Justices rule against Georgia in copyright dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday against the state of Georgia in a copyright lawsuit over annotations to its legal code, finding they cannot be copyrighted.

The 5-4 ruling splintered the court along unusual lines and upholds a previous appeals court decision.

"The Copyright Act grants potent, decades-long monopoly protection for 'original works of authorship.' ... The question in this case is whether that protection extends to the annotations contained in Georgia's official annotated code. We hold that it does not," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined with fellow conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and two liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Roberts said the question to ask is "whether the author of the work is a judge or a legislator."

"If so," he wrote, "then whatever work that judge or legislator produces in the course of his judicial or legislative duties is not copyrightable."

Justice Clarence Thomas, a Georgia native, wrote a dissent in which he said it follows from the court's precedents "that statutes and regulations cannot be copyrighted, but accompanying notes lacking legal force can be."

The case before the justices was a dispute between Georgia and Public.Resource.Org Inc. The nonprofit is run by Carl Malamud, an internet public domain advocate who argues for free access to legally obtained files.

The nonprofit distributed and made available online copies of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. The state sued in July 2015, arguing the annotations include analysis and guidance added by a third-party publisher and are protected by copyright.

Malamud's organization countersued two months later, arguing that its activities didn't infringe upon copyright laws. Malamud said in an email Monday that he was happy with the opinion.

"Now it's time to get to work and make the law more useful and accessible to the people," he wrote.

Legislative Counsel Richard Ruskell said in an email that he was reviewing the decision and had no further comment.

Court tosses NY case that could have expanded gun rights

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court sidestepped a major decision on gun rights Monday in a dispute over New York City's former ban on transporting guns.

The justices threw out a challenge from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association's New York affiliate. The court ruled that the city's move to ease restrictions on taking licensed, locked and unloaded guns outside the city limits, coupled with a change in state law to prevent New York from reviving the ban, left the court with nothing to decide. The court asked a lower court to consider whether the city's new rules still pose problems for gun owners.

The anticlimactic end to the Supreme Court case is a disappointment to gun rights advocates and relief to gun control groups who thought a conservative Supreme Court majority fortified by two appointees of President Donald Trump, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, might use the case to expand on landmark decisions from a decade ago that established a right under the Second Amendment to keep a gun at home for self-defense.

But other guns cases remain in the high court's pipeline, including whether gun owners have a constitutional right to carry their weapons in public. Later Monday, the justices scheduled 10 cases involving gun restrictions in California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey, for possible discussion during their private telephone conference last Friday. The court could decide to hear one or more of those next term.

Although the opinion was unsigned, the court split 6-3 over the outcome.

Gorsuch joined Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas in dissenting from the dismissal. Kavanaugh wrote a brief concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result, but also said the court should take up another guns case soon.

"This case is not moot. The City violated petitioners' Second Amendment right, and we should so hold," Alito wrote for the dissenters.

Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court's decision early in 2019 to step into the case signaled a revived interest in gun rights from a court with two new justices.

Officials at both the city and state level scrambled to find a way to remove the case from the justices' grasp. Not only did the city change its regulation to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons to locations outside New York's five boroughs, but the state enacted a law barring cities from imposing the challenged restrictions.

Those moves failed to get the court to dismiss the case before arguments in December, and gun control advocates worried that the court might adopt the reasoning Kavanaugh used in a 2011 opinion in his former job as a Court of Appeals judge. There, he wrote, gun laws "that are not longstanding or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right."

Restrictions on who can carry guns in public, limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines and perhaps even restrictions on gun ownership by convicted criminals, including people convicted of domestic violence, might be imperiled, gun control groups said.

Those groups breathed a sigh of relief Monday, while acknowledging that the legal fight would continue. "The Supreme Court declined the invitation to adopt the NRA's extreme and dangerous interpretation of the Second Amendment," said Eric Tirschwell, managing director of Everytown Law, the legal arm of former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg's Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.

But Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel and vice president of the Brady gun control group's legal action project, said, "We know that this fight is not over. The gun lobby will continue to challenge gun laws across the country."

Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute said the city "effectively hoodwinked the Supreme Court" by belatedly changing its rules to avoid the justices' review. Shapiro called it "a moral imperative" for the court to take up a new case to explain its views on gun rights.

Kavanaugh made essentially the same point. He joined Alito in voicing concern that lower federal courts are not properly applying the court's two big gun rights decisions.

"The Court should address that issue soon, perhaps in one of the several Second Amendment cases" pending at the Supreme Court, he wrote.

The court put off acting on appeals from gun owners in Massachusetts and New Jersey who claim the Constitution gives them the right to carry their weapons in public in challenges to strict licensing requirements.

Insurers can collect $12B under health care law

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that insurance companies can collect $12 billion from the federal government to cover their losses in the early years of the health care law championed by President Barack Obama.

Insurers are entitled to the money under a provision of the "Obamacare" health law that promised the companies a financial cushion for losses they might incur by selling coverage to people in the marketplaces created by the health care law, the justices said by an 8-1 vote.

The program only lasted three years, but Congress inserted a provision in the Health and Human Services Department's spending bills from 2015 to 2017 to limit payments under the "risk corridors" program. Both the Obama and Trump administrations had argued that the provision means the government has no obligation to pay.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her opinion for the court that the congressional action was not sufficient to repeal the government's commitment to pay. "These holdings reflect a principle as old as the Nation itself: The Government should honor its obligations," Sotomayor wrote.

In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the court's decision "has the effect of providing a massive bailout for insurance companies that took a calculated risk and lost. These companies chose to participate in an Affordable Care Act program that they thought would be profitable."

The companies, which sold insurance in Alaska, Illinois, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington, cite HHS statistics to claim they are owed $12 billion.

The case is separate from a challenge to the health care law that the court has agreed to hear in its term that begins in October.

Published: Wed, Apr 29, 2020