We have a potentially perspective-shifting “this day in legal history” for today. On this day, May 22, in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Amnesty Act. Under the provisions of the act, all but around 500 Southern male voters had their voting rights reinstated after losing them for, you know, starting the Civil War. For a reference point, total numbers for the army of the Confederacy vary, but somewhere between 750,000 and 1.2 million individuals fought for the south in the war. So all but about 0.07% of the members of the Confederate Army had their right to vote reinstated within 7 years of the war ending and Lincoln’s assassination.
For perspective, at present day, 4.6 million Americans are denied the right to vote owing to a felony conviction – constituting about 2% of the total voting age population. In Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee – more than 8 percent of the adult population, or one out of every 13 folks of voting age, is disenfranchised.
Law firms Allen & Overy and Shearman & Sterling have agreed to merge, pending partner approval, creating a significant new player in the legal industry. The combined entity, to be named Allen Overy Shearman Sterling, will comprise over 3,900 lawyers worldwide. The merger follows the breakdown of Shearman's talks with Hogan Lovells earlier this year and provides Allen & Overy with a larger presence in the US. The firms aim to offer integrated and globally consistent services in response to client demands. The leadership structure of the combined firm has not yet been determined, with officials from both firms expected to share leadership responsibilities.
Meta Platforms Inc., the owner of Facebook, has been slapped with a record-breaking €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) fine by the European Union (EU) for privacy violations. The EU regulators found that Meta failed to adequately protect users' personal information from US governmental access and continued to transfer data to the US, posing risks to fundamental rights and freedoms. In addition to the fine, Meta has been given a deadline of five months to halt any future transfer of personal data to the US and six months to cease the unlawful processing and storage of EU data in the US. Meta's stock price saw a 1% decline following the announcement.
While the ban on data transfers was anticipated, it is now less likely to have a significant impact due to the transition period and the potential for a new EU-US data flows agreement in the near future. This ongoing saga originated when the EU's top court invalidated an EU-US pact governing transatlantic data flows due to concerns about the safety of citizens' data on US servers. Despite an alternative tool based on contractual clauses not being struck down by the court, doubts about US data protection prompted the Irish authority to issue a preliminary order prohibiting Facebook from using this method as well.
Meta plans to appeal the Irish decision, claiming it is flawed and unjustified. The company intends to seek a suspension of the banning orders, emphasizing the potential harm to the millions of people who use Facebook daily. Meta's president of global affairs and chief legal officer expressed concerns that these data-transfer restrictions could fragment the internet, impede the global economy, and limit access to shared services.
The State Bar of California's board of trustees has voted in favor of a new ethics rule that would require lawyers to report professional misconduct by their peers. The rule, referred to as the "snitch rule," mandates the reporting of criminal acts, fraud, misappropriation of funds, and other conduct that reflects negatively on a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness. The rule change is aimed at improving lawyer oversight in the wake of the Tom Girardi scandal, where the founder of Girardi Keese faced numerous ethics complaints and was later charged with taking millions of dollars from clients. California, with its large number of lawyers, and relatively high number of large law firms, has received both support and opposition for the rule, as one might expect. Non-attorneys generally favor the change, viewing it as a deterrent to misconduct, while some lawyers argue that it would overwhelm the disciplinary system and hinder lawyer-client relationships. The proposed rule has been sent to the California Supreme Court for final approval, and potential discipline for non-compliance ranges from private reproval to a three-year suspension.
The US Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the IRS in a case concerning the agency's authority to request bank records without notice. The court stated that the IRS can exercise its power to aid tax collection even if the delinquent taxpayer does not have a legal interest in the targeted records.
The case, Polselli v. IRS, originated from the IRS's attempts to collect a tax assessment against Remo Polselli, who was suspected of using entities to shield assets. The IRS issued summonses to Polselli's law firm and later to banks for records related to the firm and Polselli's wife. The ruling has implications for bank account holder protections, as account holders can only challenge the summons's validity if they had the right to notice. The ruling distinguishes between post-assessment collection cases, where notice is not required, and cases prior to tax assessment, where notice is generally given.
In the court's opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged concerns about the scope of the IRS's authority but did not define the precise limits of the phrase "in aid of the collection." The ruling leaves open the question of whether there are further limits on the IRS's exception to notice. In a concurring opinion, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson outlined potential situations where the IRS might be required to directly notify account holders. However, it remains uncertain how many justices would agree with those potential limits. The IRS is under pressure to close the tax collection gap, but critics worry that the ruling erodes the notice system and places the responsibility on the IRS to determine when notice is required. The government suggested a possible test for allowing no-notice summonses: that the demands be "reasonably calculated to assisting in collection."