How Supreme Court Justices Could Avoid Issuing a Verdict on Trump’s Travel Ban

Passports - immigrationPresident Donald Trump’s travel ban offers the Supreme Court the chance to make a major pronouncement on the president’s power over immigration. But the case also could vanish into the legal ether, and that may be what a majority of the court is hoping for, points out Associated Press reporter Mark Sherman.

“Getting rid of the case would allow the justices to avoid second-guessing the president on a matter of national security or endorsing an especially controversial part of Trump’s agenda,” Sherman writes.

The timing of the ban could help the justices avoid a showdown because the 90-day travel ban on visitors from six mostly Muslim countries will expire before the court will hear the challenge.

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Trump Administration Working Toward Renewed Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Trump administration is quietly moving to allow energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the first time in more than 30 years, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post, with a draft rule that would lay the groundwork for drilling.

“Congress has sole authority to determine whether oil and gas drilling can take place within the refuge’s 19.6 million acres,” reports Juliet Eilperin for The Post. “But seismic studies represent a necessary first step, and Interior Department officials are modifying a 1980s regulation to permit them.”

Environmentalists and some of Alaska’s native tribes have fought against exploration in the ANWR for years, but state politicians and many Republicans in Washington have pressed to extract the billions of barrels of oil lying beneath the refuge’s coastal plain, Eilperin writes.

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ADA Website Wars Coming to a Retailer Near You

The Winn-Dixie grocery chain is the latest and perhaps highest-profile business to face penalties for websites that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but it’s not likely to be the last, according to a post on the website of Androvett Legal Media & Marketing.

A federal judge in Florida found that the grocery chain’s website was inaccessible to visually impaired individuals and thus violated the ADA because features such as the website’s online coupons and pharmacy could not be accessed using a screen reader. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff on all issues and awarded injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public places, like stores and movie theaters. Increasingly, a battle has been brewing over whether or not websites for such “places of accommodation” must also be accessible.

“In Winn-Dixie’s case, the court agreed that because its website was closely integrated with its stores, the web content must be accessible to the hearing and visually impaired,” said employment attorney Audrey Mross of Dallas-based Munck Wilson Mandala. “If consumer-facing businesses were not aware of ADA website compliance, this case should be an eye-opener.

 

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Texas AG Files Suit Against 3 Businesses for High Prices in Storm’s Aftermath

A North Texas gas station chain is among the Texas businesses named in price-gouging lawsuits filed in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, attorney general Ken Paxton’s office announced Tuesday.

One gas station was reported to have charged $6.99 for a gallon of regular gas, and another reportedly charged almost $10. A motel franchisee also attracted the AG’s attention.

“Robstown Enterprises, Inc., which operated the Best Western Plus Tropic Inn in Robstown, charged three times its normal room rate during the weekend Hurricane Harvey hit, authorities said. The news release said Best Western has since ended its relationship with the company,” according to KXAS -TV reporters Brian Roth and Wayne Carter.

Texas law prohibits businesses from charging exorbitant prices for drinking water, food, clothing and fuel during a declared disaster.

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Despite EPA’s Insistence, Clean Power Plan Remains ‘The Law Of The Land,’ Democratic State Officials Insist

The battle over the Clean Power Plan has intensified as Democratic state officials are publicly locking horns with Scott Pruitt, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over the legal advice that he has given to states that oppose the Obama-era carbon-cutting plan, reports Forbes.

Ken Silverstein explains that in March Pruitt wrote a letter in which he advised the states that they do not have to meet the deadlines set by the Clean Power Plan that aims to cut CO2 emissions by 32% by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. But 14 state attorneys general disagree, saying the regulation remains in effect unless the courts would rule otherwise.

“The country is well on its to way to achieving the desired outcome of the regulation: carbon emissions in this country have dropped from 6.13 billion metric tons in 2007 to 5.35 billion metric tons last year because natural gas is replacing coal-fired generation,” writes Silverstein.

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Church-State Debate Surfaces in Hurricane Harvey’s Wake

“Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry pick its victims, and FEMA shouldn’t cherry pick who it helps,” Washington, D.C. attorney Diana Verm told the Houston Chronicle this week.

In a post on the website of Androvett Legal Media & Marketing, Verm, who specializes in religious liberty cases, is representing three small Texas churches who recently sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency, alleging the government’s disaster relief policy violates the Constitution by denying faith groups the right to apply for funds.

Texas nonprofits that sustained damage by the Category 4 hurricane have 30 days to apply for emergency cleanup grants. The Houston-area churches maintain they should be eligible since they have and continue to support victims of the devastating storm.

David Coale, a Dallas appellate attorney who specializes in constitutional cases, says the complaint by the Rockport First Assembly of God in Aransas County, Harvest Family Church in Harris County and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Liberty County goes a step farther than previous similar cases by moving beyond exterior structures and building repairs into providing personal services.

