July 11, 2013

Illinois AG Seeks Damages From Apple

Attorney General Lisa Madigan says Illinois will seek to recover damages from Apple Inc. after a federal judge found the company violated antitrust laws.

A U.S. District Court judge in New York on Wednesday ruled Apple conspired with book publishers to raise electronic book prices significantly in spring 2010.

Madigan says Apple and the publishers forced book buyers to pay millions more for electronic books than they would have otherwise.

She says Illinois will be one of 33 states and territories that will try in a second trial to recover damages. The second trial will determine how much Apple should pay for its role in overcharging customers.

Apple has said it did nothing wrong and will appeal the ruling.

July 10, 2013

Attorneys Seek Ruling In Illinois Same-Sex Marriage Case

Attorneys representing 25 same-sex couples suing over the state's same-sex marriage ban are asking a judge to rule quickly in their favor.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a motion for summary judgment Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

They say the judge could rule as soon as Aug. 6, when oral arguments are scheduled on a defense motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The suit was filed last year by couples denied marriage licenses in Cook County.

Two downstate clerks are defending the law after the state attorney general and Cook County state's attorney refused.

Plaintiffs say the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of a law denying federal benefits to married gay couples creates a new urgency in Illinois, which has civil unions.

National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade, Md.
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
July 05, 2013

NSA's Reach Leads To Calls For Updated Eavesdropping Laws

The continuing leak of classified information by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has renewed a debate about the U.S. government's power to reach secretly into the personal lives of its citizens.

But there is at least one point on which both privacy advocates and security experts agree: The laws governing electronic eavesdropping have not kept pace with technology.

In October 1975, Sen. Frank Church of Idaho began hearings on abuses in the intelligence community. His focus was a shadowy agency that was picking up the communications of Americans, including Vietnam War protestors and civil rights leaders.

The National Security Agency, Church said, was violating the law by listening in on Americans' phone calls. What came out of his hearings was new intelligence oversight committees in Congress and a secret court that would have to issue warrants for NSA to do its foreign intelligence work.

Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist and head of Fenn Communications, worked on the committee. "Our concern at the time," he says, "was the potential for NSA to be one big, huge vacuum cleaner" — one that could snatch phone calls and telegrams that might be used to target political enemies or stifle dissent.

Dozens of senators have written to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking him "to publicly provide information about the duration and scope" of the data-collection program.

Dozens of senators have written to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking him "to publicly provide information about the duration and scope" of the data-collection program.

He and other NSA critics say the spy agency's growing power has made that analogy seem quaint.

"What we've seen since," Fenn says, "makes that vacuum cleaner look like a 1920s Hoover."

What the NSA can do now is much more sophisticated and far reaching than in the 1970s, back when it was grabbing paper copies of telegrams at Western Union or intercepting satellite communications with large microwave dishes.

James Bamford, who has written three books about the NSA, says the agency has been able to throw out a larger net by tapping into cables as thin as a human hair that move phone calls, e-mails and faxes.

"These were fiber optic cables. ... You're able to squeeze tens of thousands of communications into a single cable," he says.

NSA is able to connect with those cables by getting secret court orders issued to American phone companies. All that information will eventually reside at a massive, new NSA facility in Utah.

"The irony here is that the only living, breathing archive of every long-distance telephone call made by every American resides in the computer databases of the National Security Agency," says Matthew Aid, who wrote a book called The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency.

It would have been technologically impossible for NSA to store and analyze all this information collected by the program back in the 1970s. Officials call it telephone metadata — it includes the phone number, the numbers dialed, the date and time of the calls and their duration.

But the program does not include names or content, and it was approved by that secret federal court created after the Church Committee hearings.

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, talked about the program's importance at a recent Washington conference.

"We collect all the data because if want to find a needle in the haystack, you need to have the haystack, especially in the case of a terrorism-related emergency," Litt said.

If Americans are swept up in the net, he added, their information can be used only if there's evidence of a crime: "What we cannot do — and I'm repeating this — is go out and target the communications of Americans for collection without an individual court order."

But President George W. Bush's administration was able to do just that without a court order. In the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the NSA collected data on e-mail traffic, including messages to and from Americans.

The leaked documents from Snowden show that back then, the spy agency complained that the secret federal court could not move fast enough. Spy agency officials also worried that suspected terrorists could quickly change phone numbers before the NSA was able to get a warrant.

Congress was told of the warrantless collection a few days after the activity started, and there were no court orders issued for the first two and a half years. Amendments to the Patriot Act later allowed this collection of such bulk data.

