Supreme Court Rejects Bailout Challenge

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a former CEO of AIG International, who argued that the federal government had illegally bailed out the insurance company during the 2008 financial crisis, and had done so at the detriment of shareholders.

The ruling by the court leaves in place a Washington, DC federal appeals court ruling in 2017 that decided that former AIG CEO Maurice “Hank” Greenberg and his Starr International Co. did not have a right to legally challenge the government bailout. This was because they said that only AIG itself had the right to challenge the bailout, and they chose not to do so.

Greenberg, who is 92 years old, ran AIG for almost 40 years before being removed from his position in March of 2005. In September 2008, the federal government rescued the insurance giant to keep it from going bankrupt. The company had lost vast sums of money insuring poor-quality mortgage securities.

David Boies, who is a lawyer representing Starr International Co., issued a statement that expressed disappointment with the ruling. He said that they had proved that the government went beyond its authority when it took over AIG and used it to rescue others companies that were engaged in riskier behavior, which they did at the detriment of AIG’s shareholders.

In 2011, Starr International Co. — which is an investment and insurance company with a large stake in AIG — sued the federal government. It alleged that the government improperly received a nearly 80% share of AIG, for a $85 billion loan that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York gave the company. Because of this, they claimed that the rights of shareholders were diminished, which violates the constitutional right of due process. They sought from the federal government $40 billion in damages.

Initially, a lower court had ruled in favor of Starr International Co. But at the same time it refused to award them damages. This was because they asserted that, without the government loan, the stock would not have had any value. They further asserted that the bailout actually helped Starr International Co.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit overturned that ruling, which led to the Supreme Court appeal.

Republicans in Maryland Challenge Congressional Map at the Supreme Court

This Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments from 9 Republican voters in Maryland, who are challenging part of the state’s congressional map.

One of these voters is Bill Eyle. Back in 2011, the state — which is largely controlled by Democrats — redrew Maryland’s congressional map. This moved Eyle from a conservative district to a liberal one that is part of the suburbs of Washington, DC. Eyle, who lives in a small town about 60 miles from the nation’s capital and who is a retired business owner, believes that the Democrats intentionally moved him and other conservative voters into the liberal district so as to lessen their impact in elections. He feels that people like him are now without proper representation.

The case is one of two currently in front of the Supreme Court this session that relate to what is known as partisan gerrymandering. This refers to when the majority party in a particular state uses their power to redistrict a state for their own advantage. Last October, the court heard a similar challenge. Though this challenge was made by Democrats, who charged that Republicans in Wisconsin had gerrymandered their state.

The question the Supreme Court must resolve in both cases is whether partisan gerrymandering violates the constitutional rights of voters. The rulings of both cases will be made by end of the court’s current session, which is at the end of June, and they could significantly change how American politics operate, by either placing limits upon partisan gerrymandering or allowing the tactic to continue unabated.

Maryland is a mostly Democratic state, but it does have many Republicans. It even has a Republican governor. Many Democrats in the state openly admit that the congressional map was created to make it more difficult for Republicans to win the 6th District House seat. Eyle once lived in the 6th District, but now votes in the 8th District, which is heavily Democratic.

Redistricting in Maryland considerably changed the electoral makeup of the 6th District. Prior to 2011, it was almost 47% Republican and only about 36% Democratic, and now it is 44% Democratic and 33% Republican. This largely led to Republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett losing his House seat to Democrat John Delaney.

Supreme Court Holds Dodd-Frank Does not Apply to Internal Whistleblowers

On February 21, the United States Supreme Court made it more difficult for whistleblowers in to claim protections under the Dodd-Frank Act. In Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers the court held that in order for Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation protections to apply a whistleblower must report the wrongdoing to the SEC. The court decided internal disclosures of securities law violations do not offer protection under the rules of Dodd-Frank.

