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Monthly Archives: December 2007

Monday status conference: the NYE edition

Good morning. As we bid 2007 a fond adieu, here’s what’s happening inside the beltway and beyond:

Buoyed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, employer health plans are becoming more aggressive in trying to recoup money from beneficiaries who receive third-party payments. (Lawyers USA).

The nation’s biggest trial attorney group lays out its agenda for 2008. (Lawyers USA).

The Associated Press takes a look back at the year of Democratic congressional control. (AP)

To put it mildly, 2007 was not a good year for the Department of Justice. (LT)

Questions remain over the probe of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants some answers. (AP via Yahoo!)

We will soon know who former Sen. Trent Lott’s successor will be. (Hattiesburg American)

Tomorrow marks the start of an election year, so for presidential candidates that means New Years’ celebrations in Iowa! (NYT)

And just in time for the election, the Supreme Court is set to decide on whether Indiana can require voters to have state-issued photo identification. (AP).

On that note, a Happy New Year to all. DC Dicta returns Wednesday.

Friday morning docket: Auld Lang Syne edition

Good morning – here’s the last ‘Friday morning docket’ of the year:

The winter recess for Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court continues. The justices of the Court will gather a week from today for a closed-door conference before resuming oral arguments on Jan. 7 – kicking off the year by hearing arguments on whether the three-drug cocktail used in lethal injection executions amounts to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile:

Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Patrick Kennedy were scheduled to meet with former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto yesterday evening. Bhutto was slain in an attack just hours before the scheduled meeting, and the U.S. lawmakers were advised to leave the country for their own safety. Specter described the mood in Pakistan, where mourners openly wept for the slain leader, as reminiscent of America after the slaying of Kennedy’s uncle, Robert Kennedy. (AP via Yahoo! News).

Not everybody is feeling the pain of the subprime crisis. In the foreclosure real estate business, things are jumping. (WaPo).

The Environmental Protection Agency has signaled it will release documents supporting its decision to deny California and a dozen other states the ability to impose tight restrictions on tailpipe emissions. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is appealing the EPA’s waiver denial. (AP via NYT).

Postage for all the mailings members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent to their constituents in 2007: $20.3 million. Bragging about your accomplishments on the taxpayers’ dime: priceless. (AP via Yahoo! News).

Sen. Webb comes to work, blocks recess appointments

Today the House and Senate are empty, and President George W. Bush took time from his holiday vacation in Crawford, Texas to condemn the assassination for former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto this morning.

But although Washington is a virtual ghost town this week, there was some brief, but important, business in Congress yesterday. A single lawmaker came to work yesterday: junior Virginia Sen. Jim Webb,whose job it was to gavel the Senate in for 10 seconds in order to block President Bush from making a recess appointment in the Senate’s absence.

This is not the first time the Senate has made such a move. At issue this time, Bush’s possible recess appointment of Steven G. Bradbury as assistant attorney general, a nominee most Senate Democrats oppose.

But the pro forma Senate session could backfire on the lawmakers, the Associated Press reports, giving Bush the ability to kill two pieces of legislation – the FOIA reform bill and a gun control measure – with a pocket veto.

Asylum case settles, cert not needed

Friday, parties in the case of Ali v. Achim, which was granted cert in September, notified the U.S. Supreme Court that its services won’t be needed after all – the case has been settled and will be voluntarily dismissed. [See the Lawyers USA summary of the case here].

This means the Court will have to wait for another day and controversy to arise before it can answer the question presented: whether a federal court can determine that an offense that is not an aggravated felony is still a “particularly serious crime” that bars a defendant’s eligibility for withholding of removal?

The defendant was a Somali refugee whose “no contest” plea to a battery charge resulted in the loss of his asylum.

SCOTUSBlog’s got the motion for voluntary dismissal here.

Not a creature was stirring…

On this day after Christmas, things are slow on the Hill as Congress and the Supreme Court sit in recess. Posting will be light, but i’ll update any legally newsy info I get here, so do check back.

EPA nixes states’ plan to limit greenhouse gases

The Bush administration has denied a request by California and more than a dozen other states to impose the toughest automobile greenhouse gas emissions standards to date.

The denial by the Environmental Protection Agency of a waiver allowing the states to regulate auto emissions came after President George W. bush signed into law an energy bill – a move the agency said takes care of the issue. The new law requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent by 2009 and by 40 percent by 2020.

The law provides “clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” said EPA administrator Stephen Johnson according to a Reuters report.

