Supreme Court Says Human Genes Can't Be Patented

The U.S. Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that segments of naturally-occurring human genes cannot be patented. The ruling may change the focus of genomic research, but it won't stop it.

Professor Andrew Torrance specializes in biotechnology patent law at the University of Kansas. He says the ruling falls hardest on companies that have invested billions of dollars, hoping to profit from patents on human gene fragments like those that help reveal a person’s risk for breast cancer.

Law professor named to KU's new class of senior administrative fellows

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

LAWRENCE — Ten University of Kansas faculty members have been named senior administrative fellows for 2013-2014.  

Fellows are selected annually from nominations and applications submitted during the spring semester from across campus. Fellows learn more about senior administration in higher education by meeting with senior administrators, visiting administrative units across campus, discussing national trends in academia and developing their leadership skills. The program has been in place for more than 20 years and is directed by Mary Lee Hummert, vice provost for faculty development, with the assistance of Jenny Mehmedovic, assistant to the provost. 

The new class of fellows is: 

  • William Elliott, associate professor, School of Social Welfare 
  • Judith Emde, librarian and assistant dean, KU Libraries 
  • Michael Engel, professor, ecology & evolutionary biology, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • Mechele Leon, associate professor and chair, theatre, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
  • Lumen Mulligan, professor, School of Law 
  • Scott Reinardy, associate professor, School of Journalism 
  • Susan Scholz, professor, School of Business 
  • Joan Sereno, professor, linguistics, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 
  • Kelli Thomas, associate professor, curriculum & teaching, School of Education
  • Z.J. Wang, Spahr professor and chair, aerospace engineering, School of Engineering.

All tenured faculty members at KU are eligible to apply. Requests for nominations and application instructions for the 2014-2015 senior administrative fellows will occur in April 2014.  

Should we bring back the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth?

Ethicists, scientists, lawyers and biologists gathered at Stanford University for a day-long conference to discuss whether we should bring back species that have been extinct over the past several thousand years. A USA Today story on the conference quoted Andrew Torrance, professor of law, who participated:

The legal issues that will surround revived species are very unclear, said Andrew Torrance, a law professor at the University of Kansas and former biotech patent lawyer. But in general, he thinks "there are no solid legal barriers yet to de-extinction."

Supreme Court: US genes patent decision may depend on strands in Myriad argument

In June, the Supreme Court will release its decision on whether genes may be patented, which will have a far-reaching impact on the biotechnology industry. A Financial Times article on the subject quoted Andrew Torrance, professor of law.

Kirchgaessner wrote:

"It was obvious from the questions they asked and analogies that they dreamt up that the nine US Supreme Court justices hearing one of the most important and complex patent cases in a decade were not wholly comfortable with the subject at hand.

Law school honors top graduates for scholarship, leadership, service

Thursday, May 23, 2013

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Law honored more than 170 graduates at a hooding ceremony Saturday, May 18. During the ceremony, eight students received awards for distinguishing themselves in scholarship, leadership and service to the law school and the community.

The recipients:

  • Michael Andrusak, Salina, Class of 1949 Leadership Award
  • Ebonie Davis, Kansas City, Kan., Janean Meigs Memorial Award
  • Ashley Dillon, Orinda, Calif., Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement
  • Joy Isaacs, Topeka, Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award
  • Eric Sader, Salina, Robert F. Bennett Award
  • Joe Schremmer, Derby, Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award
  • Isabel Segarra, Austin, Texas, Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award
  • Henry Thomas, Overland Park, Class of 1949 Leadership Award

The award winners were part of a class composed of 174 recipients of the Juris Doctor, seven Doctor of Juridical Science graduates and two Master of Laws in Elder Law graduates.

Also honored during the ceremony was Uma Outka, associate professor of law, who received the 2013 Moreau Award. The award is given annually to the faculty member who, in the eyes of law students, has been particularly helpful in advising.

