California lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would decriminalize possession and use of certain plant- and fungus-derived psychedelics, sending the bill to the governor's desk.
The state Senate on Thursday voted to approve changes made to the legislation by the General Assembly, after previously approving the bill on a 21-16 vote in May. The General Assembly passed the bill on Wednesday on a 43-15 vote.
Sponsored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, the bill, S.B. 58, would allow for the personal possession of psilocybin and psilocin, which are found in psychoactive mushrooms, as well as plant-derived DMT and mescaline. Mescaline derived from the peyote cactus, which holds special legal status as a sacrament in some Native American religious ceremonies, would not be legalized for general adult use under the law.
"California's veterans, first responders and others struggling with PTSD, depression, and addiction deserve access to these promising plant medicines," Wiener said in a statement. "S.B. 58 has prudent safeguards in place after we incorporated feedback from three years of deep engagement with a broad array of stakeholders."
General Assembly lawmakers amended the legislation by removing ibogaine from the list of psychedelics that would be decriminalized and adding provisions to create a working group under the state's health agency to advise policymakers on creating a framework for overseeing group therapeutic use.
"We know these substances are not addictive, and they show tremendous promise in treating many of the most intractable conditions driving our nation's mental health crisis," Wiener said. "It's time to stop criminalizing people who use psychedelics for healing or personal well-being."
The legislation would legalize possession of up to 4 grams of the substances by persons age 21 or older. The bill would also create new civil and criminal penalties for giving psychedelics to underage people.
If California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signs S.B. 58 into law, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, and make California the third state to decriminalize psychedelics. Oregon and Colorado did so via the ballot initiative process in 2020 and 2022, respectively.
A previous version of the California psychedelics bill passed the state Senate in June 2021 but stalled out in the state Assembly.
When it took Legal Services NYC staff attorney Julian Castronovo more than three and a half hours to file name-change petitions on behalf of a handful of transgender clients in the civil court in Manhattan one morning in April, it felt like something in the system wasn't working right.
That feeling was aggravated by a clerk outing Castronovo, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, when they didn't offer that information themself, and it was of no consequence in the moment — "I didn't know you were transgender," they recalled the clerk saying.
And as the clerk asked Castronovo to step to the side and wait while she dealt with other matters, they said they were made to feel different from their cisgender colleagues who were able to file their cases without problems.
"It was one of those moments, which do not happen often, where someone made my professional identity as an attorney second to my personal identity as a transgender person," they told Law360. "I was frustrated for the day, and I felt really angry."
The legal process for name changes is clearly defined by New York law and is supposed to be straightforward. But after being left mostly in the hands of administrative staff due to procedural changes put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, attorneys familiar with the process say court clerks have added requirements that have resulted in delays for many transgender applicants.
Uptil the last several years, New Yorkers looking to change their names and gender were governed by a law crafted with the stated intent of preventing fraud. The process required applicants to present medical documentation and publish notices of their name change in a newspaper.
With the passage of the Gender Recognition Act in 2021, however, the state eased certain requirements for name and sex designation changes, eliminating the need for medication documentation from those seeking to change their gender markers and ending the public notice requirement.
From a practical standpoint, the Gender Recognition Act also streamlined the application process: petitions and supporting documentation are reviewed by court clerks for compliance with the statute, and then it's sent up to a judge in advance of a hearing where a final decision is made.
But as the courts emerged from the pandemic, the process was changed to eliminate hearings and, instead, to allow decisions to be made solely on the submitted documents. It has remained that way since.
While the law only requires New York natives to show a birth certificate as proof of ID to change their names, attorneys say that since last March, clerks have required them to attach additional documents such as proof of address and photo IDs. The result, Castronovo said, has been clerks effectively acting as gatekeepers and preventing petitions from ever reaching a judge.
Instead of appearing before judges, applicants now have their cases handled mostly by clerks, who make their own determinations as to whether to approve or reject their petition, often in ways that advocates say the text of the law did not intend.
"The clerks are kind of taking the role of what the judge was doing at the hearings," they said. "What we've been seeing recently is that clerks are denying [petitions] for really, really obscure reasons."
And attorneys who spoke to Law360 say the result has been a disparate impact on transgender applicants.
"I can't speak to whether the court has created these increased systems — why they've done it," said Liam Lowery, another transgender attorney at Legal Services NYC. "But I will say it has coincided with an influx of more name-change petitions on behalf of transgender people."
A Bureaucratic Purgatory
Attorneys with experience filing name-change petitions say they can often get passed additional documentary requirements from clerks by pointing to the law's plain text, but pro se petitioners are more likely to see themselves rejected and forced to navigate a bureaucratic quagmire.
The name-change statute requires petitioners to answer yes or no to questions touching on their criminal background, debt and any child support or alimony obligations to help the court make its determination. Absent a finding of fraud, evasion of debts or obligations, or interference of the rights of others, judges are required to approve the name changes.
But as the process is now handled mostly by clerks, who can put petitions on hold before they ever get to a judge's desk, it has added a level of uncertainty, Castronovo said.
Where some clerks have asked to see formal certificates detailing how any past criminal convictions were disposed of, not all states issue such documents. And asylum-seekers who are asked to obtain birth certificates from their home countries' embassies also face tough choices — they can obtain their birth certificates, but risk hurting their asylum claims by showing their willingness to interact with the governments they seek to flee.
Castronovo recalled one petition that was denied because the petitioner, an undocumented citizen of the Dominican Republic who was applying for asylum in the U.S., lacked an embassy-certified translation of their birth certificate.
In other instances, clerks have rejected petitions for seemingly more petty reasons. In one, Castronovo said a clerk rejected an applicant's petition because the notary stamp on a document showed the notary's commission expired that same day.
While denied petitions can be appealed, the way clerks sometimes handle denials can preclude any recourse. Under the statute, clerks are required to stamp rejected petitions with the date and the reason for the denial, but Castronovo said clerks will sometimes say they are placing them "on hold" instead, effectively blocking the path for an appeal.
