Law News Digest – Week of June 21, 2015

Law News Digest


Friday, June 26

Marriage equality now legal nationwide: In a historic decision, the Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex marriage is a right under the Constitution, and that no state may deny that right to its people. By combining two parts of the 14th amendment, both the “due process” clause and the “equal protection” clause, the Court says same-sex couples across the country may now exercise their right to marry.  The due process clause protects various rights deemed “fundamental” to society, including marriage, and the equal protection clause prevents unfair discrimination. In the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, same-sex couples “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Thursday, June 25

Obamacare federal healthcare subsidies are legal: That’s the major news from the Supreme Court today, saving insurance for 6 million+ people. Story: The Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare states that the government will provide subsidies to reduce the cost of health insurance for low and moderate-income people. But the law says the subsidies are available through online healthcare exchanges “established by the state.” In passing the law, Congress intended that each state would set up its own exchange, such as California’s; but 34 states declined to do so, so the federal government stepped in and allowed people to sign up for the subsidies through People who apparently do not like Obamacare sued, saying the law doesn’t allow a federal exchange to give out subsidies. The Supreme Court disagreed, arguing that the exact wording of the law doesn’t matter as much as Congress’s intent, which was clearly to provide subsidies for people in all 50 states.

Wednesday, June 24

“Free-range” parents who let kids walk home alone cleared of neglect charges: Have you heard about the free-range parenting movement yet? I talked about it a few months ago, but basically it’s parents who want their kids to be more independent and explore the world. Not everyone agrees with this, including the child services authorities who cited parents in Maryland for letting their 10 year old and 6 year old walk home alone from a park. Well now the parents have been cleared of the charges and are planning to sue the authorities for their ordeal.

Do you drink Beck’s beer? You may be getting a (small) refund: Think Beck’s is an imported pilsner from Germany? It used to be, but now it’s actually “imported” from Missouri, USA. Anheuser-Busch bought the company and moved production to the U.S. in 2012, but tried to mislead consumers with labels including “German Quality” beer and “Originated in Bremen, Germany.” Some beer drinkers sued for violation of state consumer protection laws, and the company settled, agreeing to give out refunds of about 10 cents per bottle purchased since 2011, capped at $50 per person. You can get a refund even if you don’t have receipts, but the most you can get is $12.

Tuesday, June 23

Two employees illegally forced to take DNA tests get $2.2M: Someone in Georgia left piles of poop on the floor of a food-storage warehouse, and to find out who did it (referred to as the “devious defecator”), the employer required 2 of its employees to take a DNA test. Except that federal law prohibits the use of genetic information in employment. After the DNA test cleared the men of blame, they sued the employer for violating their rights, and won lots of money.

NYC to pay out $6.25M to man for wrongful conviction: A man spent 25 years in prison for an New York City murder, despite “strong” evidence that he was in Florida at the time. He’s now getting a huge compensation, but can anything really compensate for wrongfully being put in prison for 25 years?

Monday, June 22

Police can’t review hotel guest records without warrant: The Supreme Court struck down a Los Angeles law which required hotel/motel operators to collect certain info on each guest, including name and address, car model and license plate number, and method of payment. The law was intended to fight prostitution, and allowed police to inspect the records at any time. But the Court said the law violates hotel operators’ 4th amendment privacy right against unreasonable searches. Now, police can still inspect the records, but must convince a judge that they have a good reason, and then the judge may issue a warrant. About 100 other cities and states have similar laws, which are affected by the ruling.

Marvel wins at Supreme Court, no longer needs to pay royalties to toy maker: The inventor of the Spider-Man toy called the Web Blaster had a deal with Marvel for 3% of the profits from sales of the toy. After paying out $6M over a few years, Marvel found a way out of the contract by pointing to an old Supreme Court decision prohibiting patent holders (such as the toy inventor) from collecting royalties after the patent expires. Well, the patent on the toy had expired, but the inventor sued Marvel anyway, thinking the current Court would overturn its previous (and widely criticized) ruling. It did not. Justice Kagan wrote that the Court should not overturn prior decisions (“precedent”) without a very good reason, because “In this world, with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Someone is a Spider-Man fan.

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