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Legal news from Tuesday, April 04, 2006

  • CIA used private air carriers to hide rendition: Amnesty International report
  • Guantanamo military judge unsure of what laws govern detainee trial
  • McCain doubts guest worker plan will survive Senate immigration vote
  • Justices speak out against televising Supreme Court proceedings
  • Besigye pleads not guilty to treason charges in Uganda
  • Nepal government cracks down on planned protests
  • New mass protests against French youth labor law
  • DeLay to resign from Congress as legal battles continue
  • California federal judge bans public release of information on executioners
  • Taylor assembles defense team for Sierra Leone war crimes trial
  • UK defense minister calls for changes to laws of war, review of Geneva Conventions
  • Peru justice minister says ex-president Fujimori to be extradited from Chile soon
  • Annan calls for ratifications of mine ban treaty
  • Guantanamo Bay military tribunals resume pre-trial hearings
  • Supreme Court to hear drug conviction deportation cases
  • Federal judge rejects review of NSA wiretaps in terrorism case
  • Iraq tribunal charges Saddam with genocide against Kurds
  • Michigan violent video games ban ruled unconstitutional


  • Tuesday, April 04, 2006

    CIA used private air carriers to hide rendition: Amnesty International report
    Chris Buell at 7:05 PM ET

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    [JURIST] The US Central Intelligence Agency [official website] hid its rendition [JURIST news archive] of terrorism suspects to various foreign countries by using private air carriers and "front" companies, according to a new report [PDF text; AI summary] released by Amnesty International [advocacy website] late Tuesday. According to "Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and 'Disappearance,'" the CIA has transported suspects to various CIA and military bases and has handed them over to the custody of other governments - including Egypt, Jordan and Syria - for interrogation and detention. The report says that the CIA has avoided detection by taking advantage of the terms of the Convention on International Civil Aviation [PDF text], the so-called "Chicago Convention" under which private, non-commercial flights may fly over countries and make technical stops without notifying the country.

    The Amnesty report details the experiences of three Yemeni men, Muhammad Bashmilah and Salah 'Ali Qaru, arrested in Jordan, and Muhammad al-Assad, arrested in Tanzania. The three claim they were detained by US authorities for about 18 months at various locations around the world. The three reported being taken on several flights to different detention centers, with officials making great efforts to avoid revealing the locations.

    US officials have repeatedly denied using rendition to allow suspects to be tortured by foreign governments, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged making mistakes [JURIST report] in its "war on terror." In March, the Council of Europe Secretary General issued a report [JURIST report] concluding that there was no clear evidence of any secret CIA detention facilities in Europe. Suspicions have persisted, however, with declassified Canadian memos and UK air traffic controllers [JURIST reports] suggesting that the US did use rendition to transfer suspects through their domestic airspaces. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak recently said that he is certain [JURIST report] that the United States has secret detention facilities in Europe and has demanded access to them.



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    Guantanamo military judge unsure of what laws govern detainee trial
    Joshua Pantesco at 7:04 PM ET

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    [JURIST] A US military judge presiding over one of the military commission proceedings [US DOD backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that resumed [JURIST report] at Guantanamo Bay Tuesday appeared unsure of exactly what body of law would be applied in the case against Abdul Zahir [JURIST report], one of ten detainees who have been charged with war crimes. When asked by Zahir's military counsel, judge Col. Robert Chester said "Obviously military law is going to have some application. I suppose we will look at military criminal law and federal criminal laws and procedures." Asked to be more specific, he later shot back "I'm not going to speculate as to what is or what is not controlling." No trial date was set, and Zahir did not enter a plea.

    The Guantanamo tribunals are the first military commission proceedings since World War II; last month the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Hamdan v. Rumsfield [Duke Law Backgrounder] on whether such tribunals are legal as currently constituted. Legal scholars have argued that the US government has confused matters by trying terrorism cases under the law of war, in the process alleging crimes by some detainees - such as "conspiracy to commit war crimes" - that do not exist under either US or international law. Read a JURIST op-ed by former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues David Scheffer on the Hamdan case and the choice of laws issue. AP has more.



