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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal Court: Twitter, Facebook, & Google not liable in Pulse shooting

The survivors and estates of the victims argued that Twitter, Facebook and Google were liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act

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Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals Building, Atlanta, Georgia (Photo Credit: GSA/U.S. Government)

ATLANTA – A federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld a decision finding social media companies aren’t liable in the June 12, 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting for giving the shooter access to ISIS propaganda online that was found to have inspired the attack.

In a 31-page decision issued on Wednesday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found the trio of Big Tech companies named in the case — Twitter, Facebook and Google — can’t be sued for their role in the shooting despite arguments they illegally aided and abetted the shooter under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

“We are deeply saddened by the deaths and injuries caused by Mr. Mateen’s rampage, but we agree with the district court that the plaintiffs failed to make out a plausible claim that the Pulse massacre was an act of ‘international terrorism’ as that term is defined in the ATA,” the court’s decision states. “And without such an act of ‘international terrorism,’ the social media companies—no matter what we may think of their alleged conduct—cannot be liable for aiding and abetting under the ATA.”

The panel consisted of U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, an Obama appointee; U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, a Trump appointee; and U.S. Circuit Judge Julie Carnes, another Obama appointee. Jordan wrote the decision on behalf of the judges.

The mass shooting led to the deaths of 49 patrons and injured 53 others, mainly Latino because of the Latino theme of the gay nightclub that night, and at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. history. (A mass shooting in Las Vegas at a musical festival the next year on October 1, 2017, killed 60 people and wounded 411 which surpassed the grim numbers of the Pulse nightclub mass murder.)

The shooter, Omar Mateen, had declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS and a designated foreign terrorist organization, which later claimed responsibility. Upon review after the attack by Orlando police and the FBI, Mateen was found to have used Facebook to write posts and make searches about ISIS — and was even found to have been searching for ISIS content as he was perpetuating the assault.

The survivors and estates of the victims making up the plaintiffs in the case argued Twitter, Facebook and Google were liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which make criminal aiding and abetting in a terrorist attack. Under the law, 18 US Code § 2333 there are civil remedies as well.

In its ruling, the 11th Circuit points out, ISIS despite claiming responsibility for the attack was never found to have engaged in planning the massacre, or was even aware of his plans, therefore not liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Instead, the 3 judge panel found that Mateen was “self-radicalized,” making a distinction between his attack and an act of international terrorism as defined under the statute.

“Mr. Mateen was self-radicalized while living in Florida and committed mass murder there,” the decision says. “A case involving a foreign terrorist who is radicalized overseas, plans his attack there, and then travels to the United States (or elsewhere) to commit an act of mass destruction may well fit the § 2332(1)(C) bill. … But this case, given the allegations in the complaint, is not close to that hypothetical.”

The plaintiffs had also sought damages from three companies under Florida state law for negligent infliction of emotional distress and wrongful death.. The 11th Circuit, however, also rejected that argument on the basis they failed to adequately brief proximate the argument and therefore abandoned the challenge.

The 11th Circuit’s action upholds a decision from a federal district court in Florida throwing out the case. Another court, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, made a similar ruling last year in a separate case, finding social media companies weren’t liable for the San Bernardino, California mass shooting in 2015.

Attorneys for the plaintiff victims and survivors didn’t immediately respond Friday to the Blade’s request to comment on whether or not they would seek review of the decision, either by “en banc” consideration of the full court or a petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court. Representatives for the three social media companies also didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in as 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States”

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Screenshot/YouTube SCOTUS TV via the Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In oaths administered by the Chief Justice John Roberts and outgoing Associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 51 year-old Justice Jackson made history as the first-ever black woman sworn in as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. She replaces Justice Breyer, whose resignation from the Supreme Court becomes effective at noon Thursday (Eastern) after his nearly 28 years of service on the nation’s high court.

In the simple ceremony held at the Court, Jackson in the constitutional oath, given by Chief Justice Roberts, solemnly swore to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Breyer gave her the statutory oath, in which Jackson swore to “administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich.”

The newly sworn-in Associate Justice was joined by her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and their two daughters, Talia and Leila.

The court will hold another formal inaugurating ceremony, called an investiture, in the fall, Roberts said. But Thursday’s ceremony allows her to immediately begin work as the newest member of the nine-seat Supreme Court.

