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rulings
April 25, 2019

A federal judge in Yakima, Washington, granted a nationwide injunction Thursday blocking the Trump administration's new rules prohibiting federally funded health care providers from referring patients for abortions.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced the policy earlier this year. Already, groups receiving money under the Title X program are not allowed to perform abortions with that funding. The new rules would have hit low-income Americans who use Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health services in the U.S., especially hard.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian wrote that the restrictions reverse "long-standing positions of the department without proper consideration of sound medical opinions and the economic and non-economic consequences," and the Department of Health and Human Services offered "no reasoned analysis" for changing the rules. He also said the challengers, including the state of Washington and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, demonstrated that the rule "likely violates the central purpose of Title X, which is to equalize access to comprehensive, evidence-based, and voluntary family planning." Catherine Garcia

April 22, 2019

A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that the practice of using tire-chalking to mark how long a car has been parked is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit decided this violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable searches," and is a form of trespass requiring a warrant, The Washington Post reports. Parking enforcement officers use tire-chalking to track how long a car has been parked; once it's determined the car is in violation of time limits, a ticket is issued, bringing in revenue for the city.

The appeals court based its decision on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which found that police must get a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect's vehicle.

Attorney Philip Ellison of Saginaw, Michigan, brought the case after his law partner received a ticket while sitting in his car, which had been chalked. Ellison wrote about this on Facebook, and a friend, Alison Taylor, commented that she had received 15 tickets due to tire-chalking. Ellison filed a civil rights lawsuit against Saginaw on Taylor's behalf; the case was first thrown out by a district court, before being reversed by the appeals court. Catherine Garcia

April 8, 2019

A federal judge on Monday issued an injunction against the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols policy, which keeps asylum seekers in Mexico while they wait for their cases to go through the immigration court system.

Under the law, migrants have the right to seek asylum once they reach U.S. soil; typically, they are housed in detention facilities or released into the United States. President Trump has claimed that many migrants are crossing the border and lying about needing asylum, knowing there isn't room at migrant detention centers and hoping they will be set free to live wherever they want in the U.S.

The Trump administration enacted its policy in January, with outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen saying last week she would expand the program. In his ruling blocking the policy, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco said his order will go into effect on April 12, and the administration won't be able to implement or expand the policy, The Washington Post reports. Catherine Garcia

November 28, 2017

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ruled in favor of the Trump administration on Tuesday, denying a request by Leandra English to block White House budget director Mick Mulvaney from becoming acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Last week, English was promoted to deputy director by the bureau's outgoing chief, Richard Cordray, who said effective at midnight Friday, she would become acting director. The Trump administration announced that it was installing Mulvaney as acting director, and English asked for a temporary restraining order to keep Mulvaney from taking the post. That didn't keep Mulvaney from showing up to work at the agency on Monday, donuts in hand.

Republicans have criticized the consumer bureau since it was formed in 2011, saying it acts too aggressively when it takes on big banks, payday lenders, and other businesses. Catherine Garcia

October 4, 2017

A federal judge in San Francisco on Wednesday reinstated an Obama-era rule that restricted methane emissions from oil and gas production on public lands.

The Interior Department had requested delaying implementation until 2019, claiming it was a regulatory burden that negatively affected energy production, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte said the department did not give a "reasoned explanation" or say why it believed an analysis from the Obama administration was flawed. The regulation, finalized last November, orders energy companies to capture methane that is burned off at drilling sites. Methane is a pollutant and leading cause of global warming, and it's estimated that every year, $330 million worth of methane in the United States is wasted, either through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) praised the decision, telling The Associated Press that before the rule was in place, about $100 million in natural gas, owned by taxpayers, was wasted from oil and gas wells operating on public lands in his state. "This rule is simply good policy — good for taxpayers, good for the economy, and good for the environment," he said. Catherine Garcia

July 12, 2017

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that 1,400 Iraqi immigrants cannot be deported from the United States while courts are reviewing their asylum cases.

Many of the Iraqis are Christians who fear persecution, including 114 who were arrested in the Detroit area and accused by the Department of Justice of committing crimes in the United States, Al Jazeera reports. In his opinion, Judge Mark Goldsmith said he has jurisdiction in the case over the DOJ, and if the Iraqis are sent back they would be exposed to "substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court."

While there are 1,400 Iraqis under deportation orders, most are not in custody, and some committed their crimes decades ago and were given permission to stay in the U.S. because Iraq would not issue them travel documents. Catherine Garcia

June 27, 2016

A federal judge ruled on Monday that clerks in Mississippi cannot cite their religious beliefs to recuse themselves from giving same-sex couples marriage licenses.

On Friday, the state is scheduled to enact House Bill 1523, a religious objections law filed in response to the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage, but under the ruling, part of it cannot be enforced. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is extending his previous order that overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, The Associated Press reports, and he said all 82 circuit clerks in Mississippi will receive formal notice that they are required to treat all couples equally.

Reeves said the state's elected officials can disagree with the legalization of gay marriage, but "the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session." Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), no relation to the judge, released a statement saying he hopes the state's attorneys will appeal the decision to protect the "deeply held religious beliefs" of Mississippians. "If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights," he said. Catherine Garcia

September 23, 2015

Go ahead, belt out "Happy Birthday" whenever you can, wherever you are: A judge ruled on Tuesday that Warner/Chappell Music does not hold a valid copyright claim to the song.

U.S. District Judge George H. King decided that in the 1930s, Summy Co. acquired the rights to the melody and piano arrangements based on the melody, but not the lyrics, Variety reports. Since Warner purchased Birch Tree Group, the successor to Summy Co., in 1998, it has collected license fees for use of the song in television shows, movies, and other productions, with some estimating that the publisher has brought in close to $2 million a year in royalties.

The song can be traced to the 1893 book "Song Stories for Kindergarten," which featured a ditty called "Good Morning to All," written by sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill. The lyrics to "Happy Birthday To You" were adapted from that song's melody, and King wrote that the sisters "for decades... did not try to obtain federal copyright protection.... In 1934... they finally asserted their rights to the 'Happy Birthday/Good Morning' melody — but still made no claim to the lyrics."

An attorney for the plaintiffs, which included a filmmaker working on a documentary about the song, said the decision means "Happy Birthday To You" is now in the public domain. "There is no one, really, who can claim an ownership to the song," Mark Rifkin said. Now, he said, a judge has to look into whether Warner/Chappell has to return the money it collected through licensing. Catherine Garcia

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