disputes the finding. U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who had challenged the law, called the order a “major step backward.” The Texas law, called SB 14, requires the state’s estimated 13.6 million registered voters to show one of seven kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. The state says the law will guard against voter fraud and protect public confidence in elections. But civil rights groups and the Justice Department said the state’s decisions about what kinds of identification will suffice — permits to carry concealed handguns qualify, for instance, while college IDs do not — are meant to suppress certain types of voters.


The federal government now recognizes same-sex marriage in 32 states and the capital, after Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday that federal agencies will now recognize same-sex married couples in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. “With each new state where same-sex marriages are legally recognized, our nation moves closer to achieving of full equality for all Americans,” Holder said. The six states are in judicial districts where cases were recently refused for review by the Supreme Court, paving the way for lower courts to rule against states’ bans. Legal wrangling over same-sex marriage is continuing in other states, including Kansas, where a federal judge canceled a hearing Friday in a case filed by the ACLU on behalf of two lesbian couples.


Snake venom, vitamin C, Nano Silver and herbs have all been pitched online as a treatment or cure for Ebola. None has the backing of the FDA. “Unfortunately during public health threats such as Ebola, fraudulent products that claim to prevent, treat, cure disease often appear on the market almost overnight,” says Gary Coody, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator. The FDA has sent warning letters to three companies it says are making fraudulent claims about Ebola cures. The letters threaten property seizure and even criminal prosecution if the firms don’t respond appropriately. The strategy amounts to “public shaming,” says Nathan Cortez, who teaches law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “It’s one mechanism that the FDA uses to lean on companies in a very public way. It’s also meant as a warning to other firms, he says, “to say we know companies are trying to defraud the public with fake Ebola tests and treatments and we’re on the case.” While there are experimental drugs and vaccines being tested in the current Ebola outbreak, nothing yet has been proved to work.


Just a few months after Harvard University announced a new, tougher policy against campus sexual assault, a group of Harvard law professors is blasting the rules as unfair. Harvard announced its new policy this summer, after the school came under federal investigation for being too soft on sexual assault. The group of 28 law professors says Harvard has overreacted with rules that are “overwhelmingly stacked against the accused” and “starkly one-sided.” Many colleges are grappling with how to define consensual sexual activity between students. The policy, some say, gives alleged victims many more rights and protections than the accused. Also, that it is also too broad in what it considers sexual misconduct. Harvard officials declined to comment but in a statement defended their process as “neutral, fair and objective.” The university says a committee of faculty, staff and students is reviewing the policy, but it acknowledges that not everyone will agree with its new approach. While some feel Harvard’s new policy goes too far, others believe it doesn’t go far enough.