"There is this kind of almost purgatory that we are put in sometimes with the clerks," Castronovo said. "They're essentially denying [the petition], and so the recourse is none when they don't stamp it. And that's the problem."
According to attorneys, the clerical problems have been occurring since even before the pandemic-driven changes to the petition process.
In February 2020, representatives from groups including Legal Services NYC, New York Legal Assistance Group and Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, met with Judge Anthony Cannataro, a member of the New York Court of Appeals who then served as the chief administrative judge in the civil court in Manhattan, to voice their concerns about clerical practices the groups said disparately impacted transgender petitioners even before the pandemic hit.
According to Jose Abrigo, an attorney who attended the meeting on behalf of Legal Services NYC, the group raised the issue of clerks rejecting filings for supposed "defects" that were really just violations of made-up internal rules.
The conversations ended up going nowhere, Abrigo said.
Abrigo said that Judge Cannataro, who is gay, told the attorneys that modifying administrative practices would have required working with the unions representing clerical and security officers, which presented a barrier. Around the same time, the attorneys also met with the chief clerk of New York City Civil Court, who said that judges are the ones who decide how clerks should process petitions.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the New York State Office of Court Administration, confirmed the meetings took place, and said that officials denied placing "any extra or onerous requirements on transgender name-change applications."
According to Chalfen, the attorneys were told that if their goal was to get uniform statewide procedures for processing name-change petitions, they should initiate a conversation with then-New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks, who retired in November.
Abrigo said the advocates, whose aim was to make the name-change process more accessible in Manhattan, not the entire state, did not meet or seek to meet with Judge Marks afterward.
Representatives for the New York Court of Appeals declined to comment. The head of the New York State Court Clerks Association also declined to comment.
How Name Changes Play Out in New York Courts
The Supreme Court of New York, the state's trial court system, has jurisdiction over name-change petitions filed outside New York City. In the city, they're handled by the civil courts. Most petitions in the state involving a sex designation change are filed in the city.
Shain Filcher, the executive director of the LGBT Bar Association & Foundation of New York, said the two court systems have effectively created two different procedures for handling name changes.
"As practitioners, we want to see consistency, so we know what to expect as advocates and also what to tell people to expect if they're doing it alone," Filcher said.
Among the biggest differences is that, unlike in the city's civil courts, the state Supreme Courts allows petitioners to file paperwork entirely online.
"That means you're not having these interactions with the clerk behind the window," Filcher said.
Another big difference: filing fees. It costs $210 to file for a name change in the state Supreme Court system compared to $65 in the city's civil courts.
According to data collected by the state's Office of Court Administration, more than 7,200 name-change petitions were filed in New York City alone throughout 2022, the first full year the Gender Recognition Act was in effect — almost the same number of petitions filed in 2019 before the pandemic upended the petition process and the new law was adopted. In nearly 500 of the petitions from 2022, petitioners also asked courts to switch their gender marks.
But according to Beth Baltimore, pro bono managing attorney at The Door, a Manhattan-based organization focused on assisting transgender youth with name changes, the 500 figure doesn't accurately reflect the number of transgender people filing name-change petitions in New York. This is because changing one's gender designation alone doesn't always require a court order. For instance, people can switch gender marks on their driver's licenses directly through the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
"I can't estimate an actual number, but I do expect it to be much higher," Baltimore said.
Overall, the number of people requesting gender-mark changes is expected to increase as more transgender people become aware of their rights and the administrative processes involved, advocates said.
Although New York City residents can file name-change petitions in any of the five boroughs, attorneys said they prefer to file cases involving transgender clients in Manhattan, where they say civil court employees receive more anti-discrimination training and are supposed to be better trained to deal with transgender people in particular.
"New York is a wild card, so to speak, if you live in any of the five boroughs," Filcher said. "That varies wildly, depending on which borough you go to, and even which person is behind the window on that particular day."
Castronovo, who has assisted clients with name changes in civil court for about eight years, said the civil court in Queens has sometimes refused to process name changes for people who are unauthorized immigrants, a practice Castronovo said is illegal.
A court spokesperson declined to comment on the allegation.
"Anyone who's a resident of New York City, the court will have jurisdiction to hear their case. It doesn't have to be residency of the United States," Castronovo said. "In general, we've been filing in the Manhattan civil [court] because the clerks and judges are generally better than in other boroughs."
But depending on who is on the bench and the directives coming from chief judges, the name-change process has been made sometimes easier, sometimes harder for transgender people.
"It's that push and pull," said Abrigo, who is now the HIV project director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nationwide organization focusing on LGBTQ rights.
Abrigo, who was part of a cohort of attorneys who helped write the Gender Recognition Act, said the name-change practice in New York City has changed significantly in the last decade, mostly for the better. That's especially true in comparison with other states, such as Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, where, for instance, making changes to gender markers on birth certificates isn't allowed, he said.
"The bureaucracy is the enemy to getting your name changed in New York City," a practice that is supposed to be straightforward, Abrigo said.
Judges examining petitions are tasked only with ensuring people are not trying to commit fraud, escape law enforcement, or duck certain financial obligations. But absent those factors, the law says a judge "shall" approve name changes, with no room for discretion.
But even after the Gender Recognition Act passed, attorneys say judges have sometimes denied petitions on "random" grounds not defined in the statute.
Abrigo said that open lines of communication between advocacy groups and court administrators can play a big role in smoothing the name-change process, and that court leaders are often open to suggestions and changes.
The other way forward is to sue. In the past, legal aid providers such as Legal Services NYC have occasionally brought lawsuits challenging the way judges or clerks interpret the law.
But litigation requires a plaintiff who's willing to hold out on changing their official names and gender for a long time and to deal with the potential publicity that might come with a protracted legal battle. Those plaintiffs are hard to find.
"A lot of folks just want to get a name change very quickly," Abrigo said. "An appeal case takes at least two years in order for it to wind its way through the court system. And you might not even get a good decision out of it."