A number of lawmakers say there are enough safeguards to protect Americans' privacy. But Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, says there has to be open debate.

"Frankly, I think we ought to reopen the Patriot Act and put some limits on the amount of data that the National Security Administration is collecting," Udall says.

Like the data that include Americans' long-distance telephone records, the law allows the NSA to collect what is termed "business records." But can that term extend to credit card purchases, bank accounts or even medical records?

A group of 26 senators — from both parties — put that question in a letter last week to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Fenn, the former Church Committee staffer, says more needs to be done. He says the law he helped write more than three decades ago is obsolete.

"You know, the word 'digital' wasn't even in our vocabulary. So what we have seen is an unbelievably outdated piece of legislation that has not kept up with the technology," he says.

So Fenn has a solution: create another Church Committee, one for the 21st century.


(David Guttenfelder/AP)
July 03, 2013

New Law Allows Some 17-Year Olds To Vote in Primaries

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a law that allows some 17-year-olds in the state to vote in primary elections.

According to the measure, if the teenager will be 18 by the General Election, they can vote in the primary.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said younger voters are least likely to head to the polls, but he said any effort to drive up participation is a good thing.
“If this in fact encourages people at a young age to begin participating to begin to get in the habit of voting, I think it’s a wonderful and a step in the right direction," he said. "And it makes sense that if somebody is going to be old enough to vote in the general election, it only makes sense to give them a choice in who the candidates are that will appear on the ballot in the General Election.”

Hulten said his office already communicates with all the high schools in Champaign County about voter registration.

 The law takes effect at the start of next year.

U.S. Supreme Court justices
(Wikimedia Commons)
June 25, 2013

High Court Voids Key Part Of Voting Rights Act

The U.S. Supreme Court says a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act cannot be enforced until Congress comes up with a new way of determining which states and localities require close federal monitoring of elections.

The justices said in 5-4 ruling Tuesday that the 1965 law Congress most recently renewed in 2006 relies on 40-year-old data that does not reflect racial progress and changes in U.S. society.

The high court ruled that Congress must update its formula for deciding which states and local governments still need federal approval before changing voting laws. It said the formula in the 1965 act is based on old patterns of discrimination that might no longer be valid.

University of Illinois Latino and Latina Studies Professor Jorge Chapa said he does not think the court's decision will have a huge impact on Illinois, but he believes it is still a major setback on efforts nationwide to end voter discrimination.

 “Well, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach,” Chapa said, describing how he felt when he learned about the ruling.

The section of the law that the justices ruled unconstitutional does not apply to Illinois, but instead nine mostly southern states and parts of six other states.

Chapa said he is not worried about Illinois trying to create discriminatory voting laws. However, he said about 30 other states have tried to do that, and in many cases have been successful.

“Many political parties game the political system in part by changing the rules," Chapa said. "You can see these voterized ID laws often seem to be an effort to minimize voting of old people, poor people, minorities.”

Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery calls the Supreme Court’s ruling "a slap in the face" to Civil Rights activists who fought for the Voting Rights Act.

"I was really shocked that they made this decision," Avery said. "We've been waiting a long time for the court to hand out a ruling, and needless to say we're very disappointed in the ruling."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the the ruling is a “devastating blow" that will destroy gains in "inclusion and expansion,' and threaten decades of progress in ensuring minorities are not denied the right to vote.

Jackson urged the White House to encourage President Obama and the Department of Justice to challenge the ruling.

In a statement, President Barack Obama said he is deeply disappointed with the court's ruling. He said voting discrimination in the U.S. still exists, but that efforts to end voting discrimination will continue. Obama wants Congress to pass laws to ensure every American has equal voting access.

June 24, 2013

US Supreme Court Sends Affirmative Action Case Back To Lower Court

The Supreme Court has sent a Texas case on race-based college admissions back to a lower court for another look.

The court's 7-1 decision Monday leaves unsettled many of the basic questions about the continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, says a federal appeals court needs to subject the University of Texas admission plan to the highest level of judicial scrutiny.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) issued a statement after the Supreme Court's ruling.

“Today’s decision reaffirms our nation’s commitment to racial and ethnic diversity” Durbin said. “This decision also recognizes the value of diversity not only on our college campuses, but also in our workforce, our military, and our society as a whole. As both an issue of social justice and as an economic necessity, America cannot afford to turn back the clock on opportunity for all of our citizens and today—by a 7-1 margin—the Supreme Court agrees.”

