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Gun Rally Ends Without Violence
After Virginia Supreme Court Ruling


     The Virginia Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a ban on guns at a rally in Richmond Monday had an uncertain effect in helping the event end without violence.
     Governor Ralph Northam declared an emergency that included a ban on guns even among licensed owners anywhere near the rally in Capitol Square.
     Gun advocates sought an injunction against the ban, saying it violated their Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
     The petition by the Virginia Citizens Defense League and the Gun Owners of America also said the governor overstepped his authority.
     A circuit court judge disagreed, ruling the governor acted within his authority to protect public safety.
     In their appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, the gun advocates added that attendees would have their First Amendment rights violated because thousands of citizens would be “wrongfully and unlawfully denied entry to the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol merely because they are exercising their preexisting rights” to bear arms.
     State attorneys argued the governor was trying to prevent the kind of violence that erupted during the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville. White supremacists clashed with counter-protesters. One woman was killed
     “Determined to prevent another tragedy, the Governor issued a carefully limited Executive Order,” the state attorneys said in a brief. “The Order does not prevent anyone from speaking, assembling, or petitioning the government. Instead, it temporarily precludes private possession of firearms in a sensitive public place during a specified time to protect public safety.”
     The state supreme court blamed pro-gun lawyers in refusing to overturn the ban.
     “The only information we have on which to resolve the weighty issues raised by the parties are pleadings accompanied by cursory attachments. Accordingly, the petition is refused,” the state supreme court ruling said.
     Disputes over the gun owners’ rights were heightened by a tweet from President Donald Trump before the rally.
     “Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia,” Trump tweeted. “That’s what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away. Republicans will win Virginia in 2020. Thank you Dems!”
     For more information, contact The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net) at email: tramstack@gmail.com or phone: 202-479-7240.

D.C. Joins Lawsuit to Block
Reductions in Food Stamps


     The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia joined a lawsuit last week that seeks to block the Trump administration from reducing food benefits for about 700,000 people nationwide.
     The cuts represent a rule change the Agriculture Department finalized last month for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
     The food stamp program required recipients to perform minimum work requirements to qualify for the benefit. States had the discretion to waive the work requirement.
     The new rule eliminates most state discretion, meaning able-bodied adults without dependents can receive SNAP benefits for no more than three months during a three-year period. They can continue receiving the benefits only if they’re working or enrolled in an education or training program for 80 hours a month.
     States often waived the requirement by arguing the job market was not strong enough to ensure work was available for all SNAP recipients who applied.
     The same sentiment was echoed in the lawsuit 14 states, the District of Columbia and New York City filed last week in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
     “States are in the best position to evaluate local economic circumstances and to determine where there are insufficient job opportunities such that work requirements would be ineffective,” the lawsuit says. Eliminating state discretion will halt “essential food assistance for benefits recipients who live in areas with insufficient jobs.”
     The rule, which is scheduled to take effect in April, would cut off food stamps for about 13,000 Washington, D.C. residents.
     “A Republican-led Congress rejected these changes on a bipartisan basis in 2018, recognizing they do not encourage work, they just punish vulnerable people struggling to find jobs,” said D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. The new policy is “putting [food stamp recipients’] health at risk while driving up District healthcare costs and needlessly hampering our economy,” he added.
     The lawsuit says the rule undermines the intent of Congress and would damage states’ economies and residents. It seeks an injunction to block enforcement of the rule.
     The proposed rule restricting state discretion is expected to save taxpayers $5.5 billion over five years, according to the Trump administration. The Trump administration plans additional restrictions on subsidized nutrition programs.
     If all the restrictions take effect, as many as three million people could lose at least some of their food benefits, according to advocates for low-income persons.
 
