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Lengthy Oral Argument for Federal hESC Funding

A federal appeals court appeared divided, 9/27/10 on whether to temporarily suspend a trial judge’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

During a lengthy oral argument, a 3 judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pressed the DOJ’s attprneys on its argument that the federal government would suffer irreparable harm if the funding ban was enforced.

  • Judge Thomas Griffith, a Bush appointee, was the most aggressive questioner of the government. He suggested that even if federally funded embryonic research is halted now, researchers could resume their experiments later if the government eventually wins in court;
  • Judge Brett Kavanaugh a Bush appointee asked skeptical questions of the Justice Department lawyer who was arguing to keep the funding in place. Kavanaugh called the government’s position “odd” and “internally inconsistent.” However, he also suggested that it may be appropriate to defer to the government’s views because the law at issue in the case is ambiguous;
  • Judge Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee, appeared the most sympathetic to the government’s case. She suggested that even a temporary halt to research funding could damage the public’s interesting embryonic stem cell research.

Justice Department lawyer, Beth Brinkmann argued that an immediate stay of the injunction was needed to avoid terminating research projects midstream and wasting taxpayer dollars already invested in the research.

Thomas Hungar, a lawyer for 2 doctors that oppose the research, said government funding of the research was in clear violation of the law. Hungar also disputed the argument that the government would be irreparably harmed if the research projects were idled while the case proceeds in the court.

The argument session was scheduled to last 30 minutes, but the judges peppered the lawyers with questions for more than an hour. The appeals court did not give any indication on when it might rule. That resolution could take several months or longer. (HWM and Dow Jones)