Law relating to people, companies and businesses in the following three statements.
On a five to three vote, the Supreme Court knocked out much of Arizona’s immigration law Monday-a modest policy victory for the Obama Administration. But on the more important matter of the Constitution, the decision was an 8-0 defeat for the Administration’s effort to upset the balance of power between the federal government and the states.
In Arizona v. United States, the majority overturned three of the four contested provisions of Arizona’s controversial plan to have state and local police enforce federal immigration law. The Constitutional principles that Washington alone has the power to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization ”and that federal laws precede state laws are noncontroversial . Arizona had attempted to fashion state policies that ran parallel to the existing federal ones.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the Court’s liberals, ruled that the state flew too close to the federal sun. On the overturned provisions the majority held the congress had deliberately “occupied the field” and Arizona had thus intruded on the federal’s privileged powers.
However, the Justices said that Arizona police would be allowed to verify the legal status of people who come in contact with law enforcement. That’s because Congress has always envisioned joint federal-state immigration enforcement and explicitly encourages state officers to share information and cooperate with federal colleagues.
Two of the three objecting Justice-Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas-agreed with this Constitutional logic but disagreed about which Arizona rules conflicted with the federal statute. The only major objection came from Justice Antonin Scalia, who offered an even more robust defense of state privileges going back to the alien and Sedition Acts.
The 8-0 objection to President Obama turns on what Justice Samuel Alito describes in his objection as “a shocking assertion of federal executive power”. The White House argued that Arizona’s laws conflicted with its enforcement priorities, even if state laws complied with federal statutes to the letter. In effect, the White House claimed that it could invalidate any otherwise legitimate state law that it disagrees with.
Some powers do belong exclusively to the federal government, and control of citizenship and the borders is among them. But if Congress wanted to prevent states from using their own resources to check immigration status, it could. It never did so. The administration was in essence asserting that because it didn’t want to carry out Congress’s immigration wishes, no state should be allowed to do so either. Every Justice rightly rejected this remarkable claim.
A deal is a deal-except, apparently ,when Entergy is involved. The company, a major energy supplier in New England, provoked justified outrage in Vermont last week when it announced it was reneging on a longstanding commitment to abide by the strict nuclear regulations.
Instead, the company has done precisely what it had long promised it would not challenge the constitutionality of Vermont’s rules in the federal court, as part of a desperate effort to keep its Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant running. It’s a stunning move.
The conflict has been surfacing since 2002, when the corporation bought Vermont’s only nuclear power plant, an aging reactor in Vernon. As a condition of receiving state approval for the sale, the company agreed to seek permission from state regulators to operate past 2012. In 2006, the state went a step further, requiring that any extension of the plant’s license be subject to Vermont legislature’s approval. Then, too, the company went along.
Either Entergy never really intended to live by those commitments, or it simply didn’t foresee what would happen next. A string of accidents, including the partial collapse of a cooling tower in 2007 and the discovery of an underground pipe system leakage, raised serious questions about both Vermont Yankee’s safety and Entergy’s management– especially after the company made misleading statements about the pipe. Enraged by Entergy’s behavior, the Vermont Senate voted 26 to 4 last year against allowing an extension.
Now the company is suddenly claiming that the 2002 agreement is invalid because of the 2006 legislation, and that only the federal government has regulatory power over nuclear issues. The legal issues in the case are obscure: whereas the Supreme Court has ruled that states do have some regulatory authority over nuclear power, legal scholars say that Vermont case will offer a precedent-setting test of how far those powers extend. Certainly, there are valid concerns about the patchwork regulations that could result if every state sets its own rules. But had Entergy kept its word, that debate would be beside the point.
The company seems to have concluded that its reputation in Vermont is already so damaged that it has nothing left to lose by going to war with the state. But there should be consequences. Permission to run a nuclear plant is a public trust. Entergy runs 11 other reactors in the United States, including Pilgrim Nuclear station in Plymouth. Pledging to run Pilgrim safely, the company has applied for federal permission to keep it open for another 20 years. But as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reviews the company’s application, it should keep it mind what promises from Entergy are worth.
Over the past decade, thousands of patents have seen granted for what are called business methods. Amazon.com received one for its “one-click” online payment system. Merrill Lynch got legal protection for an asset allocation strategy. One inventor patented a technique for lying a box.
Now the nation’s top patent court appears completely-property lawyers abuzz the U.S. court of Appeals for the federal circuit said it would use a particular case to conduct a broad review of business-method patents. In the Bilski, as the case is known, is a “very big deal”, says Dennis’D Crouch of the University of Missouri School of law. It “has the potential to eliminate an entire class of patents.”
Curbs on business-method claims would be a dramatic about-face, because it was the federal circuit itself that introduced such patents with is 1998 decision in the so-called state Street Bank case, approving a patent on a way of pooling mutual-fund assets. That ruling produced an explosion in business-method patent filings, initially by emerging internet companies trying to stake out exclusive rights to specific types of online transactions. Later, move established companies raced to add such patents to their files, if only as a defensive move against rivals that might bent them to the punch. In 2005, IBM noted in a court filing that it had been issued more than 300 business-method patents despite the fact that it questioned the legal basis for granting them. Similarly, some Wall Street investment films armed themselves with patents for financial products, even as they took positions in court cases opposing the practice.
The Bilski case involves a claimed patent on a method for hedging risk in the energy market. The Federal circuit issued an unusual order stating that the case would be heard by all 12 of the court’s judges, rather than a typical panel of three and that one issue it wants to evaluate is weather it should “reconsider” its state street Bank ruling.
The Federal Circuit’s action comes in the wake of a series of recent decisions by the supreme Count that has narrowed the scope of protections for patent holders. Last April, for example the justices signaled that too many patents were being upheld for “inventions” that are obvious. The judges on the Federal circuit are “”reacting to the anti-patent trend at the Supreme Court””, says Harold C, Wegner, a patent attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School.