Disparate Impact on Transgender People
People petition to change their names for a host of reasons, including marriages, divorce, or to correct mistakes on official records that may have happened at birth. In those cases, people typically proceed without attorneys. But the overwhelming majority of people who do seek legal representation in connection with name changes, and the largest share of clients that legal aid organizations assist with the process, are transgender people.
Attorneys say the hurdles transgender people face in changing their names are an example of implicit bias in the justice system. Even though there may not be overt bigotry or discrimination, attorneys representing transgender name-change applicants complained that clerical practices are having a disproportionate impact on transgender people.
"The harm is ranging, but in general, I think it's just denying somebody something that is supposed to be simple, simply because we're looking at these petitions differently than other petitions," Castronovo said. "I don't think anyone there has it on the top of their heads and is actively thinking transphobic things. I think it's more of just implicit bias."
Lawyers working with transgender clients say the fact that the name-change law focuses on trying to prevent fraud indicates an overall distrust of transgender people.
"There's this inherent assumption about transgender people, especially transgender women, that if you're trying to change your name, it's somehow fraudulent, or you're trying to do something bad, and not [that] you're trying to live as your authentic self," Lowery of Legal Services said. "So there's transphobia. It's really hard at times to ferret it out."
But LGBTQ rights advocates say name changes are actually crucial to a transgender person's safety.
Having documents reflecting names and genders that don't align with the ones they present can cause transgender people to be involuntarily outed, which in turn can expose them to discrimination, harassment and sometimes even violence. Fixing gender identity in documents provides transgender people with some cover, Castronovo said.
"It's one safety that they can have in their pocket," they said. "One way to feel a little bit protected in the world, or at least not consistently outed."
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the United States to date, more than half of the respondents reported experiencing mistreatment, including physical and verbal abuse — and in some cases sexual assault — during interactions with law enforcement officers who either thought or knew the respondent identified as transgender.
Nearly a third of respondents who reported showing an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation said they were verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated that none of their IDs had their preferred name and gender.
Lowery said he knows well the awkwardness many of his clients feel when they show IDs with names not matching the ones they normally go by.
"For a person who identifies as trans, it really puts you at risk of being outed when you're in public spaces," Lowery said. "As a transgender person, that experience was really unpleasant."
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis celebrated federal health officials' recommendation that the Drug Enforcement Administration loosen marijuana restrictions and urged President Joe Biden to take specific actions to support state-run cannabis markets and promote polices that will support the existing state markets.
In a four-page letter issued Tuesday, Polis praised the Biden administration for the steps it has taken that led to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommending the DEA reschedule cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, but added that "much work lies ahead."
"I am writing to offer my enthusiastic support as DEA promptly reviews and acts upon [the agency's] analysis in the coming weeks," Polis said. "I ask you to simultaneously consider a few next steps in the near future by showing your support for access to banking for the state-regulated marketplace, reduced criminal penalties for possession and distribution of cannabis, addressing immigration related consequences and enforcement discretion from FDA."
He is the latest politician pushing for marijuana reform following the news of the HHS letter. Lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio; and others all praised the findings of the agency's review.
Polis stands out as being the head of a state that has operated a cannabis market since 2014 and conducted some $14.7 billion in sales, he said in his letter. But Colorado's regulated industry and others face "headwinds" due to federal tax policy known as Section 280E, which forbids entities that sell Schedule I or II substances from taking ordinary business deductions. On top of that, cannabis companies must conduct most of their business via cash, making them targets for robberies, Polis said.
"I have been tirelessly pushing Congress to fix the banking problem for over a decade as both a congressman and a governor, and would welcome your assistance in encouraging Congress to provide access to banking and financial services for state-regulated cannabis-related businesses as well as reform IRS Section 280E to ensure continued success in the industry," he said.
But the most damaging aspect of the federal prohibition on cannabis has been the criminal prosecutions and law enforcement's uneven targeting of Black citizens, Polis said. He added that if Biden merely signaled that he would support criminal justice reform in this area, it would "go a long way toward bringing young people to the polls in 2024."
He suggested that the DEA's review of cannabis rescheduling could be informed by Colorado and the 37 other state-regulated markets. He added that potential federal policy should avoid capsizing the state regulatory frameworks that are well-established.
"To provide clarity, we hope that you will press [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to develop and publish guidance outlining their enforcement discretion and priorities with respect to the state-regulated cannabis industry," Polis said. "Specifically, an enforcement discretion policy should articulate that FDA will not bring a compliance action against companies whose products and activities are authorized by state medical and recreational marijuana laws, so long as they are abiding by state law and not making health claims, marketing in interstate commerce, or marketing to children."
A California tribe is the first to open a U.S. voter registration agency established on tribal lands, a move civil rights advocates say is decades in the making as other Native American tribes continue to fight for more electoral access and challenge states' polling district boundary laws.Consisting of about 500 tribal members on a 160-acre reservation in El Dorado County, the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians established its Health & Wellness Center on Tuesday as a voter registration agency under the National Voter Registration Act.
"Throughout this nation's history, voting rights and equitable access to registration has been a key ethical and political issue that as a self-governing people, we understand as an essential right for every citizen," said Shingle Springs Band Tribal Chairwoman Regina Cuellar in a statement.
Currently, with more than one-third of qualified Native Americans not registered to vote, Cuellar said having an electoral site at a health care center will help the tribe reach its goal of "voting for all."
"This designation means we are now partners. We want to make sure that every voter who is eligible to vote has an opportunity to vote," said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber in a statement. "Like the Department of Motor Vehicles and California healthcare providers under NVRA, this will provide a convenient opportunity for visitors to the Shingle Springs Health & Wellness Center to register to vote. We have as our goal 100 percent registration of eligible voters in California, that includes the full enfranchisement of Indigenous peoples throughout the state."
The National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter Act, was enacted by Congress in 1993 as a way to make it easier for residents to register to vote, particularly at Department of Motor Vehicles locations. Under the act, other locations may be designated as a voter-registration agency.
