Trump asks Justice Department to write regulations banning gun bump stocks

Attorney General

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has asked the U.S. Justice Department to draft regulations that would ban devices known as “bump stocks” that are used to accelerate gunfire on semi-automatic weapons.

Trump said at the White House that banning the devices could help prevent mass shootings, report the New York Times, ABC News, NPR and the Washington Post. “I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized … very soon,” Trump said.

Trump said in a memorandum that the Justice Department has already begun the process of promulgating a federal regulation interpreting the definition of “machine gun” to clarify whether bump stocks should be illegal. The advance notice of rulemaking has already concluded, and the Justice Department received more than 100,000 comments.

“Today, I am directing the Department of Justice to dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,” Trump said in the statement.

The Las Vegas gunman had used a bump stock to kill 58 people at a country music festival last year. The 19-year-old suspect in the high school shooting last week in Parkland, Florida, had used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle that was purchased legally, USA Today has reported. There have been no reports that he used a bump stock, according to NPR.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had concluded in 2010 that bump stocks weren’t regulated by existing law. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that she does not believe the ATF has the authority to ban bump stocks and legislation is needed.

“If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years,” Feinstein said, “and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold.”

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ABA urges DOJ to continue allowing immigration judges to close appropriate cases

Immigration Law


The American Bar Association has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Department of Justice, urging it not to revoke immigration judges’ ability to administratively close cases.

The brief was filed in response to a call by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for comment on the matter, after he referred a case on administrative closure to himself. (Sessions has that power because the immigration courts are part of the Department of Justice, not an independent body.) Sessions asked the parties and amici to weigh in on whether the immigration judges have the authority to administratively close a case, and if not, whether he should grant them that power.

The ABA’s brief says that immigration judges not only have the authority to administratively close cases, but need administrative closure as a tool for managing their very high caseloads. The attorney general has delegated to judges the power to “take any action … appropriate and necessary for the disposition” of their cases, the brief notes. Judges have used administrative closure for 30 years, the brief says, and the DOJ has created more than a dozen regulations assuming administrative closure is within their power.

“The Supreme Court has explained—in the context of Article III courts—that ‘the power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power inherent in every court,’” the ABA brief says. “The same is true for the BIA and immigration courts.”

In addition, the ABA argues, administrative closure is an important tool for docket management. Administrative closure essentially suspends a case, creating a pause in cases that are not yet ready to be heard so that the court can focus its efforts on those cases that are priorities. Withdrawing that authority would exacerbate the immigration courts’ backlog, which as of December was 667,000 cases, according to Syracuse University. It could also force immigrants into court before proceedings elsewhere (such as a state-court case or a visa application) are finished, effectively denying them relief they’re entitled to.

“An increased reliance on continuances would be highly detrimental to the effective operation of the courts, forcing IJs and the parties to expend valuable time and resources on cases that do not need to be adjudicated,” the brief says. “And entering final orders of removal when an immigrant has a fair likelihood of obtaining immigration relief … is arbitrary and contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act’s recognition that certain classes of individuals are deserving of relief.”

The ABA took no position on whether the respondent in the underlying case, Matter of Castro Tum, merited administrative closure. In that case, an immigration judge administratively closed a case of an unaccompanied minor who did not appear at his hearing, but the Board of Immigration Appeals vacated and remanded the matter.

Immigration Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, says her union sent a letter to the Department of Justice, arguing that having a certain number of inactive cases on the docket is “an effective and common docket management tool.” There have been no complaints or other evidence of abuse, she says. She believes Sessions certified himself the case for political reasons—and notes that he’s not the first attorney general to have done so.

“That, to us, is another example of the structural defects of having the court in a law enforcement agency, where based on those kind of forces, decisions are being made that obviously impact the integrity of the court,” says Tabaddor, who sits in Los Angeles. “The way the whole thing is set up… allows for these types of activities that would have never been allowed in a traditional court setting.”

The call for amicus briefs has gotten attention in other corners of the world of immigration law. Another brief was filed by 14 former immigration judges or Board of Immigration Appeals judges, who argued that their former colleagues do have the authority to administratively close cases. They also argued that the attorney general may not revoke that authority without following the notice-and-comment procedure required for federal agencies’ rulemaking and thus cannot take action on cases that have already been administratively closed.

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Woman denies harassment by Justice Thomas amid new #MeToo reporting; he decries victim culture

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The spotlight is once again on allegations of sexual harassment by Justice Clarence Thomas before he joined the U.S. Supreme Court.

New York magazine has a report on the women who were not called to testify against Thomas during his confirmation hearings, while one of those women calls for Thomas’ impeachment in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post. The National Law Journal summarizes the Feb. 18 New York magazine report and calls attention to another woman who alleged in 2016 that Thomas groped her at a dinner party in 1999.

New York magazine also tells of reported allegations by a then-reporter at the Bureau of National Affairs to a friend that Thomas had made sexual comments to her. New York magazine said that the now-retired reporter, Nancy Montwieler, didn’t deny the allegations prior to the story’s publication. But she did after the fact in emails to both New York magazine and the National Law Journal.

“I knew Clarence Thomas in a professional capacity and never experienced any type of inappropriate behavior from him,” she wrote in an email to the National Law Journal. “Moreover, despite allegations in the article, I do not recall any conversations with Justice Thomas regarding inappropriate or nonprofessional subjects.”

