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Court to rule on investment adviser fees

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to clarify when investment advisers to mutual funds they control charge too much in fees for their advice.  The case, Jones v. Harris Associates (08-586), tests whether a 1970 law that seems to limit those fees only applies if the adviser misled fund directors to get their approval for the fees.  The case will be heard and decided in the next Term, opening Oct. 5.  This was the only case granted on Monday.

The Court, however, asked the U.S. Solicitor General for the federal government’s views on how much room Congress has left the states to regulate the sharing of consumers’ private information among financial institutions that are affiliated.  The case tests the scope of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, when compared to a state law that seeks to provide greater privacy for consumer data.  It is American Bankers Association v. Brown (08-730).

Among the cases denied were two that challenged the constitutionality of a 2005 federal law that put an end to a wave of lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers and dealers liable for harms done by others with the guns those firms had sold. The cases were New York City v. Beretta USA (08-530) and Lawson v. Beretta USA (08-545).  A federal appeals court in New York and the District of Columbia’s highest local court rejected the constitutional complaints.

The Court also refused to hear a case on whether it is unconstitutional for a state to require that those who circulate petitions to nominate candidates for office must be residents of the state.  The Ninth Circuit Court struck down such a requirement in Arizona law, challenged by independent candidate Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, when he ran for the Presidency in 2004.  The case was Brewer v. Nader (08-648).

Justice John Paul Stevens issued a statement (not formally a dissent) as the Court refused to hear a case involving a Florida inmate who has been on death row for 32 years, in which he renewed his previous call for the Court to put an end to the death penalty.  The case of Thompson v. McNeil (08-7369) involved William Lee Thompson, who is awaiting execution for the 1976 murder of a woman who failed to obtain money that Thompson and another man demanded from her family.  His 32 years is the longest time on death row spent by an inmate who has asked the Court to decide whether such a delay makes execution unconstitutional.

Stevens, who had previously called for an end to the death penalty, said that view was reinforced by the “inescapable” fact that there will be long delays in carrying out an execution.  Justice Stephen G. Breyer dissented from the Court’s refusal to consider that question. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a lengthy concurrence to challenge the arguments of both Stevens and Breyer, and to blame the Court itself for creating delays in death penalty cases.

In one of the first Guantanamo detainee cases to reach the Court since it ruled last June that prisoners there have a constitutional right to challenge their confinement in U.S. courts, the Justices denied without comment an appeal by Abdul Hamid Abdul Salam Al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan national. His U.S. lawyer contends that he is dying of hepatitis and tuberculoses, but has been denied adequate medical care at Guantanamo, where he has been held for more than six years. The D.C. Circuit Court ruled that his lawyer could not obtain a court order mandating medical services, because Al-Ghizzawi could not show he was entitled to such services as part of his habeas challenge to detention.  The Justice Department chose not to reply to Al-Ghizzawi’s petition to the Supreme Court (08-8145), and it was denied Monday without comment by the Court.

The Court sent back to lower courts two cases that seek to test the states’ power, in the face of federal drug marketing law, to regulate the pharmaceutical industry.  The Court, following up on its ruling last week in Wyeth v. Levine (06-1249), ordered the Third Circuit Court to reconsider rulings that federal law preempted a lawsuit in federal court based on Delaware law over advertising the anti-heartburn drug, Nexium, and that that federal law preempted lawsuits under state laws challenging the labels on the anti-depression drugs Paxil and Zoloft.  The Nexium case was Pennsylvania Employee Benefit Trust Fund v. Zeneca (07-822) and the Paxil and Zoloft case was Colacicco, et al., v. Apotex, et al. (08-437).

In the Wyeth decision, the Court had ruled that federal regulators’ approval of warnings of side-effects on a drug label did not displace failure-to-warn labeling cases based on state law.