The facts of the case fit the mold of retaliation after a report of illegal conduct. Paul Sommers was a vice president at Digital Realty Trust. At that time, Digital Realty Trust was a real estate investment firm. Sommers discovered what he believed to be a number of securities law violations and proceeded with internal notification. Soon after his report he was fired. Digital Realty Trust terminated Sommers’ employment before he could notify the SEC.

A unanimous court found the SEC’s rules applying Dodd-Frank’s protections to internal whistleblowers invalid because it violated the clear language of the statute. Dodd-Frank states that anti-retaliation protections apply to individuals who have reported securities violations to the SEC and makes no mention of internal reporters.

As this article in the National Law Review explains, there are two statutes that protect individuals who report violations of securities laws, the Dodd-Frank and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Although they both protect whistleblowers, they define the concept differently and diverge in several other ways. Whistleblowers under Sarbanes-Oxley must file a wrongful termination claim with the Department of Labor within 180 days of being fired to be eligible for protection under the statute. Dodd-Frank does not make such a demand. The two statutes also offer different levels of monetary recovery with Dodd-Frank authorizing the payment of double back pay with interest in case of a violation. Sarbanes-Oxley limits the amount of recovery to back pay with interest.

Internal reporters can still use the protections provided by Sarbanes-Oxley. The consequences of the ruling, of course, remain to be seen. Some legal experts argue the holding will increase the likelihood of whistleblowers reporting violations of securities law to the SEC instead of just internally to ensure they remain protected under Dodd-Frank.

 

Supreme Court Debates Voting Dress Code

The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the case of a man who says that dress codes for voting are unconstitutional. The Minnesota man said that he tried to vote while wearing a Tea Party shirt and a button showing his support for voter identification laws. He also wore a “Don’t Tread on Me” message which is commonly associated with the libertarian movement.

An election official stopped the man from voting wearing those items. They told the man that if he wanted to vote, he had to either hide or cover up the slogans and statements that aren’t allowed. The man tried to vote three times wearing the clothing. The first two times, election officials refused to let him vote. The third time, they let him vote, but they noted his name and contact information.

Minnesota law says that people can’t wear anything with political insignia on it to vote. That includes a button or any other item of clothing that’s “political.” Voters can’t wear political items anywhere at the voting location.

The man vowed to take his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. His wish came true. The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the case of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.

The man’s supporters say that political buttons and the like are a way for average people to show their support for a political candidate or cause. They say the prohibition is too broad. There isn’t any reason to restrict references to political parties, ideology and hot-button issues, they say.

They also say that polling officials have too much discretion. They can allow a logo if it’s a cause that they support. They can refuse a similar logo that they don’t like just by calling it political.

In one case, Texas voting officials tried to ban someone from voting because they wore a shirt with the word “Alaska” on it. They said it showed support for Sarah Palin. In Colorado, voters faced the wrath when they wore shirts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Voting officials said that MIT might be short for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but it might also show support for then-Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The states say that these laws are necessary to keep voting fair. They say that local polling officials have to have discretion in order to deal with any kind of situation that arises on voting day. The U.S. Supreme Court expects to issue its decision by June 2018.

Government Immigration Attorney Steals IDs

Even though federal immigration attorneys are supposed to protect the public by providing honest, ethical representation, one U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement attorney decided to abuse his position and steal the identities of the immigrants whose information came through the office. Raphael Sanchez was the chief counsel for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Seattle. Now, he’s set for sentencing in a federal court after pleading guilty to using his position to steal the identities of people filing immigration paperwork in his office.

Sanchez entered a guilty plea to aggravated identity theft. He also admitted to committing wire fraud. A judge in the U.S. Western Washington federal court accepted the guilty plea. The case now moves to a sentencing hearing in May that will decide Sanchez’ fate.

According to Washington Post, as part of the plea, Sanchez worked out a sentence recommendation with federal prosecutors. They say both sides agree that four years in federal prison is fair. There’s no word on whether the judge will honor the sentencing agreement.

