Logging Company’s Attack On Environmental Activist Groups Dismissed By Federal Court

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By Kevin Gosztola for Shadow Proof – A lawsuit by Resolute Forest Products, a logging company, to suppress environmental activism against its forestry operations was dismissed by a federal court. It targeted Greenpeace and Stand.earth’s freedom of speech and right to dissent, alleging the organizations engaged in racketeering and defamation against the company. Annie Leonard, the executive director of Greenpeace USA, reacted, “Resolute Forest Products sued Greenpeace for $276 million trying to paint us as part of a criminal enterprise — simply because we spoke out to defend the Boreal forest. If it had won, Greenpeace USA would likely have been forced to close its doors.” “The decision sets a precedent that activities conducted by the defendants to draw attention to Resolute’s unsustainable clear-cutting in the Canadian boreal forest are legitimate advocacy protected by the First Amendment. The judge’s decision sends a clear message that unfettered corporate attacks on free speech will not stand up in court,” Stand.earth declared. Resolute filed a $7 million defamation case against Greenpeace Canada in 2013 that remains pending. What Resolute filed is known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuit. They are, as PR Watch has previously documented, employed by corporations to shut people up and burden them with the cost of legal defenses.

Federal Court Dismisses Resolute SLAPP Suit Against Greenpeace

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By Staff of Greenpeace – SAN FRANCISCO, October 16, 2017 — Today, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed all claims in the controversial case that major logging company Resolute Forest Products [2] filed against Greenpeace Inc., Greenpeace Fund, and Greenpeace International, Stand.earth and individual defendants, including claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act. The court’s decision sends a clear message to corporations that attacks on core democratic values like freedom of speech and legitimate advocacy on issues of public interest will not be tolerated. District Judge Jon S. Tigar wrote in his order dismissing the case that “the defendants’ speech constituted the expression of opinion, or different viewpoints that [are] a vital part of our democracy.” Noting that “Greenpeace’s publications at issue rely on scientific research or fact”, the judge added that “[t]he academy, and not the courthouse, is the appropriate place to resolve scientific disagreements of this kind.” Resolute will be allowed to amend its filing as a formality, but Greenpeace is confident that any such attempt will meet a similar fate. Greenpeace USA General Counsel Tom Wetterer said in response to the decision:

Minnesota Judge Allows Climate Necessity Defense In Upcoming

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By Stephen Kent for Shut It Down – While this is not the first time a court has approved presentation of the necessity defense in a criminal trial of a climate activist, the ruling is a milestone that will have far-reaching implications. “Only a few courts have allowed presentation of the climate necessity defense, and until Friday, no judge in a jury trial in the United States had recognized the defense in writing,” according to a statement from the Climate Defense Project, a legal nonprofit that provided pre-trial briefing and is part of the defendants’ legal team. The defendants are climate activists who sought to prevent climate damage by stopping the flow of carbon-intensive tar sands. “Valve-turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein closed safety block valves on Enbridge pipelines in Clearwater County, Minnesota, on October 11, 2016 as part of the coordinated “Shut It Down” climate direct action, which disrupted all five pipelines bringing carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada to the United States. Two other defendants face criminal charges for documenting Johnston and Klapstein’s action: videographer Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma. They have also been granted permission to present a necessity defense, and will be tried separately from Johnston and Klapstein.