Funds for the awards are managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Student award recipients are listed below by hometown.

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Overland Park

Henry ThomasHenry Thomas was one of two recipients of the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. Thomas raised hundreds of dollars and gathered hundreds of books for children at surrounding hospitals and collaborated to create a successful Diversity Banquet during his term as president of the Asian Law Students Association. He spent a year serving indigent clients in Douglas County as a participant in the Legal Aid Clinic and three years as a Student Ambassador, advising and educating prospective law students. During the 2012-13 academic year, Thomas served as editor-in-chief of the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy. Thomas is the son of Zach and Mary Thomas and a graduate of Rockhurst High School and Marquette University.

SALINE COUNTY
From Salina
Michael AndrusakMichael Andrusak was one of two recipients of the Class of 1949 Leadership Award, given to the student who has contributed most significantly to the overall experience of students in Green Hall. Andrusak served two years as president of the Student Bar Association, reorganizing its structure to encourage continuity of its leadership. He spearheaded fundraising events and spoke at new student orientation, welcoming students and acclimating them to law school. He attended Board of Governors and other similar meetings, ensuring that students enjoyed a voice in law school governance.  And, of course, he organized events, such as football tailgates, that allowed students to socialize and build relationships to last well beyond law school. Andrusak is the son of Janet Andrusak, was home-schooled through high school, and graduated from Pepperdine University.

Eric SaderEric Sader received the Robert F. Bennett Award, recognizing a graduate whose undergraduate degree is from a Kansas university or college and who has demonstrated leadership qualities through public service. Sader graduated with a joint degree in law and social work. For two years, he served as a resident assistant in the law school’s Journey to J.D. program.  He is a student representative on the board of directors for Ecumenical Campus Ministries at KU and, in 2011, was named one of KU’s Men of Merit in recognition of his role modeling a positive definition of masculinity through action and leadership. Sader has served as chief justice of the university’s Student Court of Appeals and an audio-reader for the visually impaired. He was recently selected as the new executive director of Jana’s Campaign, an organization dedicated to reducing gender and relationship violence. Sader is the son of Dale Sader and Mary Cook and a graduate of Salina High School South and McPherson College.

SEDGWICK COUNTY
From Derby
Joe SchremmerJoe Schremmer received the Samuel Mellinger Scholarship, Leadership and Service Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished himself or herself in the combined areas of scholarship, leadership and service. Schremmer graduated with a joint degree in law and business, and his grades were among the best in his law school class. He served two years as a Lawyering Skills teaching assistant and two years in the Volunteer Tax Assistance Program, providing tax preparation assistance for low-income Kansans. His scholarly note, “Avoidable Fraccident: An Argument Against Strict Liability for Hydraulic Fracturing,” was selected for publication in the Kansas Law Review before he became the publication’s editor-in-chief. Schremmer is the son of Richard and Janice Schremmer and a graduate of Derby High School and KU. 

SHAWNEE COUNTY
From Topeka
Joy IsaacsJoy Isaacs received the Walter Hiersteiner Outstanding Service Award, given to the graduate whose service to his or her fellow students demonstrates the greatest promise for contribution to the legal profession and society. As a Shook, Hardy & Bacon Scholar, Isaacs mentored members of the first-year class to help improve their academic performance. She founded the law school’s 3-to-1 mentorship program, which matches successful upper-level students with entering first-year students. Isaacs served on the Kansas Law Review and still found time to coach volleyball at The Barstow Middle School. Isaacs is the daughter of Stan Noakes and Linda Noakes and a graduate of Washburn Rural High School and KU. 