The denial of a waiver came after California sued the EPA in a move for force the agency to allow the states to move forward with the stricter standard. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed an appeal. “California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today’s decision and allow Californians to protect our environment,” he said in a statement.

Conservation Law Foundation President Philip Warburg decried the EPA’s decision. “Yet again the Bush Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency have failed to live up to the greatest environmental challenge of our generation: global warming,” Warburg said. “This decision not only violates federal law but also shows a frightening disregard for the health and safety of Americans and our environment.”

EPA nixes states’ plan to limit greenhouse gases

The Bush administration has denied a request by California and more than a dozen other states to impose the toughest automobile greenhouse gas emissions standards to date.

The denial by the Environmental Protection Agency of a waiver allowing the states to regulate auto emissions came after President George W. bush signed into law an energy bill – a move the agency said takes care of the issue. The new law requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent by 2009 and by 40 percent by 2020.

The law provides “clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” said EPA administrator Stephen Johnson according to a Reuters report.

The denial of a waiver came after California sued the EPA in a move for force the agency to allow the states to move forward with the stricter standard. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed an appeal. “California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today’s decision and allow Californians to protect our environment,” he said in a statement.

Conservation Law Foundation President Philip Warburg decried the EPA’s decision. “Yet again the Bush Administration and its Environmental Protection Agency have failed to live up to the greatest environmental challenge of our generation: global warming,” Warburg said. “This decision not only violates federal law but also shows a frightening disregard for the health and safety of Americans and our environment.”

AMT bill passed – but in time?

A bill that aims to spare millions of taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax (AMT) on their 2007 returns was sent to President George W. Bush late yesterday.

The president is expected to sign the bill into law, but the late-hour passage of the legislation makes it unclear whether the IRS can print up tax forms reflecting the change in time for the usual January kickoff to the tax filing season.

The result? Taxpayers may have to wait until Feb. 4 to start filing those 1040s.

The result of that? “It is likely that there will be some delays, including delays of some refunds,” Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told the Associated Press. He said the Treasury Department and the IRS would keep taxpayers in the info loop.

The new law, if the president signs it, will adjust the tax which was originally enacted in 1969 for a small number of high income earners. But because the rate was not tied to inflation, it had to be adjusted to avoid catching more middle-income earners pulling in between $75,000 and $200,000 a year. The bill passed yesterday provides a one year AMT relief for nonrefundable personal credits and increase the AMT exemption amount to $66,250 for joint filers and $44,350 for single filers

High court asked to review 12-year-old’s 30-year sentence

If a 12-year-old (who used the prescription drug Zoloft) is charged as an adult and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the shooting deaths of his grandparents, does that constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment and violate the Eighth Amendment?

That is the question attorneys for Christopher Pittman want the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to answer, according to a petition for certiorari filed late yesterday, the Associated Press reports.

Pfizer, maker of the drug, has vehemently denied that depression medication had any influence on the South Carolina boy’s actions in 2001 when he shot his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, and then set their house on fire.

Attorneys for Pittman, who is now 18, argue in the petition that he “is the nation’s only inmate serving such a harsh sentence for an offense committed at such a young age.” Pittman’s cause has been taken up by the Juvenile Justice Foundation of the Carolinas.

Pittman also sued the state of South Carolina claiming he received ineffective legal counsel who advised him not to accept a plea agreement that would have resulted in a 10-year prison sentence. The state attorney general denied the charge, saying Pittman “gambled” on a trial and lost.

High court asked to review 12-year-old’s 30-year sentence

If a 12-year-old (who used the prescription drug Zoloft) is charged as an adult and sentenced to 30 years in prison for the shooting deaths of his grandparents, does that constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment and violate the Eighth Amendment?

That is the question attorneys for Christopher Pittman want the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to answer, according to a petition for certiorari filed late yesterday, the Associated Press reports.

Pfizer, maker of the drug, has vehemently denied that depression medication had any influence on the South Carolina boy’s actions in 2001 when he shot his grandparents, Joe and Joy Pittman, and then set their house on fire.

Attorneys for Pittman, who is now 18, argue in the petition that he “is the nation’s only inmate serving such a harsh sentence for an offense committed at such a young age.” Pittman’s cause has been taken up by the Juvenile Justice Foundation of the Carolinas.

Pittman also sued the state of South Carolina claiming he received ineffective legal counsel who advised him not to accept a plea agreement that would have resulted in a 10-year prison sentence. The state attorney general denied the charge, saying Pittman “gambled” on a trial and lost.

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