Legal Immunity Offered to Ebola Vaccine Makers

On Tuesday, December 9, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced that manufacturers of Ebola vaccines would receive liability immunity in the U.S.  Part of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, this move is focused on facilitating the development and availability of experimental Ebola vaccines.

Secretary Burwell’s declaration provides immunity under U.S. law against legal claims related to the manufacturing, development, and distribution of three vaccines for the Ebola virus. It does not, however, provide immunity for claims brought forward in courts outside of the United States.

To learn more, please read reports by Reuters and The Hill.

NABR Members: Please Be Sure to Complete Your Membership Surveys!

If you belong to a NABR member institution, you should have received an email from us with an online survey designed to help us learn to better serve your needs.  If you have not already, please take a moment to complete and submit the survey to us.

If you have not received this email, please contact us at info@nabr.org to be supplied with the survey.

Thank you for your assistance!

PETA and Anti-Abortion Groups File Joint Brief in Pending U.S. Supreme Court Case on Cyber Threats

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case about whether threats made on Facebook can be considered criminal threats, or if they are protected by the First Amendment. The nation’s highest court decided in June to hear the case of Anthony Elonis, a Pennsylvania man convicted in 2011 of making criminal threats on Facebook against his estranged wife and others. Two lower courts previously determined Elonis’ online behavior became criminal when he posted rap lyrics and other messages on his Facebook account that discussed killing his wife.

In the December 1 article, "Are Facebook Rants Threats, or Free Speech?," Fortune reported details about the case, including the fact People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a joint friend of the court (amici curiae) brief with eight anti-abortion groups, and three individuals. According to the article, PETA and fellow amici do not “condone violence or true threats of violence intended to induce fear of imminent harm,” but they do think the government’s arguments could limit their ability to protest. They argue protests are often built around opposition to an authority, and frequently include calls to action and passionate language that could be perceived as intimidating by those the protestors challenge. PETA and the anti-abortion groups’ brief claims that requiring only an objective (“reasonable person” or “negligence”) standard, rather than requiring proof of subjective intent to threaten in order to convict, “would allow those who seek to squelch political protest to use the statute as a sword, silencing those who disagree with their opinions or policies.” Several free-speech rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and media organizations also have submitted briefs arguing that there should be a very high federal standard when it comes to convicting someone for online messages perceived to be threatening. “Words are slippery things, and one person’s opprobrium may be another’s threat,” says the brief from a group led by the ACLU.

Among more than a dozen amicus briefs filed, a number of groups against domestic violence and hate crimes, including the Anti-Defamation League and National Network to End Domestic Violence, have indicated their support for the government’s case against Elonis. Nevertheless, Time wrote last week that many experts expect the Court to rule in Elonis’ favor in order to protect all kinds of speech, no matter how appalling. The Court’s decision is not expected until sometime in 2015.

Court Dismisses Chimpanzee “Personhood” Case

Today, Thursday, December 4, a New York appeals court unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit seeking legal personhood for a chimpanzee.  This appeal was in response to an earlier dismissal by a court in Fulton County that denied a request by the Nonhuman Rights Project for a writ of habeas corpus last December.

The Supreme Court of the New York Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department specifically pointed to the definition of “person” in Black’s Law Dictionary which defines a person as, "[a] human being" or, as relevant here, "[a]n entity (such as a corporation) that is recognized by law as having the rights and duties [of] a human being."

In affirming the dismissal, the court stated, “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights – such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus – that have been afforded to human beings.”

To support its ruling, the court also cited two law review articles authored by Pepperdine Law Professor Richard L. Cupp Jr., who presented at a NABR Webinar “Understanding Animal Legal Personhood Issues” in April.  The law review articles argued that rather than creating new rights for animals, society and its laws should place greater focus on humans’ moral responsibility for our treatment of animals.

In a separate case filed by the same organization, judges in a Rochester, NY appeals court on Tuesday heard arguments that a privately owned chimpanzee in Niagara Falls should be considered a legal person with a right to “not be owned or imprisoned.”  A decision is not expected in this case until early 2015.

To read today’s full decision, please click here, and continue to visit NABR.org for updates on animal law and animal “personhood” news.

