TIME Courts

A California Slaughterhouse Has Been Indicted for Selling Condemned Beef

Cattle graze at Rancho Feeding Corporation in Petaluma
Cattle graze at Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma, Calif., on Feb. 10, 2014 Beck Diefenbach—Reuters

The charges come after a massive global recall of 8.7 million lb. of meat

Rancho Feeding Corp., a slaughterhouse in Petaluma, Calif., was indicted on Thursday for processing carcasses that had been condemned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and for selling beef that came from cancerous cattle. Following a massive product recall, owners Robert Singleton and Jesse Amaral Jr., as well as employees Eugene Corda and Felix Cabrera, were charged with 11 felony counts including knowingly processing and distributing uninspected meat. If convicted, the four could be facing sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Operations at Rancho Feeding Corp. were suspended in January when the USDA recalled 8.7 million lb. of beef from stores throughout the world. The indictment documents, unsealed on Monday, allege that co-owner Amaral instructed employees to decapitate the heads of cows with eye cancer, and to switch them with the heads of healthy cows, in order to evade inspectors. Documents also allege that Amaral directed employees to remove the “USDA condemned” brand from carcasses prior to processing. Nearly 200 condemned and cancerous cows were subsequently sold to stores globally between 2012 and 2013.

Jeffrey Bornstein, a lawyer previously representing Amaral, told the San Francisco Chronicle in February that his defendant’s company was always “considered one of the top meat processors in the state. He is very sorry for any impact that this situation has caused to his customers and to the meat-buying public.”

Rancho Feeding Corp. was sold to Marin Sun Farms in February.

TIME Courts

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Survives Challenge in Tennessee

First such prohibition to withstand a constitutional challenge since June 2013

Tennessee’s same-sex marriage ban has survived a constitutional challenge in court, the first prohibition to withstand such a challenge in almost 14 months.

Roane County Circuit Judge Russell Simmons ruled that “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility,” in ruling from last Tuesday, SCOTUSblog reports.

More than two dozen federal and state court rulings since the Supreme Court’s United States v. Windsor decision in June 2013 have successfully challenged and/or nullified bans. Simmons’ ruling rejects both a claim of discrimination and a claim that the Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause forces the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

“The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional,” Simmons wrote. “Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one state’s refusal to accept another state’s valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Simmons’ ruling only formally addressed and upheld the part of Tennessee’s ban that doesn’t recognize pre-existing same-sex marriages from other states, though this aspect is now being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

[SCOTUSblog]

TIME South Africa

We’ll Know the Oscar Pistorius Verdict on September 11

Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock during closing arguments in his murder trial in the Pretoria High Court on August 8, 2014, in Pretoria, South Africa. Pool—Getty Images

The verdict will mark the end of a five-month trial

The judge in Oscar Pistorius’s murder trial will issue a verdict in the Olympic runner’s case on September 11, the Associated Press reports. The verdict will mark the end of a five-month trial that has captured the attention of people around the world and turned an inspirational athlete into an embattled killer.

Pistorius was charged with shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in February 2013. During the trial, Pistorius admitted to shooting Steenkamp, but he claimed he had mistaken her for an intruder.

Both sides wrapped up their closing arguments this week. Judge Thokozile Masipa, whose personal story and trailblazing attitude has added to interest in the case, said it will take her a month to review the evidence and come to a decision.

Pistorius thanked those who stuck with him throughout the trial in a tweet shortly following the trial’s closing:

[AP]

TIME Aereo

Aereo to Court: We’re ‘Bleeding to Death’

A month after the Supreme Court ruled that the TV-streaming service was operating illegally, the cash-strapped startup has requested an emergency ruling that will enable it to start earning revenue again

+ READ ARTICLE

Facing a dire financial situation, the TV-streaming service Aereo Inc. asked a federal court in Manhattan for an emergency ruling on its application to operate as a cable TV service, a move that would allow the company to begin earning revenue for the first time since it stopped operations June 28.

The TV-streaming startup said it is “figuratively bleeding to death,” as it has not made money since it stopped operating after the Supreme Court ruled its services were in violation of copyright law last month.

“Unless it is able to resume operations in the immediate future, the company will likely not survive,” said Aereo in a federal court filing.