As ICE’s leading man in the Seattle office, Sanchez oversaw cases in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. With that power, he chose to steal the identities of eight different people. Using the identities, he took out loans that totaled $190,000. Sanchez allegedly found his victims by using the ICE database.

Once he had a victim in mind, he used their information to make a fake driver’s license and fake utility bills. For a photo, he used his own picture. If he stole the identity of a woman, he used a photo of a murder victim.

Once he had the paperwork, he took out credit cards and loans using the false identities. Some of the victims were in deportation proceedings and weren’t even in the United States to know that they were being scammed. Authorities say that was part of Sanchez’ plan to avoid discovery. Authorities also say they found 20 more identities ready to go in Sanchez’ home.

It isn’t the first time that a Seattle ICE attorney has abused their position. In 2016, another official forged a document in order make an immigrant ineligible to stay in the United States. Officials noticed the fraud because the officer forged a document with a date that was earlier than when the form even existed for use. The offending offer served time in prison for the offense. Officials decided to grant the victim a green card.

 

Is Virtual Currency Legislation On Congress’ Agenda?

Based on remarks made recently by Securities and Exchange Chairman Jay Clatyon, the United States Congress may be asked to pass legislation soon that will help regulate various types of virtual currencies, most notably Bitcoin. As these currencies have risen in popularity in recent years, many industry regulators have become concerned about a lack of oversight in this area. These concerns, coupled with recent market losses that have led to Bitcoin losing half its value, have prompted legislators to take a closer look at the issue.

The SEC, working in conjunction with the U.S. Treasury Department and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is currently examining how new laws regulating virtual currency would impact national and international financial markets. With some banks now refusing to allow customers to use credit cards to purchase Bitcoin, regulators are concerned about such issues as market volatility, investor protections, and the threat of cyber criminals hacking into various virtual currency markets, which could cause chaos in other financial markets.

According to lawmakers, the recent incident involving hackers stealing $530 million from the Japanese bitcoin exchange Coincheck had much to do with the sense of urgency to pass legislation. As the current rules stand, virtual currencies are essentially unregulated, falling into what regulators consider to be cracks that exist between federal and state regulators, the SEC, Treasury Department, and other related agencies.

If legislation is passed on this matter, congressional legislators believe there would be numerous benefits to companies as well as investors. Along with having laws that are much clearer to everyone involved, investors would also have many more protections in place to guard them against cyber thieves. If this occurs, SEC Chairman Clayton and heads of other agencies have said they would be very aggressive in pursuing those who attempt to defraud investors, and would also coordinate efforts with the FBI if there were suspicions of money laundering associated with funding terrorist operations.

According to Chairman Clayton, senators, and other agency heads, if legislation is passed to regulate virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, one concern all agencies will have is funding which will be necessary to hire additional staff. In order to be effective at regulating virtual currencies, the SEC and related agencies will need new personnel to staff trading and markets divisions, cyber crime divisions, and other areas. For additional information on the status of virtual currency legislation, visit Reuters.com.

The Government Shutdown Game is Over for Two Years

Over the past year the United States Congress has played politics with the national operating budget by trying to connect the necessary authorization to other political issues, such as the wall along the Mexico border and extending the DACA program. Both the Democrats and Republicans have apparently realized this is a dangerous game, at least for their careers, and now have averted what President Trump recently said he welcomed.

The needs of the military and the law enforcement community was one of the primary concerns for the agreement according to members of Congress, but there is surely an underlying personal priority in the approval for all congressional members. Unnecessary government workers are commonly off work during a government shutdown, which includes their staffs. The “shutdown” usually merely becomes a short-term suspension from daily operation. Issues such as concerns over North Korea and the renewal of the Iran agreement were also identified.

The fact that 2018 is an election year surely impacted how all Congress members voted, both in the House and Senate, with the House of Representatives approving a budget version first shortly followed by the Senate approval. This means that all members who are running for re-election can claim a victory of sorts on both sides of the aisle. It is surely interesting how both sides of the political duopoly can agree on any measure if it will directly impact their careers, which also leads to the current career politician problem in Washington.