Second Chimpanzee “Personhood” Appeal Heard in New York

Judges at an appeals court in Rochester, New York, heard arguments on Tuesday, December 2 that a chimpanzee owned by a couple in Niagara Falls should be considered a legal person with a right to “not be owned or imprisoned.” The lawsuit was filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an animal rights group that hopes to set a landmark legal precedent: rights for an animal other than Homo sapiens.

Legal experts say their chances are slim, but the argument is being heard. An online report of the hearing with some questions asked by the panel of judges was published this morning in Wired.com.

A decision is not expected in this appeal until early next year; a decision on the first appeal filed in Albany, NY, on behalf of another chimpanzee may come in the next few weeks.

President Visits NIH to Underscore Need for Funds to Fight Ebola

President Obama visited the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus on Tuesday, December 2, using the opportunity to congratulate researchers on their recent work with a promising Ebola vaccine.

As reported by UPI, after a tour of the facilities, the president offered words of encouragement and thanks to NIH officials, while also calling on Congress to approve his Administration’s request for $6.2 billion in emergency funding to continue the fight against Ebola at home and abroad. Mr. Obama told NIH employees "The fight is not even close to being over," USA Today reports, later adding: "We cannot beat Ebola without more funding."

A full report with picture can be found at the NIH Director’s Blog.

Louisiana’s Runoff Election is on Saturday, December 6

If you live in Louisiana, don’t forget that Saturday, December 6 is runoff election day in your area.  Early voting is already underway so please be sure to vote early or plan to vote on Saturday.

The December 6 election features two U.S. House races, a number of local races, but most notably, the race between Congressman Bill Cassidy (R) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D) for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.

For more information about voting in Louisiana, please visit the Secretary of State’s website by clicking here.

New York Governor Signs Open Records Fix to Protect Researchers

NABR is pleased to report that on Friday, November 21, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed Assembly Bill 8109/Senate Bill 5731 into law.

A8109/S5731, now codified into law, will exempt from the state’s open records laws any records pertaining to biomedical research or teaching at universities in New York that, if disclosed, could endanger the life or safety of any person or threaten the security of a biomedical research lab.  This is a common sense solution that will protect researchers and their families in the State of New York from animal rights extremists who use open records laws to gain information as a means to target and harass those involved in biomedical research with animal models.  New York becomes the twentieth state to enact such public safety protection for researchers.  Earlier this year, the State of Florida enacted similar legislation.

NABR, along with the rest of the biomedical research community, thanks Governor Cuomo, Assembly member Steve Englebright, and State Senator John Flanagan for their leadership on the bill.

As a reminder, don’t forget to check out NABR’s latest resource, “FOIA in Your State” to learn more about open records laws in your state.  This publication summarizes and analyzes the open records laws of every state and the District of Columbia as they relate to biomedical research records and is an excellent tool for you, your legal team, and government affairs staff when considering whether changes to these laws are needed.

2015 State Legislative Sessions Rapidly Approaching

With the continual logjam at the federal-level on Capitol Hill, states have become the battlegrounds for legislative progress and very soon state legislatures across the country will adjourn to begin their state’s legislative session.  Some states have even already begun to pre-file legislation for the new session.

2014 saw several threats to the endeavor to find cures and therapies through ethical and humane animal research.  For more information on the political make-up of your state legislatures please click here.  For a complete list of 2015 legislative session dates and deadlines, please click here.

NABR will post updates on pertinent state legislative issues as they become available in 2015.  Please continue to visit www.NABR.org for updates.

Retiring Member of Congress Named AAAS CEO

Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist, educator, and 8-term Democratic member of Congress, has been named the new CEO of AAAS. He will succeed Alan Leshner, a neuroscientist who is stepping down this winter after leading AAAS since 2001. The American Association for the Advancement of Science publishes Science, ScienceInsider and other journals.

Holt, 66, has represented a New Jersey district since 1999, but in February 2014 announced he would not seek another term. Although not known for sponsoring legislation, Holt has earned kudos from both Republican and Democrat colleagues for being an effective, behind-the-scenes advocate for additional funding for research and science education. He was part of an unofficial, bipartisan “physics caucus” in Congress that, at its peak, totaled three members who held physics PhDs. More details are provided in this ScienceInsider report.

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