U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

Justices turn away appeal over Ohio ballot law

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal of an Ohio law that changed the standards for absentee and provisional ballots in ways that critics said posed an illegal burden on minority voters.

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that had blocked rules requiring precise completion of the ballots, but upheld other changes that reduced the time voters could cure errors and prohibited poll worker assistance.

Advocates for the homeless and the Ohio Democratic Party sued Ohio's elections chief over the changes.

Ohio officials argued that the changes passed by Ohio's Republican-led legislature in 2014 were reasonable, nondiscriminatory and impose minimal burden on voters.

Justices say law on offensive trademarks is unconstitutional

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks in a ruling that is expected to help the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name.

The justices ruled that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights.

The ruling is a victory for the Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but the case was closely watched for the impact it would have on the separate dispute involving the Washington football team.

Slants founder Simon Tam tried to trademark the band name in 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the request on the ground that it disparages Asians. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional.

The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team's trademark. A federal appeals court in Richmond put the team's case on hold while waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Slants case.

In his opinion for the court, Justice Samuel Alito rejected arguments that trademarks are government speech, not private speech. Alito also said trademarks are not immune from First Amendment protection as part of a government program or subsidy.

Tam insisted he was not trying to be offensive, but wanted to transform a derisive term into a statement of pride. The Redskins also contend their name honors American Indians, but the team has faced decades of legal challenges from Indian groups that say the name is racist.

Despite intense public pressure to change the name, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying it "represents honor, respect and pride."

In the Slants case, government officials argued that the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection. The same is true for the Redskins, but the team did not want to lose the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark. The protections include blocking the sale of counterfeit merchandise, and working to pursue a brand development strategy.

A federal appeals court had sided with the Slants in 2015, saying First Amendment protects "even hurtful speech that harms members of oft-stigmatized communities."

Supreme Court strikes down sex offender social media ban

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina law Monday that bars convicted sex offenders from Facebook, Twitter and other popular sites.

The justices ruled unanimously in favor of North Carolina resident Lester Packingham Jr. His Facebook boast about beating a traffic ticket led to his conviction for violating a 2008 law aimed at keeping sex offenders off internet sites children might use.

The court rejected the state's argument that the law deals with the virtual world in the same way that states keep sex offenders out of playgrounds and other places children visit.

"In sum, to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas cautioned that Kennedy's "loose rhetoric" could prevent states from taking any measures to restrict convicted sex offenders on the internet. "This language is bound to be interpreted by some to mean that the states are largely powerless to restrict even the most dangerous sexual predators from visiting any internet sires, including for example internet dating sites," Alito wrote for the three justices.

Louisiana is the only other state with a law similar to North Carolina's, although the Louisiana law applies only to people convicted of sex crimes with children, according to a legal brief the state filed with the Supreme Court. But many states have laws that require sex offenders to provide information about their internet use to authorities. Separately, many states limit internet use as a condition of parole or probation.

Packingham originally pleaded guilty in 2002 to taking indecent liberties with a child. He had been indicted for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old and ordered to register as a sex offender.

In 2010, a Durham police officer was using his own Facebook account to look for people who shouldn't be on the site. He came across a post from Packingham, who used an alias but also included a photo of himself and linked to an account used by his father and namesake. The officer found six other registered sex offenders in the same session, a lawyer for North Carolina told the justices when the case was argued in February.

"No fine. No Court costs. No nothing. Praise be to God. Wow. Thanks, Jesus," Packingham wrote in the post that led to his conviction and suspended prison sentence.

High court sides with drugmaker in Plavix lawsuit

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court says hundreds of out-state-residents can't sue drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. in California state court over adverse reactions to the blood thinner Plavix.

The justices ruled 8-1 Monday that there was not a strong enough connection between the claims against the drugmaker and the company's ties to the state.

The ruling is a win for Bristol-Myers Squibb and other companies that want to avoid lawsuits in state courts seen as more favorable to plaintiffs.

The case involved 575 non-California residents who joined 86 California residents in suing the New Jersey-based company.

California's highest court ruled 4-3 that all the cases could move ahead in state court even if the specific claims were not connected to California because the company did other business in the state.

U.S. Supreme Court refuses appeal from Dallas man on death row

HOUSTON (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an appeal from a Dallas man on death row for fatally shooting his cousin during a November 2000 robbery where a second person also was killed.

The high court had no comment Monday in its decision in the appeal from 44-year-old inmate Ivan Cantu. He argues his legal help at his 2001 trial was deficient for failing to investigate and present evidence that he's innocent.

Cantu was convicted of killing 27-year-old James Mosqueda and was indicted for the death of Mosqueda's girlfriend, 22-year-old Amy Kitchen. The two were shot at Mosqueda's Collin County home in north Dallas.

Mosqueda's Corvette was taken and found outside Cantu's apartment. Evidence showed he took Kitchen's engagement ring and gave it to his own girlfriend.

Supreme Court rules in favor of Alabama death row inmate

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an Alabama inmate who complained that he didn't have an independent mental health expert to help him try to stave off a death sentence at his trial.

The justices divided 5-4 Monday in siding with inmate James McWilliams. He did not have his own expert when he was convicted of raping and killing a convenience store clerk in Tuscaloosa.

The justices had previously decided that poor defendants whose mental health might be a factor in the criminal charges they are facing have a right to an expert's evaluation.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court that McWilliams' mental health assistance "fell far short" of what the earlier case required.

The decision could also affect two Arkansas inmates on death row.

Supreme Court: 9/11 detainees can't sue top U.S. officials

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court says Muslim men detained after the Sept. 11 attacks can't sue top U.S. law enforcement officials.

The justices by a 4-2 vote on Monday ended a long-running lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former FBI Director Robert Mueller and other top Bush administration officials. The suit was filed by Muslim men who were detained for months in harsh conditions in a Brooklyn jail after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

They were seeking damages against Ashcroft, Mueller, former immigration chief James Ziglar and the man who ran the federal jail. A lower court still may re-examine claims against the jailer.

Only six of the nine justices were eligible to take part in the case.

Justices reverse ruling that overturned man's death sentence

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has thrown out a lower court ruling that overturned the death sentence of an Ohio man convicted of aggravated murder in a 1985 slaying.

The justices ruled Monday that a federal appeals court was wrong to consider the merits of Percy Hutton's claim that his trial judge gave jurors faulty instructions during sentencing.

The Cleveland man was convicted in 1986 of aggravated murder and other charges. Prosecutors said he fatally shot Derek Mitchell and tried to kill another man in an argument over a sewing machine.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 2-1 last year that Hutton should be resentenced.

High court won't hear appeal over dancing baby video

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear an appeal in a long-running copyright dispute over a YouTube video that shows a baby dancing to Prince's song, "Let's Go Crazy."

The justices on Monday left in place a lower court ruling that cleared the way for a trial in a lawsuit filed by the baby's mother against Universal Music.

Universal had sent a notice demanding that YouTube take the video down. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that copyright holders can't demand that videos be taken down without determining whether they constitute "fair use."

But the court said the mother must show Universal had actual knowledge it was misrepresenting the law when it ordered the video removed. She said that standard allows copyright holders that abuse the law off the hook.

Published: Tue, Jun 20, 2017

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