University of Illinois administrators are poring over the court's decision.

U of I President Robert Easter and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise issued statements after the ruling, saying they are committed to a culture of diversity on all three campuses.

Those efforts include the Illinois EDGE Initiative on the Urbana campus, an action plan announced last year to develop a culture of diversity and excellence. But U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said that plan is subject to change.

“Anything that would affect our practices as a result of a court ruling – that would be something that we’d review obviously very carefully," he said.  "And always we strive to operate within the bounds of the law.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the U of I has had trouble bringing in African-American students in recent years.  Last year, just over 5-percent of undergraduates on the Urbana campus were black, compared to nearly 7-percent a decade ago.  The number of Latino students grew over that time to about 7-percent.

In a statement, Chancellor Wise said the Urbana campus has a strong commitment in its Diversity Values Statement to include worldviews, histories, and cultural knowledge across a range of social groups.

Meanwhile., the U of I’s Chicago campus has developed its own plan called the Diversity Strategic Thinking and Planning process, while the Springfield campus’ Black Male Initiative involves educational programs, mentoring, and co-curricular activities.

driver's licenses for immigrants
(Russell Contreras/AP)
June 24, 2013

More States Let Unauthorized Immigrants Take The Wheel

The national debate over immigration may be churning on in Washington, D.C., but there's one policy a growing number of states can agree on: driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Vermont, Connecticut and Colorado passed new laws this month allowing drivers without Social Security numbers to receive licenses or authorization cards. They join Nevada, Maryland and Oregon, whose governors signed similar laws in May. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn started the trend this year when he signed Senate Bill 957 in January.

The recent wave of state laws reflect an about-face in policy after 9/11, when states tended to enact more restrictive licensing requirements.

In recent years, undocumented immigrants have been able to receive driver's licenses in Washington state and New Mexico; and in Utah, drivers who cannot "establish legal/lawful presence" can apply for driving privilege cards, according to the Utah Driver License Division's website.

The types of licenses that undocumented immigrants can receive vary by state. Nevada's law follows Utah's model by only allowing driver's privilege cards. Such limitations prevent undocumented immigrants from using the cards as valid government-issued identification.

These new state laws show that the public safety argument often cited by immigrant advocates is "starting to carry weight," says Ann Morse, who directs the National Conference of State Legislatures' Immigrant Policy Project.

As The Economist recently reported:

...unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash. They are also less likely to stay at accident scenes, according to Yale Law School's Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization. The costs of accidents involving the uninsured are passed on to other motorists in the form of higher insurance premiums.

Not all states, however, have found public safety concerns compelling enough to grant licenses to drivers who are undocumented immigrants.

As NPR reported, some states question whether undocumented immigrants who have received deferred action qualify for driver's licenses. Young immigrants with deferred action have entered the U.S. illegally as children and are granted the right to work or study and avoid deportation for two years through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently vetoed a strongly supported bill that would have allowed young immigrants with deferred action to apply for temporary driver's licenses. Nebraska and Arizona also deny licenses to immigrants with deferred action.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has repeatedly called for her state to stop issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants. The state, which has issued unrestricted driver's licenses since 2003, has seen a number of identity fraud cases, The Wall Street Journal reported.

California, Texas and Minnesota are among other states this year that have introduced bills on licensing for undocumented immigrant drivers. Whether or not undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for driver's licenses will be up for debate at least until Congress passes an immigration overhaul proposal.

gang of eight in senate
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
June 21, 2013

Compromise Deal May Speed Immigration Bill Through Senate

The chances of an immigration overhaul bill getting through the Senate greatly improved on Thursday.

A deal was reached on a border security plan. NPR's Steve Inskeep talks about the deal with two of the senators in the so-called "Gang of Eight," who are working on a bipartisan approach to immigration, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin.


Pat Quinn
(Seth Perlman/AP)
June 21, 2013

The Death Penalty's Slow But Seemingly Sure Decline

The death penalty has become a bit like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. It may never fade away entirely, but capital punishment is certainly less visible or actively pursued than it used to be.

In May, Maryland became the sixth state in as many years to abolish the death penalty. Across the nation as a whole, fewer criminals are being put to death. Last year, 43 were executed, down significantly from the peak of 98 back in 1999.

With violent crime well down from its scary highs in the 1990s, pressure on politicians to support the death penalty has declined as well. And in recent years, courts have made carrying out the death penalty less likely for various legal and logistical reasons.