Colorado’s Alamosa Municipal Court Tramples On Rights Of Poor People

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By Becca Curry for ACLU – Municipal judges have incredible power over the lives of the people who enter their courtrooms. When these judges refuse to follow the law and instead run their courtrooms like fiefdoms, they can ruin lives. This is starkly true for people already living in poverty who must appear in Colorado’s Alamosa Municipal Court. In our new investigative report, “Justice Derailed,” we examine Alamosa’s local court, which operates under the sole leadership of Judge Daniel Powell. This court stands out for the frequency and seriousness of its constitutional abuses, which most often affect low-income individuals. The striking inequity in treatment between defendants with means and those without reveals the unfairness of a system that is supposed to be just, but which is actually the opposite. While Alamosa is the focus of this report, it is not alone in its abuses. Colorado has more than 200 local city courts that deal mostly with low-level offenses, which are often tied to drug addiction and poverty. For six years, the ACLU of Colorado has been investigating injustices in municipal courts. We have challenged debtors’ prison practices through letters sent to several municipalities and settlements reached in Colorado Springs and Aurora. We also brought evidence to the state capitol resulting in legislation to address debtors’ prisons, the lack of counsel in municipal courts, and lengthy waits in jail to see a municipal judge when an individual cannot afford to post bond. While courts are meant to address violations of the law, many municipal judges violate the law themselves by abusing their power.

U.S. Courts Taking Climate Change Seriously

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By Robert M. Thorson for Hartford Courant – Hallelujah! The third branch of the federal government, the appointed judicial branch, is finally getting serious about climate science. No longer can the elected executive branch and the elected legislative branches cave in to popular pressure to avoid the inconvenient truth that climate change adaptations will be hugely expensive. My hope is that the lawsuits that will surely follow Hurricanes Maria, Jose, Irma and Harvey will help normalize the idea that “government can be legally accountable for failure to prevent foreseeable harms to its citizens.” That quote comes from a hot-off-the-press column published in the Sept. 8 issue of Science, “Science in litigation, the third branch of U.S. climate policy.” The quote describes a ruling by a Dutch court that forced the Dutch government to take steps to reduce greenhouse emissions to reduce imminent dangers to its citizens. Meanwhile, back in the United States, many agency heads in the present administration are either climate deniers or climate demurrers. By executive order, we are pulling out of the Paris climate accord and have tossed out “the mandate of the previous administration to “consider climate change in infrastructure planning.” We’ve also withdrawn “guidance to federal agencies … on how to incorporate climate considerations” into National Environmental Policy Act analysis.

Court Orders New Climate Impact Analysis For 4 Gigantic Coal Leases

The court ruling involved new federal coal leases in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana that expanded projects holding some 2 billion tons of coal. Credit: Bureau of Land Management

By John H. Cushman JR. for Inside Climate News – A federal appeals court in Denver told the Bureau of Land Management on Friday that its analysis of the climate impacts of four gigantic coal leases was economically “irrational” and needs to be done over. When reviewing the environmental impacts of fossil fuel projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the judges said, the agency can’t assume the harmful effects away by claiming that dirty fuels left untouched in one location would automatically bubble up, greenhouse gas emissions and all, somewhere else. That was the basic logic employed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2010 when it approved the new leases in the Powder River Basin that stretches across Wyoming and Montana, expanding projects that hold some 2 billion tons of coal, big enough to supply at least a fifth of the nation’s needs. The leases were at Arch Coal’s Black Thunder mine and Peabody Energy’s North Antelope-Rochelle mine, among the biggest operations of two of the world’s biggest coal companies. If these would have no climate impact, as the BLM argued, then presumably no one could ever be told to leave coal in the ground to protect the climate. But that much coal, when it is burned, adds billions of tons of carbon dioxide to an already overburdened atmosphere, worsening global warming’s harm. Increasingly, environmentalists have been pressing the federal leasing agency to consider those cumulative impacts, and increasingly judges have been ruling that the 1970 NEPA statute, the foundation of modern environmental law, requires it.

15 States And The District Of Columbia Challenge Trump Over DACA Decision

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By Emily Wells for Truth Dig – The argument could bear significant weight. Trump made a plethora of comments against Mexican immigrants during the presidential campaign, saying in 2015, “They are not our friend, believe me. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Trump also notoriously boasted that he would force Mexico to pay for a wall along the Mexican-American border. Nevertheless, the case may have a long road ahead, because the president has the authority to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” when it comes to the enforcement of immigration laws. “I wouldn’t say it’s a long shot, [but] I would say it is challenging, just because of the tradition against reviewing prosecutorial discretion,” Stephen Legomsk, a Washington University law professor and an Obama administration alum, told CNN. Cornell law professor and immigration attorney Steve Yale-Loehr said that “given the general deference that most courts provide to executive branch decisions on immigration, because immigration touches on national security and national sovereignty issues, they’re going to have an uphill battle in court. I wish them well, but as far as I can tell, I think they’ve got a less than 50% chance of winning in court.”