“On its face it’s a reasonable request — it’s a disaster and they need all the help they can get,” Coale, a partner with Lynn Pinker Cox Hurst, told the newspaper.  “On the other hand, we are talking about giving people money to offer a place to sleep. There is stuff up in the church about religion and there will be people in the church providing a little bit of ministry.”

The Texas case comes three months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited government discrimination against a Missouri church that had applied for funding for playground equipment.

 

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Trump Lawyers Urge Supreme Court to Rule for Colorado Cake Maker Who Turned Away Gay Couple

Trump administration lawyers joined sides with a Colorado baker Thursday and urged the Supreme Court to rule that he has the right to refuse to provide a wedding cake to celebrate the marriage of two men, reports The Los Angeles Times.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, Acting Solicitor Gen. Jeffrey B. Wall argued that the cake maker’s rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion should prevail over a Colorado civil rights law that forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the report by David G. Savage.

Savage writes: “The brief filed Thursday is likely to bolster the cake maker’s case, and is in line President Trump’s repeated promises to protect ‘religious liberty.'”

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Intel Scores Victory (For Now) In Fight Against $1.3 Billion Fine

Fortune reports that Intel has won a victory of sorts in its long-running fight against a €1.06 billion ($1.26 billion) antitrust fine that was levied against it by the European Commission eight years ago.

David Meyer writes that the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s top court, on Wednesday set aside the 2014 ruling of the General Court, which upheld the 2009 fine, on the basis that the General Court had made a legal error.

“This does not mean Intel is off the hook — rather, it means the General Court needs to examine Intel’s legal arguments more closely than it did before, potentially giving Intel a chance to have the fine annulled or reduced,” Meyer explains.

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CEOs See a ‘Sad Day’ After Trump’s DACA Decision

Refugees - immigrationThe New York Times published a collection of reaction from some top business leaders and companies who expressed their disapproval of President Trump’s  decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, tweeted that his company would fight for the people affected by Trump’s action to be “treated as equals.”

Reporter Zach Wichter writes that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said the announcement marks “a sad day for our country.”

Roger A. Iger, chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Co., tweeted: “Rescinding DACA is cruel and misguided. Dreamers contribute to our economy and our nation.”

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Phones for VW Lawyer, Emissions Tester Were Lost or Wiped Clean

Volkswagen AG’s top U.S. lawyer and the leader of its emissions-testing lab in California are among the employees whose mobile devices were either lost or erased as the company’s diesel cheating scandal emerged, according to court records made public on Thursday, reports Bloomberg.

David Geanacopoulos, VW Group of America’s senior vice president for public affairs and public policy, was general counsel when, he reported, he lost his phone while en route to Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 1, 2015, according to the records.

And the company cell phones of Anna Schneider, VW’s senior vice president of industry and government relations, and Matthias Barke, senior director of VW’s emissions test center in Oxnard, California, were “wiped” or erased of data in the months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced VW had rigged its vehicles to pass pollution tests, according to the report by Ryan Beene and Margaret Cronin Fisk.

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DOJ Investigating Whether Uber Violated Foreign-Bribery Laws

The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into whether Uber violated laws involving the bribery of foreign officials, the company confirmed to Business Insider on Tuesday.

The privately-held ride-hailing giant is being investigated for possibly violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal for individuals and organizations to pay foreign government officials in order to obtain or retain business.

Alexei Otreskovic writes that the investigation follows months of controversies and internal turmoil for the company.

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Federal Employee Overtime Policies in Flux

Potentially significant policy changes are on the horizon regarding federal rules that determine how and whether workers are entitled to overtime pay, according to a post on the website of Androvett Legal Media & Marketing. Businesses hoping to avoid overtime obligations for hourly workers must jump through three hoops in most cases. One of those hoops is to pay at least the minimum salary set by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Last year, the Labor Department under the Obama administration more than doubled the minimum salary threshold that is exempt from overtime, raising it from $23,600 to $47,476. But the salary increase proposal was stiff-armed by a Texas federal judge’s injunction before the change could take effect. While not endorsing the Obama-era regulations, newly appointed Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta mused in recent congressional testimony that the current salary threshold is too low and should be raised to “somewhere around $33,000.”

“The DOL is now seeking comment on how the overtime exemptions should be determined, as well as issues including whether salary levels should be allowed flexibility based on various factors, such as size of employer or region of employment,” says employment attorney Audrey Mross of Dallas-based Munck Wilson Mandala.

“There’s a lot on the line for employers who could be affected by these changes,” she said. “More than anything, employers are seeking consistency in order to plan for the future. This information-gathering phase provides parties a chance to be heard. If the salary threshold for exemption does increase, employers will be making hard decisions about whether to raise affected worker pay to maintain overtime exemptions or closely monitor worker hours, or otherwise be prepared to start paying overtime.”

 

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Supreme Court Has Another Chance To Help Take Down Patent Trolls

When the U.S. Supreme Court hears  Oil States Energy Service v. Greene’s Energy Group, the justices will have the opportunity to banish patent trolls back under the bridge where they belong, according to Above the Law.