However, the law wasn't that simple, or helpful, for Indigenous tribes, according to a March 2022 federal Interagency Steering Group on Native American voting rights.
Formed as part of President Joe Biden's March 2021 executive order directing an "all-of-government" effort to promote access to voting, the group relied on a 2020 report by the Native American Voting Rights Coalition — a yearslong product of the Native American Rights Fund — for a closer look at the barriers voters faced since the law's passage.
In 2017 and 2018, the coalition held nine public hearings, with 120 witnesses testifying from dozens of tribes, to better understand "how Native Americans are systemically and culturally kept from fully exercising their franchise."
The 176-page "Obstacles at Every Turn" report found that Indigenous voters faced obstacles from a lack of traditional mailing addresses to registration identification requirements. And, with an increased national focus shifting toward online registration, tribes were well behind the curve with about 90% of communities lacking sufficient broadband internet access, the report said.
"While cost savings is touted as a reason for states to shift to all online or predominately online models of voter registration, increasing focus on online voter registration comes at the expense of Native Americans who lack access to it," the report said.
Indigenous voters, the report found, sometimes traveled as far as 140 miles to the nearest election offices and 100 miles round trip to the closest Department of Motor Vehicles location.
"Native American's registration rates are among the lowest in the country," Jacqueline De León, a Native American Rights Fund attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday. "This is because Native Americans face logistical barriers that would surprise most Americans. Most Native American homes don't have addresses and many Native American homes do not receive residential mail."
The group's findings eventually led to the 2021 introduction of a bill — the Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act of 2021 — that would have ensured equal protections for access to the electoral process for Indigenous residents living on tribal lands.
A companion bill on the measure passed in the House, but failed to make it off the Senate floor. However, Native American rights groups as well as Biden, have called for its passage.
Introduced by Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, the bill would have improved access to voter registration, polling places and drop boxes as well as mandated that polling places accept tribal or federal forms of identification, among other things.
"Our democracy is at its strongest when every American can participate and make their voice heard. But in too many communities across America, voter suppression efforts are making it harder for Americans to vote, especially for Native Americans who continue to experience geographic, linguistic and legal barriers to voting," Lujan said in a statement in introducing the bill. "Congress has a moral imperative to protect the sacred right to vote and reduce barriers to the ballot box for voters living on tribal lands."
Civil rights advocates say a legacy of Native American voter suppression continues as states pass legislation that allegedly target Indigenous voters with new redistricting policies, as highlighted in recent court rulings, or federal agencies are failing altogether to implement stronger registration access.
The American Civil Liberties Union in March, on the 30th anniversary of the National Voting Registration Act, in an analysis of its own found that a few federal agencies had made headway in following Biden's executive order that strengthened the law. Most agencies, the ACLU found, either made minimal progress on their initial commitments to expand voter access or left important opportunities open.
"This must change; we must make the promise of democracy real for every single American," the ACLU said in introducing the report.
Other tribes have had mixed results in their fight for greater access to the ballot.
In 2020, a Montana federal judge struck down the state's Ballot Interference Prevention Act following a challenge by a coalition of tribes, including the Blackfeet Nation, and voting rights advocates who said the 2018 law unconstitutionally restricted their efforts to deliver and collect ballots.
But a U.S. Supreme Court 6 -3 ruling in 2021 upheld two voting laws in Arizona, finding they didn't discriminate against Native Americans, Hispanics and African American voters under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In that decision, the justices found that a state voting regulation criminalizing some third-party ballot collection and another rejecting out-of-precinct ballots weren't illegal when considering the "totality of circumstances" around the measures, as required by Section 2.
Elsewhere, the Spirit Lake Nation and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota are awaiting the outcome of a federal district en banc hearing where the tribes challenged the state's 2021 legislative map, which they allege weakens the voting strength of reservation residents by packing Native voters into one state House district and by taking others out of a majority in another district.
And in Arizona, a group of civil rights nonprofits and two Native American tribes have contested in federal court two Republican-sponsored bills that they allege disqualify many would-be voters when the law went into effect on Jan. 1 in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and the U.S. Constitution.
The Federal Trade Commission lodged a long-expected case Tuesday accusing Amazon of violating antitrust law, marking another aggressive step in the administration's efforts to increase competition across the economy, especially through moves to rein in large digital platforms.
The suit filed in federal court in Washington state targets Amazon's policies that enforcers say punish sellers for offering lower prices elsewhere and requirements that force merchants to use Amazon's logistics services to gain access to the platform.
FTC Chair Lina M. Khan, who shot to public prominence while still in law school with a paper titled "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox," said during a press briefing Tuesday that the complaint, joined by the attorneys general of 17 states, lays out several tactics Amazon uses to "thwart competition and protect its dominance."
"The upshot here is that Amazon is a monopolist and it is exploiting its monopolies in ways that leave shoppers and sellers paying more for worse service," Khan said. "In a competitive world, a monopoly hiking prices and degrading service would create an opening for rivals and potential rivals to come in, draw business, grow and compete.
"Amazon's unlawful monopolistic strategy has closed off that possibility and the public is paying dearly as a result," Khan added.
The suit targets Amazon's policies that prevent third-party sellers from selling products cheaper on other platforms by punishing sellers through degraded search results on Amazon. Enforcers also allege third-party sellers are required to use Amazon's costly logistics services in order to obtain "Prime" eligibility, which the commission said is crucial to their success but also makes it more expensive to sell on other platforms.
Khan said Tuesday the tactics employed by Amazon all had the same goal of depriving rivals of "the scale necessary to meaningfully compete."
Amazon's senior vice president of global public policy and general counsel, David Zapolsky, responded to the suit in a statement Tuesday saying it makes clear that the FTC's focus has "radically departed" from its mission of protecting consumers and competition.
Zapolsky contended that the practices the commission is challenging have helped spur competition and innovation "across the retail industry," resulting in greater selection, lower prices and faster delivery for consumers, along with greater opportunities for Amazon sellers.