Thomas, through a spokesperson, declined to comment to New York magazine and the National Law Journal; and a Supreme Court spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the National Law Journal.

The most famous allegations against Thomas were made during the confirmation hearings by Anita Hill, who said Thomas had made sexual comments to her when she worked with him at the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas denied the allegations and complained that the confirmation hearing was “a high-tech lynching.”

The Huffington Post article is by Angela Wright-Shannon, described by New York magazine as an accuser who would have been the most devastating witness against Thomas. Then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden told Teen Vogue in December that he regrets not being able to “tone down the attacks” on Hill, and said he wasn’t able to persuade three women to testify against Thomas after they changed their minds about appearing at the last minute.

New York magazine reports that the women wanted to testify, or would have testified if subpoenaed.

In the Huffington Post article, Wright-Shannon says that, after learning she was willing to testify, some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee went on the attack, characterizing her as “as a revengeful, foul-mouthed incompetent seizing an opportunity to strike back at the boss who had fired her.” Wright-Shannon had worked as director of public affairs at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before becoming a metro editor at the Charlotte Observer, and she noted that Thomas had provided a recommendation for her for that newspaper job.

“It’s highly unlikely that Thomas will be impeached, but we can hope,” Wright-Shannon wrote. The New York magazine article also asserted that it’s time to consider impeachment.

“Not because he watched porn on his own time, of course,” says the article written by Jill Abramson, who wrote a book on the Thomas confirmation hearings. “Not because he talked about it with a female colleague—although our understanding of the real workplace harm that kind of sexual harassment does to women has evolved dramatically in the years since, thanks in no small part to those very hearings. Nor is it even because he routinely violated the norms of good workplace behavior, in a way that seemed especially at odds with the elevated office he was seeking. It’s because of the lies he told, repeatedly and under oath, saying he had never talked to Hill about porn or to other women who worked with him about risqué subject matter.”

The idea of impeaching Thomas was raised in a memo written in 2010 by David Brock, an adviser to Hillary Clinton. The memo was made public in emails during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department. The memo suggested that Thomas had lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Former Thomas clerk Carrie Severino tweeted Sunday evening that the New York magazine story “a boring rerun of discredited allegations from the 1990s.”

During an appearance last Thursday, before the New York magazine article was published, Thomas said he was tired of everybody considering themselves a victim, Fox News reports. His own life growing up was tough, but he never considered himself a victim, he said.

“At some point, we’re going to be fatigued with everybody being the victim,” he said.

He also said confirmation hearings are getting increasingly worse. “This is not the Roman Colosseum,” he said. “We’re not gladiators. And I think we’re going to lose some of our best people who choose not to go through the ordeal. They don’t want to have to fight the lion in order to be a judge or to be in government. And I think it’s our own fault for allowing this to happen.”

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Embedding tweets with photos can violate copyright, federal judge rules

Internet Law

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan.

Embedding a tweet with a photo in an online publication may violate the photographer’s copyright, a federal judge has ruled in a case concerning a tweeted photo of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

In a Feb. 15, decision, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan refused to toss photographer Justin Goldman’s infringement suit, report the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Hollywood Reporter.

The Hollywood Reporter calls the decision “a huge surprise.” The publication says the opinion could disrupt the way news organizations use Twitter and spur a re-examination of “ubiquitous practices from embedding to linking.”

The photo, taken by photographer Justin Goldman and posted on Snapchat, was tweeted and then embedded in stories by several online publications, including publications owned by Breitbart, Gannett, Time, Yahoo and Boston Globe Media Partners.

Forrest explained that embedding a tweet involves adding an HTML embed code to a web page that incorporates the tweet from Twitter’s server. She rejected a “server test” developed by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Perfect 10 v. Amazon. The test says there is no copyright liability for content that is stored on another website’s server.

“When defendants caused the embedded tweets to appear on their websites, their actions violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right,” Forrest wrote. “The fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result.”

Though Forrest refused to toss the infringement suit, she said the defendant news organizations can still raise a number of defenses, including “a very serious and strong fair use defense.”

The case is Goldman v. Breitbart News Network.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court issues its own congressional map

Election Law

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Judicial Center, home of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Andriy Blokhin /

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday issued its own congressional map to be used in May’s primary election.

The new boundaries could help Democrats gain three or four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, report the New York Times and the Washington Post. Democrats currently hold five of 18 congressional districts in the swing state.

The new map has eight districts won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and 10 districts won by Donald Trump, according to the Post.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court drew the map with the help of Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily.

The court acted after holding in January that the map drawn by Republicans was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution. The court said in its Monday decision that it had the authority to act because state lawmakers and the governor didn’t agree on a replacement map.

The court “has full constitutional authority and responsibility” to fashion an appropriate remedy,” the decision said.

State legislative leaders disagreed.

“Implementation of this map would create a constitutional crisis where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is usurping the authority of the legislative and executive branches,” said the statement by the leader of the state senate, Joe Scarnati, and the leader of the House, Mike Turzai.

They have argued the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision violated the U.S. Constitution’s elections clause, which generally gives state legislatures exclusive authority regarding the time, place and manner of congressional elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously denied a stay of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s redrawing order.

More coverage of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision is available at BuzzFeed News, and the Allentown Morning Call.

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