WASHINGTON, May 31, 2015 − A trio of hot legal topics was in the news this week. For decades now, FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, has clearly been the most corrupt, bribe-infested sports organization in the world. It seems some in the organization will now have to pay the piper.
Also front and center: key cases concerning state redistricting and the law enforcement boundaries involving private search. Here’s the lowdown on each of these controversies:
FIFA executives have recently been arrested, based, interestingly, on indictments issued by the United States Department of Justice, the FBI and the IRS. Charges include wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering. The allegations of crime by FIFA executives include taking bribes and kickbacks from sports marketing people in connection with media, marketing and hosting rights associated with various soccer matches and tournaments.
Fourteen FIFA executives await extradition to the United States to stand trial.
So how does an organization headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland − one that conducted business with countries and other organizations OUTSIDE of the United States − get indicted in the United States?
The New York Times explained:
“United States law gives the Justice Department wide authority to bring cases against foreign nationals living abroad, an authority that prosecutors have used repeatedly in international terrorism cases. Those cases can hinge on the slightest connection to the United States, like the use of an American bank or Internet service provider.
“Switzerland’s treaty with the United States is unusual in that it gives Swiss authorities the power to refuse extradition for tax crimes, but on matters of general criminal law, the Swiss have agreed to turn people over for prosecution in American courts.”
The current and now five-times re-elected FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, was not charged, and he has downplayed the U.S. charges.
Next up: In more-at-home news, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by two conservative Texas activists that seeks to redraw political boundaries in a way that would result in better returns for Republicans. The lawsuit’s history includes lower courts’ findings that the plaintiffs’ suits were done with discriminatory intent.
The law governing political district boundaries is based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1964 in Reynolds v. Sims, where the justices relied on the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution. That decision requires states to use U.S. Census data for the purpose of assuring a fair distribution of seats in the United States House of Representatives. State legislatures are required to ensure that congressional districts are roughly equal in population.
Boundaries are based on the official count of total population every 10 years. That count includes minors and non-citizen immigrants.
Texas’ Republican plaintiffs want a change, preferring that such boundaries include only eligible voters – adults and American citizens − while excluding non-citizens, such as Latinos, who are now included in the official census.
Adam Liptak, writing for the New York Times, said the following about the case:
“The court’s ruling, expected in 2016, could be immensely consequential. Should the court agree with the two Texas voters who brought the case, its ruling would shift political power from cities to rural areas, a move that would benefit Republicans. … Counting all people amplifies the voting power of places with large numbers of residents who cannot vote legally, including immigrants who are here legally but are not citizens, illegal immigrants, children and prisoners. Those places tend to be urban and to vote Democratic. A ruling that districts must be based on equal numbers of voters would move political power away from cities, with their many immigrants and children, and toward older and more homogeneous rural areas.”
Drawing new maps would be extraordinarily difficult. How do you determine just which individuals are “eligible,” drawing a line around and in-between those who are not? Send them a letter and ask?
The long-standing concept of “one person, one vote” is being challenged. The Supreme Court has said that our elected officials represent people, not geographic areas.
An example would be California’s 34th District, which draws from downtown Los Angeles. The district is heavily Latino, and only 41 percent of all residents are eligible to vote. As again the law requires that each district has about the same population, new lines would be drawn to include only eligible voters if the plaintiffs in the Texas case are victorious. That means that in the current 34th District, significant geographic areas would be cut out, and the lines would have to be extended to get more people to make them about equal in eligible voter population with other districts.
As a result, there would be fewer districts. Democrats would lose House seats in California because the new districts would include more rural, traditionally conservative populations.
David Wasserman, the U.S. House editor for the Cook Political Report, and Harry Enten, a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight, predict that if eligible voters were counted instead of people, California would lose six House seats, Texas would lose four, New York would lose one, and many states would gain one seat. They calculate that the net effect of this would be eight more Republican House seats. They do not believe the presidential race would be affected.
What is the likelihood of the Republican plaintiffs’ success here? Most legal scholars do not believe that this case will change the way House seats are apportioned because the Constitution clearly references the key role of the census’ population count.
Final item: Can your computer be searched? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving the “private search doctrine.” This doctrine allows law enforcement to search things that have already been discovered by private individuals, reasoning that once something has been discovered, there is no longer any expectation of privacy.
Aaron Lichtenberger was arrested for failure to register as a sex offender. His girlfriend hacked into his computer and found child porn images. She called the police, who obtained a warrant to search his computer. Lichtenberger was convicted but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, ruling that the evidence should not have been allowed.
The U.S. has appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The decision probably will not be known until 2016.
At issue is whether a computer is a “thing” to be searched, or whether the specific files in the computer are “things.” Numerous federal appeals courts are split on the proper scope of a computer search. Some argue that searching a wrapped parcel or a pack of cigarettes is not the same as searching a computer. A computer has folders and an Internet search history and photographs and documents, all of which are argued to be individual “things” capable of being searched.
The Seventh and Fifth Circuits have ruled that the computer is the “container” and the whole file system is fair game during a search.
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.
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