"If the FTC gets its way, the result would be fewer products to choose from, higher prices, slower deliveries for consumers, and reduced options for small businesses — the opposite of what antitrust law is designed to do," Zapolsky said. "The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court."
The suit alleges that Amazon deploys a sophisticated surveillance network to monitor for sellers offering discounts on other platforms "that might threaten Amazon's empire" and then punishes those sellers by making their products harder to find on Amazon. Originally, the complaint said, Amazon used explicit contractual requirements to prevent sellers from selling cheaper elsewhere but turned to a new approach after scrutiny from European enforcers and U.S. lawmakers.
Now, the complaint says, Amazon levies sanctions on sellers found to be offering discounts, including removing them from the "Buy Box" at the top of the page and burying them far down in results. The suit also contends Amazon uses its own retail business, which competes against sellers, to deter them from competing on price.
"Moreover, Amazon's one-two punch of seller punishments and high seller fees often forces sellers to use their inflated Amazon prices as a price floor everywhere else," the complaint said. "As a result, Amazon's conduct causes online shoppers to face artificially higher prices even when shopping somewhere other than Amazon."
Amazon's pricing policies were already the subject of a suit from the California attorney general's office alleging the policies violate state law, while the D.C. attorney general's office is also trying to revive a similar case over the pricing policies under local laws there.
Consumers and retailers, meanwhile, also have various private suits targeting Amazon for antitrust violations that remain pending.
The case from the FTC and the states on Tuesday also targets requirements that sellers use Amazon's order fulfillment service in order to be eligible for "Prime," contending the designation is critical for reaching Amazon's "enormous base of shoppers."
This not only raises the costs for sellers on Amazon but also prevents them from selling on multiple channels since they are unable to use an independent provider for Amazon orders, according to the suit.
"Each element of Amazon's monopolistic strategy works to keep its rivals and potential rivals from growing, gaining momentum, and achieving the scale necessary to meaningfully compete against Amazon," the complaint said. "The cumulative impact of Amazon's unlawful conduct is greater than the harm caused by any particular element."
The sprawling 172-page complaint accuses Amazon of illegally maintaining monopolies over a market for "online superstores" used by consumers and a market for online marketplace services used by third-party sellers on its platform. It includes claims under Section 2 of the Sherman Act as well as unfair competition under the FTC Act, and myriad state-law claims.
The potential remedies listed in the complaint include injunctions preventing Amazon from engaging in the conduct, or similar conduct in the future, and also "structural relief" if needed to restore competition, which could refer to a break up or a sale of part of Amazon's business.
During Tuesday's press briefing, Khan said the focus of the case right now is on liability and said the goal is to halt the illegal conduct and prevent its recurrence. Though she also said the commission will try to explain the competitive dynamics of the market to the court and how Amazon's activity is cumulative and self-reinforcing.
Khan's seminal paper about Amazon for The Yale Law Journal outlined the company's growth and accumulation of dominance across various sectors of the economy, contending Amazon achieved its status by accepting meager profits for years to fuel expansion and to attract loyal consumers with low prices.
Before taking helm of the commission, Khan was also a lead author of a landmark report from staff of the House antitrust subcommittee examining the dominance of Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google.
In anticipation of FTC enforcement, Amazon has raised objections about Khan's objectivity in the face of her past work targeting it.
The FTC has been ramping up its scrutiny of Amazon more generally, cutting a deal in May for the company to pay more than $30 million in separate settlements over allegations that it breached the privacy of children who used its Alexa voice assistant service and users of its home security camera company, Ring LLC.
In June, the FTC also accused Amazon of using "dark patterns" to trick consumers into automatically renewing their Prime subscriptions and added three senior Amazon executives to that case earlier this month.
Amazon has faced scrutiny from enforcers abroad over various business practices as well. In July, it cut a deal with the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority agreeing not to use third-party seller data to its own advantage. It also agreed to make sure its own products are not more likely to appear as the Buy Box featured offer and to ease delivery service restrictions on sellers.
That came after a similar deal last year with European Union enforcers, when Amazon promised not to use nonpublic marketplace seller data for its own retail purposes and to eliminate bias when choosing Buy Box and Prime sellers. The European Commission has also gone after Amazon over its distribution agreements for e-books in the past.
The states that have joined the lawsuit are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
The commission is represented internally by John M. Newman, Susan A. Musser, Edward H. Takashima, Christina F. Shackelford, Christine M. Kennedy, Colin M. Herd, Daniel S. Bradley, Daniel A. Principato, Danielle C. Quinn, David B. Schwartz, Emily K. Bolles, Emma P. Dick, Jake O Walter-Warner, Kelly M. Schoolmeester, Megan E. B. Henry, Sara M. Divett, Stephen E. Antonio and Z. Lily Rudy.
The states are represented by their respective attorneys general.
Counsel information for Amazon was not immediately available.
The case is Federal Trade Commission et al. v. Amazon.com Inc., case number 2:23-cv-01495, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
A Florida federal judge presiding over Donald Trump's classified documents criminal case on Wednesday ordered the former president and his attorneys to review and discuss evidence containing "sensitive compartmented information" in a secure facility approved by the court.
In her order issued in the Southern District of Florida, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon granted the U.S. government's motion following a two-hour sealed hearing in Fort Pierce on Tuesday, saying that Trump and his attorneys can only review classified information in a "sensitive compartmented information facility approved by a designated chief information security officer for the storage, handling and control of classified information."
Trump disagreed with the government's condition, instead seeking to discuss classified material with his attorneys at a secure facility located at his Mar-a-Lago residence.
"The court finds that this case will involve information that has been classified in the interest of national security," Judge Cannon said in her order. "The storage, handling, and control of this information will require special security precautions mandated by statute, executive order, and regulation."
