The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari leaving in place a ruling by the D.C. Circuit that a fee cap set by the Federal Reserve Bank at $.24 per transaction. Each time a customer swipes his or her debit card, a retailer is charged the fee.
Retailers complained when the Fed appeared to be abusing Congress’ mandate to create a ceiling on debit card swipes. The Fed originally proposed a $.12 cap, but retailers claim it was under pressure by bank lobbyists to double that amount and include fees and expenses that are not permitted under law.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument and determined the Fed’s interpretation of the law was reasonable. “The Fed rule doesn’t apply to credit cards, government-issued debit cards, prepaid cards or cards issued by banks and credit unions with assets under $10 billion.” Retailers vowed to “continue to press the issue in the courts over the ‘anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices of the card industry.'”
In class, students learn about bribery of public officials and its criminal penalties. Bribery can also be an ethics violation. Generally, public officials are prohibited from accepting gifts in relation to their official duties. Both federal and state governments have fashioned rules regarding acceptance of gifts and these rules can extend to family members.
In Section III of the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, for example, it states that no state officer or employee “shall accept any gift, favor, service or other thing of value related in any way to the State official’s public duties.” The same holds true for federal judges. Under the Regulations of the Judicial Conference of the United States under Title III of the Ethics Reform Act of 1989 Concerning Gifts, judges “shall not accept a gift from anyone who is seeking official action from or doing business with the court . . . .”
But there are exceptions to the rules and each one has to be carefully construed. Some, like the New Jersey Uniform Ethics Code, will permit certain “gifts or benefits of trivial or nominal value” as long as the gift “does not create an impression of a conflict of interest or a violation of the public trust.” Other codes may provide a dollar-limit. For example, the “Regulations” for federal judges above provide that gifts having “an aggregate market value of $50 or less per occasion” are permitted “provided that the aggregate market value of individual gifts accepted from any one person . . . shall not exceed $100 in a calendar year.”
Common sense is the foundation of these rules. If the gift has the appearance of impropriety, it is better to graciously decline it.