A federal judge in Manhattan declined to make a decision on the application Friday, saying the company “jumped the gun” in making the request without permission.

A Supreme Court ruling in June found that the company’s antenna-based transmission of live and recorded broadcast programming was a violation of U.S. copyright law. In response, Aereo began to argue that it was a cable company, the very sort of company it was hoping to replace. But Aereo cannot operate as a cable company without a license to do so from the U.S. Copyright Office, which has said it will not issue a license until the courts determine the company’s status.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Courts

Penn State Ex-Coaches Sue University for $1 Million Over Dismissal

Jay Paterno, son of former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno, speaks during a memorial service for his father in State College, Pa., in 2012.
Jay Paterno, son of former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno, speaks during a memorial service for his father in State College, Pa., in 2012. Gene J. Puskar—AP

One is the son of former head coach Joe Paterno

Two former assistant football coaches at Penn State, including the son of the late head coach Joe Paterno, have filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages from the university, claiming they were unfairly linked to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney, the two plaintiffs in the suit, were fired in the aftermath of the Sandusky affair when the new head coach Bill O’Brien signed on. Sandusky was sentenced to between 30 and 60 years in prison in 2012, after being convicted of child molestation and abuse charges.

Paterno and Kenney argue in the lawsuit that their dismissal was baseless, CNN reports. Since their dismissal in January 2012, they “have been denied lucrative employment opportunities based upon the false light and association by innuendo,” the lawsuit claims.

The two are seeking $1 million in compensation from Penn State for damages to their reputation and inability to meaningfully provide for themselves. They also want Penn State to issue a statement absolving them of any connection with Sandusky.

Penn State said in a statement Tuesday “it is common practice for incoming head coaches to select their own coaching staff,” PennLive.com reports.

Jay Paterno’s father, Joe Paterno, was the head coach of the Penn State team for much of the period that Sandusky served as assistant coach. Paterno Sr. was fired in November 2011 and died just over 2 months later.

[CNN]

TIME Courts

Sleeping Yankees Fan’s Lawsuit Won’t Get Far, Legal Experts Say

A $10 million lawsuit filed by a man who was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game draws skepticism

+ READ ARTICLE

Legal experts are skeptical of the $10 million lawsuit filed by a man after he was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game.

Andrew Rector, who was sitting amongst Yankees fans with his head resting on his shoulder, appeared to have dozed off during the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. Once Rector appeared on camera, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk quickly began discussing his slumped-over body.

“Maybe that’s his buddy, and he likes him a lot better when [Rector's] asleep,” Kruk said, referring to a man sitting next to Rector. The commentator duo also remarked that Rector was “oblivious,” expressing surprise that he had fallen asleep during the fourth inning.

Rector filed the suit against ESPN, Shulman, Kruk, the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball (MLB), which also picked up the footage, according to Courthouse News Service. Rector claims damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, citing false statements said about him including that Rector is “a fatty cow” that represents a “symbol of failure.”

In response, ESPN stated that “the comments attributed to ESPN and our announcers were clearly not said in our telecast. The claims presented here are wholly without merit.” MLB declined to comment.

Legal experts agree with ESPN’s assessment. “I think he has no chance on this lawsuit,” Vincent Blasi, a professor at Columbia Law School and expert in tort law, told TIME. “If the grievance is defamation, you have to show someone said something factually false about him. It requires a misstatement of an empirical fact.”

The idea of defamation rests on false written or spoken statements about an individual that damages his or her reputation. Classic defamation cases include suits in which the plaintiff was falsely accused in public statements of manipulating clients in business, or having a debilitating infectious disease.

“[Rector was] clearly been set up for ridicule. He’s unfortunate. He’s been made a butt of jokes. But there’s just no defamatory statement about him,” Harvard Law School professor John Goldberg told TIME, noting that defamation suits rest more on reputation damages than emotional distress.

Goldberg added that the suit, which was filed in Bronx County Supreme Court in New York, would face an uphill — if not entirely vertical — battle. Though there are constitutional limits applying to all U.S. states, New York is “notoriously unfriendly to defamation suits,” and it is “very unlikely that the suit will get anywhere,” he said.