Trump was initially indicted on 31 counts related to willfully retaining national defense information held in boxes at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office in 2021. Trump and his personal aide Walt Nauta are also each charged with obstruction for allegedly moving some boxes to keep them from being returned by the government pursuant to a grand jury subpoena.
A superseding indictment that came down in July added new charges and a third defendant, former Trump aide Carlos De Oliveira, who is accused of trying to delete surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago last summer. All three men have pled not guilty to the charges.
Judge Cannon's order said the CISO "shall establish procedures to assure" the SCIF is accessible during business hours for Trump and his defense team, or at other times upon "reasonable request." The request must be approved by the CISO and in consultation with the court, and U.S. Marshals, according to the order.
The secure area must be "outfitted with any secure office equipment" that's requested by the defense and procedures must be established to "assure that the SCIF may be maintained and operated in the most efficient manner consistent with the protection of classified information and in compliance with security requirements," according to Judge Cannon's order.
Special procedures for reviewing the classified information include listening to recordings that can only be reviewed on a "stand-alone, non-networked computer or other device within the SCIF that does not have the capability to duplicate or transmit information." Headphones must be used to review the recordings, and they must be wired and can't have any wireless capability, Judge Cannon ordered.
In addition, Judge Cannon ordered that all classified materials must be maintained in the SCIF and any documents containing the sensitive information must also be prepared in the facility on word processing equipment approved by the CISO.
Discussion of classified information is prohibited except to anyone listed in the order, to the court, and any court personnel and anyone with the government identified by the CISO who holds the "appropriate security clearances and have been determined to have a need-to-know that information."
Judge Cannon also prohibited Trump and his defense team from referencing any classified material leaked into the public domain, saying the information is not automatically declassified unless specifically stated by the U.S. government.
"Persons subject to this order are advised that direct or indirect unauthorized disclosure, retention or handling of classified documents or information could cause serious damage, and in some cases exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States, or may be used to the advantage of a foreign nation against the interests of the United States," Judge Cannon said.
Attorneys representing Trump and the Special Counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The government is represented by David V. Harbach II, Jay I. Bratt, Julie A. Edelstein and Michael E. Thakur of the Special Counsel's Office.
Trump is represented by Christopher M. Kise of Continental PLLC and Todd Blanche of the Blanche Law Firm.
Nauta is represented by Sasha Dadan of the Dadan Law Firm and Stanley E. Woodward Jr. of Brand Woodward Law LP.
De Oliveira is represented by John S. Irving of Earth & Water Law.
The case is U.S. v. Trump et al., case number 9:23-cr-80101, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
The U.S. Department of Justice, in an effort to support survivors of violence, is awarding $68.2 million in grant funding to indigenous communities, saying the funding will help strengthen its relationship with the tribes.
The funds, announced Tuesday through the DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women, will be awarded through 88 grants to provide services and promote justice for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and trafficking.
"For too long, Alaska Native and American Indian communities have endured persistent and disproportionate levels of violence," Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The grants, part of the 2022 Violence Against Women Act, will enhance tribal justice systems, support an array of services for victims, and provide training and technical assistance to service providers and tribal governments, according to the DOJ.
The DOJ's press release announcing the funding said that a National Institute of Justice study found that more than 80% of American Indians and Alaska Natives have experienced violence in their lifetimes. Within that group, more than 56% of indigenous women and 27% of men experienced sexual violence, and more than 55% of women and 43% of men were victims of physical violence by an intimate partner, the study found.
"American Indian and Alaska Native individuals experience unacceptably high rates of violence, which is in many ways a direct reflection of systematic injustice and institutional failures these populations face," Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. "Through the authority and funding in VAWA 2022, the Justice Department is strengthening our partnerships with more tribes, supporting communities in holding individuals accountable and focusing on solutions that center survivors."
Forty-eight of the grants — totaling nearly $40 million — will go toward developing tribal strategies to respond to violence, stalking and sex trafficking against women and support survivor safety through education and prevention strategies, the DOJ said.
According to Native Hope, a tribal justice nonprofit, indigenous women and children in the U.S. and Canada are being abducted and killed at alarming rates. Many Native Americans, the group said, don't live on reservations and are often transient between tribal and state lands.
There were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in 2016, the latest information available through the National Crime Information Center. The DOJ's federal missing person database, NamUs, logged 116 cases that same year, according to the Urban Health Institute.
"American Indian and Alaska Native communities know best the unique challenges they face and how best to allocate resources, strengthen prevention efforts and provide pathways for safety, healing and justice for survivors," Office of Violence Against Women Director Rosie Hidalgo said in a statement. She said the grants were "a direct result of tribes, advocates and survivors who have bravely shared their stories, challenges, recommendations and leadership."
Under the Grants to Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition Program, 20 of the grants will go toward the development of nonprofit, nongovernmental tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, the DOJ said.
The issue of violence against indigenous individuals has been a hot topic of discussion between tribal government leaders, nonprofits and lawmakers in recent years as advocates continue to protest what they say is a lack of appropriate accounting of the number of missing and murdered women and children.
Tribal governments themselves are beginning to pass legislation bolstering victims' rights services, with Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren on Sept. 4 signing a law to strengthen protections and resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Council leaders said the legislation was a long time in the making, with a plethora of victim advocate nonprofits and tribal and state law enforcement agencies working to support it.
The DOJ said that seven of the grants, totaling $6.45 million, will support projects that create, maintain and expand services for sexual assault survivors provided by tribes, tribal organizations and nonprofits within tribal lands.
Four of the grants are reserved for tribal governments and will provide $6 million for support and technical assistance to plan and implement changes in their criminal justice systems to exercise special jurisdiction.
The funding announcement comes after the DOJ said last month that it had awarded $69.6 million through its Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside program to support crime victims in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
Those 212 awards were consistent with the requirements of the federal Victims of Crime Act, which gives states money for victim assistance and compensation programs, and will fund services such as counseling, civil legal assistance, emergency housing and tribal wellness ceremonies, the DOJ said at the time.
Almost $22 million of the awards went to 67 tribal communities in Alaska, according to the department.