WYANDOTTE COUNTY
From Kansas City, Kan.
Ebonie DavisEbonie Davis received the Janean Meigs Memorial Award, given to the student who has demonstrated a caring spirit in service to the students of the law school or the community at large. Davis served two years as a teaching assistant in the Journey to J.D. program designed to mentor and encourage diverse young people to consider law school and pursue legal opportunities in the region. She also served as president of the Black Law Students Association. In that role, she spearheaded BLSA’s annual Thanksgiving food drive and organized Thurgood Marshall Law Day, which annually hosts dozens of local high school students. She also serves as a mentor for the MODELS Mentoring Program, a community organization for teenage girls ages 12-17. And she has made these contributions to school and community while also caring for her own family, which includes two sons, ages 3 and 6. Davis is the daughter of Barbara White and a graduate of Wyandotte High School and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

CALIFORNIA
From Orinda
Ashley DillonAshley Dillon received the Faculty Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement, which goes to the graduating student selected by the faculty as having made the most significant contribution toward overall legal scholarship. Dillon’s scholarly note about the Kansas Uniform Trade Secrets Act was published in Volume 60 of the Kansas Law Review. She also served as executive note and comment editor on the Law Review and a chief justice of the Moot Court Council. Dillon spent two years as a Lawyering Skills teaching assistant, mentoring lawyering students in the first-year. She has accomplished all of this while maintaining an outstanding grade point average throughout all three years of her studies. Dillon is the daughter of Kent and Lynn Dillon and a graduate of Miramonte High School and the University of Missouri.

TEXAS
From Austin
Isabel SegarraIsabel Segarra received the Justice Lloyd Kagey Leadership Award, given to the graduate who has most distinguished him or herself through leadership in the law school. A passionate environmental advocate, Segarra reinvigorated KU’s Environmental Law Society, serving as president during the 2011-12 academic year.  As president, she brought various environmental law attorneys, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, to Green Hall for career panels and other educational functions; she lobbied the administration to stop purchasing Styrofoam products; and she encouraged faculty, staff and student participation in the Lights Out Energy Competition among different units on campus. This year, Segarra moderated a panel discussion on the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples during KU’s annual Tribal Law and Government Conference. She has written for the Journal of the Kansas Bar Association and was a member of the Jessup International Moot Court team that qualified for the international finals. Segarra is the daughter of Dolores Treviño and a graduate of Liberal Arts and Science Academy and Texas A&M University.

Professor Martin Dickinson honored with Steeples award

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LAWRENCE – Through teaching, research, advising and mentoring, the faculty members of the University of Kansas serve a large audience through their work. Some go even further in their service to the state of Kansas. Three such faculty members have been honored for their exemplary contributions to the people of Kansas with the Steeples Service to Kansans Award.

The recipients of the 2013 Steeples award are Martin Dickinson, School of Law; John Hachmeister, visual art, and Kelly Kindscher, environmental studies.

Don Steeples, the Dean A. McGee Distinguished Professor of Applied Geophysics, and his wife, Tammy, established the award in 1997 to honor Don Steeples’ parents, Wally and Marie Steeples, and to recognize outstanding service by KU faculty to other Kansans. The award provides recipients with $1,000 and an additional $1,000 base adjustment to their salaries.

Martin Dickinson is the Robert A. Schroeder Distinguished Professor of Law. He was nominated primarily for his work relating to tax law and estate planning. Over four decades he has served on numerous state-level advisory committees relating to property taxes, income tax, estate tax and trust administration. These committees have suggested important revisions to Kansas law that have protected the elderly and helped ensure a fair system of revenue generation for the state. While serving as dean of the KU law school from 1971 to 1980, Dickinson created new admission criteria, recruited outstanding faculty and convinced legislators to fund a new building, all of which strengthened the school’s profile regionally and nationally.

John Hachmeister is an associate professor of sculpture in the School of the Arts. The Steeples Award recognizes his promotion of “the arts in the community” in and around Kansas. Perhaps the best example of this is his 25-year commitment to preserve and maintain the Garden of Eden folk art site in Lucas. Lucas has since been designated as the “Grassroots Arts Capitol of Kansas.” Hachmeister was also instrumental in developing a partnership between KU and the Kansas City School for the Blind. The program, Accessible Arts, connects KU art students with children at the Kansas City School for the Blind to create tactile objects used as learning aids for many subjects including math and science. Most recently, Hachmeister connected four area artists with a trustee to create four larger-than-life statues in Independence depicting works of Kansas-born playwright William Inge.