With the manufactured budget crisis behind them, now Congress can focus on doing the people’s work to an extent. If history has taught the U.S citizens anything, it is that the Belt Way operatives always take care of themselves first before any voting decisions are made including what issues will even get a vote. During an election year focus is not so much about ideas in heads as it is about protecting the republican or democrat affiliation of the seat holders, who are ultimately controlled legislative voters.

A two-year budget, which should have been done long ago, will now put Congress back on the regular funding cycle of the government ensuring that pay for all government workers will not be interrupted as well. And, of course, it is in place until the next election cycle of 2020 that will also include a presidential race. Even with the so-called crisis side-stepped and the “can kicking” stopping, it was still vital to develop a time frame where this unnecessary political tool can be used again. The more things change, the more they stay the same in the political power monger game that is Washington D.C.

 

 

 

Federal Judge Strongly Admonished Florida Governor Over Voting Rights

United States District Judge Mark Walker issued a very strong opinion against Florida Governor Rick Scott and his insistence upon maintaining an Office of Executive Clemency that decides whether convicted felons should be allowed to vote. Judge Walker was very clear and firm in his opinion, which he construed as a violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.

Florida is one of four states that do not allow convicted felons to exercise their right to vote after being released from prison unless they go through a restoration process. In general, those who are incarcerated are not allowed to participate in elections; however, 46 states restore this right as soon as a sentence is completed. In Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa, this process consists of an application and confirmation; in Florida, however, the Office of Executive Clemency is known to drag cases along for years and issue very few approvals, thereby infringing upon the rights of individuals to participate in the democratic process.

Judge Walker described the process in Florida as a nonsensical and onerous exercise in disenfranchisement. One of the salient issues in this process is that the Office of the Governor has veto power, which is routinely applied, which has prevented hundreds of thousands of people from voting over many decades. The judge has looked at the way that Florida officials conduct the process, and he described it as extremely unconstitutional.

As of 2018, more than a million residents of Florida are not allowed to vote, and in some cases they are not allowed to hold certain professional licenses in the notarial, real estate, mortgage, and finance fields.

In meetings convened to review clemency cases, Governor Scott has stated to the panel that they can do anything that they wanted with regard to review and approval of applications; this display of arbitrary behavior did not sit well with Judge Walker, particularly when at another meeting the Governor approved an application from a former felon who admitted to have skirted the process to vote for Scott in 2010.

A spokesman for Governor Scott suggested that an appeal may be in the works, but legal analysts believe that such a move may not get too far in appellate court and it will certainly fizzle out before the U.S. Supreme Court should the Florida Attorney General decide to continue fighting. Voting rights advocates are closely watching this case and may sue the state if it does not acknowledge the opinion of Judge Walker.

Equality Debate Rages as Transgender Student Denied Locker Room Access

The debate about gender equality and educational rights continues as an Illinois judge ruled that a Chicago transgender student can’t have open access to use the girl’s locker room at school. Instead, the student has to use a private area for changing inside the locker room. Judge Thomas Allen of Cook County heard the case.

The student attends Palatine High School. Her lawyers asked for a preliminary injunction in the case that would permit the student full use of the locker room until the case could be heard for a final decision. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed the lawsuit on the student’s behalf. The judge says that there’s no need for a preliminary injunction, because there’s no irreparable harm in waiting for a decision at the end of the case.

The Chicago case is one of a number of cases that have emerged challenging gender equality in education. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded policies that Barack Obama’s administration put in place regarding transgender students in schools. In the Chicago case, school district policy allows transgender students to use the locker room of the gender they prefer. However, the policy also requires transgender students to use a separate, private changing area.

The transgender student says that they only want to be “accepted.” The student says she’s insisting only on equal treatment compared to others at her school. She says that having to use a private changing area makes her late to class and even hurts her grade. She says when she’s accepted for who she is, her grades improve and she’s happier.