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    McCain doubts guest worker plan will survive Senate immigration vote
    Joshua Pantesco at 6:57 PM ET

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    [JURIST] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) [official website] said in a press conference Tuesday that he likely does not have the 60 Senate votes required to overcome the expected procedural maneuverings of conservatives who oppose his bipartisan guest-worker plan, supported by the White House as part of an immigration reform package [JURIST news archive]. Conservatives characterize the proposal as the equivalent of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been working in the US for six years, while McCain and bill co-sponsor Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) [official website] say their bill does not pardon illegal workers, as it would require them to pay a $2,000 fine and all back taxes before submitting to a background check prior to applying for green cards. President Bush last week called once again [JURIST report] for legislation that includes a temporary worker provision.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee last week approved a draft bill [JURIST report] that includes the program, unlike the stricter immigration legislation passed by the House [JURIST report] late last year. AP has more. Read McCain's latest Senate floor statement on the immigration bill.



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    Justices speak out against televising Supreme Court proceedings
    Joshua Pantesco at 6:30 PM ET

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    [JURIST] During a US House Appropriations Committee hearing [announcement] Tuesday, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy [official profiles] spoke against a bill [PDF text] that would permit public broadcasting of Supreme Court oral arguments. The justices told lawmakers that allowing cameras in the courtroom would alter the nature of the proceedings, and that just as the Supreme Court [official website] always avoids telling Congress how to operate, Congress should not interfere in the functioning of the Supreme Court.

    Rep. John Olver (D-MA) suggested that the Court should move towards transparency, a sentiment echoed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last week where that committee approved a similar bill [JURIST report] for full Senate consideration. Both versions of the legislation would allow a majority of justices to ban cameras in any case where televised oral arguments could violate the due process rights of any party to a lawsuit. Justices sparred over the issue [JURIST report] at an American Bar Association conference last November. Justice David Souter famously told a congressional panel in 1996 that "the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body." AP has more.



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    Besigye pleads not guilty to treason charges in Uganda
    Andrew Wood at 4:36 PM ET

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    [JURIST] Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and 22 others pleaded not guilty to treason charges Tuesday at the opening of their trial in Kampala. The charges allege that the men plotted to forcefully overthrow the Ugandan government in operations in Kampala, in Rwanda, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2001 and 2004. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty. Proceedings were adjourned until Wednesday due to a lack of interpreters for prosecution witnesses. AP has more.

    Since his 2001 departure from the current government led by President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile], Besigye has emerged as the main opposition to his former party and is the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change [party website] which is currently challenging the results [JURIST report] of the February 23 presidential elections [JURIST report] in which Museveni was re-elected. In recent months Besigye has been hauled repeatedly before civilian and military courts to answer various charges against him that he says are politically-motivated. Earlier this month, a Uganda High Court judge found him not guilty [JURIST report] of rape.



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    Nepal government cracks down on planned protests
    Andrew Wood at 3:45 PM ET

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    [JURIST] King Gyanendra [official website; BBC profile] and the royal government of Nepal [JURIST news archive] on Tuesday banned all public meetings in the cities of Kathmandu and Lalitpur, a move the opposition has vowed to fight. The ban, which goes into effect Wednesday, is aimed at curbing anti-government protests, including a pro-democracy protest planned for Saturday supported by seven opposition parties. The seven-party alliance has also called for a nationwide general strike beginning Thursday. AP has more. At least a dozen students at two college campuses in the capital were detained earlier on Tuesday while demonstrating in support of the opposition's campaign. eKantipur.com has local coverage. BBC News has background.

    A similar crackdown on protests occurred in January, when the Nepalese government arrested over 52 senior politicians and human rights activists [JURIST report] before an anti-government demonstration, a move criticized [AI press release] by international human rights groups. AFP has more.



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    New mass protests against French youth labor law
    Holly Manges Jones at 2:37 PM ET

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    [JURIST] French demonstrators staged a fifth day of protests Tuesday against the First Employment Contract (contrat premiere embauche, CPE) [JURIST news archive], a labor law [text, in French] that would create an age-based exception to traditional French labor regulations by allowing workers who were under 26 years of age at the time of hiring to be fired without cause at any time during the first two years of employment. Nationwide, official reports counted one million protesters in Paris and other cities while organizers claimed three million. Teachers and rail workers held one-day sympathy strikes. AP has more, and Le Monde has local coverage [in French]. Recent polls indicate contradictory tendencies: 45% of French people think Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [official profile], closely identified with the CPE law, should resign but 49% think he should stay, and 59% state that the controversy will not affect their votes in next year's elections.

