WASHINGTON, February 21, 2016 — Reviewing current legal and political matters allows some of us to continue to shake our heads. (WARNING – this is a very opinionated column.)
Walmart vs. same sex marriage benefits
Walmart, often sued, is now defending their policy against paying spousal support health benefits to employees’ same-sex spouses. A current class action lawsuit will address the question as to whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of prohibited sex discrimination. Mediation is set for next week.
This case seems pretty simple. The law now recognizes same sex marriage. If Walmart would otherwise pay spousal health insurance benefits to the spouse of an employee in an opposite sex marriage, how can the company possibly imagine they can refuse to provide these benefits to those in a same sex marriage?
South Dakota bathroom rules
South Dakota legislators approved a bill that would require public school students to use bathrooms, showers and locker rooms that correspond to their biological sex. Governor Daugaard is expected to sign the measure, making South Dakota the first state to enact such a law.
Gay and transgender activists are appropriately outraged, arguing that the bill discriminates against transgender children. As one can imagine, these youngsters need all the support they can get But now the state government will tell them who they are and are not. Supporters of the bill argue that the law respects privacy and meets the needs of transgender students by requiring that schools allow them to use private facilities, such as teachers’ or nurses’ bathrooms.
New Muslim-Free zone in Oklahoma
A sign posted at the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range, in Oktaha, Oklahoma declares that the range is a “Muslim-Free” establishment. The sign is similar to other business signs posted in Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky and New York. In this situation, a U.S. Army reservist identified himself as a Muslim. He was then asked if he was there to commit an act of violence or as part of a jihad. Employees subsequently armed themselves and refused to allow him entry. This is the latest in a number of cases across the country alleging anti-Islamic discrimination. Hmm. Because I don’t like your race, I can bar you from my business?
Recall that refusing to photograph a same-sex wedding on religious grounds was ruled illegal.
The Donald vs. The Pope
In his latest effort to alienate the entire world, Donald Trump bashed Pope Francis earlier this week. During the pope’s visit to Mexico, he had criticized Trump’s idea about building a wall on the Mexican-American border, proclaiming that building walls “is not Christian.” In his typical “your criticize me I’ll triply criticize you” style, Trump replied “for a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” Trump went on to offer that the pope should wish and pray that Trump becomes America’s next President, because as President, he (Trump) will prevent ISIS from attacking the Vatican.
Rules vs. human dignity in North Carolina
The North Carolina Court of Appeals, in a ridiculous “hide behind the technicalities” ruling, upheld a determination that a woman was ineligible for compensation. In 1974, a local Social Services agency worker coerced the woman into having an abortion and a sterilization procedure by threatening to take her two daughters. The Court ruled that there was no evidence that the State’s Board was involved.
Right. As if the threatening woman worked for the local donut shop.
In San Francisco, Some Lives Matter but not all
San Francisco police continue (again, unbelievable) to maintain no wrongdoing on their part, after shooting Mario Woods on December 2nd. He was shot more than 20 times, twice in the head and six times in the back, according to an autopsy. Police maintain Woods was a suspect in a stabbing that had occurred earlier that day, and that they feared serious injury or death after Woods refused numerous demands to drop his knife.
School kids love the Kansas Supremes
Kansas school kids may soon come to regard the Kansas Supreme Court as their favorite government organization ever. The Court has threatened a system-wide school shut down in July if lawmakers don’t revise the way the state funds its public schools. Since 2010, four school districts have been pursuing state funding. The legislature responded to these requests by approving a $140 million increase in education funding for 2014. But that aid, under the state’s per-student formula for distributing funding, came up $54 million short, adversely affecting poor schools and, by extension, the state’s disadvantaged and minority students. Re-do the plan, Stan.
Associate Justice Barack Obama?
President Obama can nominate himself for the Supreme Court seat recently left vacant due to the sudden death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. Before Obama’s second term, Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the Washington Post that such a move was possible. It is not without precedent. William Howard Taft, America’s 27th President, was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1921-1930) some nine years after his single term as President had ended.
In 2016, Republicans are not only interested in preventing Obama from appointing the next Justice because he is Obama. They are worried about election-related court decisions that might arise later this year. The court vacancy could conceivably have an impact on this fall’s House elections, as there are certain to be numerous challenges to Republican-led congressional redistricting plans. Voter-ID laws favoring Republicans are also likely to come under Supreme Court review.
It will be fascinating to watch how Republicans try to wriggle out of either voting on or approving a new Associcate Justice, particularly if the nominee happens to be Judge Sri Srinivasan, who was confirmed by the Senate for a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013 by a vote of 97-0.
Class-Action settlements by supermajority vote
The country’s largest dialysis equipment provider, Fresenius Medical Care, sent an internal memo to doctors in the company’s dialysis centers saying that failure to properly use one of the company’s products appeared to be causing a sharp increase in sudden deaths from cardiac arrest. Yet, the product use continued, as did injuries and deaths. Last week Fresenius agreed to pay $250 million to settle thousands of lawsuits from dialysis patients and their relatives.
Here’s the kicker: Fresenius said the settlement would only take effect if 97 percent of all plaintiffs agree to it by July. Not a bad business move, but still disgusting. What if 96% agree?
Apple-FBI privacy impasse
Finally, grabbing major headlines this week was perhaps the most interesting and wide-reaching legal dilemma that’s arisen in quite some time. A potentially epic battle between Apple and the FBI involves the data hidden in the iPhone of now-dead terrorist Syed Farook, one of the San Bernardino shooters who killed 14 people and wounded 22 more last December. The FBI wants Apple to help them unlock the phone in order to get at the currently encrypted data. Apple says that phone, and now about 90% of all active iPhones, have systems that cannot be accessed, even by Apple. The FBI says “well, create new software.” Apple says “No. To do so would be burdensome and could tarnish the Apple brand.”
Ah-ha! It’s all about money. Forget fighting terrorism. Fascinating.
Apple has a long history of cooperating with the government in exactly these types of cases. Since 2008, Apple has cooperated with government information requests in over 70 criminal cases involving criminal activities such as illegal drugs and child sex abuse. Apple now says that creating unlocking software to open its phones and the data within them will set a dangerous precedent, opening the litigation floodgates and emboldening every prosecutor in America to request the same technology.
The FBI and the Department of Justice say this issue is all about safety for Americans, claiming access to such information is a key tool for fighting terrorists who are more often using sophisticated technology and communication tools. They also believe that theirs is a reasonable request to get evidence from a single phone.
Privacy rights are not at risk here. Matters such as these are case-by-case situations. A court hearing that should decide the matter is scheduled for March 22.
Amen to differences of opinions. But what the hell are some of these people thinking?
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website.
His book “The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You” can be instantly downloaded, for free, on his website: http://www.samakowlaw.com/book.