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Anti-Prostitution Rule Draws Top Court Review in HIV Case

The U.S. Supreme Court, taking up a free-speech clash, will decide whether groups that get federal money for overseas anti-HIV and AIDS programs can be required to take a stance against prostitution.

The justices today said they will review a decision invalidating a federal requirement that organizations receiving funds adopt policies opposing prostitution and sex trafficking. The provision is part of a 2003 law that increased U.S. efforts against infectious diseases around the world. Congress has authorized spending of more than $60 billion under the program.

Groups including include Pathfinder International and InterAction are challenging the provision, saying their work in disease-ravaged countries in Africa and Asia would be compromised if they adopted anti-prostitution policies. The organizations say they work with prostitutes to educate them about HIV and AIDS and to encourage prevention.

The Supreme Court has said that Congress generally can place conditions on the receipt of federal funds. A federal appeals court in New York said Congress went too far with the 2003 law by requiring organizations to “affirmatively say something -- that they are opposed to the practice of prostitution.”

Obama Appeal

In its appeal, the Obama administration said the requirement is designed to reduce behavior that fosters the spread of HIV and AIDS. The appeals court ruling “has undermined the government’s ability to implement the comprehensive approach chosen by Congress,” the government argued.

The provision exempts some groups, including the World Health Organization and any United Nations agency.

The case is U.S. Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society, 12-10.

The case was one of six the Supreme Court added today as it looked to fill the remaining argument slots for the nine-month term that runs through June.

The justices also agreed to decide whether the constitutional protection against self-incrimination applies in the case of a Texas man being voluntarily questioned at a police station about a shooting.

Police Questioning

The man, Genovevo Salinas, cooperated until police asked whether shotgun shells at the scene of the crime would match a weapon Salinas’s father had turned over to officers earlier. Prosecutors later sought to use the younger Salinas’s refusal to answer that question at his murder trial.

Lower courts are divided as to whether the self-incrimination protection kicks in before a suspect has been arrested or told he doesn’t have to answer questions.

The high court also will hear a trucking industry appeal stemming from regulations, including environmental standards, imposed by Los Angeles on vehicles using the city’s seaport. The appeal contends the rules run afoul of federal transportation law.

The industry isn’t directly challenging the environmental restrictions in the Clean Truck Program, although a broad enough Supreme Court ruling could threaten those regulations as well, says David Pettit, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the measure.

The court will probably hear arguments in the new cases in April.

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