Court Rejects Pipeline Rubber-Stamp, Orders Climate Impact Review

The court sent the pipeline project back to FERC for a more detailed impact review. Neil Chatterjee, formerly senior energy policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was confirmed this month as FERC's interim chairman. Credit: Ben Hider/Getty Images

By Phil McKenna for Inside Climate News – An appeals court rejected federal regulators’ approval of a $3.5 billion natural gas pipeline project on Tuesday over the issue of climate change. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to fully consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from burning the fuel that would flow through the Southeast Market Pipelines Project when the commission approved the project in 2016. “FERC’s environmental impact statement did not contain enough information on the greenhouse gas emissions that will result from burning the gas that the pipelines will carry,” the judges wrote in a divided decision. “FERC must either quantify and consider the project’s downstream carbon emissions or explain in more detail why it cannot do so.” The 2-1 ruling ordered the commission to redo its environmental review for the project, which includes the approximately 500-mile Sabal Trail pipeline and two shorter, adjoining pipelines. With its first phase complete, the project is already pumping fracked gas from the Marcellus-Utica shale basins of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Arizona Unconstitutionally Banned Mexican-American Studies Classes

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By Roque Planas for The Huffington Post. PHOENIX ― A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the state of Arizona violated students’ rights by banning a Mexican-American studies program from Tucson public schools. The ruling issued by U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima found that a law passed by Arizona’s Republican-dominated state legislature in 2010 violated both the First and 14th Amendments. It marks a major victory for educators and activists who viewed the ethnic studies law as a flatly discriminatory effort by Arizona Republicans to keep Hispanic students from learning about their history or studying writers of color that are often ignored in public schools. Curtis Acosta, one of the former teachers of the banned program, celebrated the ruling on Twitter.

Court Of Appeals Upholds NY’s Denial Of Water Quality Certification For Constitution Pipeline

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By Eric Schneiderman for EcoWatch – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld New York State’s denial of a water quality certification for the Constitution Pipeline Friday, a critical win for the Attorney General’s office and the state’s authority to take necessary action to protect its waters and natural resources. The appeals court noted that the state is entitled to “conduct its own review of the Constitution Project’s likely effects on New York waterbodies and whether those effects would comply with the state’s water quality standards.” New York must be able to do what’s necessary to protect our environment—and we’re glad that the court agreed. It would be unacceptable for a pipeline—or any project—to pollute our waters and undermine New Yorkers’ health and water resources. Today’s decision marks a major win for New Yorkers, and for the state’s right to take the actions necessary to protect the public and our environment. My office stands ready to continue to vigorously defend New Yorkers’ right to a safe and healthy environment from all who may harm it.

Report On Rasmea Odeh Sentencing Hearing

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By Staff of Committee to Stop FBI Repression – On Thursday, August 17th, Judge Gershwin Drain again violated the rights of Palestinian-American icon Rasmea Odeh, this time by not allowing her to read her entire statement to the court. Close to 150 supporters joined Rasmea in Detroit for what was supposed to be a routine sentencing hearing. The defense, prosecution, and judge had already agreed to a plea agreement finalized in April, and Rasmea was looking forward to finally being able to tell her entire story, but Drain interrupted her three separate times, the last with a threat to jail her for contempt of court. Prior to Rasmea’s statement, her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, chastised the prosecution for bringing the indictment in the first place. Although the Rasmea Defense Committee has insisted for almost four years that the immigration case brought against her in October of 2013 was nothing but a pretext to attack the Palestine support movement in the U.S., Drain tried to protect Israel and the U.S. government from Rasmea’s brutal description of their crimes against her, her family, and the Palestinian people as a whole.

