​​​​​​​​​​​The Latest Legal News & Industry Information

Bill Would Help Congress
Counteract Supreme Court

     A bill pending in the U.S. Senate would authorize Congress to override Supreme Court decisions that interpret constitutional rights or federal statutes.
     The Supreme Court Review Act would streamline procedures for Congress to use legislation to amend statutes or to create new legal rights that were adjudicated into oblivion by the high court.
     The bill introduced late last month ups the stakes in a tug-of-war between Congress and the Supreme Court heightened by conservatives who gained a 6-to-3 supermajority during the Trump administration.
     "Six radical justices enacted a bonanza of right-wing policies during the last term, reshaping American life in wildly unpopular ways over just a matter of days," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
     He is a co-sponsor of the Supreme Court Review Act as well as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where criticism of the justices among Democrats has been severe in recent weeks.
     Support for reining in the Supreme Court’s power reached a crescendo after the June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where the Court upheld Mississippi’s ban on abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy, thereby overturning the federal right to abortion established in 1973 in the case of Roe v. Wade.
     Other controversial rulings before the Supreme Court left for its summer recess endorsed rights to display religious devotion at public school functions, expanded rights to carry concealed guns outside the owners’ homes and limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.
     A new Marquette Law School poll showed 61 percent of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court’s recent performance. A CNN poll released this week showed 63 percent of respondents opposed the Dobbs decision to uphold state abortion bans.
     The Supreme Court justices are aware of the outrage against them but insist they are following the proper procedures to uphold the laws. In the Dobbs decision, the majority opinion said that nowhere does the Constitution mention abortion in a way indicating it is a protected right.
     At a judicial conference in Big Sky, Montana last week, Justice Elena Kagan said, “If over time the court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that’s a dangerous thing for democracy.”
     She dissented in nearly all the recent decisions advanced by conservatives on the court.
     The Supreme Court Review Act would give Congress a fast-track method to reverse any of the recent rulings.
     It closely follows the same authorizations allowed under the 1996 Congressional Review Act. It set procedures empowering Congress to rescind major rules enacted by federal agencies.
     The Supreme Court Review Act includes procedures for the Senate to approve laws that might reverse Supreme Court rulings by a simple majority within a set period of time. It also gives the minority party in the Senate an opportunity to propose alternative updates to the law.
     Republicans are expressing skepticism of any infringements on the separation of powers established in the Constitution. President Joe Biden has not endorsed any proposals to limit the court’s power.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Senate Seeks New Strategy
To Confront Opioid Crisis

     Only days after Washington, D.C., police announced arrests of drug runners and seizures of illegal opioids, Sen. Susan Collins said what was on everyone’s mind at a recent Senate hearing.
     “I think we have to face the unpleasant truth that what we’re doing is not working,” said Collins, R-Maine.
     U.S. deaths from opioid overdoses reached a record of more than 100,000 last year, aggravated by the despair brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
     Washington, D.C., was no exception to the record-breaking trend of drug overdose deaths in 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 560 people died in Washington, or about 10 percent more than 2020. The powerful opioid fentanyl was the main culprit in the overdose deaths.
     This year, the statistics are not much better, despite multi-billion dollar federal and state efforts to stop what the CDC is calling a public health crisis.
     The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to help figure out a better strategy to confront the opioid crisis. Their decisions are supposed to be incorporated into the Biden administration’s budget proposal for illegal drug interdiction and treatment.
     The Biden administration proposes spending $42.5 billion for National Drug Control Program agencies in fiscal 2023, an increase of $3.2 billion over this year.
     The CDC estimates that three-fourths of overdose deaths are caused by opioids like fentanyl. Two milligrams of it can be fatal.
     The Senate committee wants to avoid previous mistakes of throwing money at a problem without striking at the core of it.
     Many lawmakers want to keep the anti-drug law enforcement program but add more mental health treatment for persons either addicted or considering using the drugs.
     About 130 million Americans live in places where there is a shortage of mental health care providers, according to Senate estimates.
     Christopher Jones,  the CDC’s acting director of its National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, suggested a multi-part plan that relies heavily on social programs. It would use a public awareness campaign advising of fentanyl’s dangers, more substance abuse treatment and measures to prevent childhood emotional trauma linked to drug use.
     “This is a complex issue that requires a coordinated approach,” Jones said.
     Kemp Chester, a policy advisor for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said law enforcement should shift more of its efforts toward interrupting the finances of the drug trade rather than just stopping it at the border.
     “What we’re dealing with is a global illicit business,” Chester said.
     When the money for the drug trade is blocked, the drug trade stops, he said.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