    The law enshrining the CPE was signed into law Sunday by French President Jacques Chirac [official biography], who has proposed immediately reducing the law's reach to one year of employment and requiring a reason for any dismissal. Student and union leaders have already balked at that compromise. While government conservatives did not agree to abolish the law Tuesday in the face of the latest mass protests, they did indicate they may be willing to negotiate with trade unions over the measure. Unions had said that they will not sit down for discussions, however, unless lawmakers agree to scrap the CPE and begin fresh talks on ways to tackle the 22% youth unemployment rate. Reuters has more.



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    DeLay to resign from Congress as legal battles continue
    Holly Manges Jones at 1:07 PM ET

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    [JURIST] US Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) [official website; JURIST news archive] said Tuesday that he is resigning [press release] from his seat in the US House of Representatives [official website] rather than enter a tough re-election race this fall. DeLay permanently stepped down from his post [JURIST report] as GOP House Majority Leader in January after being indicted [JURIST report] for allegedly funneling corporate donations into the campaign funds of state legislature candidates, which is a felony under the Texas Penal Code [text]. The case is currently ongoing. In a videotaped message [part one; part two] to his constituents Tuesday, DeLay said:
    So today, I am announcing my intention to resign my seat in the House. I will make that resignation effective sometime before mid-June, but largely dependent on the congressional calendar. I plan to begin focusing on the next phase of my life as a private citizen....

    I have no fear whatsoever about any investigation into me or my personal or professional activities.

    As one of my colleagues in the House leadership astutely observed a while back, the wheels of justice turn much more slowly than the wheels of allegation.

    I will be quite content to be judged when the passage of time has provided both all of the facts and a greater sense of perspective than is possible for most today.
    In an interview with Fox News Tuesday, DeLay said that a campaign to hold on to his seat was winnable [Fox News report] but would have gotten "nasty."

    Last week, a former aide of DeLay, Tony Rudy [SourceWatch backgrounder], pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to illegal actions while working in DeLay's office as part of a conspiracy with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff [BBC Q/A, JURIST report] to corrupt public officials. DeLay has not been charged with wrongdoing in that case and has continuously denied the money laundering charges [JURIST document] against him. Unless a special election is ordered by Texas Gov. Rick Perry [official website] to fill DeLay's seat, it will remain open until the November election later this year. AP has more.



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    California federal judge bans public release of information on executioners
    Krystal MacIntyre at 11:59 AM ET

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    [JURIST] US District Judge Jeremy Fogel [official profile] has authorized lawyers to obtain information on executioners at San Quentin Prison, but has banned the release of any details about them to the public. Lawyers for convicted murderer and death row inmate Michael Morales [NCADP profile; JURIST news archive] are seeking to substantiate claims that the lethal injection method used by the California Department of Corrections [official website] and San Quentin Prison is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text]. Fogel allowed the limited disclosure of information on prison staff Monday after a review of recent execution records raised concerns as to whether the drugs were being administered properly. Reuters has more.

    Morales' execution, originally scheduled for February, was indefinitely postponed [JURIST report] when two anesthesiologists withdrew their agreement to monitor the injection of a three-drug combination widely used for capital punishment and Fogel imposed further conditions to reduce the chance of a botched and potentially painful execution. A full hearing on the constitutionality of California's lethal injection method is scheduled for May 2 in San Jose.



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    Taylor assembles defense team for Sierra Leone war crimes trial
    Krystal MacIntyre at 11:08 AM ET

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    [JURIST] Former Liberian President Charles Taylor [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] met with several potential defense lawyers after he pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] Monday to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity [amended indictment, PDF] at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone [official website]. Taylor and Special Court Principal Defender Vincent Nmehielle [official website], who is currently defending him, say he has no money to hire a defense team, but that he would like to choose his own lawyers if he can raise the funds. Taylor's aides say he wants to be represented by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz [academic profile], who was part of O.J. Simpson's winning defense team and famously represented Claus von Bülow in another high-profile murder case.