Still, defamation suits have the potential to result in significant compensation. A Palestinian shopkeeper, Ayman Abu Aita, filed in 2009 a multimillion lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and the Late Show With David Letterman after the TV program aired a clip from Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno that portrayed him as a terrorist. Aita claimed the movie damaged his business and caused him to receive death threats. The case was subsequently settled in 2012 “to the mutual satisfaction” of everyone, according to Fox News.

TIME Supreme Court

Why Liberals Can be Grateful for the Hobby Lobby Ruling

Supreme Court Hobby Lobby Liberals Birth Control
People with signs outside the Supreme Court building await a ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on June 30, 2014 in Washington. Evan Golub—Demotix/Corbis

The silver lining for liberals angry at a high court decision

In ruling that “closely-held” corporations can opt out of the Affordable Care Act obligation to pay for employees’ contraception on religious grounds, the Supreme Court majority handed down a decision that could have been tailored to the Green family, the ultra-religious owners of Hobby Lobby, who brought the case.

But the fact that the Greens brought this case is also, in a way, a relief to those who oppose the ruling. That’s because the Greens enabled the court to avoid a much broader ruling that all corporations could be exempted, if they could lay authentic claim to holding religious anti-contraception views– or, to put it bluntly, that any corporation could sidestep various government regulations by claiming faith.

Five members of the Green family appear to be the only shareholders in Hobby Lobby, a big-box crafts chain with a reported 28,000 employees, who will presumably soon be looking for some other way to afford certain kinds of contraception. Two years ago, about 18 or 19 members of the family voted unanimously to become plaintiffs in this case. Although the whole Green family no longer belongs, as the company’s founding generation did, to one extremely conservative Pentecostal denomination (The Church of God of Prophecy) that used to strongly discourage its members from gathering in sinful locales like bowling alleys, the Greens remain extremely traditional Protestants, who believe that their reading of the 139th Psalm and other biblical passages makes it impossible for them to participate in their employees’ use of I.U.D.s and morning-after pills.

How Christian is Hobby Lobby? Its Muzak is spiced with hymns. Some of its corporate meetings begin with prayer. It employs chaplains who evangelize not only to nominal Christians, but also to non-believing workers. More substantively, it gives employees Sundays off as church-and-family days, and pays more than twice the Oklahoma minimum wage to entry-level workers on Christian grounds. According to David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder, and his son Steve, its President, the company also gives away roughly half its earnings, which would come to over $50 million a year– and make it something close to a steroidal Christian charity.

In other words, the company is about as Christian as it is possible for a corporation to get, which was essential in convincing the courts that some corporations could be considered “persons” protected by the 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

But it also enabled—indeed, invited—the Supreme Court to avoid ruling that non closely-held corporations, which is to say most of them, have any religious rights, and to rule out some of the more controversial claims even by closely-held businesses. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion, “the idea that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders—would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable. In any event, we have no occasion in these cases to consider RFRA’s applicability to such companies. ” He continues, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs…Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

None of these qualifications were on the Greens’ wish list.

Would Alito have come to the same conclusions if the plaintiffs in the case had been less like Hobby Lobby and more like General Motors? Perhaps. But having the example of the Greens in front of him made it easy. That’s not to say that the category represented by Hobby Lobby is chickenfeed. Even before the ruling, 46 for-profit companies had sued for exemption on religious grounds. Overtly religious, closely held companies appear to be a growing sector, and includes such giants as the $ 4 billion dollar fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A, In-N-Out Burger, and the clothing country Forever 21. Thus before the dust has cleared, it would not be surprising if over a hundred thousand employees found themselves looking for new providers for contraception. And the Religious Right can justifiably say that the Court has handed down a victory for their definition of religious freedom.

But one could also say that the very religiosity of the Greens may have helped prevent this from being the huge ruling on whether corporations can be religious that some analysts had expected. The various parties who oppose the ruling have reason to be grateful for the Oklahoma family’s extravagantly expressed faith.