Appellate Court Ruling Supports
FAA’s Remote ID Rules for Drones

     Arlington, Va.-based industry associations are commending a July 29 federal appeals court decision that will allow greater tracking of privately-owned drones.
     The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., affirmed the Federal Aviation Administration had a right to require technology on drones that allows them to be remotely monitored for location and ownership.
     A retailer of components for the remote-controlled aircraft sued to block the FAA’s rules, saying in his lawsuit they represent “warrantless governmental surveillance in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
    The plaintiff, Tyler Brennan, was referring to Remote ID equipment, which the FAA calls a “digital license plate.” It allows anyone within range of local radio signals to monitor drones if they use an appropriate app.
     The FAA says Remote ID will help law enforcement agencies find the controllers when drones are flown unsafely or in no-fly zones.
     The agency has given drone manufacturers, like DJI, until Sept. 16 of this year to comply with rules to install Remote ID. Drone operators must comply with the rules by Sept. 16, 2023.
     The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling written by Judge Cornelia Pillard said that “drone pilots generally lack any reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of their drone systems during flight. A ‘search’ for purposes of the Fourth Amendment occurs when government action infringes a sphere an individual seeks to preserve as private and the expectation of privacy is one society considers reasonable under the circumstances.”
     The appellate court issued its decision about a week after flights at Reagan National Airport were halted for a half-hour when a drone was spotted near a runway. It was one of several unauthorized drone flights reported near airports regionally and nationwide that interfered with air traffic.
     The owner of the drone at Reagan National Airport was not located or identified.
     The Arlington-based Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International issued a statement agreeing with the court’s ruling.
     “Numerous industries are relying on drones for their operations, and significant industry growth is expected in the years ahead,” the statement said. “Accordingly, the FAA issued a Remote ID rule that appropriately advances drone integration in a way that increases safety for all airspace users.”
     Officials for the Arlington-based Consumer Technology Association said the ruling affirms the government’s sovereignty over U.S. airspace.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Council to Vote on Traffic Bill
Eliminating Right-on-Red Turns

     The D.C. Council is tentatively scheduled to vote next month on legislation that would eliminate drivers’ discretion to turn right on red at most stop lights. 
     The same bill would allow people riding bicycles and scooters to make “Idaho Stops,” which means they could treat stop signs as yield signs rather than being required to come to a full stop at each one.
     The D.C. Council’s transportation committee approved the bill last month. The measures are included in the Safer Streets Amendment Act that the Council put together amid a rise in pedestrian traffic accidents and fatalities.
     “Despite the Vision Zero commitment, our streets remain far too dangerous,” Council member Mary M. Cheh, D-Ward 3, said in a statement.
     The Vision Zero Initiative is a goal of the D.C. Council that seeks to have zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers on Washington’s transportation system by 2024. It relies on what is supposed to be more effective use of data, education, enforcement and engineering.
     “This bill takes several important steps to reprioritize streets for people over cars and increase traffic safety for all, no matter how you get around the District,” said Cheh, who also is chairwoman of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment. She requested a vote when the Council reconvenes in September.
     A transportation committee report says allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs would help them move through intersections more quickly, thereby creating an incentive for more people to use bicycles instead of driving. They are called Idaho Stops because Idaho was the first to legalize them in the 1980s.
     In addition, enforcement of rules requiring full stops for bicycles at stop signs can “divert law enforcement resources toward unnecessary activities,” the report says. 
     The bill would ban right-on-red turns for cars beginning Jan. 1, 2025, except at intersections where the D.C. Department of Transportation determines the right-on-red turns are safe. For those intersections, the transportation department could post signs allowing the turns.
     The move to eliminate nearly all right-on-red turns follows traffic data showing they increase the risk pedestrians and bicyclists will get hit by automobiles.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Attorney General Loses Again
In Antitrust Claims Against Amazon

     Washington, D.C.’s attorney general lost again this month in an attempt to hold Amazon.com liable for alleged antitrust violations.
     Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed an anti-competition lawsuit last year that accused Amazon of unfair trade practices that included using overly restrictive contracts with businesses that sell products on the e-commerce giant's website.
     The result was higher prices for consumers and less competition, according to the lawsuit.
     In March, a District of Columbia Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying it lacked evidence Amazon’s business strategy led to higher prices for customers.
     The D.C. Attorney General's Office responded by asking Judge Hiram E. Puig-Lugo to reconsider.
     His second ruling was essentially the same as the first, namely that Amazon used a smart business strategy that showed no evidence of violating any laws.
     "The problem with the complaint was that the District recited conclusory statements while failing to identify information which supported the conclusions it reached,” Puig-Lugo wrote in his 18-page order. “The mere repetition of conclusions does not convert conclusions into facts."
     The judge said the attorney general failed to show Amazon forced competitors like Walmart, Costco or Target to raise their retail prices or prevented them from matching Amazon's prices.
     The lawsuit had argued that "there is a dangerous possibility" Amazon would gain an e-commerce monopoly because it controls half to 70 percent of online sales.
     Puig-Lugo disagreed, writing that “merely controlling a dominant share of the market does not satisfy pleading requirements for antitrust actions, particularly in pandemic times when online delivery sales have increased. In any event, sellers are free to migrate to other online platforms as market dynamics continue to unfold."
     The D.C. Attorney General's Office said it was considering the possibility of an appeal.
     "We are disappointed in the court's decision and we respectfully believe that the judge got this wrong,” a statement from the D.C. attorney general’s office said. “Indeed, a recent federal court decision analyzed a nearly identical issue and rejected Amazon's request to dismiss that case."
     The case is District of Columbia v. Amazon.com Inc., case number 2021 CA 001775 B, in D.C. Superior Court.
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

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