    Taylor was taken into custody [JURIST report] last month and brought before the tribunal for his role in the 1991-2002 Sierra Leone war in which he allegedly supported rampaging rebel factions and recruited child soldiers. The prosecution has 30 days to present the defense team with its evidence against Taylor. The defense will then begin to prepare its case. Reuters has more.




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    UK defense minister calls for changes to laws of war, review of Geneva Conventions
    Chris Buell at 10:54 AM ET

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    [JURIST] British Defense Minister John Reid [official profile; BBC profile] on Tuesday called for changes to the international rules of war, including the Geneva Conventions [ICRC materials], in order to allow countries to better confront terrorism and other threats. In a speech [full text] before the Royal United Services Institute [official website], Reid said that traditional legal frameworks like the Geneva Conventions should be evaluated for their ability to deal with terrorism, preemptive conflicts and internal conflicts in foreign countries. According to Reid:
    Until recently it was assumed that only states could cause mass casualties – and our rules, conventions & laws are largely predicated on that basis. That is quite plainly no longer the case. I believe we need now to consider whether we – the international community in its widest sense - need to re-examine these conventions. If we do not, we risk continuing to fight a 21st Century conflict with 20th Century rules.
    Reid went on to defend controversial new anti-terrorism legislation [JURIST report], which allows the detention of terror suspects without charge and criminalizes a new offense for glorifying terrorism.

    Reid said further debate and revisions to international agreements were necessary to ensure the continued relevance of international law and the UN. BBC News has more.



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    Peru justice minister says ex-president Fujimori to be extradited from Chile soon
    Chris Buell at 10:32 AM ET

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    [JURIST] Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori [personal website; JURIST news archive] will be extradited from Chile to Peru [JURIST news archives] to face corruption and human rights charges before this summer, Peru's Justice Minister Alejandro Tudela [official profile, in Spanish] said Tuesday. Tudela said the extradition would be completed before Peru's current administration leaves office in July.

    Fujimori was arrested and jailed [JURIST report] after appearing late last year in Santiago. The former leader was preparing to launch a bid for Peru's upcoming presidential elections. A Chilean court is to decide [JURIST report] whether to honor Peru's extradition request to try Fujimori on 12 charges [JURIST report] of corruption and human rights violations. Fujimori was president from 1990 until he abruptly resigned in 2000 from Japan, where he has lived until his arrest in Chile. AFP has more.



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    Annan calls for ratifications of mine ban treaty
    Krystal MacIntyre at 10:17 AM ET

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    [JURIST] UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [official profile] on Tuesday called on states to ratify the 1997 anti-personnel mine ban treaty [text] and said that it should only take ten years to rid the world of all land mines will take ten years to complete, not 100 years as previously estimated. Annan's message [text] was made to open the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action [UN materials; event listing], designed to promote action among UN member states to aid in the removal of land mines throughout the world.

    Land mines are estimated to claim up to 20,000 victims each year, and an unknown number of mines are buried in at least 60 countries, with Cambodia, Afghanistan and Columbia claiming the most victims in 2004. Nearly $400 million was donated in 2004 to aid mine removal, with $100 million coming from the United States. The 1997 Ottawa Convention banned the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of land mines, and has been signed by 150 countries. The United States, Russia, and China have not signed the treaty. Annan spoke with promise Monday, saying that land mine statistics have declined, and the goal of worldwide eradication could be achieved in years, not decades. AP has more. The UN News Centre has additional coverage.



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    Guantanamo Bay military tribunals resume pre-trial hearings
    Chris Buell at 10:08 AM ET

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    [JURIST] The US military commissions [DOD backgrounder; JURIST news archive] at Guantanamo Bay are scheduled to resume proceedings Tuesday, with pre-trial hearings scheduled for four prisoners facing terrorism-related charges. Among those scheduled to appear is Binyam Muhammad [charge sheet, PDF], an Ethiopian man who has been charged with conspiring with Jose Padilla [JURIST news archive] as part of the dirty-bomb plot. Muhammad has argued that his confessions to a Padilla link were coerced while he was tortured in a Moroccan prison. Hearings are also scheduled for Abdul Zahir, Ali Hamza al Bahlul, and Omar Khadr [JURIST news archive], a Canadian teenager accused of a grenade attack on a US medic in Afghanistan. The military commissions were created to try detainees at Guantanamo, but only ten currently face charges.