The school superintendent says that it’s a tough issue. He says that they want to provide access for all students based on gender identity. They also want to protect the privacy of all of their students. The superintendent says that they have to balance both issues. They say asking transgender students to use private changing stalls is the correct balance for everyone involved.

Gender equity groups say it amounts to discrimination. They say they aren’t asking for male students to have unrestricted access to the girl’s locker room. They say they’re only asking for everyone who identifies as female to have the same access. If the transgender student has to use a private changing area, they say, all students should have to change in private areas. Equality groups say that they’re still considering what to do in light of the judge’s decision.

President Trump Gives Dreamers a Path to Citizenship and Asks for Change to Immigration Policy

President Trump is extending a welcoming hand to the 1.8 million youngsters currently classified as illegal immigrants. At the same time, President Trump is also calling on the Department of Homeland Security and Congressmen from both sides of the aisle to get tough on legal immigration programs. For the past year, Trump has been hammering on the idea that immigration should be merit-based and not simply a lottery.

Dreamers are technically children who were brought to the United States illegally. President Obama had a policy of deferred action, hence DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Under President Obama, dreamers were protected against the threat of deportation. Some Republicans factions viewed President Obama’s ostensibly compassionate move to bar mass deportations through the cynical lens of Obama trying to score more votes for Democrats.

President Trump’s recent dealmaking gambit comes to serious concessions from Democrats, though. The Democratic Party led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer conceded a few things in order to put a stay on deportation for millions of dreamers. Among the concessions were a requirement that would mean a sharp reduction in family sponsorship of immigrants and much more robust border security.

The latter may not be as controversial as previously thought since many Democrats concede that something needs to be done about our porous Southern border with Mexico. Democrats have been loathe to grant President Trump his campaign promise of a border wall because of logistical problems with implementation and the high cost of erecting a thirty-foot high wall spanning over 2,000 miles on the United States’ Southern border.

Surprisingly, both Democratic-leaning pro-immigration factions and conservative groups howled at the outcome of Trump’s dealmaking. Both sides averred that the concessions made across the aisle were antithetical to ideological principles. The Democratic-leaning groups say that the deal is a poor quid pro quo because of what it portends for the immigration system moving forward while right-leaning groups say that the current deal brokered between Democrats and Republicans is nothing more than amnesty for immigrants here illegally.

Congressman Lujan Grisham, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, argued that dreamers are now being used as bargaining chips and a means for fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise to shore up support for American workers. The sweeping immigration reform brokered between Democrats and Republicans is set to come up for vote in a few weeks. Nine Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure.

Bill Renewing NSA Internet Surveillance Program Advances Senate, Expected to Be Signed Into Law

The Senate this week made a move to advance a bill that renews a controversial National Security Agency internet surveillance program, Reuter’s reports.

The program, which allows the NSA to monitor a suspect’s internet usage without a warrant, has come under fire by some privacy advocates. The bill was advanced by a margin of one vote.

The advancement comes a few years after a 2013 leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed classified information regarding the program’s surveillance measures. Since the leak, many liberal Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans have been trying to redefine the measures by which the program is run.

The bill must now be signed by the senate and U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Otherwise, the program is set to expire on Friday, January 19, though the Reuters report notes that members of the intelligence community have said it could last through April.

If signed, the bill would extend the authorization, formally know as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), for another six years. No significant changes to the NSA’s scope of authority have been modified within the initial draft of the bill.

Last week, the same bill passed the House of Representatives. It was cleared easily by majority vote there.

While the surveillance program is supposed to primarily target foreigners, it incidentally can pick up communications by American citizens, including any communications an American might make with a suspect of interest overseas — without a warrant. This, says privacy advocates, is the program’s main flaw, and some have called into question the authorization’s constitutionality as it relates to American’s data being incidentally collected without a warrant.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden are two elected officials very much critical of the program, and subsequently the bill to renew its authorization. In a letter to their fellow senators earlier this week, the two acknowledged that the program in its current form, “without additional meaningful constraints,” could lead to the government collecting data on its citizen without a warrant.

