Two sightings of an endangered species: Sensible judicial rulings

In recent years, the law has been so frequently distorted and perverted for political purposes by right-wing political hacks — yeah, I’m looking at you, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales and Jay Bybee and Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia and John Roberts and Samuel Alito and your many political allies appointed by Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II — that it shocked me to learn of two wonderful rulings in the past two days.

First, the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco ruled that illegal warrantless NSA wiretapping is… illegal! From a legal standpoint, it’s a no-brainer, but so many judicial decisions have been decided by politics rather than the law that it’s more than possible this ruling will be overturned on appeal by people possessing less than no brains.

The great irony — which would be funny if we weren’t talking about a massive, illegal government domestic spy apparatus that is systematically sucking up all information on hundreds of millions of Americans — is that many are outraged by this illegal spying but couldn’t get a court to rule on the merits of the case because the government successfully argued that people can’t sue for being spied on unless they can prove they’ve personally been spied on: “a 2006 decision by a federal judge in Detroit, Anna Diggs Taylor, was reversed on the grounds that those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped and so lacked legal standing to sue.” In other words, if the government had kept details of who it was spying on secret — even if it was spying on every single American — it probably could have kept the courts from declaring its massive spy operation illegal.

Second, a New York judge ruled, in effect, that you can’t patent a gene that already exists in nature. Again, blatantly obvious from a legal standpoint. Patents are intended for inventions. If nature invented a gene, you can’t come along and claim you invented it. But that’s precisely what thousands of patents — each claiming a broad monopoly over a gene in your body — profess. It’s totally absurd, but companies have been racing for many years to patent our genes, hoping to get rich monopolizing tests and drugs related to those genes.

To see how absurd this is, imagine if the U.S. Patent & Trademark office let whoever saw the first apple tree have a monopoly over apples. And whoever first saw corn would get the corn patent. And whoever first saw cows could patent beef and cow’s milk. It’s absurd. But the USPTO has kept handing out patents over our genes. One judge, at least, has the sense to say, “No!” Unfortunately, many who profit from patent monopolies are already predicting this decision will be overturned, even though even The Wall Street Journal admits disallowing gene patents may benefit patients AND drug companies overall.

Both of these rulings are sensible, legally correct, and serve the public interest. Corporations who profit from bending the law to their benefit care only about their bottom lines. That’s precisely why I fear they’ll find legislative and/or legal servants to overturn these wise decisions.

Posted by James on Thursday, April 01, 2010