Chat wrap: Rte. 29 to ex post facto

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert

Those of you who participated in Tuesday’s blockbuster SportsNation chat know we left two points unresolved. Let’s circle back and see if we can achieve some clarity.

The first issue was a bit complicated. Here’s how it started off:

Travis (Minneapolis)

What are the chances that these Congressional hearings on the StarCaps cases could result in the suspensions going into effect this year?

Kevin Seifert (2:07 PM)

I guess it depends on how fast bureaucracy can work. The NFL wants Congress to pass a law that basically allows federal rules to trump state rules on drug testing. Could Congress hold hearings, write the law and get it passed before the end of the season? I don't know.

That answer set off a pretty lively discussion by chat standards, about whether Minnesota defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams would fall under, or be exempt from, any law Congress might pass that closes the legal loophole they’re currently utilizing.

A few of you cited the legal notion of ex post facto, which basically means that U.S. citizens can’t be subject to retroactive laws. If something is legal when you do it, you can’t later be charged with a crime if the act is made illegal afterward.

But I contend this is a different situation. Neither player is contesting the facts of what happened. They admit they ingested bumetanide through StarCaps weight loss supplements. The crux of their legal case is whether or not Minnesota state laws for drug testing should apply. Could that question be subject to a “retroactive” law?

I reached out to both the NFL and some regular readers who are also attorneys. The short answer is that it’s almost a moot point for the 2009 season.

Subcommittee chairman Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said a law to close the state loophole should be a “last resort.” But even if Congress put a law on the fast track and passed it before the end of the NFL season, it seems likely that the players’ attorneys would challenge it in court. That act alone would almost certainly push this hypothetical timetable past the end of this season.

So could an act of Congress ever cement the Williams’ suspensions? Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of public relations, said via e-mail: “There is no way to answer the question right now. It might depend on what the law says.”

Andrew Stead, a longtime reader and attorney, noted that “this situation differs from passing a law that retroactively limits actions, as opposed to a law that determines jurisdiction.”

But in terms of this season, I don’t think we’ll see any Congressional act impact Minnesota’s 2009 season. As attorney Adam Kaminsky wrote in an e-mail, “passing a broad law that infringes on a state’s jurisdiction over employment law would lead to prolonged appeals.”

The second point was easier to resolve. I asked for some help in identifying the “Geographic Marker” on Wisconsin Rte. 29, about 15 minutes west of Wausau. I’ve made the drive to and from Green Bay probably 10 times but never noticed it before.

Multiple readers were quick to point out what the marker stands for, and it’s actually pretty interesting. From the Marathon County, Wis, Web site:

“[T]he Rietbrock Geographical Marker locates the exact center of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. It is here that the 90th Meridian of Longitude bisects the 45th Parallel of Latitude, meaning it is exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, and is a quarter of the way around the earth from Greenwich, England.”

Score another point for the NFC North!