On Tuesday, Supreme Court justices will be asked to rule on the use of DNA in law enforcement. At stake is the widespread police practice of taking DNA samples from people arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes. Last April, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a state law authorizing such collection violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Maryland law enforcement officials were allowed to continue collecting DNA samples, however, through an order last July by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. He said there was a “fair prospect” that the Supreme Court would reverse the Maryland decision, which conflicts with rulings of the Virginia Supreme Court and of the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third and the Ninth Circuits on similar statutes in other states. But the justices should uphold the Maryland court’s ruling, thus calling into question those other rulings. The Maryland law clearly contravenes the Fourth Amendment.The case involves the collection of DNA from Alonzo Jay King Jr. after his arrest on assault charges in 2009. His DNA profile matched evidence from a rape in 2003, and he was convicted of that rape. The state did not, however, obtain a warrant to collect his DNA, nor did it establish that it had probable cause to think that his DNA would link him either to the assault or the rape.
The Obama administration’s recent decision to lift the ban on women in combat has opened the door for a change in the law that currently compels only men between age 18 and 25 to register for a military draft, according to legal experts and military historians. Never before has the country drafted women into military service, and neither the administration nor Congress is in a hurry to make them register for a future call-up. But, legally, they may have no other choice. It is constitutional to register only men for a draft, the Supreme Court ruled more than three decades ago, because the reason for registration is to create a pool of potential combat troops should a national emergency demand a rapid increase in the size of the military. Women were excluded from serving in battlefield jobs, so there was no reason to register them for possible conscription into the armed forces, the court held. Two lawmakers are waging a little-noticed campaign to abolish the Selective Service System altogether. That’s the independent federal agency that manages draft registration.They say the millions of dollars the agency spends each year preparing for the possibility of a military draft is a waste of money.The Selective Service has a budget of $24 million and a full-time staff of 130. It maintains a database of about 17 million potential male draftees. In the event of a draft, the agency would mobilize as many as 11,000 volunteers to serve on local draft boards that would decide if exemptions or deferments to military service were warranted.
Nearly three years after a deepwater well rupture killed 11 men, sank a rig and spewed 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP and the other companies involved are about to face their day in court. The trial over the worst U.S. offshore oil spill is set to start this morning in New Orleans before a federal judge and without a jury. Few expect the case, seen lasting several months, will be decided by the judge. Efforts to pull together an eleventh-hour settlement over the weekend did not result in a deal, but legal experts expect a resolution, at least with the U.S. Department of Justice, in the coming months. Early testimony is likely to set the tone for any settlement talks, depending on how damaging the evidence is, the experts said. BP has a history of settling civil cases before or during trial. Four trials began over the 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery that killed 15 people. All were settled. Payouts totaled $3.1 billion. BP has since sold the refinery.The stakes are higher this time, though. The Macondo well explosion and spill on April 20, 2010, affected five state coastlines, prompted a six-month ban on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf, and disrupted the livelihoods of fishermen, hoteliers and others. BP has spent or committed $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements and fines. That includes $8.5 billion to most plaintiffs, a record $4.5 billion in penalties, and a guilty plea to 14 criminal counts to resolve criminal charges from the Justice Department and civil claims from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Pope Benedict has changed Catholic Church rules to allow the conclave that will choose his successor to be held earlier if cardinals are ready, the Vatican said Monday. In a motu proprio – he introduced modifications to the laws governing the timing of the secret election, which had been due to begin on March 15 or later. Pope Benedict XVI officially stands down from his role on Feb 28, having resigned earlier this month citing his own failing health. A conclave – the behind-closed-doors ballot of cardinals – cannot begin within 15 days of the papacy becoming vacant; in this case, March 15. But the amendment to that rule, announced on Monday and reported by Vatican Radio, means the process could begin earlier if all the eligible cardinals arrive in Rome sooner. The date of the conclave’s start is important, The Associated Press reported, because Holy Week begins March 24, with Easter Sunday March 31. In order to have a new pope in place for the church’s most solemn liturgical period, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17 — a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start March 15.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case that challenges key provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark legislation was designed to make voting a reality for blacks in the south and stamp out practices that continued to block them from the polls nearly 100 years after the U.S. Constitution guaranteed minorities the right to vote. The court will hear an Alabama case challenging sections in the law that require states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination – mostly in the south – to seek federal approval for any changes to their voting rules and voting districts. The act’s defenders believe the law is as relevant as ever and look no further than last year’s election, when states such as Florida and Ohio shortened the days and times for the ever popular early voting. Proponents also point to a surge in states passing laws requiring voters to produce a government-issued photo ID in order to exercise their right to vote. Four southern states covered by the Voting Rights Act – Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas — and one northern one, New Hampshire — were among 10 states to adopt strict photo voter ID laws in the past two years.