TIME Courts

Religious Groups Divided on Hobby Lobby Ruling

Supreme Court Issues Ruling In Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Conservative Christians rejoice at Monday's ruling, but some church leaders question whether it's good for religious freedom or access to healthcare

On Sunday night, Hobby Lobby was simply a craft store. On Monday morning, it became the champion of religious liberty for conservative faith groups across the country.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 split decision on June 30 that closely-held corporations can hold religious views under federal law, meaning that religious for-profit companies can refuse to pay for the employee contraceptive coverage required by President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

Conservative Christian voices immediately praised the ruling and offered their prayers of thanksgiving. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called the ruling, “one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation.” Rick Santorum, former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate, described it as “a tremendous victory for our freedom of conscience.” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted “Hallejulah” within seconds, and then “Gave proof through the night that our First Amendment’s still there.” Soon after, Moore posted on his blog, “This is as close as a Southern Baptist gets to dancing in the streets for joy.”

A supporting chorus of the faithful around the country quickly added to the rejoicing. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called Monday a “great day for the religious freedom of family businesses.” George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God church, commended the court “for recognizing that individuals do not surrender their religious freedom rights when they incorporate as a closely held, for profit business.” Brian Fisher, president of Online for Life, stated, “No person or entity should be forced to provide baby-killing drugs to their employees.” Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, explained that the decision does not stop here: “I do believe that while this outcome validates this fundamental right, the many threats in both culture and society make religious liberty the quintessential civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

It would be a mistake, however, to believe that all religious groups are pleased with Monday’s ruling. Many religious leaders, Christian and non-Christian, see the decision as a setback for both the freedom of faithful practice and access to health care for which they have advocated for years. “The Court has privileged bosses and their corporations–who now are allowed to exercise religious belief, even though a corporation can’t sit in a pew–over women,” said Rev. Dr. Althea Smith-Withers, who chairs the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, whose members include the American Jewish Committee, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ. “Contraception is a moral good, a fact supported by the various denominations and organizations that make up our coalition. It’s a shame that it may be out of reach for the women who need it the most.”

Union Theological Seminary president Serene Jones called the decision a loss for Christians who desire to be faithful. “As a Christian, I believe that God creates human beings individually, and that the mark of our individual blessedness before God is our souls,” she said in a statement. “I am horrified by the thought that the owners of Hobby Lobby as Christians think their corporation has a soul, and I’m even more appalled that the Supreme Court agrees.”

Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, is concerned that corporate owners now have more faith and health-related protections than their employees. “It is fairly stunning that the Supreme Court in today’s Hobby Lobby ruling held that a corporation’s owners can extend their religious preferences to the corporation’s employees regardless of their employees’ religious views,” Campbell says. “It raises the serious concern about employees being able to get needed services.”

The divide is a reminder that conservative religious groups are celebrating a broader victory. Yes, they transformed a dispute about health care coverage requirements into a symbolic case about religious freedom. But they have had few big culture war wins in recent years, especially as public opinion shifts in favor of marriage equality. The Hobby Lobby ruling—handed down on the last day of LGBT Pride month—is a bright spot for conservative Christians who feel besieged by cultural values they do not share.

The case’s broader religious freedom implications, however, may be more limited than many victors might hope. The decision is based on a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the First Amendment more broadly. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, was careful to clarify the ruling is restrained in scope. “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs,” he wrote in the ruling. “Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”

TIME Courts

How John Roberts’ Supreme Court Is Slowly Bridging the Political Divide

John G Roberts Jr
Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has overseen a shift in the way the Supreme Court approaches cases. Stephan Savoia—AP

Partisans are crowing about Monday's divided Supreme Court decision, but ideological division appears to be on decline in the nation's highest court

Nine years into his service as Chief Justice, John Roberts may finally have shaped the nation’s highest tribunal into a “Roberts Court.” The term that ended on Monday was a reflection of goals that Roberts set during his 2005 confirmation hearings—more unanimous opinions, for example, and a more modest idea of the Supreme Court’s role in society.

Despite two 5-to-4 splits on the final day of term, in cases involving union dues and the Affordable Care Act, the Roberts Court delivered unanimous opinions in more than 60 percent of the cases decided this year, the highest percentage in decades. That doesn’t happen by accident. As the eminent Constitutional authority Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School has noted, a number of these 9-to-0 opinions contain significant disputes just beneath the surface. The Roberts Court is placing high value, in a time of polarized government, on finding common ground in spite of real philosophical differences.