In J20 Investigation, DOJ Overreaches Again. And Gets Taken To Court Again.

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By Mark Rumold for EFF – We’ve already written about problems with the government’s investigation into the J20 protests—a series of demonstrations on January 20, the day of President Trump’s inauguration—which resulted in the arrest of hundreds of protesters. But prosecutors in DC are still at it. And they’re still using unconstitutional methods to pursue their investigation. This time they served a search warrant on hosting provider DreamHost that would require the company to turn over essentially all information on a website it hosts, www.disruptj20.org—a site that was dedicated to organizing and planning the protest. Did you click on that link? Well, that’s apparently information the government wants to know. In just one example of the staggering overbreadth of the search warrant, it would require DreamHost to turn over the IP logs of all visitors to the site. Millions of visitors—activists, reporters, or you (if you clicked on the link)—would have records of their visits turned over to the government. The warrant also sought production of all emails associated with the account and unpublished content, like draft blog posts and photos.

US Court Of Appeals Throws Out Blackwater Murder Conviction

Seattle police officers wearing riot gear guard a Starbucks coffee shop during May Day demonstrations in Seattle

By Matthew MacEgan for WSWS – On Friday, a US appeals court threw out the first-degree murder conviction of Nicholas A. Slatten, one of the four former Blackwater security guards who massacred 14 unarmed Iraqis in September 2007 while working for the US State Department. Slatten had been sentenced to life in prison in 2015, and the other three former guards each received sentences of 30 years. The court also ruled that the three other men be resentenced. In a statement, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit panel ruled that the trial court which sentenced the four guards “abused its discretion” by not allowing Slatten to be tried separately from his three co-defendants. He was the only one who faced a murder charge since he was found to have fired the first shots as well as shooting dead the driver of a white Kia car that had stopped at a traffic circle. The other three defendants, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard, were found to have violated the constitutional prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” for their part in the massacre. Thirty-year sentences were issued based on their use of military firearms while committing a felony, a charge that was used for the first time against security contractors who were provided weapons by the US government.

Full DC Circuit Court Overturns Order Delaying EPA Methane Rules

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By Staff of EDF – (Washington, D.C. – July 31, 2017) The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued the mandate tonight in its ruling that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt acted unlawfully in suspending pollution limits for the oil and gas industry. Nine of the eleven active judges on the court ordered immediate issuance of the mandate. “Today’s issuance of the mandate by the full D.C. Circuit protects families and communities across America under clean air safeguards that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sought to unlawfully tear down,” said EDF Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal. The en banc court issued the mandate this evening for the ruling by a three-judge panel on July 3rd.That opinion held Administrator Pruitt’s suspension of oil and gas pollution standards was “unlawful,” “arbitrary,” and “capricious.” The critical clean air protections at stake will reduce harmful methane and smog-forming, toxic and carcinogenic air pollution from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

Charges Against Portland Black Lives Matter Protesters Dropped

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A protester is led away by police during a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland on July 15, 2016.

By Jake Bleiberg for BDN – PORTLAND, Maine — A year after Portland police ended a Black Lives Matter demonstration with a mass arrest, the resulting legal drama has come to a close with the criminal charges against 17 protesters being dismissed. The charges were expected to be dropped since May, when a court hearing failed to repair a botched settlement agreement between the demonstrators and the Cumberland County District Attorney. The deal, which would have also seen the misdemeanor charges dropped, hinged on police and protesters talking through their differences in a so-called “restorative justice” session. It would have been the first time such a program was used in a civil disobedience case in Maine. But the deal went to pieces in the hall of a Portland church in February, when the protesters and an assistant district attorney couldn’t agree over logistics for the session. In May, a judge blocked the district attorney’s move to again prosecute the charges and ordered protesters and police to try again at the restorative justice session. After the ruling, District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said her office would not make another attempt at the session, thereby leaving the charges in an inactive court docket where they were finally dismissed Wednesday.