Justice watch: Keeping an eye on the law.

Mixed ruling on Protesters' rights

SEATTLE - Police may have erred in a decision to keep some protesters out of a restricted zone during the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, a federal appeals court has ruled. In the wake of the June 2 ruling, some demonstrators may now pursue a class-action claim that the city violated their constitutional rights by refusing them admission because of their beliefs.

The three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, however, that the city had the right to block off part of downtown Seattle after about 50,000 protesters swarmed the area.

Protesters had sued the city, mayor, and then-police chief over the curfew zone, saying it violated their rights to free speech and assembly. They also said their rights to equal protection were violated because police barred demonstrators, but not business owners, workers, shoppers, and residents.

The ruling partly reversed a 2001 finding by US District Judge Barbara Rothstein and ordered a new trial on the question of who was allowed into the restricted zone.

Bank reports on its ties to slavery

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Two predecessor banks of Wachovia Corp. owned slaves before the Civil War, the nation's fourth-largest bank said last week as it made an apology to black Americans.

"We are deeply saddened by these findings," Wachovia said in a statement. The company, based in Charlotte, N.C., contracted earlier this year with The History Factory, a historical research firm, to investigate the predecessor institutions that over the years have become part of what is now called Wachovia. The decision came amid a flurry of local and legislative initiatives aimed at requiring banks and other companies to investigate their pasts with regard to slavery.

Incomplete records make it impossible to know how many slaves were owned by the ancestral banks - the Bank of Charleston (S.C.) and the Georgia Railroad and Banking Co., the bank said. Transactional records show the Georgia bank owned at least 162 slaves. The Bank of Charleston accepted at least 529 slaves as collateral on mortgaged properties or loans; it acquired an undetermined number of these individuals when customers defaulted on their loans, Wachovia said.

"We apologize to all Americans, and especially to African-Americans and people of African descent," the bank statement said. "While we can in no way atone for the past, we can learn from it, and we can continue to promote a better understanding of the African-American story, including the unique struggles, triumphs and contributions of African-Americans."

John Boyd, president of National Black Farmers Association, said his group has been picketing and lobbying Wachovia and other banking giants for eight years, urging them to investigate and acknowledge their historical involvement with the slave trade.

"We challenge other banks to come forth and step up to the plate and acknowledge their past, like Wachovia did," Mr. Boyd said.

Title IX challenge rejected

WASHINGTON - The US Supreme Court refused Monday to consider reinstating a lawsuit that accuses federal officials of discriminating against male athletes in enforcing equal opportunities for women. Without comment, justices rejected an appeal from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and other groups that have been fighting federal policies under the antidiscrimination law known as Title IX.

The case involved claims that the government is forcing colleges to discriminate against male athletes because of a requirement that the ratio of male and female athletes be similar to the overall student population.

At issue was whether the challengers showed that the law caused a reduction in men's sports, and whether they should be allowed to sue federal officials. A divided panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the lawsuit should have been filed against individual colleges that eliminated men's sports, not the federal government.

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