By Joseph Schuman
Trade groups assail lobbyist gift ban
The Obama administration has proposed an expansion of a ban on lobbyist gifts for federal workers, and business groups worry it will prevent them from hosting government employees at trade shows.
The proposal from the Office of Government Ethics builds on the ban of gifts to political employees that President Barack Obama authorized when he took office, the Hill reports. Political watchdog groups have praised the move, but business lobbying groups say they are unfairly being targeted. Don Erickson, director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, says the rule will block government workers from the educational experience they get by attending industry conferences for free. Officials at such conferences aren't lobbied, he says. Rather, they are learning to better practice their craft. Fighting the ban, Erickson adds, " is going to become a huge priority for us."
But some trade groups say that the ethics office is right with the primary point made by the proposal: "Trade associations may sponsor educational activities for their members and even the public, but the primary concern of such associations generally is not the education and development of members of a profession or discipline, which is the focus of the proposed exclusion," the proposal states. The primary concern, these trade groups acknowledge, is lobbying.
Onion needn't cry over legal jeopardy of Capitol tweet
The satirical news organization The Onion took an unusual amount of flack for its tweet last week reporting gunfire in the U.S. Capitol, but media lawyers tell Legal Times the paper broke no laws.
The message on Twitter said Congress had taken a group of schoolchildren hostage, and others' retweets of the initial report added descriptions of gunfire, prompting the U.S. Capitol Police to investigate. But the inquiry ended quickly once police confirmed the initial report came from The Onion. Since The Onion is well known as a source of satire, the lack of clarity -- and possibly good taste -- in the tweet wouldn't be enough to override the First Amendment protections for the faux-news outlet. "If there's liability, perhaps it's just for not being funny enough, Davis Wright Tremaine partner Robert Corn-Revere said.
Obama administration skirts DOMA at agency level
The Defense of Marriage Act remains the law of the land, though the Obama administration has said it won't defend DOMA in court -- and has been circumventing the law with a series of legal moves equating same-sex partnership with marriage, Roll Call reports. The measures range from the expansion of long-term care insurance to the introduction of the term "domestic partnership" into bureaucratic language for gay couples - changes all made at the agency level.
Last week, for example, the General Services Administration said the government will pay the moving costs for domestic partners of federal employees who are transferred, and the Pentagon said military chaplains will be allowed to perform same-sex unions.
Other changes include sick-and-emergency leave for federal employees taking care of gay partners or their children, shared federal credit-union membership, gym memberships and adoption counseling. "It's things that people don't think of often, but they are meaningful when couples get access," says Brad Jacklin, a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force official who deals with government affairs for federal agencies.
California law halts local bids for male-circumcision bans
The series of unsuccessful legal actions in California cities aimed at outlawing male circumcision may be over, thanks to a new state law, says the Los Angeles Times.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday signed a law drafted after anti-circumcision ballot measures were proposed in San Francisco and Santa Monica and promised by activists in other locations. A Superior Court judge in June backed objections from doctors and religious groups who opposed the San Francisco measure, and the Santa Monica petition was eventually withdrawn. Backers of the circumcision prohibitions called it an act of barbaric violence against male babies, while doctors who opposed the ban pointed to studies that show circumcision can prevent the spread of AIDS. Jewish and Muslim parents argued such ban runs against the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion. Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles, the bill's author, said after Brown signed the bill that it would "protect parental rights and liberties."
State voter requirements risk keeping thousands from the polls
Millions of eligible U.S. voters could have a tough time at the polls next year, thanks to laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures, the New York Times reports.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has studied -- and opposed in court -- some new legislative measures that require photo IDs or impose other restrictions on voters. Under 19 laws and two executive orders in 14 states, more than 5 million voters will have a tougher time casting their ballots, the Center says. The ID requirement is expected to have the most impact, and has some state-by-state quirks, according to the group.
One example: In Texas voters can access ballots with a license to carry a concealed handgun, but not with a student ID card. Other restrictions include election-day voter registration -- which is credited with enrolling about 60,000 voters in 2008 -- scaled-back early-voting periods, and the elimination of early voting on Sundays, when many African-American churches organize voter drives.
Republican supporters of the new laws say they are needed to stop voter fraud and argue that the ID requirements arenecessary for entering an airport, and are completely appropriate at polling sites. But Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama points out that her father, who uses a wheelchair and no longer has a valid driver's license, now has no ID with a photo and will no longer be able to vote with his Social Security card. "Given the relatively low turnout that we see in modern-day elections, we should be encouraging people to go to the polls to exercise their rights, and not discouraging them," she said.
With al-Awlaki, a drone strike may be OK, but not revoking citizenship
Mostly lost in the debate over the legality of killing cleric Anwar al-Awlaki is a strange twist in U.S. law: While the Obama administration contends al-Awlaki's U.S. citizenship didn't prevent the CIA from targeting the alleged terror leader with a drone, the government didn't have the right to take away that citizenship.
"It's interesting," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Friday's daily briefing amid a barrage of questions on the airstrike that killed al-Awlaki in Yemen. Nuland said she asked State Department lawyers whether the government can revoke a person's citizenship based on their affiliation with a foreign terrorist group, and it turned out there's no law on the books authorizing officials to do so. "An American can be stripped of citizenship for committing an act of high treason and being convicted in a court for that. But that was obviously not the case in this case," she said. "Under U.S. law, there are seven criteria under which you can strip somebody of citizenship, and none of those applied in this case."
New N.Y. bank regulator is 'strategically aggressive'
Former federal prosecutor Benjamin Lawsky has grand plans for the New York State's new Department of Financial Services, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The new agency, the result of a merger between the state's banking and insurance regulators, opens for business today, with Lawsky at the helm. The regulator tells the WSJ that in recent months he has been contacting lawyers, FBI agents and other trusted associates from his past work in order to "exponentially" expand the agency's criminal division. Lawsky learned when he first moved into his New York City office that he has much more power to pursue criminal fraud cases than he realized when he was hired. Now, he says, "I'm strategically aggressive."
Some Wall Street executives and lawyers fear Lawsky will act more like a prosecutor than a regulator -- largely because he led a legal offensive against securities firms, banks and senior executives when he worked as an advisor for then-attorney general Andrew Cuomo. Lawsky declined to discuss the first target of the agency's criminal-enforcement unit, but he wants to work with state and federal prosecutors in brining cases. The agency has authority over 3,900 banks, insurers, loan servicers and mortgage brokers, as well as the New York operations of foreign banks - which altogether have about $5.7 trillion in assets.
Summary Judgments for Sept. 30
Summary Judgments for Sept. 29
Summary Judgments for Sept. 28
Follow us on Twitter: @ReutersLegal