The bill is expected to earn the simple majority vote in the Senate sometime later this week. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk.

 

US Supreme Court turns Away Legal Challenge to LGBT Law in Mississippi

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court ended the first legal challenge that had been sponsored by a law that was backed by legislators from the Republican Party. The law stipulated that government and business employees should not serve transgender, bisexual or lesbian American citizens because of their religion. The US Supreme Court Justice left in place a ruling that was issued in June last year by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans. The plaintiffs who include, civil rights advocates such as the leader of the state NAACP and couples from same-sex marriages and church leaders did not have the legal authority to challenge the legislation in a higher court.

The legislation was passed by the state legislature which is controlled by the Conservative Party and was assented into law by the state Governor Phillip Bryant who also hails from the Republican Party. The bill also had the backing of Republican activists from the church and now has not gone through implementation, and it is expected that there will be more legal battles. This challenge is set to be presented by attorneys who represent gay rights groups. One of the attorneys with the Lambda Legal gay rights group has said that that they will keep staging legal battles in the state of Mississippi until the bad law is overturned.

Once the law has been implemented, people who are denied services by business enterprises and government institutions may be forced to have a legal standing to stage a civil rights case against the legislation. The law was passed in 2016 after the historic ruling by the United States Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that made it legal to have same-sex marriage in America. The proponents of the law refer to it as a bill to religious liberty which gives protection to their sincerely held convictions and beliefs of their businesses and them on an individual level.

Critics say that the law gives authorization to have LBGT American citizens to be subject to discriminations which are a violation of the founding documents of the United States which decree that all men are created equal. The US constitution also stipulates that every American citizen should be accorded equal protection by the state and federal law enforcement and that the state and the church should be separated. One of the groups that are assisting the state of Mississippi in defending the law is the Alliance Defending Freedom which is a Republican Christian legal group.

A federal Judge blocks the Move to end the DACA Program by the Trump Administration

The move by President Donald Trump to terminate a program that was enacted by the Obama administration that a judge has blocked protected undocumented children who were brought to the United States from deportation. Judge William Alsup, who serves as a US District judge in San Francisco made a ruling on Tuesday that the DACA program must be maintained as the litigation unfolds over the decision by President Trump. The DACA program which stands for the deferment action on childhood arrivals allowed immigrants who amounted to over 800,000 to live, school and work in the United States without fear of being deported since its authorization in 2012 by former president Barrack Obama.

The DACA program was rescinded in September last year by the trump administration which has placed the fate of the undocumented immigrants popularly known as the dreamers in the decision that awaits to be made by Congress. The decision by President Donald Trump has triggered individuals, organizations and even state authorities to file lawsuits in US federal courts. The administration gave a 30-day grace period for applicants to respond or appeal to their decision after they announced on September 5, 2017. The program is set to expire on the 5th of March this year. However, the deadline to renew any applications made by the immigrants have already expired which in some way has sealed the fate of the 800,000 dreamers who are chasing the American dream.

In the ruling that was issued by Judge Alsup, DACA protection recipients who had in the past failed to register must be given another opportunity to register for the privileges and benefits of the Obama era program. However, the judge was very categorical that the federal government would not process applications which had never been received by the program before. Almost 22,000 recipients of the DACA program were not able to submit their application for the eligibility of the program successfully according to a survey that has been carried out by the Center for American Progress.

The study reveals that a median number of 122 recipients of the DACA program would eventually lose their legal protection on a daily basis in the six months period between September 5, 2017, and March 5, 2018. In a detailed judgment by judge Alsup, he noted that the Trump administration had failed to have the program needs of 689,800 DACA recipients who had to rely on the legal protection of the program to work and live in the United States.