    The US Supreme Court heard arguments [JURIST report] last month in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [Duke Law backgrounder], a case challenging the legality of the commissions, with a ruling expected sometime in June. Military officials at the commissions are hoping to complete pre-trial proceedings so that trials can begin following a favorable Supreme Court ruling. Reuters has more.



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    Supreme Court to hear drug conviction deportation cases
    Holly Manges Jones at 8:35 AM ET

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    [JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday agreed to settle a split among the circuits on whether immigrants convicted of state drug felonies can remain in the US if their crimes were misdemeanors under federal law. The Court granted certiorari and consolidated appeals brought by two Mexican citizens. Jose Lopez pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the possession of drugs after being arrested in 1997 and Reymundo Toledo-Flores was convicted of possessing cocaine in 2002.

    The Bush administration's Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile], said that in 2005, deportation orders were issued for 77,000 aliens with criminal records and less than 7,000 of them had been arrested for possessing drugs. AP has more. Read the Court's full Order List [PDF].



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    Federal judge rejects review of NSA wiretaps in terrorism case
    Holly Manges Jones at 8:14 AM ET

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    [JURIST] A federal judge Monday denied a request by defense lawyers to review alleged National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] wiretaps in the government's case [complaint, PDF] against a Pakistani-American father and son who are accused of terrorism-related activities. Hamid Hayat was charged [PDF indictment] with lying to US law enforcement agents about attending terrorist training camps in Pakistan, and his father Umer is on trial for lying to the FBI regarding his son's activities.

    Following reports last year that the US had been monitoring domestic communications without warrants [JURIST report], defense lawyers asked to review all documents and records that the NSA may have had on Hamid and his father. The details of the ruling by District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. [official profile] in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] remain classified. The government rested its case against the pair last month. Defense lawyers in several other high profile terrorism cases have made similar efforts [JURIST report] to determine whether the NSA's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] was used to obtain evidence against their clients. Reuters has more.




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    Iraq tribunal charges Saddam with genocide against Kurds
    Holly Manges Jones at 7:43 AM ET

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    [JURIST] The Iraqi High Criminal Court [official website; JURIST news archive] announced Tuesday that new genocide and crimes against humanity charges have been filed against Saddam Hussein [JURIST news archive] and six others in his former regime's crackdown against the Kurds during the 1980s. The new charges were filed with a different judge than the one handling his current trial for the 1982 massacre of 148 Shiite villagers in Dujail [JURIST report]. According to Iraqi law, the second trial against Saddam may begin in as soon as 45 days. The charges stem from Saddam's role [JURIST report] in Operation Anfal [HRW backgrounder] that culminated in a gas attack [BBC report] against Kurds in the village of Halabja [US State Dept. backgrounder], which killed 5,000 civilians including women and children. The current Operation Anfal charges, however, do not cover the Halabja attack. Court spokesman Raid Juhi has said that there will be a separate trial on that attack. Reuters has more. The Saddam Hussein Trial Blog has background on whether Operation Anfal constitutes genocide.

    Iraqi President Jalal Talabani [BBC profile] also said Tuesday that he expects Saddam to be tried in all the cases against him before the court reaches a final verdict. Authorities have said there could be up to a dozen proceedings against the former dictator and each case could result in a death sentence if the court finds him guilty. Reuters has more.



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    Michigan violent video games ban ruled unconstitutional
    Holly Manges Jones at 7:11 AM ET

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    [JURIST] US District Court Judge George Steeh [official profile] has struck down [opinion, PDF] a Michigan law [PDF text] prohibiting the sale of certain violent video games to minors, ruling that the law is unconstitutionally vague [ESA press release]. The law was signed by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm [official website] last September but the Michigan Retailers Association, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), and the Video Software Dealers Association [trade websites] filed a lawsuit claiming that the law infringed on First Amendment rights [LII backgrounder]. Steeh ordered a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] against the law taking effect as planned in December, and his ruling Friday makes the injunction permanent.

    A spokesperson for Granholm, who was named as a defendant in the case along with Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox [official website], said they would consider appealing the ruling. Similar laws in Washington, California and Illinois have also been delayed or struck down [JURIST report]. AP has more. Tuesday's Detroit Free Press has local coverage.



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