The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that would clarify some of the laws governing the war on terrorism. Abdullah al-Kidd, an American citizen, brought a suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft for detaining him as a material witness, a detention al-Kidd alleges was a pretext for holding him as a terror suspect.
Federal officials arrested al-Kidd in 2003 as he was about to board a plane to Saudi Arabia, detaining him for 16 days as a witness for another case, for which he never testified. Under material witness laws, law enforcement officials can temporarily detain someone as a witness, but the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Ashcroft could be held responsible if he used the law as a pretext for terror detentions.
Ashcroft has pleaded for immunity from the high court. If the 9th Circuit's ruling stands, it "would seriously limit the circumstances in which prosecutors could invoke the material witness statute without fear of personal liability," wrote acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal on behalf of Ashcroft.
New editorial climate?
Doubts about climate-change science may appear more frequently on British airwaves now. The BBC on Oct. 12 issued new editorial guidelines that for the first time included science as a "controversial subject." The news organization came under fire last year when one of its reporters neglected to report the "Climategate" emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia, emails that called into question some of the data supporting global warming theory. At least one skeptic of man-made global warming theory doesn't expect a dramatic change in coverage of the issue. "It's highly unlikely that they'll be more balanced in their coverage," James Delingpole, a British columnist, told the Daily Telegraph. "It's a whole cultural thing at the BBC-that people who don't believe are just 'flat earthers.'"
De facto moratorium
When the Obama administration lifted its ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 12, the oil industry offered a lukewarm response: Executives say a bevy of new federal regulations could mire the permit process for weeks, keeping some oil rigs dormant until the end of the year. Administration officials acknowledged it could take weeks to re-evaluate rigs and issue new permits.
Industry leaders also pointed to problems facing smaller companies already drilling in shallow water: Those operators report that new regulations have acted as a de facto moratorium. They say officials granted only six permits in four months, instead of the usual 40 permits during the same time span last year. And they say the new regulations are dramatically raising insurance costs for small companies.
Meanwhile, fishermen along the Gulf Coast are anxiously awaiting the beginning of oyster season, slated for Nov. 15. Many are worried that oyster beds could have been damaged by the spill, and private leaseholders of some waters have reported large areas of dead oysters on reefs.
For the first time, scientists have injected a human with human embryonic stem cells. Geron Corporation, a biopharmaceutical company, announced on Oct. 11 that it would test human embryonic stem cells on patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. Maureen Condic, a neurobiologist at the University of Utah's School of Medicine, said some researchers are concerned about unresolved safety issues and are surprised that the human clinical trial has progressed. The FDA put the clinical trial on hold last year when some mice developed spinal cord cysts after receiving human embryonic stem-cell treatment. The FDA lifted the clinical hold in July following an appeal from Geron.
The fight over Obamacare has moved from Congress to the courtroom. Opponents of the healthcare overhaul received good news on Oct. 14 when a federal judge ruled that a major legal challenge to the law could proceed. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson denied the Obama administration's request to dismiss the case being brought by 20 states. These states argue that the law's requirement that Americans buy insurance represents a federal overreach. Vinson wrote that "the power that the individual mandate seeks to harness is simply without prior precedent." Vinson also allowed the states to challenge the law's requirement that states greatly expand their Medicaid programs.
In Virginia, on Oct. 19, a second federal judge heard more than two hours of oral arguments on a similar suit. "Virginia is trying to put the federal government back inside the constitutional fence the Founding Fathers put in place," said Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's attorney general. The final stop for both of these lawsuits will likely be the Supreme Court.
A federal judge's surprise Oct. 12 order for the immediate end of the military's ban on openly homosexual soldiers faced an unlikely opponent: the Obama administration. After U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips in California ruled that the Pentagon must stop its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Obama administration on Oct. 14 appealed the ruling. A federal appeals panel on Oct. 20 temporarily blocked the ruling, granting the government the delay it sought. But the three-judge panel set a quick Oct. 25 deadline for both sides to submit further documents. Pentagon officials warned that an abrupt end to the policy would disrupt the wartime military. "The stakes are so high, and the potential harm so great that caution is in order," argued Clifford Stanley, an undersecretary of defense. But on the same day as his own officials preached caution, President Obama promised at a town hall meeting sponsored by MTV, BET, and CMT that the policy "would end on my watch." The administration wants to end the policy legislatively rather than have the courts do it.
Democratic House and Senate leaders, who have recently accused GOP groups of leaking foreign money into U.S. elections, have received more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies, according to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics. President Obama recently attacked the Chamber of Commerce for its foreign donors, arguing that because the information about those donors is not disclosed, the group could be using those funds for political purposes. Groups must isolate foreign money from campaign funds by law-a law the Chamber has said it obeys. House and Senate GOP leaders received $501,000 from the same PACs in the report.
Free speech fight
When the United Nations votes on a "defamation of religion" resolution later this year, a handful of Christian groups hope that delegates will defeat the measure. Open Doors USA-a California-based group that advocates for persecuted Christians-has launched a campaign aimed at stopping the resolution.
The annual UN resolution-supported by many Islamic countries-calls for combating religious defamation, but singles out Islam as particularly vulnerable to abuse. Opponents of the measure-including the United States and other Western nations-say the resolution threatens free speech. Leaders from Christian groups say the measure endangers Christians in predominantly Islamic countries that persecute religious minorities. They point to countries like Pakistan: The nation's laws against blasphemy of Islam carry the penalty of death.
Open Doors USA's Free to Believe campaign is aimed at persuading countries that have voted for the resolution-or abstained from voting-to oppose the measure. The effort urges Christians to contact their legislators and ask them to press key countries on their vote. Lindsay Vessey of Open Doors says Christians should act against a resolution that amounts to "state-sponsored persecution."
New York City is the latest city to consider regulation against pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. Baltimore was the first city to regulate CPCs when it required CPCs to post signs saying they do not provide or make referrals for birth control or abortion. Councils in Montgomery County, Md., and Austin, Texas, have passed similar legislation. New York City's proposed legislation is the strictest so far, requiring CPCs to post disclosures on their websites, advertising, and literature in addition to their offices. The bill also requires them to disclose whether they have a licensed medical professional on staff, and it bars centers from disclosing personal or health information without patient consent. Kristin Hansen-vice president of communications for Care Net, a network of CPCs-said the regulation commits viewpoint discrimination by singling out pro-life centers: "It sends out a negative understanding in the community about the work of pregnancy centers. It damages the reputation, saying that [a disclaimer] is necessary when it's not."
Burdened with a reported $55 million in debt, the 7,000-member church Crystal Cathedral has filed for bankruptcy, though its services and global television broadcast Hour of Power will continue. The California church had more than debt problems: Last year its revenue dropped by 30 percent. Rev. Robert Schuller Sr. from the Reformed Church in America founded the Protestant church in 1955, and aside from its ministry, it's known worldwide for its eye-catching glass building and elaborate pageants. One creditor, who has provided the live animals for the Christmas program for many years, said she is owed $57,000.