- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The Supreme Court yesterday opened its term by rejecting about 2,000 appeals, including a deadbeat dad's plea to keep fathering children, a widowed transsexual's fight for a $2.5 million estate, and a claimed constitutional right to tattoos.

David Oakley lost his challenge to a five-year ban on fathering children as part of a felony sentence for refusing to pay $25,000 support for nine children he had with four women. He is finishing three years in prison before having to serve the probation that includes the fathering ban as one of its terms.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court split 4-3 in ruling against Oakley, with all three female justices taking his side.

In the transsexual case, the $2.5 million estate of Marshall Gardiner, 85, will go to his son, Joseph, and not to his "widow," J'Noel Gardiner, whose original birth certificate lists the sex as "male." Wisconsin amended it to "female" in 1994.

The elder Mr. Gardiner and J'Noel Gardiner underwent a "marriage" ceremony in 1988. The groom died 10½ months later. Mr. Gardiner's son said his father never knew his wife had been a man.

Without comment, the justices let stand a ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that the couple were not "opposite sex," as Kansas marriage law requires.

South Carolina's ban on tattooing was left in place despite a legal attack by tattoo artist Ronald White, who is believed to be the only person in that state's history arrested for violating the law. He was fined $500. Oklahoma has a comparable law.

"Simply put, the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision is at war with artistic freedom," said Mr. White's lawyer, former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who said tattooing is an 8,000-year-old art form protected by the First Amendment.

"In a free society, this in intolerable. In a society that protects liquor advertising and pornography, it is inexplicable," Mr. Starr said in the plea the court rejected.

Justices also made it tougher for Atlanta Olympics guard Richard Jewell to press his libel case against Atlanta newspapers for portraying him as a criminal while the FBI investigated his role in the July 27, 1996, discovery of a knapsack in Centennial Park. The knapsack, which contained a bomb, killed a woman and injured 111 other persons.

A lower court agreed with newspaper lawyer Peter Canfield that Mr. Jewell was a public figure who must prove "actual malice," despite lawyer L. Lin Wood's argument that public figure status was involuntary.

The high court cleared a summer backlog of appeals without adding any cases to the 45 arguments already docketed for decision by June 2003. Among other actions the court rejected:

•Gun Owners League contentions that Massachusetts violates the Constitution by forbidding use of human images as shooting-range targets, preventing marksmen from firing at pictures of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Adolf Hitler. Police are exempt from a law that opponents say violates the 1989 ruling protecting those who burn American flags.

•A challenge to a law that bars people from selling parts of bald or golden eagles and therefore stops sales of ancient Indian headdresses and other artifacts. The case, involving an antique Sioux dance shield and headdress, asked whether a family heirloom can be sold if it was acquired before the ban began 40 years ago.

•Plans by salvage company R.M.S. Titanic Inc. to sell artifacts recovered from the Titanic wreck for display. The company had exclusive rights to retrieve items from the 1912 wreck but that did not clear them to sell items that include passengers' personal belongings. Company lawyer Mark S. Davis said maritime law makes R.M.S. Titanic the rightful owner so it should be able to sell the objects.

•Kentucky's defense to charges that officials improperly fired fifth-grade teacher Donna Cockrel for inviting Woody Harrelson to brief her students on the merits of industrial hemp, often condemned as a close cousin to marijuana.

•A fifth attempt by Terry Nichols to avoid serving life in federal prison for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing deaths of eight federal agents. This time he cited government failure to turn over thousands of documents in seeking to overturn a federal conviction for involuntary manslaughter. Nichols also faces 168 counts of capital murder in state court.

•Dr. Jack Kevorkian's challenge to a 10- to 25-year sentence for what he termed "mercy killing" in the 1998 injection of Thomas Youk, who had Lou Gehrig's disease. A Michigan jury convicted him of second-degree murder.

•Frank Sinatra Jr.'s effort to block the men who kidnapped him at Lake Tahoe, Nev., in 1963 from profiting from the sale of their story. Mr. Sinatra was ransomed for $240,000. A California court ruled a 1983 state law barring such profits does not apply, and the Supreme Court refused to intervene.


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