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Cell phones don’t cause car crashes — people do, Indiana’s appeals court ruled Friday. The plaintiff claimed her car was hit by a driver talking on a cell phone; she sued the driver, of course, but also sued Cingular Wireless for negligence. The appeals court rejected her claim against Cingular, despite evidence she provided that included a newspaper cartoon depicting the character Blondie gabbing on her cell while driving and causing a wreck … What’s Reagan’s legacy? Look at the bench, say many legal observers, noting that that’s where the Reagan revolution became institutionalized. Today, nearly two decades after he left office, 306 of the president’s 358 appointments to the federal courts are still interpreting the law as active jurists … Tribal law and federal law collided this week when, for the third time, the 9th Circuit ruled that the Makah Tribe — the only Indian group in the United States with an explicit treaty right to hunt whales — must wait for a full environmental analysis, and then must seek an exception to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, before hunting gray whales off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Animal rights activists hailed the decision as a victory, but a tribe member said it’s just “another treaty broken by the United States.” … Bound by torture laws? Not Bush. Or so conclude the legal theories presented in leaked justice and defense department lawyer memos from 2002 and 2003 — memos that now form the basis of accusations by members of Congress that the administration sanctioned harsh treatment of “war on terrorism” detainees as permissible under U.S. and international laws. Attorney General John Aschroft has denied any link between the memoranda and prisoner abuses in Iraq, but defends the underlying legal reasoning. –Lydia Markoff

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