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DC Circuit Judge on Drones: 'Our Democracy Is Broken'

Judge Janice Rogers Brown said courts should not step into political issues, like deciding whether the United States wrongfully killed bystanders in a drone attack.

Then the judge told us how she really felt about it.

"Our democracy is broken," she wrote in Ahmed Salem Bin Ali Jaber v. United States. "We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so."

Net Neutrality Rules Stand -- for Now

A federal appeals court let stand a decision upholding net neutrality rules, staying the course in a three-way race among internet service providers, government and consumers over the fate of the controversial rules.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused to rehear last year's ruling, which held that internet service providers were common carriers and could not regulate internet traffic. The decisions are a setback to ISPs that sued the Federal Communications Commission, but the court pointed out that the contest over net neutrality is far from over.

"The agency will soon consider adopting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would replace the existing rule with a markedly different one," the appeals court said in United States Telecom Association v. FCC. "In that light, the en banc court could find itself examining, and pronouncing on, the validity of a rule that the agency had already slated for replacement."

Timber Industry Wins Round Against Spotted Owl

Although it may ruffle the feathers of environmentalists, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the timber industry and against the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a lumber association has standing to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its designation of 9.5 million acres of land as a critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. The decision revives a lawsuit by the American Forest Resource Council that claimed the regulation cut back the industry in California, Oregon, and Washington.

"The Council has demonstrated a substantial probability that the critical habitat designation will cause a decrease in the supply of timber from the designated forest lands, that Council members obtain their timber from those forest lands, and that Council members will suffer economic harm as a result of the decrease in the timber supply from those forest lands," the appellate panel said in Carpenters Industrial Council v. Zinke.

The EPA, now under new management, wants to delay litigation over its 2015 smog standard. The agency asked the D.C. Circuit last week to put off upcoming oral arguments in an appeal challenging the standard. On Tuesday, the circuit complied, postponing arguments while the EPA reconsidered its position.

The standard, intended to reduce air pollution and prevent lung and heart disease, was challenged by ten state attorneys general, including Scott Pruitt, who has now become the EPA's Administrator. The delay gives the agency time to review the regulation "to determine whether the Agency should reconsider the rule or some part of it."

Will Anthem Win Its Fights to Save Merger Deal With Cigna?

As Anthem lawyers argued to save a proposed merger with Cigna in a federal appeals court, the words of the trial judge still hung in the air:

"There's an elephant in the room," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said, describing the tension between the health care giants. Noting that Cigna's own lawyer had undermined Anthem's forecasts for the acquisition, Jackson struck down the merger six weeks ago on the grounds it would hurt the competition.

The tension between the companies has reached the breaking point since then. Cigna is now suing Anthem in another court over the blocked merger for a $1.85 billion termination fee, plus $13 billion in damages for its shareholders. Fighting on two fronts, Anthem has doubled down in the high-stakes game. Christopher Curren, Anthem's lawyer, told the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that it is about the consumer.

"This is dollars in the consumer's pocket," he said with a poker face.

Court Sends NLRB Back to Deal With Automatic Deductions for Dues

In what the dissent called a "hot potato," a divided appeals court said the National Labor Relations Board erred in rejecting the claims of grocery workers who had cancelled automatic deductions for their dues.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia remanded the case back to the board to reconsider its decision in Stewart v. National Labor Relations Board. The Arizona workers had authorized their employer to deduct union dues, but later resigned from the union and revoked their authorization.

"An employee's authorization for her employer to check off union dues from her wages is not irrevocable," Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote for the court.

Investors in Fannie and Freddie Lose Post-Bailout Profit

Have you ever worried about how you were going make that next payment on your house or apartment?

Now think about how it must have been in 2008, when the nation's largest mortgage lenders were about $200 billion short. It was a mortgage crisis that triggered the Great Recession, America's biggest economic meltdown in almost a century.

It may feel like those days are behind us, but they aren't for everybody. Investors in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest lenders at the time, say they did not get the money they were due in the subsequent economic recovery. And a federal court of appeals just made it a little more difficult for those investors.

Appeals Court Upholds DC Sign Law

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

Well, only for 30 days after an event in Washington, D.C.

That's the gist of a ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after two activist groups claimed the district's sign law violated the First Amendment. The ordinance allows signs to be posted on lampposts for up to 180 days, except that event signs must be removed at least 30 days after an event.

The federal appeals court acknowledged that the law may favor non-event signs, but it does not violate free speech rights. The court reversed a trial judge's decision in the case and vacated a sanctions award against the defendant.

Court Approves Limits on Protests for Trump's Inauguration

Freedom Plaza rises grandly above the parade that courses through Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day, a tradition that marks the election of a new president ever since George Washington took office in 1789.

Thousands of spectators line up along Pennsylvania Avenue from the U.S. Capitol to the White House to see the next President of the United States. They crowd together on the sidewalks, parks, and plazas. On Freedom Plaza, parade organizers, media representatives, and other ticket holders take their seats on bleachers set up by the parade committee for the historic event.

But a protest group sued over the exclusive seating, saying the bleachers restricted their freedom of speech. They contended that the prime spot unconstitutionally favored the government's message to its own.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was established in the wake of the 2007 financial meltdown that gave birth to the "Great Recession." Created by the 2010's Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB was to operate as a Wall Street watchdog agency. To ensure its independence from political interference, it was to have a single director who, once appointed, could only be removed for cause.

That level of independence, however, was too much for the D.C. Circuit. A three judge panel ruled earlier this month that the CFPB's structure gave too much authority to its director, in violation of the executive powers given to the President. An independent director who could not be fired without cause, the court found, was a "threat to individual liberty."