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Top Europe rights court condemns Switzerland in landmark climate ruling
Topics | 2024/04/11 22:03
Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.

“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.

Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.

She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkey.

The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.


Elon Musk will be investigated over fake news and obstruction in Brazil
Topics | 2024/04/08 22:18
A crusading Brazilian Supreme Court justice included Elon Musk as a target in an ongoing investigation over the dissemination of fake news and opened a separate investigation late Sunday into the executive for alleged obstruction.

In his decision, Justice Alexandre de Moraes noted that Musk on Saturday began waging a public “disinformation campaign” regarding the top court’s actions, and that Musk continued the following day — most notably with comments that his social media company X would cease to comply with the court’s orders to block certain accounts.

“The flagrant conduct of obstruction of Brazilian justice, incitement of crime, the public threat of disobedience of court orders and future lack of cooperation from the platform are facts that disrespect the sovereignty of Brazil,” de Moraes wrote.

Musk will be investigated for alleged intentional criminal instrumentalization of X as part of an investigation into a network of people known as digital militias who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats against Supreme Court justices, according to the text of the decision. The new investigation will look into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement.

Musk has not commented on X about the latest development as of late Sunday.

Brazil’s political right has long characterized de Moraes as overstepping his bounds to clamp down on free speech and engage in political persecution. In the digital militias investigation, lawmakers from former President Jair Bolsonaro’s circle have been imprisoned and his supporters’ homes raided. Bolsonaro himself became a target of the investigation in 2021.

De Moraes’ defenders have said his decisions, although extraordinary, are legally sound and necessary to purge social media of fake news as well as extinguish threats to Brazilian democracy — notoriously underscored by the Jan. 8, 2023, uprising in Brazil’s capital that resembled the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.

On Saturday, Musk — a self-declared free speech absolutist — wrote on X that the platform would lift all restrictions on blocked accounts and predicted that the move was likely to dry up revenue in Brazil and force the company to shutter its local office.

“But principles matter more than profit,” he wrote.

He later instructed users in Brazil to download a VPN to retain access if X was shut down and wrote that X would publish all of de Moraes’ demands, claiming they violate Brazilian law. Musk had not published de Moraes’ demands as of late Sunday and prominent blocked accounts remained so, indicating X had yet to act based on Musk’s previous pledges.


Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has memoir coming
Topics | 2024/04/04 22:54
Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has a two-volume memoir coming out this fall, tracking his life from growing up in California to his 30 years on the court, when he cast key votes on landmark cases ranging from abortion to gay marriage to campaign finance.

Simon & Schuster announced Tuesday that Kennedy’s “Life and Law: The Early Years” and “Life and Law: The Court Years” will be published Oct. 1, as a boxed set and in individual editions, each around 320 pages. Kennedy was widely regarded as a moderate conservative who wrote the majority opinion on such closely divided cases as Obergefell v. Hodges, which found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and other outside entities to spend unlimited money on election campaigns.

“In ‘Life and Law,’ he explains the why’s and how’s of judging,” Simon & Schuster’s announcement reads in part.

“The second volume is filled with moving portraits of Justices O’Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Ginsburg that go along with the account of how Kennedy decided his views in the landmark cases. But it is the first volume about his youth in Sacramento and his decade as a practicing lawyer that explains the judicial giant. Readers will see the child who turns into the man, who shaped America as much as any Washington figure in the 21st century.”

Kennedy, 87, noted in the preface to the first volume that his memoirs proved more expansive than originally planned.

“It was my intent (my right hand is raised to swear it so) to recount my earlier years in a summary way. But something happened on the way to the pencil,” he wrote. “More and more of my recollections turned to how our society and its mindset changed in fascinating ways from the ’40s and ’50s to the ’60s and then again in the ’70s. This seemed relevant to the dynamics that influenced me and our larger society.”

“As each day passes, we should strive to learn more about who we are and whom we should strive to become,” he added. “Writing a memoir is a formal way to do this.”

Kennedy was an associate justice from 1988-2018 and his arrival and departure proved equally newsworthy.

He was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan, but only after the Senate had voted down Reagan’s first choice, Robert Bork, and after the second choice, Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew amid reports he had smoked marijuana. When Kennedy announced in 2018 that he was stepping down, President Donald Trump nominated a former Kennedy law clerk, Brett Kavanaugh, who was narrowly approved by the Senate after contentious confirmation hearings that included allegations Kavanaugh had assaulted a high school acquaintance, Christine Blasey Ford.

Kennedy’s book will arrive soon after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s memoir “Lovely One,” which comes out Sept. 3.


Supreme Court casts doubt on GOP-led states’ efforts to regulate social media
Topics | 2024/03/01 19:16
The Supreme Court cast doubt Monday on state laws that could affect how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users. The cases are among several this term in which the justices could set standards for free speech in the digital age.

In nearly four hours of arguments, several justices questioned aspects of laws adopted by Republican-dominated legislatures and signed by Republican governors in Florida and Texas in 2021. But they seemed wary of a broad ruling, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett warning of “land mines” she and her colleagues need to avoid in resolving the two cases.

While the details vary, both laws aimed to address conservative complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints, especially on the political right.

Differences on the court emerged over how to think about the platforms — as akin to newspapers that have broad free-speech protections, or telephone companies, known as common carriers, that are susceptible to broader regulation.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested he was in the former camp, saying early in the session, “And I wonder, since we’re talking about the First Amendment, whether our first concern should be with the state regulating what we have called the modern public square?”

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas appeared most ready to embrace arguments made by lawyers for the states. Thomas raised the idea that the companies are seeking constitutional protection for “censoring other speech.”

Alito complained about the term “content moderation” that the sites employ to keep material off their platforms.

“Is it anything more than a euphemism for censorship?” he asked, later musing that term struck him as Orwellian. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh, seemingly more favorable to the companies, took issue with calling the actions of private companies censorship, a term he said should be reserved for restrictions imposed by the government.

“When I think of Orwellian, I think of the state, not the private sector, not private individuals,” Kavanaugh said.

The precise contours of rulings in the two cases were not clear after arguments, although it seemed likely the court would not let the laws take effect. The justices posed questions about how the laws might affect businesses that are not their primary targets, including e-commerce sites like Uber and Etsy and email and messaging services.


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