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Last year, the Supreme Court took up 11 cases out of the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit. In the 2002-03 term that ended last week, the high court reviewed only three — but it reversed all of them. In a bankruptcy case, Archer v. Warner, the Supreme Court found that a debt for money promised in a settlement agreement accompanied by the release of underlying tort claims is nondischargable in a federal bankruptcy proceeding. And in Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, it overturned a ruling that the Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits direct campaign contributions by a nonprofit political advocacy corporation. In the third case from the 4th Circuit, Wiggins v. Smith, the Supreme Court vacated the death sentence of a convicted murderer, ruling that defense counsel must investigate possible mitigating evidence before devising a defense strategy that excludes the presentation of such evidence. The justices also reviewed three rulings from the D.C. Circuit — affirming two and sending the third back to the appeals court. In Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court agreed that Congress may substantially extend copyrights. And in Federal Communications Commission v. NextWave Personal Communications Inc., the Court ruled that the FCC may not cancel a wireless telecommunications license when a bankrupt licensee fails to make payments on it. It vacated and remanded a third D.C. Circuit case dealing with National Park Service concessions agreements, on the ground that the issue was not ripe for judicial resolution, in National Park Hospitality Association v. Department of the Interior. Two Federal Circuit cases made their way onto the docket, both stemming from disputes between Native American tribes and the U.S. government. The Court ruled in U.S. v. White Mountain Apache Tribe that the U.S. government must pay $14 million for the upkeep of Fort Apache in Arizona. The Court also ruled, in U.S. v. Navajo Nation, that the Interior Department did not violate its fiduciary duty to the Navajo Nation when it intervened in the negotiation of a coal lease on Navajo land.

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