National Briefs: Texas marriage curb is 'illegal'

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SAN ANTONIO -- A federal judge in Texas struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday, ruling that the laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the U.S. Constitution and handing gay rights advocates a major legal victory in one of the biggest and most conservative states in the country.

The judge wrote that the amendment to the state Constitution that Texas voters approved in 2005 defining marriage as between a man and a woman -- and two similar laws passed in 1997 and 2003 -- denied gay couples the right to marry and demeaned their dignity "for no legitimate reason."

While significant, Judge Orlando Garcia's ruling in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas will have no immediate effect on gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry in Texas. The judge issued a stay on his decision pending a likely appeal by the state's lawyers to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, which is known as one of the country's most conservative appeals panels.

Ponzi victims prevail

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision Wednesday, allowed investors to pursue class-action lawsuits against law firms, insurance brokers and financial services companies that the investors said bore partial responsibility for one of the most brazen frauds in recent history, the $7 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by R. Allen Stanford.

The question for the justices was whether the lawsuits, filed under state laws, were proper in light of the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act, a 1998 federal law that was meant to stop end runs around the protections offered to defendants under federal law. The 1998 law bars many state-law class actions based on asserted fraud "in connection with the purchase or sale of a covered security."

Military-protest ruling

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously ruled against an antiwar activist who was convicted of breaking federal law by entering an area set aside for protests near the main entrance to Vandenberg Air Force Base, from which he had been banned.

The case will now return to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, for further proceedings on First Amendment questions in the case.

Mother lode of planets

LOS ANGELES -- Scientists using NASA's Kepler Space Telescope have found 715 confirmed planets huddling around 305 stars, nearly triple Kepler's previous total of 246 confirmed planets in the Milky Way galaxy.

Nearly 95 percent of them are smaller than Neptune, and four of them are in their star's habitable zone, the region where liquid water -- a necessary ingredient for life as we know it -- could exist. The discovery was published Wednesday in the Astrophysical Journal.

Google loses video ruling

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google must take down a controversial anti-Muslim video on YouTube that sparked protests across the Muslim world because keeping it on the website violates the rights of actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who sued after she was duped into appearing in the film, a divided federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Google's arguments that being forced to take down the video, "Innocence of Muslims," would be a prior restraint that would violate the company's First Amendment protections.

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