Photo: G. Driessens
The Supreme Court, in an action that may bring to an end a lingering dispute over research on embryonic stem cells, on Monday turned down an appeal by two scientists seeking to stop all such studies. The denial came as the Court returned from holiday recess. It took no action on the Texas redistricting case. It asked for the views of the federal government on three new cases. No cases were granted beyond the three that had been accepted Friday. The order list is here.
In a significant staffing matter, the Court announced that its Clerk, William K. Suter, will retire at the end of the current Term after serving in that post for 22 years. A press release can be read here.
The Court invited the U.S. Solicitor General to offer the views of the federal government on Air Wisconsin Airlines v. Hoeper (docket 11-315), Michigan Department of Licensing v. Gerstenschlager (12-379), and Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community (12-515). There is no time limit for the government to respond. After the federal views are expressed, the Justices will decide whether to hear any of the three cases. The Air Wisconsin case involves the scope of legal immunity that airlilnes have when they report potential airline safety threats. The Michigan Licensing case seeks an interpretation of a training issue under the Trade Act of 1974. The Bay Mills case tests whether an Indian tribe has legal immunity to a lawsuit claiming it violated federal gaming law by operating a casino outside of Indian lands.
The controversy over research on stem cells derived from embryo tissue has been back and forth between lower courts, and reached the Justices in a petition by scientists James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher, who have argued over the past three years that Congress has totally forbidden any research, even on existing cell lines based upon embryonic tissue. The Obama Administration authorised somewhat expanded research, but confined to existing cell lines that had been developed from embyronic tissue in in vitro fertilization efforts.
Every year since 1996, Congress has enacted a flat ban on using federal funds either to create a new human embyro or to do research in which an embryo is destroyed, discarded or injured. The Obama Administration has taken the view that the ban does not apply to already existing cell lines, which involve no new destruction of embryos. That view has been upheld twice by the D.C. Circuit Court.
In a petition to the Supreme Court, reserarchers Sherley and Deisher argued that federal officials in adopting research guidelines in 2009 to implement President Obama’s Executive Ordr failed to respond in any way to their comments that federal law barred all such research. Without such a response, they contended, the resulting guidelines are illegal. The Court made no comment Monday in denying review of Sherley v. Sebelius (12-454).
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