And there was something distinctive about those 5-to-4 calls on the final day, as well. Faced with sharp splits that could not be papered over, Roberts assigned the same associate justice to write both of the opinions: Samuel Alito.

Alito is a fascinating judge—that is, if modesty and predictability happen to fascinate you. Arguably the purest conservative on the Court, Alito disdains the sort of flashy, rhetorical disagreement perfected by Antonin Scalia and former Justice John Paul Stevens, the dueling dissenters of the earlier Rehnquist Court. His Monday rulings reflected both his conservatism and his judicial modesty. In a case challenging the power of public employee unions to impose fees on non-members, Alito’s opinion went against the union. But he stopped well short of the sweeping blow that anti-union politicians and pundits were hoping for.

Likewise, in a case asking whether the owners of private corporations can be forced to provide contraception methods that offend their religious beliefs, Alito anchored a majority in favor of the owners. But his opinion was hedged throughout. Questions of how the ruling might apply to publicly traded corporations, or whether it might apply to other religious convictions, were left for another day.

In 2005, Roberts famously compared this narrow approach to a baseball umpire calling balls and strikes. The umpire is not making a blanket ruling covering every conceivable pitch. The idea is to frame a strike zone and apply it consistently on a pitch-by-pitch basis. The fact that Alito wrote both of the last-day opinions suggests that he’s the justice that Roberts wants behind the plate on the close calls. This matters because the Chief Justice has so few powers, and one of the most important is that when the Chief is part of the majority, he gets to choose the writer.

By such small increments, change comes to the Supreme Court. It is, by its nature, a slow-moving institution. And the Chief Justice is the least powerful of the leaders of the branches of American government—just one of nine voices, all with an equal say in which cases the Court will hear and how they will be decided. But step by step, opinion by opinion, Roberts is stamping his image on the institution. The term that ended on Monday put us clearly into the Roberts Court era.

TIME Courts

American Corporations Are Powerful Enough Without a Conscience

Supreme Court Delivers Decisions Against Aereo And Rules In Favor Of Cellphone Privacy
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 25, 2014 in Washington. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Corporations have more economic power than they’ve ever had in this country as measured by their share of overall U.S. GDP. Now, thanks to a new Supreme Court ruling, they have more religious freedom too. In the closely watched Sebelius versus Hobby Lobby case, the court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby, a craft retail store chain run by a family of Pentecostals who believe that offering up certain birth control options via employee insurance, which had been mandated under the Affordable Care Act, conflicted with their religious beliefs. The courts thought they had a point–and the ruling says that such “closely held” family companies are no longer required to provide contraception for workers, similar to religious non-profits, some of which already have the same exception.

The upshot? Companies can now officially have a conscience. Just as the Citizen’s United case allowed companies the rights of individuals when it came to political donations, this case is setting a big precedent for corporations to be treated as individuals when it comes to religious freedom.

There are all sorts of potential business implications. First and most immediately, you could see a difference in access to paid contraception for women who work in big publicly held firms versus privately held and/or family owned ones. That’s no small thing, given that private firms drive 50 percent of GDP and about 65 percent of new job creation in this country. It could also create a further divide in access to contraception between rich and poor women. The former tend to work in greater numbers for large, publicly held companies. The latter are more likely to be laboring in small, local firms–the town hairdresser, a restaurant, or a doctor’s office–than in bigger firms like Hobby Lobby.

The ruling could also open the door to all sorts of other challenges to workplace legislations based on notions of religious freedom. Take the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example, that would include sexual orientation amongst the protected characteristics in workplace discrimination suits. Could firms like Hobby Lobby challenge that, too?

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, this ruling gives more power (economic and personal) to U.S. corporations, at the expense of individual human labor. That’s a shift that’s been happening for decades now (and interestingly, was forwarded by another anti-union ruling that came down from the Court today). And to me, it’s worrisome. At a time when corporations have more economic power than ever, pay the lowest share of taxes as a percentage of the total take in history, and are creating fewer jobs than in the past, do they really need more special treatment that compromises a public good (in this case, equal access to healthcare) and puts more of a burden on individuals? I don’t think so.

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