The Chancery Lane Project said Tuesday that it's releasing a batch of 10 climate-oriented contract clauses attorneys and businesses can use copyright-free to address climate risks and regulatory requirements under U.S. law.
The group, founded in 2019 in the U.K., said it collaborated with U.S. attorneys to adapt some of its existing climate-related clauses for use in the U.S. The clauses cover practice areas including construction, commercial transactions and energy and differ in their climate ambitions, with more adapted clauses expected to come.
Chancery Lane Project, which describes itself as the largest global network of attorneys and businesses using climate clauses to deliver fast and fair decarbonization, said the release marks an expansion into the U.S. — which is the world's largest economy and has some of its largest greenhouse gas emissions — as "climate contracting" to reduce emissions continues to expand.
"Many lawyers now realize the power of contracts to make or break climate goals and manage climate risk and are gearing up their teams to take action," Becky Annison, the head of engagement for Chancery Lane Project, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"The publication of many of our clauses in the United States provides an amazing opportunity to American businesses to get a jump-start. We look forward to seeing how these clauses pave the way for new legal solutions to climate issues in American contracts as they do in the U.K.," Annison said.
According to a press release, the clauses cover things such as sustainable and circular economy principles in leasing arrangements for repairs and alterations, landlord and tenant obligations to provide renewable electricity, sustainable soil management obligations, and dockless mobility data-sharing and renewable energy requirements in supply contracts.
Teresa Garcia-Moore, a science and impact manager for The Sustainability Consortium, which has offices in Arizona, Arkansas and the Netherlands and works to deliver more sustainable consumer products, said in a statement that there is an ongoing shift to more businesses seeing climate change not as an exercise in social responsibility, but in risk management.
"Climate change poses a real threat to businesses, in terms of their bottom line, regulatory, supply chain, procurement and investment risk," Garcia-Moore said in a statement Tuesday, calling the clauses a valuable resource for attorneys looking to help clients manage that risk. "And, with that shift, we have seen an increase in the number of attorneys being asked to address these issues for clients through climate contract law, which is one of the most effective ways for companies to protect themselves."
A New York state judge on Tuesday placed Donald Trump's assets in limbo and sanctioned his attorneys after ruling that the former president and his real estate company defrauded banks and insurers for years by exaggerating his net worth by billions of dollars.
State Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Trump and the Trump Organization repeatedly used false statements of financial condition, or SFCs, in business transactions between 2011 and 2021, violating a civil anti-fraud enforcement statute. The judge flatly denied Trump's competing motion to toss the case altogether.The judge rejected Trump's central argument that real estate valuations are subjective and therefore there could be no fraud.
"The documents here clearly contain fraudulent valuations that defendants used in business, satisfying [the Office of the Attorney General]'s burden to establish liability as a matter of law against defendants," Justice Engoron ruled. "Defendants' respond that: the documents do not say what they say; that there is no such thing as 'objective' value; and that, essentially, the Court should not believe its own eyes."
"What OAG has established, in many cases by clear, indisputable documentary evidence is not a matter of rounding errors or reasonable experts disagreeing," Justice Engoron added. "OAG has submitted conclusive evidence that between 2014 and 2021, defendants overvalued the assets reported in the SFCs between 17.27-38.51%; this amounts to a discrepancy of between $812 million and $2.2 billion dollars."
The judge went on to call Trump's own sworn statements "wholly without basis in law or fact."
He also sanctioned Trump's attorneys — Michael Madaio, Clifford S. Robert, Michael Farina, Christopher M. Kise and Armen Morian — for repeating arguments previously rejected as frivolous by the trial court and an appeals court, fining them $7,500 each.
"Defendants' conduct in reiterating these frivolous arguments is egregious," Justice Engoron said. "Defendants' repetition of them here is indefensible."
The judge had highlighted the issue at oral arguments, calling some of the arguments "literally crazy."
"Exacerbating defendants' obstreperous conduct is their continued reliance on bogus arguments," he said Tuesday. "In defendants' world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party's lies," and "square footage is subjective."
"That is a fantasy world, not the real world," the judge added.
In a further remarkable move, Justice Engoron effectively ordered Trump Organization LLCs dissolved as he immediately "canceled" all New York business certificates held by Trump, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, as well as their long-serving financial officers Jeffrey McConney and Allen Weisselberg.
Trump may be able to transfer his assets to other companies, but those decisions would be managed by an independent receiver. The judge asked for three recommendations for receivers "to manage the dissolution of the canceled LLCs," which appear to hold marquee properties like 40 Wall Street and the Seven Springs estate.
In the interim, a former U.S. judge for the Southern District of New York, Barbara Jones, will continue to serve as independent monitor over Trump's businesses, Justice Engoron said.
The ruling grants partial summary judgment to New York Attorney General Letitia James, handing her a significant victory one week before a bench trial in front of the same judge on her remaining related claims for false business records, false financial statements, insurance fraud and conspiracy. However, the judge found that a trial was still necessary to determine whether the defendants "intentionally and materially" violated these laws.
A further victory for James at trial could hobble the Trump family's ability to do business in the state and trigger massive financial penalties — at least $250 million in disgorgement of allegedly ill-gotten gains.
The attorney general touted the decision on Tuesday.
"Today, a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud," James' office said in a statement. "We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial."
Trump has argued that the state is engaged in a political prosecution and is ignoring the law, the evidence, the subjective nature of real estate values and Trump's own expertise as a real estate tycoon. Through a representative, he vowed to "immediately appeal" the decision.
"Today's decision is fundamentally flawed at every level," attorney Alina Habba said. "The fact that this court summarily found that there is no question of fact, finding in part that Mar-a-Lago is worth approximately $20 million and issu[ing] a decision of this magnitude is an affront to our legal system."
Commenting on the decision, Trump attorney Kise said that "while the full impact of the decision remains unclear," the decision "seeks to nationalize one of the most successful corporate empires in the United States and seize control of private property all while acknowledging there is zero evidence of any default, breach, late payment or any complaint of harm."
