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Texas Gay Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional: Fed. Judge

A Texas law barring same-sex marriage has been struck down and ruled unconstitutional. But Judge Orlando Garcia's decision (attached below) doesn't mean gay marriages can be held in the Lone Star State.

In the latest ruling in the national fight for gay marriage, Judge Garcia placed a stay on the decision, anticipating an appeal by the state. While there is a preliminary injunction on the state's ban, the stay means the ban will remain in effect for now.

"Today's court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent," Garcia held. "Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution."

Is Snowboarding Protected by the Constitution?

Does a ski resort's ban on snowboarding violate the 14th Amendment?

A group of snowboarders believes so. They have sued the Alta Ski Lifts Company, which operates the Alta ski resort in Utah, for banning snowboarders and only allowing skiers on the slopes.

The snowboarders' lawsuit (attached below) claims Alta, which operates on federally owned land, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Discrimination without any rational basis perpetuates inequality by creating, fostering, and encouraging skier-versus-snowboarder attitudes that are hostile and divisive," argues the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

The lawsuit asks for Alta's snowboard ban to be lifted, and for skiers to be forced to share the mountain. Only a handful of ski resorts ban snowboarders, including Deer Valley in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

Texas Abortion Law is Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules

Key parts of Texas' new abortion law have been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. The stunning legal ruling (attached below) came Monday, a day before dozens of abortion clinics were set to halt operations.

U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel barred Texas from enforcing two key provisions of abortion restrictions contained in the controversial new law.

Judge Yeakel held that requiring abortion doctors to gain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional. The provision "does not bear a rational relationship to the legitimate right of the state in preserving and promoting fetal life or a woman's health."

Judge Yeakel also barred Texas from enforcing a provision regulating the dispensing of abortion-inducing drugs for "women for whom surgical abortion is, in the sound medical opinion of their treating physician, a significant health risk."

The judge did, however, allow other parts of the law to stand, including a requirement for one extra office visit.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry promptly announced that state officials will continue efforts to enact the abortion law.

"Today's decision will not stop our ongoing efforts to protect life..." Perry said in a statement. "We will continue fighting to implement the laws passed by the duly-elected officials of our state, laws that reflect the will and values of Texans."

A California law that bans the sale of foie gras made from force-feeding birds has been upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The 2012 California foie gras law prohibits the sale of products made from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers. Foie gras is a delicacy featuring the fatty liver of a force-fed goose or duck.

A three-judge panel held that the lawsuit filed by foie gras producers was unlikely to succeed on constitutional grounds. Legally speaking, the lawsuit is being consistently shot down by federal courts in California.

The plaintiffs appear undeterred and vow to continue the legal fight.

"This isn't like fireworks, nobody is being harmed by foie gras," Marcus Henley, operations manager of a New York farm, told The Associated Press. He also noted some California consumers continue to legally order foie gras online.

Jurors Don't Need to Speak English: New Mexico Supreme Court

Jurors in New Mexico are not required to know English, the state's highest court ruled in a decision that serves as a reminder that non-English speakers have a right to serve on juries.

The New Mexico Supreme Court reminded lawyers and judges the state constitution explicitly allows non-English speaking citizens to serve on juries. The reminder came via the attached ruling that refused to overturn a murder conviction over the dismissal of a juror with limited English skills.

Justice Charles Daniels cautioned (in the attached decision) that the right of non-English speaking citizens to be jurors was affirmed by the state constitution.

"Accordingly, while we affirm defendant's convictions, we stress to trial judges and lawyers that they have a shared responsibility to make every reasonable effort to protect the right of our non-English-speaking citizens to serve on New Mexico juries," Daniels wrote.

Some jurisdictions make English comprehension a requirement to serve as jurors. Missouri and Iowa state courts, plus New York federal courts, require jurors to be able to read, write and understand English to serve, The Wall Street Journal reports. But New Mexico has always allowed non-English speakers to serve as jurors.

Allow Prayer at Town Meetings, Obama Argues in Supreme Court Brief

The Obama administration is backing Christian prayers before government meetings in a brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the administration and two groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate (nearly all Republicans) separately made that argument in Supreme Court briefs this week.

Town councils should be allowed to open their meetings with a Christian prayer, the administration argued in the attached amicus brief.

The question is a divisive one: Should the Supreme Court relax the constitutional limits on religious invocations at government meetings?

Last year, the 2nd Circuit ruled the town of Greece, N.Y. crossed the line and violated the 1st Amendment's ban on an "establishment of religion." For years, the town supervisor had invited a local minister to deliver an opening prayer at the council's monthly meeting.

Two residents, one Jewish and one an atheist, sued as only Christians had been invited to lead the prayers.

The Supreme Court decision may well lead to a major change in the law on religion that could go beyond prayers at council meetings.

Groups supporting religion, drugs, guns, the environment, and digital rights have sued the National Security Agency over collecting their phone records.

Nineteen organizations including Unitarian church groups, gun ownership advocates, and a broad coalition of political advocacy organizations filed suit over violations of their First Amendment rights of association.

The attached lawsuit "challenges an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance, specifically the bulk acquisition, collection, storage, retention, and searching of telephone communications information."

The lawsuit is at least the fourth challenge to the government's vast phone surveillance program, information about which was first disclosed by The Guardian newspaper.

The ACLU also sued the Obama Administration in June after The Guardian published documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 that bans gay marriage, and instead dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

The High Court paved the way for same-sex couples to resume marrying in California. The ruling effectively leaves intact a lower-court ruling that struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the 5-4 majority, said the private sponsors of Prop. 8 did not have legal standing to appeal after the ballot measure was struck down by a federal judge in San Francisco.

Before the justices got to the merits of the case, they had to determine whether the proponents of Prop 8 had the legal right to be in court in the first place.

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” he said. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined to form the majority.

The Supreme Court has struck down a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, opening the door for married gay couples to be eligible for federal benefits.

The 5-to-4 ruling (attached below) on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) deemed the law unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. The power to regulate marriage falls to the states, not the federal government, wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, the critical swing vote.

“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Obama administration Tuesday charging that its collection of vast domestic phone records violates Americans' constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

The lawsuit could set up an eventual Supreme Court test, The New York Times reports. The ACLU argues the Obama's administration's "dragnet" collection of domestic phone call logs is illegal and has asked a judge to stop the practice and order the records purged.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of revelations by The Guardian and The Washington Post that a secret court granted the Obama administration access to call logs for all Verizon calls made within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries for a three-month period.

The surveillance program is "akin to snatching every American's address book" and "gives gives the government a comprehensive record of our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious and intimate associations," the complaint says.