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U.S. views sought on misspent federal funds law

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the U.S. Solicitor General to provide the government’s views on the scope of the federal False Claims Act — the law that allows private individuals to sue to recover federal funds that allegedly were misspent.  The specific issue in a new case is whether such lawsuits are barred if the information behind the lawsuit had come out in state or local agency reports or audits, as opposed to federal reports. The case is Graham County Soil & Water District, et al., v. U.S. ex rel Wilson (08-304).

The Court granted no new cases.

In a brief order, the Court, as expected, turned aside a New Jersey voter’s plea for the Court to determine if President-elect Barack Obama was qualified to run for the White House — that is whether he was a “natural born citizen.”  The stay application came in the case of Donofrio v. Wells, Secretary of State of New Jersey (08A407).  This marked the second time in recent weeks for the Court to turn aside such a challenge; the first came on Nov. 3, in Berg v. Obama (08A391).   The Court, in neither instance, gave reasons for turning down the applications.  In neither case did the Court seek a reponse, thus indicating it had little interest in either or had found them to be completely without merit.

Among the issues the Court chose not to hear Monday were these:

** Whether public school students have a constitutional right to include a religious message in doing a clasroom assignment. Ruling in the case of a Michigan fifth grader who included a message about Jesus in selling fake candy canes made of pipe clearners at a pretend market at school, the Sixth Circuit Court found that the expression was not simply a private utterance by the boy, but was part of a classroom assignment, and thus could be censored. The case was Curry v. Hensinger (08-190).

** Whether it is unconstitutiional for a state to allow a lawsuit in its courts aimed at the official actions taken by an officer in another state, when the actions occurred mainly in that other state. The issue allows a lawsuit in Massachusetts courts by an inmate there, challenging the Pennsylvania prison director for allegedly having him transferred to Massachusetts in retaliation for the prisoner’s frequent filing of lawsuits. The First Circuit Court allowed the suit to proceed (Beard v. Hannon, 08-316).

** Whether, in defining mental retardation for purposes of deciding whether a prison inmate may be executed for his crimes, the constitutional standard should be a clinical definition. The Court, in barring execution of the mentally retarded in Atkins v. Virginia (2002), left the definition to states. The test case on the proper definition involved a Texas inmate, Jose Garcia Briseno. In his case, the state courts relied upon a doctor’s testimony that a mentally retarded person is one who cannot use a telephone, cannot go to the bathroom, and cannot eat or dress himself.   The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and another group, the Arc of the United States, urged the Court to take the case of Briseno v. Quarterman (08-6631) to provide new guidance. The Court simply denied review.

** Whether a state that opposes “civil union” between couples of the same sex is required to respect another state’s award of custody or visitation rights, when the couples separate and disagree over care of the child.  The case of Miller-Jenkins v. Miller-Jenkins has been taken to the Court in various forms in recent years, involving a dispute that arose in Vermont and drew in Virginia.  The Court has turned down, or found procedural flaws, in the case four previous times. The new case (docket 08-306) challenged a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court upholding a visitation order issued in Vermont.  The Justices made no comment in rejecting the new challenge. On Oct. 6, the Court had denied review of the most recent prior case (docket 08-178).