Kelly Kindscher, courtesy professor of environmental studies and ecology and evolutionary biology, has served the state of Kansas for more than 20 years as a voice for the environment of Kansas, especially its plants and prairies. Kindscher, who is also a senior scientist at the Kansas Biological Survey, has always focused on public education and engagement in his work, whether speaking to city and community groups, leading walks introducing Kansans to native plants and prairies or providing environmental advice across the state. Kindscher's research interests are focused on prairie and montane meadow plant communities, wetland and prairie restoration, conservation of Midwest/Great Plains ecosystems and ethnobotany.

Funds for the Steeples award are managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Law professor's book explores 'constitution of international trade law'

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

LAWRENCE — For nearly 60 years, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, better known as GATT, brought down barriers, encouraged trade among nations and changed the way the world does business, yet received surprisingly little attention in the world of scholarly law. A University of Kansas law professor has changed that with a two-volume, 3,000-page exploration of the “constitution of international trade law.”

Raj Bhala, associate dean for international and comparative law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law, has authored “Modern GATT Law: A Treatise on the Law and Political Economy of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and Other World Trade Organization Agreements” second edition. The book is an extensive examination of GATT, all 38 of its articles, their applications in the law, related WTO influence, examinations of theories critical of unlimited international trade and much more.

“It came about as a passion for the topic,” Bhala said of the treatise. “I’ve always been fascinated by GATT. Unintentionally, it became the constitution of international trade law. It was a shining example of the reality and effectiveness of international law. It was functioning effectively, and yet no one was paying attention to it. Even after the birth of the WTO in 1995, GATT remains, and its rules and principles get reincarnated in new areas, such as services and intellectual property.”

Bhala wrote the first edition in 2005. Since then, international trade law has both flourished and changed dramatically with the influence of the WTO and its roughly 160 member countries. More than 400 cases have been adjudicated at the WTO, dealing with all manner of trade law topics, including ones directly relevant to Kansas, like subsidies for agricultural products and airplanes. That prompted the second edition, published like the first, by Sweet & Maxwell.

Drafted beginning in 1945 and enacted in 1948, GATT was hugely influential in bringing nations together through international trade. GATT grew in members from 23 in 1947 to more than 125 by 1995, including poor, newly independent, Muslim and nonwestern nations. “Modern GATT Law” explores how the membership grew more diverse, including the importance of developing nations and how nations such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Laos and Tajikistan gained positions of varying degrees of power within the organization.

Among its 85 chapters “Modern GATT Law” not only examines all articles of GATT and related WTO provisions, but it offers applicable case studies and examines all WTO rounds, including the failed Doha round, which declared fighting terrorism and extremism through trade as its top priority. Bhala examines how trade has become a tool in international diplomacy and element of national security, as illustrated in part by sanctions placed on Iran and North Korea. He also examines controversial topics such as mad cow disease and its effects on trade between nations and how GATT increasingly links law and other areas of scholarship.

“The treatise this time really goes over the essential precepts, essential interdisciplinary foundations of politics, religion, economics and philosophy as they relate to law,” Bhala said. “International traders and their lawyers have become much more conscious of those links over the years and are not as likely to look at trade law as an isolated topic.”

International trade and global commerce have come under increasing criticism in recent years, often justifiably so, Bhala said, when the drive for profit results in human rights abuses, environmental degradation, labor violations, poverty and other outcomes contrary to human dignity and the common good. The treatise analyzes such criticisms and evaluates emerging theories of how international trade law can be reformed to comport better with social justice, offering neither justification nor condemnation of any one theory, but lending insight into how each one fits into modern international trade law.

Early demand for the book has been strong in several countries.

