WASHINGTON — Merchants may soon have the right to tell customers they will pay a surcharge if they use a credit card rather than pay with cash.

The Supreme Court cast doubt Wednesday on laws in California, New York, Florida and seven other states that make it illegal for sellers to “impose a surcharge” on credit card sales. These long-standing laws, strongly backed by the credit card industry, have been interpreted to mean retailers may not advertise or disclose that the price includes a 2 percent to 3 percent surcharge for using a credit or debit card.

But in a unanimous decision, the justices said these laws “regulate speech” and may be challenged as violations of the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said many merchants want to tell their customers about these fees and perhaps encourage more of them to get a discount by paying cash.

“Those fees add up. Rather than increase prices across the board to absorb the costs, merchants want to pass the fees along only to their customers who choose to use credit cards,” he said. “They also want to make clear that they are not the bad guys — that the credit card companies, not the merchants, are responsible for the higher prices.”

But the ruling Wednesday was only a partial victory for the five New York businesses, including a hair salon and an ice cream parlor in Brooklyn, that sued to challenge the ban on advertising or disclosing “surcharges” for using credit cards.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York had upheld the law on the grounds it was a price regulation, not a speech restriction.

Roberts and the Supreme Court disagreed.

But the justices stopped short of striking down the laws. Instead they sent the case back to a New York court to decide whether this “speech regulation” could be justified. Sometimes, laws may regulate the words of commercial transactions to prevent buyers from being fooled or confused.

—Tribune Washington Bureau


Former Rep. Steve Stockman indicted on 28 counts

WASHINGTON — Former Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman was formally indicted Tuesday evening on fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges, the Justice Department announced.

Stockman, who retired after losing a 2014 primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn, and aide Jason Posey were charged in a 28-count superseding indictment.

Among the charges were wire and mail fraud, conspiracy, making face statements to the Federal Election Commission, making excessive campaign contributions and money laundering. Stockman was also charged separately for filing a false tax return.

The indictment comes after former campaign worker Thomas Dodd reached a plea deal last week and said that he and Stockman colluded to use $775,000 to pay credit card bills and campaign expenses.

The indictment filed Tuesday says Stockman solicited $1.25 million in donations based on false pretenses, specifically using part of a $285,000 meant for charities to pay for his and Dodd’s personal expenses and further his political ambitions.

The Justice Department also alleges that Dodd and Stockman used another $165,000 donation to help finance his congressional race in 2012.

The indictment said that Posey also used a nonprofit entity to secure a $450,571 donation to fund a mass-mailing campaign.

Instead, only half of the money was used on the campaign and the other half was used for Stockman’s senate campaign expenses and to pay for personal expenses, the DOJ announcement said.

—CQ-Roll Call


Andrew Napolitano returns to Fox News after being benched over wiretap claims

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano returned to the air on Wednesday morning and stood by the unsubstantiated wiretapping claims that got him in hot water with his network nearly two weeks ago.

The former New Jersey Superior Court judge had not been on the air since March 16 as he became enmeshed in the controversy over President Donald Trump’s still-unproven claim that his predecessor had ordered surveillance of Trump Tower.

Napolitano, citing unnamed sources, said that the British foreign surveillance agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, “most likely” provided former President Barack Obama with transcripts of Trump’s recorded calls.

FBI Director James B. Comey said his agency and the Department of Justice have “no information” to support Trump’s allegations that Obama ordered wiretapping of him and his campaign.

In discussing the claims on several programs, Napolitano incorrectly asserted that the sources he was citing had spoken to Fox News. Several anchors had to make on-air statements to distance the network from the claim after the Trump administration started citing Napolitano’s allegations as proof of the president’s original wiretapping charge.

While Fox News never made an official statement about a change in Napolitano’s status, he was conspicuously missing from its coverage last week on the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justice nominee Neil Gorsuch. People with knowledge of the situation said Napolitano was being kept off the air and that management addressed the matter with him.

—Los Angeles Times


African students advised to stay indoors after attacks by roving Indian mobs

MUMBAI, India — Indian mobs near the nation’s capital have attacked and wounded at least nine university students from African countries since Sunday in a spasm of racial violence that a senior official called “deplorable.”

The attacks — which began after an Indian family accused five Nigerian men of kidnapping and killing their teenage son — prompted the Association of African Students in India to warn its members in Greater Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi, to “remain indoors” to avoid being hurt.

In the latest incident, a 24-year-old Kenyan woman was hauled out of a taxi and beaten unconscious with sticks by about a dozen people early Wednesday morning.

The woman regained consciousness and got herself to a medical clinic in a rickshaw before police brought her to a hospital, where she was treated and released, said Abdou Ibrahim, a senior adviser to the students’ association.

The group issued a statement on Facebook discouraging “any form of retaliation.”

“With regards to food and other daily home needs that might prompt anyone to go out, we are working towards creating a system to ensure that supplies (get) across to you all,” it said.

Police in Greater Noida have arrested five people and booked dozens more for violence as India’s foreign minister urged authorities in Uttar Pradesh state to carry out an intensive investigation.

—Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.