U.S. Supreme Court Notebook

Supreme Court: Dodd-Frank whistleblower protection narrow


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Wednesday that whistleblower protections passed by Congress after the 2008 financial crisis only apply to people who report problems to the government, not more broadly.

The justices ruled that a part of the Dodd-Frank Act that protects whistleblowers from being fired, demoted or harassed only applies to people who report legal violations to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. They said employees who report problems to their company’s management but not the commission don’t qualify.

People who report issues to their company’s management are still protected against retaliation but under an older law, the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act. But the two laws differ in a number of ways, including how long people have to bring a lawsuit and how much money they can get in compensation.

The court’s ruling comes at a time when the Trump administration has already laid out changes it wants to make to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which the administration believes went too far and has hurt economic growth. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the law as a “disaster” and has promised to do “a big number” on it. The Trump administration had nonetheless argued that the law did provide broad protection. Businesses had opposed that reading of the law.

The case the court ruled in involves Paul Somers, who worked for San Francisco-based Digital Realty Trust Inc., a real-estate investment trust that owns data centers worldwide. Somers was the company’s second in command in Singapore when he made accusations to senior managers that his boss had hidden millions of dollars in cost overruns, granted no-bid contracts and made payments to friends, among other things. Somers was fired in 2014 after making the allegations. He sued, saying his firing was a retaliation that violated the Dodd-Frank Act. He also alleged he had been discriminated against for being gay.

Lower courts had sided with Somers, saying he was entitled to whistleblower protections even though he didn’t disclose his allegations to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The case is 16-1276, Digital Realty Trust Inc. v. Somers.

 

Supreme Court sides with Chicago museums in ­terror case
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is preventing survivors of a 1997 terrorist attack from seizing Persian artifacts at Chicago museums to help pay a $71.5 million default judgment against Iran.

The court ruled 8-0 Wednesday against U.S. victims of a Jerusalem suicide bombing. They want to lay claim to artifacts at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court that a provision of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act does not support the victims’ case. That federal law generally protects foreign countries’ property in the U.S. but makes exceptions when countries provide support to extremist groups.

The victims argued that Iran provided training and support to Hamas, which carried out the attack. Iran has refused to pay the court judgment.

 

Supreme Court asked to review ‘Making a ­Murderer’ ­confession
 

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Lawyers for a Wisconsin inmate featured in the “Making a Murderer” series on Netflix asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to review a federal appeals court decision that held his confession was voluntary.

Brendan Dassey’s legal team told the high court in their petition that the case raises crucial issues that extend far beyond Dassey’s case alone and that long have divided state and federal courts.

Dassey’s lawyers claim investigators took advantage of his youth and intellectual and social disabilities to coerce him into falsely confessing that he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005 in the Avery family’s junk yard in Manitowoc County. Dassey was 16 at the time. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2007.

“Too many courts around the country, for many years, have been misapplying or even ignoring the Supreme Court’s instructions that confessions from mentally impaired kids like Brendan Dassey must be examined with the greatest care — and that interrogation tactics which may not be coercive when applied to an adult can overwhelm children and the mentally impaired,” his attorney, Steven Drizin, said in a statement.

A federal court in Wisconsin overturned Dassey’s conviction in 2016, and a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision last June. While the full 7th Circuit voted 4-3 to reverse the panel’s decision to grant him a new trial, one dissenting judge called the case “a profound miscarriage of justice.”

The legal odds remain high against Dassey. The U.S. Supreme Court grants only a tiny fraction of the petitions for review that it receives.

Avery, who insists police framed him, is appealing his conviction in Wisconsin state courts.

 

Supreme Court won’t take case of Dead Sea Scrolls defendant
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won’t take up the case of a blogger convicted of criminally impersonating his father’s academic rivals on the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The court on Tuesday declined to take the case of Raphael Golb, the son of University of Chicago professor Norman Golb.

The younger Golb was convicted of adopting aliases in derogatory emails and blog posts. That included sending emails that seemed like confessions of plagiarism by one of his father’s key adversaries in a scholarly debate over the scrolls’ origin. The scrolls contain the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible.

Golb was sentenced in 2014 to two months in jail after New York’s highest court tossed out some of his convictions.

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