German Officials Oppose Social Media Hate Speech Law

In late October of last year, German officials enacted new legislation that would foist incredible accountability upon social media sites for their users’ content. Twitter, Facebook, and similar online communities have historically been largely immune to the actions of their users. While outright illegal content could find the companies behind these websites in legal trouble, for the most part the actual degree of liability has been fairly negligible.

The new law authorized the government to bring hefty fines against websites that allow posts which violates the country’s notoriously strict hate speech laws. According to the law, fines can range as high as $60 million, making it a serious issues for websites that otherwise rely on ad revenue to stay online. Online communities with user counts above two million were specifically targeted, meaning sites like Facebook and Twitter, which boasts hundreds of millions for the latter and over a billion for the former, could face countless fines due to the difficulty of moderating such a large community.

The courts prudently gave websites until 2018 to improve their moderation staff and software, which in most cases occurred throughout the latter half of 2017. Facebook, for example, pushed to hire an additional 10,000 live moderators and also added improvements to their automated moderation tools, a tactic also adopted by video sharing site YouTube.

While the new law initially saw much support from within the German government, user responses were more divisive. Members of Twitter and other communities have rallied against the new law as an unabashed overstep into free speech rights, a perspective which is now being mirrored by several opposition parties within Germany. Free Democrats general secretary Nicola Beer argued that the ability to censor content in violation of German hate speech laws needed to remain in the hands of government officials and prosecuting authorities, rather than a foreign website’s moderation staff.

Green party leader Simone Peter echoed this sentiment, pointing out the problem of having U.S.-based companies wield such a degree of control over discourse in a foreign country. Peter highlighted the banning of an account held by Titanic, a popular German humor magazine which was accused of offensive comments towards Muslims. Alternative for Germany, a far-right group opposed to immigration, was similarly banned for alleged hate speech against Muslim communities. Parliament leader Sahra Wagenknecht also came out in support of dropping the law, thus bringing Germany’s Left Party to bear against the legislation.

 

Federal Government to Enforce Marijuana Laws

As states across the country move to legalize recreational marijuana, the federal government is doing just the opposite. Under the direction of President Donald Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is ending long-standing federal policy of looking the other way at marijuana grow operations in the United States. Barack Obama and his administration refused to enforce federal marijuana offenses in the United States. Sessions is walking back that policy.

Sessions isn’t directing U.S. attorneys throughout the nation to aggressively go after marijuana growers. Instead, he’s leaving it up to each local U.S. attorney to make the judgment call. If the local U.S. attorney believes that it’s best to bring the charges, they’re able to bring the marijuana charges in federal court.

Obama’s representatives said that state marijuana regulations are “strong and effective.” They didn’t think it was necessary to put additional resources from the federal government into marijuana enforcement. Obama’s administration directed federal attorneys not to prioritize marijuana violations. Instead, they focused on violence, drug use and organized crime. Sessions and his supporters say that rooting marijuana out at the source will address problems of violence, drug use and organized crime too.

Some U.S. attorneys say that they’re hesitant to prosecute marijuana offenses if state law makes marijuana legal. Even though federal laws overrule state law, some say that it’s hard to enforce federal marijuana laws when the public perception is that marijuana use is legal. There’s nothing that a state or local government can do to override a federal law. However, defendants have a right to a jury trial in federal court, and prosecutors may encounter a practical problem of little support on the jury.

The marijuana debate is shaping up to be another point of controversy for the already controversial Sessions. California’s new year brought with it the state legalization of recreational marijuana use. Michigan also has new laws for commercialized production of marijuana. Now, federal attorneys are free to pursue prosecution of these establishments. The industry is up in limbo. Sessions’ supporters say that’s a good thing for public safety. Opponents say that it’s not good for the tax revenue that legalized marijuana is expected to generate.

Another question is the effect that the policy shift will have on medical marijuana production and distribution. There’s a federal law that prohibits U.S. officials from pursuing and prosecuting medical marijuana production. Some wonder if the policy shift will have a cooling effect on medical marijuana production in the United States.