Computer Experts Say Iranians
Could Disrupt U.S. Law Firms


     A congressional hearing last week raised alarms for Washington-area law firms about the risk Iran will target courts and financial institutions for cyberattacks.
     The House Homeland Security Committee called the hearing as a response to new threats after the Jan. 3 U.S. military drone strike that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimeini.
     The next day, the Homeland Security Department put out a bulletin warning about Iran's "robust cyber program." It said that "Iran is capable, at a minimum, of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effect against critical infrastructure in the United States" and that "an attack in the homeland may come with little or no warning."
     Iran retaliated by launching missiles at U.S. military installations in Iraq. However, diplomatic officials and lawmakers at the congressional hearing said the Iranian threat is unlikely to have ended with the missile strike.
     Instead, Iranians are likely to launch cyberattacks that damage the U.S. economy, government operations and infrastructure. Courts and banks would be among the top targets, according to expert witnesses at the hearing.
     “I am particularly interested in understanding how Iran could use its relatively sophisticated cyber capabilities against state and local governments and critical infrastructure to exact revenge for the death of Soleimeini,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
     He accused the Trump administration of failing to develop a plan to protect against the threats after the Soleimeini assassination. Part of the Iranian strategy could be directed at disrupting the 2020 federal election, he said.
     More than 40 cities were victims of cyberattacks in 2019, according to the FBI. In Philadelphia and Atlanta, the attacks temporarily interfered with court recordkeeping.
     If an Iranian cyberattack strikes law firms or their clients, they might have difficulty seeking reimbursement from their insurance companies.
     Tyler Gerking, a partner at law firm Farella Braun & Martell LLP, said cyber insurers might invoke “hostile-acts clauses” in insurance clauses. He spoke during an industry symposium sponsored by the Wall Street Journal this month in San Diego.
     A war exclusion clause or hostile acts exclusion is a common provision in insurance policies that excludes compensation for damages arising from warlike acts between nations.
     Threat intelligence organizations recommend that law firms make wider use of encrypted data, two-factor authentication and vetting of employees who could represent a threat of leaked computer information.

Homeless Advocates Tell Congress
Gentrification is Unfair to the Poor


     A congressional hearing last week unwittingly touched on a homelessness problem that is part of an ongoing confrontation along K Street in Northeast Washington, D.C.
     An underpass in the 100 block of K Street NE became a tent city in the past year as gentrification pushes up home prices and pushes out residents who have no other place to live in Washington.
     The city’s health department expelled the roughly 40 homeless people from the tunnel but they are resisting the eviction. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is considering legal action to help them.
     The showdown on K Street is exactly the kind of dispute that prompted the House Financial Services Committee to hold a hearing on how gentrification is forcing even people who are ready, willing and able work into homelessness. Some of them consist of families.
     Gentrification refers to real estate development that changes the character of a neighborhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses.
     Traditionally, low-income residents have used federal subsidies, known as Housing and Urban Development Section 8 vouchers, to pay around 30 percent of their rent.
     Increasingly, the needs are outpacing the supply for the vouchers, said Priya Jayachandran, president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group National Housing Trust.
     “According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the gap between supply and demand for rental units affordable and available to very low-income households is 7.2 million,” she said in her testimony.
     Some of the most moving testimony came from Jeffrey Williams, a Virginia-based tenant advocate who described his family’s eviction from their home.
     While he worked as a security guard, his family was unable to pay their rent, despite missing some meals to save money.
     “It was morning time when the knock came on the door,” Williams testified. “We were getting the kids ready for school. The sheriff’s men were outside. They told us, ‘You gotta get out. Get your stuff and get out.’"
     The Financial Services Committee is considering a bill designed to offer relief to tenants who are hurt by gentrification. The bill, H.R. 1856, the Ending Homelessness Act, would provide more than $13 billion in new funding for programs that serve homeless persons.
     It would increase the supply of affordable housing units and vouchers to subsidize rent payments. Participants also would get case management and technical assistance.
     The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless reported there were 6,521 homeless people in Washington, D.C. last year. 

Virginia Man Faces Conspiracy Charge
After Bomb Threats and Swatting Calls


     A Virginia man is facing trial in federal court in Alexandria after being linked to bomb threats and “swatting” attacks on journalists and government officials.
     John William Kirby Kelley appeared to be motivated by a neo-Nazi ideology when he made bomb threats against Old Dominion University and the predominantly African American Alfred Street Baptist Church in Old Town Alexandria, according to the FBI.
     He was affiliated with a loosely-organized, unnamed group that shared racist viewpoints and demonstrated “particular disdain for African Americans and Jewish people,” an FBI affidavit says.
     Kelley is being represented by a public defender. He faces up to five years in prison on a charge of conspiracy to make threats.
     In November 2018, someone later alleged by police to be Kelley phoned Old Dominion University in Norfolk to say a gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle hid pipe bombs around the campus.
     Kelley was a student majoring in cybersecurity at the university before being expelled after an arrest on drug charges.
     About the same time as the Old Dominion bomb threat, he allegedly made a similar threat to the Alfred Street Baptist Church. The church was evacuated during an evening service before police searched it for bombs.
     He is accused of making another fake threat last January when he called to say he killed his girlfriend and took her two children hostage. He gave an address for the incident that was the home of an unnamed federal official.
     False emergency calls intended to get some other unwitting person in trouble with the police are called “swatting.”
     The neo-Nazi group with whom Kelley associated himself maintained a website called DoxBin that listed swatting targets among journalists and government officials.
     One journalist on the list was was Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr., who police ordered out of his home and arrested after one of the calls last June.

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