Case: Coeur Alaska v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SACC) & Alaska v. SACC (consolidated)

Date: Monday Jan. 12, 2009

Issue: Do certain sections of the Clean Water Act mandate a stricter application of the permitting process than what the Army Corps of Engineers used in granting a permit for an Alaska mining operation?

Background: The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are the federal agencies charged with regulating commercial use and alteration of wetlands. Coeur Alaska is a mining operation that applied for a permit to redeposit soil and other accumulated mining waste into a lake. The Corps approved Coeur Alaska's permit. But environmental groups sued and found success in the Ninth Circuit, which ruled language in the Clean Water Act controlled the permitting process. That language was not followed by the Corps and the court therefore invalidated the permit.

The mining company (joined by the state of Alaska in a consolidated case) argues the lower court erred in its interpretation of the Clean Water Act. They also contend the Ninth Circuit's ruling failed to give the Corps due administrative deference in its decision-making. This case has drawn keen interest from various entities. Not surprisingly, a number of business interests have submitted legal briefs to the Court in support of the mining company. Conversely, a collection of Alaska based Native American tribes and other conservation groups have thrown their support behind the effort to block the permit.

Case: Ministry of Defense of Iran v. Elahi

Date: Monday Jan. 12, 2009

Issue: Is an attachment against foreign sovereign property permissible when that property is at issue in claims against the United States before an international tribunal, and that property is not a blocked asset, pursuant to the terms of the 2000 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act and the 2002 Terrorism Risk Insurance Act?

Background: This is a messy case that has its roots in the American reaction to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. President Carter froze Iranian assets and then in a treaty the day before he left office reached terms on how those assets would be released. At the same time, the Iranian government's Defense Ministry had a series of agreements to purchase military equipment from a California contractor. After protracted and still outstanding litigation, Iran is seeking to collect more than $2 million from the contractor which never delivered the promised goods.

Enter Dariush Elahi who won his own judgment against the Iranian government for its role in the murder of his brother. Elahi is now seeking to recover money from the defense contractor case. The Iranian government argues Elahi has relinquished his right to "attach" the judgment in the defense contractor case to his own.

Case: Harbison v. Bell

Date: Monday January 12, 2009

Issue: The Terrorist Death Penalty Enhancement Act of 2005 provides federal funding for counsel for indigent defendants and post-conviction litigants in federal capital cases. This case questions whether that law provides prisoners sentenced under state law the right to federally appointed and funded counsel to pursue clemency under state law.

Background: In January 1983, Edward Harbison killed a 62-year-old woman inside her home. By year's end, a jury in Hamilton County, Tenn., convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to that state's death row. Harbison's appeals through state and federal courts were denied. Tennessee set an execution date for February 2007 and Harbison sought legal help to gain clemency from the governor. He moved to have his government-appointed counsel during the federal appeals process help him in his clemency request. But the federal funds that would pay for this counsel were not made available for what is entirely a state process. His lawyers argue "[i]t is indisputable that state clemency proceedings fall within the plain language" of the law that provides for capital case legal assistance.