Gary Shapiro explains that Oil States hinges on inter-partes review – “the process used by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office to determine whether a patent under question was issued based on merit. If not, the patent can be rescinded. The process is similar to a trial: Lawyers make their case to the Patent Trials and Appeals Board (PTAB), and three highly qualified administrative patent judges hear their case and come to a decision.”

He says the process is expensive, but it’s much less costly than going to court.

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Mueller Uses Classic Prosecution Playbook Despite Trump Warnings

magnifyer-investigate-search-puzzleBloomberg Law describes how special counsel Robert Mueller is following a time-tried strategy for looking into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia:

“Follow the money. Start small and work up. See who will ‘flip’ and testify against higher-ups by pursuing charges such as tax evasion, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.”

Reporter Chris Strohm quotes Jeffrey Cramer, a former prosecutor who’s now managing director of consulting firm Berkeley Research Group LLC: ““You go for the weakest link, and you start building up.”

Mueller’s approach has been used for decades in criminal investigations, from white-collar fraud to mob racketeering.

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Stays of Contract Award and Performance

An article in the Government Contracts Insights blog on the website of Morrison Foerster discusses stays of award and performance during the pendency of a bid protest.

Partner Daniel Chudd and associate James Tucker cover stay of contract awards, stay of contract performance, Court of Federal Claims protests, and stay overrides.

In a later post, they will cover the substantive grounds of protest.

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FERC is Back and Faces a Full Plate of Electricity Issues

FERCWith two new commissioners confirmed by the Senate and sworn in, FERC’s seven-month period without a quorum is over and it can get back to business, reports Covington & Burling on its Inside Energy & Environment blog.

He writes that two more nominations are now before the Senate with a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7. Them the agency should be at full strength within the next few months and ready to take on important policy issues.

“There are quite a few critical generic electricity policy initiatives already teed up and awaiting Commission action. Together, the initiatives address fundamental issues spanning a broad range of FERC’s electricity authorities,” according to Peterson.

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Could State Subsidies for Renewable Energy Face Legal Challenges?

Renewable energy - windmills - laptopIn a Maryland case, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s effort to offer incentives for new gas fired power plants, ruling that the subsidies impermissibly encroached on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority under the Federal Power Act, writes Hugh E. Hilliard, a senior counsel with O’Melveny & Myers. But the Court left open the broader issue of whether states have the power to offer other forms of energy incentives.

“Now several cases before the courts are raising just that question, with potentially far-reaching implications for nuclear and renewable energy, although recent decisions in those cases have upheld state subsidies that are not directly tethered to sales of electric energy at wholesale, which are subject to FERC’s exclusive jurisdiction,” according to Hilliard.

He writes that the latest developments in federal courts indicate that state subsidies for renewable energy, including renewable-energy portfolio standards and mandated procurement programs, are safe from challenges, at least for now.

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PwC to Pay $1 Mln to Settle Merrill Lynch Audit Complaint

PwCReuters is reporting that accounting company PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP will pay $1 million to settle a civil complaint alleging it conducted a flawed audit into Merrill Lynch’s compliance with federal brokerage customer protection rules, U.S. audit watchdogs said on Wednesday.

“The PCAOB’s penalty against PwC comes a little over a year after the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch to pay $415 million to settle charges it had put its brokerage clients’ cash at risk in violation of customer protection rules,” writes Sarah N. Lynch.

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New U.S. Rule on Class Actions Survives First Challenge

CFPB - Consumer Financial Protection BureauA new U.S. rule aimed at restoring consumers’ ability to band together to sue financial companies has survived its first challenge, as a top banking regulator said he would not petition for it to be suspended, Reuters reports

Lisa Lambert and Pete Schroeder write that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s rule abolishing “mandatory arbitration clauses” was released on July 10, and was immediately threatened by Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump’s administration.

Acting U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Keith Noreika publicly argued with CFPB Director Richard Cordray, appointed by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, over whether the rule could endanger the banking system.

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Once Again, Trump DOJ Busts Convention, Splits Government in High-Profile Employment Case

EEOCThe case of Donald Zarda, a skydiver who claimed his employer, Altitude, violated Title VII when it fired him after finding out he was gay, illustrates how the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Opportunity Commission can sometimes operate at cross purposes in litigation.

According to a Reuters report, the EEOC, an independent federal agency, is representing Zarda’s estate against the former employer. At the same time, the DOJ has filed its own amicus brief, explicitly disavowing the EEOC’s stance.

Alison Frankel writes that the brief “argued primarily that the EEOC and the 7th Circuit, which adopted the agency’s reasoning in its en banc opinion last April in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, disregarded the actual language of the statute and misread Supreme Court precedent on interpreting that language. According to the Justice Department, it’s up to Congress, not the courts, to legislate protection for gay and lesbian employees, and Congress has steadfastly refused to do so.”

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