“It’s rare for a book to appeal to the international markets in the way that ‘Modern GATT Law’ does. It’s a testament to the quality of the text that our subsidiaries in America, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand have all expressed their interest in disseminating the title within their jurisdictions,” said Andrew Moroney, publishing editor at Sweet & Maxwell in London. “In fact, each presentation about the book to those companies has met with unanimous praise for the scope and breadth of the contents list alone, so we expect to hear great things when the books land on their desks.”

In addition to being a useful reference for international trade lawyers, scholars and anyone interested in cross-border commerce, Bhala said the book is both an homage to the visionary work of the founders of GATT and an invaluable teaching tool. Students at the KU School of Law were intimately involved in all aspects of the book’s creation. In particular, the student research assistants, who hail from across Kansas and from multiple nations, gained an experience not available in the traditional classroom.

“I give a great deal of credit to the research assistants,” Bhala said. “A two-year project like this simply could not have been done on time, or with quality, without my research assistants at the KU Law School. They were enthusiastically engaged through legal research and writing on sophisticated topics. I learned a great deal from their productive output, and they are testaments to the synergy between teaching and research. Plus, we had a lot of fun.”

Article addresses constitutional issues with private government contractors

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas law professor has co-authored an article about remedying constitutional violations perpetrated by privately employed government contractors on the heels of briefing the same issue in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to this real-world engagement as a lawyer and as a scholar, Lumen N. Mulligan, professor of law and director of the Shook, Hardy and Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy, brings this high-level, hands-on experience to the KU Law School classroom.

Mulligan co-authored both an amicus curiae brief in the high court case of Minneci v. Pollard and an article, discussing the case, with Alexander A. Reinert, associate professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The article will appear in the Washington University Law Review in May 2013.

In the case, an inmate at a privately run federal prison claimed that during work detail he fractured both of his elbows. He wasn’t given immediate medical care, was later shackled, exacerbating the injury before treatment, and was ultimately left unable to work upon his release. He sued for violations of his Eighth Amendment constitutional rights. The Supreme Court ruled that, even though publicly employed prison guards would be susceptible to suit, the privately employed guards could not be found liable for constitutional violations because of their employment status.

Taking a stance contrary to the Court’s ultimate holding during the high court briefing, Mulligan explained that “our position was that there should be no distinction, in terms of liability for constitutional violations, between government-run and privately run prisons. The decision as it stands allows federal agencies to avoid their constitutionally imposed liability simply by hiring private contractors.”

In the article, the professors argue that the decision was in error and discuss how its impact can be limited.

“The opinion, in our view, fatally ignores — indeed fails to even consider — the text of the Westfall Act of 1988, which specifically endorsed constitutional actions such as what was at issue in Minneci,” Mulligan said. “Also, it destroys the parallel set of doctrine for remedying violations of constitutional rights by state and federal officers and creates asymmetrical liability for private versus public employs, which in turn creates non-market-based incentives to privatize government functions.”

The decision was also troublesome because the use of state tort law, which the Supreme Court relied upon as an alternative to a constitutional action, cannot always be applied in the same manner as federal constitutional law, Mulligan and Reinert argue.

“Indeed, many of these assumed state law remedies are not available for plaintiffs,” Mulligan said. “The very same defendants from Minneci often argue that state law does not apply to them because they are immune under the so-called government contractor doctrine. These defendants should not be allowed to have their cake and eat it, too.”

In addition to this pro bono service to the bar, Mulligan said taking part in ongoing, high-level court action benefits KU Law students. By supplying arguments in the Supreme Court, working with practicing attorneys, judges and clients, Mulligan is better able to engage students with skills-based learning — not simply dated textbook material.

“I believe that keeping up with practice helps me connect with my students and deliver up-to-date approaches to the art of advocacy. Students want to know that their coursework will translate to practice directly,” Mulligan said. “As such, my continued work in that regard adds some authenticity to the classroom.”

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