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Legal news from Wednesday, January 4, 2012




Federal judges reject West Virginia redistricting plan
Rebecca DiLeonardo on January 4, 2012 3:15 PM ET

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[JURIST] A panel of three judges in the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 2-1 Tuesday that West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan, signed into law last August, is unconstitutional. The Jefferson County Commission [official website] brought suit in November to challenge the constitutionality of the plan, which created a disparity of more than 4,000 citizens between the largest and smallest of the three West Virginia districts. The court determined that the plan, which is nearly identical to the 1991 plan but for the movement of one county, focused too heavily on preserving old boundaries as opposed to equal population distribution. In his decision, Judge Robert Bruce King stated that "change is the essence of the apportionment process," and that it is necessary to address population changes in the plan in order to afford equal voting power to the citizens of West Virginia. The legislature has been given until January 17 to create a new plan.

Texas has also faced challenges to its redistricting plans. Last month, the US Supreme Court [official website] agreed [order list, PDF] to rule on three Texas redistricting plans [JURIST report]. The emergency appeal challenges an interim map drawn up by the US District Court for the Western District of Texas while a separate map drawn up by the state legislature is currently being challenged in the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official websites] for compliance with the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The third case deals with the Texas state senate. The justices set one hour of argument for all three cases for January 9.




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Spain adopts strict anti-piracy law
Jamie Davis on January 4, 2012 2:02 PM ET

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[JURIST] The Spanish government has approved a new law that creates a government agency with the authority to force Internet service providers to block certain websites that are involved in pirating copyrighted material, reports said on Tuesday. Under the Sinde law [text, PDF, in Spanish], the new government agency will take claims of infringement [BBC report] against websites that have copyrighted material and will then determine whether to take action against the site. If the commission decides to take action, the legislation then provides that the case be referred to a judge who will make the final decision on whether the site should be shut down. Those opposing the new legislation argue that the law erodes the basic freedom of expression. The legislation was passed by the new ruling Partido Popular [party website, in Spanish] as one of its first acts since it came to power in November. The bill was originally considered by the prior government under Socialist rule, but was put on hold to be decided on later.

With the passage of the Sinde law, Spain joins other countries that have taken a strong stance against piracy. The US Congress is currently considering a similar bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA [materials]. In July, the UK allowed the blocking of a file-sharing site [JURIST report]. The UK's High Court of Justice ruled for the Motion Picture Association (MPAA), requiring Internet provider British Telecom (BT) to block access to a file-sharing website, Newzbin2. The British Department for Business Innovation and Skills in 2009 proposed stricter sanctions against illegal file-sharing that would include restricting and suspending user Internet access. This eventually became the Digital Economy Act passed in 2010. It is currently under judicial review.




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Libya NTC publishes draft law for electing constitutional assembly
Alexandra Malatesta on January 4, 2012 11:05 AM ET

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[JURIST] The Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) [official website; JURIST news archive] published a draft law Monday establishing guidelines for the election of the assembly that will create Libya's new constitution. The law would ban [AP report] any former members of the regime of deceased former dictator Muammar Gaddafi [BBC obituary; JURIST news archive] as well as those educated in his political manifesto, the Green Book [text, PDF]. This is the first step taken by the NTC in establishing a new democratic government after the fall of the 42-year dictator. The interim government faces several challenges including addressing and reconciling [Mail & Guardian report] with the significant portion of Libyans involved in Gaddafi's regime and those who fought in regional militias and revolutionary groups.

The NTC has been gaining recognition among other countries, as well as the World Bank [JURIST report]. In September the NTC vowed to investigate allegations of human rights after Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] published a report [JURIST report] alleging that both sides of the Libya conflict [JURIST backgrounder] are responsible for human rights abuses and warning the NTC to act quickly to investigate these allegations. Also that month the NTC assured world leaders that Libya will be a society of tolerance and respect [JURIST report] for the rule of law. During a meeting [BBC report] in Paris chaired by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NTC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil [BBC profiles] vowed to administer elections and draft a new constitution for Libya within 18 months. However, allegations of war crimes and human rights violations have been widespread during the Libya conflict.




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Ecuador court upholds multi-billion dollar fine against Chevron
Alexandra Malatesta on January 4, 2012 10:16 AM ET

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[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, on Tuesday upheld [judgment, PDF, in Spanish] a multi-billion dollar fine against Chevron [corporate website] for polluting the Amazon Jungle in the 1980s. The USD $18 billion fine, one of the largest in the history of environmental contamination suits, was originally set at $8.6 billion [JURIST report] but was more than doubled for Chevron's refusal to pay "moral reparations" [BBC report] to the Ecuadorian government, as required by the original ruling [Reuters report]. As Chevron officials condemn [press release] the decision as fraudulent, unenforceable and corrupted by the politicization of Ecuador's judiciary, the corporation is pursuing private recourse through Permanent Court of Arbitration [official website] in The Hague. The corporation is also calling for a criminal investigation [press release] into the judge and plaintiffs' lawyers in the case. Meanwhile, the Amazon Defense Coalition [advocacy website], plaintiffs in the suit, have responded that the judgment is a reaffirmation of how Chevron's greed and criminal misconduct [press release] in dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the river has led to death and disease.

Damages were initially awarded in February by the Provincial Court of Justice of Sucumbios which found that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, polluted large areas of the country's rain forest. That month, Chevron filed a US lawsuit against plaintiffs' lawyers and consultants in the case, claiming that plaintiffs were attempting to extort Chevron. The damages were then enjoined by a New York in March, but the injunction was later overturned [JURIST reports] by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website]. In July, the Second Circuit upheld [LAT report] a May ruling [NYT report] by the Southern District of New York ordering filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron certain outtakes from his 2009 documentary Crude [film website]. Chevron claims the outtakes show plaintiffs' lawyers discussing illegal and unethical tactics, including ghost-writing a court appointed expert's report, intimidating a judge and colluding with government officials. Chevron claims that a 1995 cleanup agreement between Ecuador and Texaco, completed in 1998 at a cost of $40 million, absolves Chevron of all liability.




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