"Even in places where the death penalty is regularly used, it's slowing down and in some cases it's stopped altogether, so the public is not engaged with it," says Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University. "For the most part, I see abolitionists being more successful than not."

But supporters of the death penalty say it's still a necessary tool for punishing the worst of the worst offenders. They note that, as measured by polls, a solid majority of Americans still support the death penalty — 63 percent, according to a Gallup poll in January.

"Basically, nobody likes the status quo," says Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports victims' rights. "The question is whether to mend it or end it, and different states have gone in different directions on that."

Political Dynamics

Remember "double-death Democrats"? That gruesome name was surprisingly common 20 years ago, referring to Democratic politicians who supported both the death penalty and abortion.

Its currency was a sign that no politician wanted to be seen as anything other than tough on crime.

But times have changed. The murder rate has been sliced nearly in half over the past 20 years, in keeping with a dramatic drop in violent crime overall. Politicians are now more willing to consider alternatives to the death penalty.

The publicity given to cases in which convicts have later been found innocent thanks to DNA evidence has also created some qualms about potentially putting the wrong person to death.

One test case of the death penalty's continuing political relevance could come in Colorado. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to veto legislation this year that would have abolished the death penalty, but in May he offered convicted killer Nathan Dunlap a "temporary reprieve" from execution, which had been scheduled for August.

"If the state of Colorado is going to undertake the responsibility of executing a human being, the system must operate flawlessly," Hickenlooper said. "Colorado's system for capital punishment is not flawless."

Republicans were fierce in their attacks, with state Sen. Greg Brophy, a potential challenger against Hickenlooper, calling the governor's decision "gutless."

Use Is Rare

Executions are allowed in 32 states, but most recent ones have been concentrated in Southern and Sunbelt states such as Texas, Mississippi and Arizona, with occasional exceptions in places like Ohio.

The Supreme Court has narrowed the cases for which capital punishment can be applied, limiting it to murderers and banning it for minors and those who are mentally retarded.

Plenty of states have the death penalty on the books and prisoners on death row, but have not carried out executions for years.

Dunlap would have been the first person put to death in Colorado since 1997 and only the second since 1967. California, which has the largest death-row population — 727, according to the Death Penalty Information Center — hasn't carried out an execution since 2006.

Like a number of other places, California has faced legal hurdles, with justices skeptical about methods of lethal injections. The drugs used in lethal injections are getting harder to find, with manufacturers shying away from the business.

"Litigation on this front remains immensely successful, so it becomes a de facto moratorium," says Denno, the Fordham law professor.

Evolving Standards

With the death penalty being so rare and so difficult and expensive to carry out, abolitionists have been able to make the case in several states recently that it would be better to do away with the practice altogether.

"The abolitionist's strategy, which may succeed though I hope not, is to get more states to abolish the death penalty legislatively because they don't use it anymore," says Richard Blecker, a professor at New York Law School.

If they can win in enough states, they'll ultimately try to convince the Supreme Court that "evolving standards of decency" demand the death penalty be struck down as cruel and unusual punishment, Blecker says.

That may not happen anytime soon. Rather than abolishing the death penalty, some states are trying to address its problems.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott this week signed a bill meant to expedite the process.

States have always varied when it comes to this issue. Even though capital punishment may remain forever in force in some states, the trend nationwide is clearly against its wide-scale use.

"This is really, certainly north of the Mason-Dixon Line, part of an endgame for states that have had death rows and little enthusiasm for executions," says Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

concealed carry
(Seth Perlman/AP)
June 19, 2013

Macon County Looks At Enacting Own Concealed Carry Policy

Macon County is looking to join a growing list of other communities in Illinois by coming up with its own concealed carry law.

State’s Attorney Jay Scott said the entire state needs to have a uniform policy in place, like the one awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature.

Scott said he plans to talk to his sheriff by the end of the week about creating a local concealed carry law until a statewide plan goes into effect.

“We’re trying to be reasonable," Scott said. "We’re also trying to look out for public safety in every aspect. Not only the rights of people to defend themselves, but we don’t want any accidents happening and we don’t want someone who’s not supposed to be carrying a gun to have one," Scott said. "We’ve always been very strict on criminals that could use or possess guns, and we’ll continue to be that way in the future.”

A federal court ruled that Illinois’ concealed carry ban was unconstitutional, and ordered the state to lift the ban by July 9.

State Attorney General Lisa Madigan may challenge the ruling.

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