On this day in legal history, November 10, 1919, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a pivotal decision in Abrams v. United States, a case that profoundly impacted the interpretation of the First Amendment regarding free speech. This ruling upheld the 1918 Amendment to the Espionage Act of 1917, making it a criminal offense to urge the curtailment of war material production intended to hinder the U.S. war effort against Germany. The case originated when Hyman Rosansky was arrested for distributing leaflets in New York City, denouncing American intervention in Russia and advocating for the cessation of weapon production against Soviet Russia. These leaflets, printed in both English and Yiddish, led to the arrest of Rosansky and six other Russians, all of whom had emigrated from Russia to the United States.
The trial, which concluded on October 23, 1919, resulted in varying sentences for the defendants. Gabriel Prober was acquitted, while Hyman Rosansky received a three-year sentence. Jacob Abrams, Hyman Lachowsky, and Samuel Lipman were each sentenced to 20 years and fined $1,000. Mollie Steimer received a 15-year sentence and a $5,000 fine.
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendants' First Amendment rights were not violated. Justice John Hessin Clarke, writing for the majority, argued that the intent to hinder war production could be inferred from the defendants' words, posing an imminent danger as per the "clear-and-present-danger" standard. However, in a powerful dissent, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. contended that free speech should only be curtailed when there is a clear and present danger of immediate evil or intent to bring it about. This dissent would later influence the legal understanding of free speech rights. The Abrams case was eventually largely overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969, marking a significant shift in the legal stance on freedom of speech.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that part of the ATF's regulation on "ghost guns" exceeds the agency's authority. This rule, which targets privately made firearms without serial numbers, was deemed to conflict with the Gun Control Act. Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt emphasized that it's not within the ATF's remit to create laws, a responsibility that belongs to Congress. The court affirmed that the ATF must adhere to existing statutory limits until Congress acts. The ruling vacated and remanded parts of a lower court's decision, with Circuit Judge Andrew S. Oldham critiquing the rule as overreaching. The case stems from a challenge by manufacturers, dealers, individuals, and gun-rights groups against the Biden administration's reinterpretation of the 1968 gun law. The ATF's rule aimed to regulate ghost guns by treating disassembled frames or receivers as firearms, requiring serial numbers, background checks, and transaction records. The District Court for the Northern District of Texas had previously invalidated this rule, but the Supreme Court allowed regulation to continue pending legal proceedings. The case, VanDerStok v. Garland, is part of broader efforts to increase enforcement against untraceable ghost guns.
The U.S. faces a significant backlog in processing labor permits, complicating efforts to manage the influx of undocumented immigrants and alleviate labor shortages. The Biden administration's move to grant temporary work permits to almost 500,000 Venezuelans is threatened by this backlog at the immigration agency. This slowdown impacts the U.S. labor market recovery, as foreign-born workers, essential during the pandemic, now contribute less to the labor force. The backlog includes around 350,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) applications, mostly from Venezuelans facing long wait times. Businesses like New York's Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa are seeking to hire migrants through TPS for various roles, highlighting the dependency on foreign labor. Despite efforts, USCIS faces challenges due to funding issues and increased processing times, exacerbated by the pandemic. The White House's expansion of the TPS program and reliance on congressional support are critical for addressing these backlogs and easing labor market pressures.
Donald Trump's lawyers have requested a New York judge to issue a directed verdict in his favor in a civil fraud case, marking a critical juncture in the trial threatening his business empire. This move follows the New York Attorney General's office resting its case against Trump, his two sons, and his companies, accusing them of inflating asset values for financial gain. Despite Trump and his children testifying that they relied on accountants for financial statements, evidence indicates their involvement. The attorney general seeks $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump's real estate activities in New York. Judge Arthur Engoron, who previously found Trump and his companies committed fraud, has yet to rule on this request. Trump, facing multiple legal challenges and leading the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has accused the judge and attorney general of political bias.
Philip Postlewaite, a longtime Northwestern law professor, has sued the university for age discrimination, alleging his salary is lower than that of less experienced colleagues. Postlewaite, who has taught tax law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law since 1981 and founded its Tax LL.M. program in 2002, claims he has received significantly lower pay increases since declining a buyout offer in 2013. His 2022 base salary was reported to be below both the median and top 25% of law school salaries, despite his 49 years of teaching experience. He filed complaints with the EEOC and the Illinois Department of Human Rights, leading to a lawsuit filed in a Chicago federal court. The university has not commented on the pending litigation.