Nominated by President Biden and confirmed by the Senate, in April at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, addressing the audience of members of Congress, the Biden Cabinet, and White House staff along with family and invited guests, Justice Jackson noted;

“As I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

As the first Black woman to be nominated to serve on the nation’s highest court which she noted in her remarks:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said, to applause from the crowd. “We’ve made it, all of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible.“

Quoting Maya Angelou, an American author, poet and civil rights activist, “I am the hope and the dream of the slave,” Jackson said.

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Supreme Court upholds Biden’s ability to enforce immigration laws

In its 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy

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Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday upheld President Biden’s broad presidential powers to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and policies. In a 5-4 ruling the high court said that the president may repeal the Trump-era ‘remain in Mexico’ policy, which barred most Central American migrants from entering the United States to seek asylum.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh rejected arguments by Republican-led states in the case known as Biden v. Texas that were seeking to force the administration to keep the policy enacted under former President Trump.

The Chief Justice writing for the majority held that the decision to end it did not violate a 1996 migrant detention law and that a second memo terminating the program should have been considered by lower federal courts. 

In his opinion, Roberts overturned the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that forced border officials to revive the Remain in Mexico rules, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols this past December. The Chief Justice noted that the 1996 law which authorizes the program does not mandate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to return migrants to Mexico, but allows them the option to do so. Roberts referenced use of the word “may” in the statute.

If Congress meant for the law to require asylum-seekers to be returned to Mexico, Roberts wrote, “it would not have conveyed that intention through an unspoken inference in conflict with the unambiguous, express term ‘may.'”

Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett filed separate dissenting opinions, parts of which were joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas.

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety, released the following statement on the Supreme Court’s decision today in Biden v. Texas:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision correctly acknowledges the Biden administration’s authority to end the unlawful and cruel ‘Remain in Mexico’ program. For more than three years, this horrifying policy has denied asylum seekers their right to due process and subjected them to crimes like rape, kidnapping, and torture in northern Mexican border cities while they await their court hearings.

“I urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to swiftly end ‘Remain in Mexico’ once and for all. Misguided and inhumane Trump-era policies like ‘Remain in Mexico’ and Title 42 have only decimated an already broken immigration system. We must keep working to restore the lawful processing of asylum seekers at the border, in keeping with America’s most deeply held values as a nation of immigrants.”

This is a developing story.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court sides with ex-football coach who led prayers at school

“Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion is yet another dangerous example of this Court overturning decades of precedent”

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The Justices of the United States Supreme Court (Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in a 6-3 ruling sided with the former Bremerton, Washington assistant high school football coach removed for refusing to halt his practice of praying at mid-field after games on school property.

The ruling is a victory for Joseph Kennedy, who in court documents described himself as a practicing Christian whose religious beliefs require him to “give thanks through prayer, at the end of each game.”

When he began his job as an assistant coach at Bremerton High School, a public school in Washington state, he initially prayed alone after games, but over time some of his players – and eventually a majority of the team – joined him. One parent complained that his son, a player on the team, felt like he had to join in the prayer, even though he was an atheist, or face a loss of playing time.”

Bremerton School District officials had attempted to accommodate Kennedy after warning him to stop the prayers as District officials clarified that they did not want to violate the Constitution’s establishment clause, which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another.

The district offered Kennedy the ability to pray after the crowd had left the stadium or in a private space both options that he refused. Kennedy had retained counsel and the legal team indicated that they would pursue father legal action.

The case eventually ended up at the high court which agreed to hear it at the beginning of this last term in January.

Joseph Kennedy being interviewed by NBC News affiliate KING-TV 5, Seattle, Washington

Reaction from groups advocating for greater safeguards in separation of ‘church and state’ decried the majority decision written by Trump nominated Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Equality California noted that the Court’s ruling in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District effectively was overturning decades of established legal precedent.

“Justice Gorsuch’s majority opinion is yet another dangerous example of this Court overturning decades of precedent to impose the personal religious beliefs of some on the rest of the country — whether that be a public school football coach’s religious beliefs on his team, a legislator’s views on people in their state seeking abortion care or the views of a religious private school on taxpayers now forced to fund them.

“Parents have always been free to send their children to schools that align with their religious beliefs, and coaches who want to lead their players in prayer have always been free to work at private schools where that is encouraged. But students — of any religion or none at all — attending public schools funded by taxpayers should not be coerced into school-sponsored prayer,” Equality California’s Executive Director, Tony Hoang, said in an emailed statement.

“Every public school student deserves to feel safe, supported and welcome at school. Today’s decision undermines that fundamental idea at a particularly dangerous time for our LGBTQ+ students.”

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