In Va. Case, Supreme Court
Upholds Cross-Burning Bans
The Supreme Court ruled that states can ban cross-burnings that are intended to intimidate onlookers and that such laws do not violate the First Amendment because of the long history of cross-burning as a "particularly virulent form of intimidation."
Though the court did not entirely validate Virginia's 50-year-old cross-burning law, it voted 6 to 3 to overturn a Virginia Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that the law was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.
"Virginia may choose to regulate this subset of intimidating messages in light of cross-burning's long and pernicious history as a signal of impending violence," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in the majority opinion upholding the basic validity of the law.
However, in affirming that Virginia could ban cross-burnings without violating free-speech rights, the court struck down the state's cross-burning law on other grounds: Within the majority, a four-justice plurality rejected a provision added to the law in 1968 that instructs juries to consider the act of burning a cross in public to be evidence of an intention to intimidate.
O'Connor wrote that this prima facie evidence provision makes the law unconstitutional because it "makes it more likely that the jury will find an intent to intimidate regardless of the particular facts of the case.
-- Edward Walsh
Big Punitive Damages Award
Is Overturned in Utah Case
The Supreme Court handed a victory to advocates of limiting jury awards in civil damage lawsuits, overturning a Utah ruling that awarded $145 million in punitive damages to a couple that sued State Farm Insurance Co. over its handling of an automobile accident case.
The court said it was not imposing a rigid, "bright line" ratio on the amount of punitive damages that are permissible. But in a 6 to 3 opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the justices suggested punitive damage awards that exceed the amount of compensatory damages in the same case by much more than a single-digit ratio may not pass constitutional muster.
"In sum, courts must ensure that the measure of punishment is both reasonable and proportionate to the amount of harm to the plaintiff and to the general damages recovered," Kennedy wrote.
The court also reaffirmed its ruling in an earlier punitive damages case that "the wealth of a defendant cannot justify an otherwise unconstitutional punitive damages award."
Compensatory damages are meant to make up for actual damages suffered by a successful plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. Juries often also award punitive damages to punish wrongdoing and act as a deterrent.
Legal experts said the court's decision was a big win for corporate America and a blow to trial lawyers representing individuals. It could affect dozens of cases now on appeal, including those against drug companies, banks, insurance companies, automakers and tobacco firms, they said.
-- Edward Walsh
and Brooke A. Masters
Weighing Military Action, India
Equates Pakistan With Iraq
Asserting the same right of preemptive war that the United States used to justify its invasion of Iraq, Indian officials have accused Washington of failing to end Pakistan's support for guerrillas in Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir and warned that India may be forced to take limited military action against its nuclear-armed neighbor.
In recent statements, Indian officials have stepped up accusations that, contrary to assurances he provided the United States last spring, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has been giving free rein to militants fighting to end Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region.
While India has made such charges before, it has lately begun to draw parallels to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha told Parliament that Pakistan's nuclear capability and alleged support for the Kashmir groups make it a "fitter case" for intervention than Iraq.
Indian officials say that following a brief crackdown on militant groups last summer, Pakistan is now permitting the operation of up to 120 training camps for the fighters and is once again helping them cross the cease-fire line that separates Pakistani and Indian forces in Kashmir.
Moreover, they say, intercepted messages provide strong circumstantial evidence that two of Pakistan's largest militant organizations collaborated in the March 23 massacre of 24 Hindus in the Kashmiri village of Nadimarg. A senior official in India's Home Ministry, which handles internal security, said in an interview that at least 3,000 "trained Pakistani cadre" members are operating in Indian-held Kashmir.
-- John Lancaster
Morris Brown College Might
Close After Accreditation Loss
Morris Brown College, one of the nation's oldest historically black colleges, is in danger of closing after a last-ditch effort to hold on to its accreditation failed.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools refused to overturn its December decision revoking the accreditation of the Atlanta school, which is deep in debt and has been cited for poor record-keeping and misspending federal financial aid.
The decision means that Morris Brown will immediately lose access to millions of dollars in federal financial assistance, which 90 percent of its students receive. The lack of accreditation also severs the school's affiliation with the United Negro College Fund, a major financial backer. The threat of loss of accreditation had prompted tumultuous changes at Morris Brown. As many as half its 2,500 students did not return for spring semester, which was squeezed to seven weeks to allow students to finish school before their financial aid was cut off. About 300 students graduated from the school in mid-March -- two months before the usual date -- and the school has no plans to resume classes until late August.
Despite the problems, officials at Morris Brown vowed to keep the school alive.
-- Michael A. Fletcher
Scientists Create First Clone
From an Endangered Species
Scientists have for the first time created a healthy clone of an endangered species, offering powerful evidence that cloning technology can play a role in preserving and even reconstituting threatened and endangered species.
The clone -- a cattlelike creature known as a Javan banteng, native to Asian jungles -- was grown from a single skin cell taken from a captive banteng before it died in 1980. The cell was one of several that had remained frozen in a vial at the San Diego Zoo until last year, when they were thawed as part of an experimental effort to make cloned banteng embryos.
Scientists transferred dozens of such embryos to the wombs of standard beef cows in Iowa last fall, and the first baby banteng clone was born healthy April 1 after gestating for a standard 91/2 months.
A second cloned banteng was born two days later to another cow on the same research farm, but was in such poor health that it was euthanized -- a reminder that scientists still have a lot to learn before mammalian cloning becomes routine.
Bantengs, which as adults sport enormous horns and can weigh as much as 1,800 pounds, once roamed in large numbers through the bamboo forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and other Asian nations. Hunting and habitat destruction have reduced their numbers by more than 80 percent in the past 20 years. Today they have vanished from much of their old range, and only 3,000 to 5,000 remain worldwide.
Most worrisome to conservationists, only a handful of large herds remain, so the animals are at risk of becoming dangerously inbred. That's where the cloners hope to help.
-- Rick Weiss