Trump himself lashed out at both the attorney general and the judge in a 400-word statement on Truth Social later on Tuesday.
"The widespread, radical attack against me, my family, and my supporters has now devolved to new, un-American depths, at the hands of a DERANGED New York State Judge, doing the bidding of a completely biased and corrupt 'Prosecutor,' Letitia James," he said.
Echoing his father's sentiments, Eric Trump posted late Tuesday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that he had "lost all faith in the New York legal system."
"Never before have I seen such hatred toward one person by a judge - a coordinated effort with the Attorney General to destroy a man's life, company and accomplishments," he said. "We have run an exceptional company - never missing a loan payment, making banks hundreds of millions of dollars, developing some of the most iconic assets in the world. Yet today, the persecution of our family continues."
New York is represented by Kevin Wallace, Andrew Amer, Colleen Faherty, Alex Finkelstein, Wil Handley, Eric R. Haren, Louis M. Solomon, Sherief Gaber, Mark Ladov and Stephanie Torre of the New York State Office of the Attorney General.
Trump and the Trump Organization are represented by Alina Habba and Michael Madaio of Habba Madaio & Associates LLP, Christopher Kise, Jesus M. Suarez and Lazaro P. Fields of Continental PLLC, and Armen Morian of Morian Law PLLC.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are represented by Clifford S. Robert and Michael Farina of Robert & Robert PLLC.
The case is New York v. Donald J. Trump et al., index number 452564/2022, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.
A Michigan federal judge overseeing the sprawling Flint water crisis litigation put some guardrails Tuesday around a trauma expert's testimony about the effects of the crisis on Flint residents' mental health ahead of an upcoming issues class trial.
U.S. District Judge Judith E. Levy restricted somewhat what Stanford professor Daryn Reicherter, director of the university's Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program, will be allowed to say about the "community trauma" Reicherter says Flint experienced following the water crisis.
Reicherter, an expert in trauma psychiatry and psychology, was retained by Flint plaintiffs to testify about how the water crisis affected Flint residents' mental health. Reicherter's expert testimony includes a discussion of how a community's collective experience of trauma creates a higher risk of individual mental health problems.
Granting in part and denying in part engineering company Veolia North America LLC's motion to exclude Reicherter's testimony, Judge Levy said the idea that Flint suffered "community harm" as a whole is not relevant to the claims of individual Flint residents and is not admissible at trial.
Reicherter also won't be allowed to discuss community trauma as a type of psychological harm that individuals can experience because "the conception of community trauma is only a brief aside in Dr. Reicherter's report and is not supported or explained in a manner that would enable the court to evaluate its reliability," Judge Levy said in the opinion.
However, the judge said the trauma expert would be allowed to opine on how widespread mental health issues in a community could affect individuals' risk of harm.
"Dr. Reicherter suggests that individual trauma can lead to dysfunction in community institutions like schools and hospitals, the failure of which can further harm individuals' mental health. This latter point is clearly relevant to the general causation, insofar as it suggests that the water contamination can harm individual mental health, specifically through the mechanism of dysfunctional community institutions," Judge Levy said.
The judge threw out Veolia's other complaints about Reicherter's testimony, including that Reicherter's evidence of mental health problems in Flint post-water crisis was based on flawed methodology and failed to account for other socioeconomic factors that could explain a decline in mental health.
Judge Levy said the fact that Reicherter's data came from a self-reported survey was not enough to exclude the data when self-reported data is widely used by major academic institutions and in peer-reviewed research, and Veolia could make its arguments about comparing survey data to clinical interview data to the jury.
"VNA can certainly challenge the comparison between these data sets in cross-examination of Dr. Reicherter, but their attacks on this comparison do not support excluding this testimony," Judge Levy said.
Judge Levy also rejected Veolia's argument that Reicherter failed to account for other potential causes of Flint's rates of mental health disorders, such as poverty.
While the data on its own "may not firmly establish causation, the various sources Dr. Reicherter draws upon undermine VNA's arguments that he insufficiently considers other variables that might have an impact on his opinions about causation," Judge Levy said.
Tuesday's opinion was the latest in a series of decisions from the judge on Veolia's battery of challenges to nine plaintiffs' experts ahead of the issues class trial, which is set for Feb. 13.
So far, Judge Levy has denied Veolia's challenges to the testimony of five other plaintiffs' experts, including Larry Russell, a professional engineer who is an expert in water quality assessments and corrosion mitigation; Clifford Weisel, an expert on the effects of lead exposure' David Keiser, an environmental and natural resource economist; Paolo Gardoni, an expert in engineering ethics, and Panagiotis G. Georgopoulos, a chemical engineering expert.
The first bellwether trial over the Flint water crisis, which featured four individual child plaintiffs, was six months long and ended in a mistrial when an Ann Arbor jury failed to reach a verdict in August 2022. Veolia and engineering firm Lockwood Andrews & Newnam PC and its parent corporation, the Leo A. Daly Co., were the defendants in that trial. LAN has since announced it has reached a tentative settlement with the Flint plaintiffs.
Representatives of the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Class plaintiffs are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers PC, Weitz & Luxenberg PC, Susman Godfrey LLP, Motley Rice LLC, the Law Offices of Teresa A. Bingman PLLC, Bronstein Gewirtz & Grossman LLC, Law Offices of Deborah A. Labelle, NAACP, Goodman & Hurwitz PC, Trachelle C. Young & Associates PLLC, The Dedendum Group, McKeen & Associates PC, Law Office of Cirilo Martinez PLLC, Shea Aiello PLLC, Cynthia M. Lindsey & Associates PLLC, McAlpine PC and Abood Law Firm.
Veolia is represented by Michael A. Olsen of Mayer Brown LLP and James M. Campbell and Alaina M. Devine of Campbell Conroy & O'Neil PC.
The case is In re Flint Water Cases, case number 5:16-cv-10444, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.