On this day in legal history, August 4, 1735, a significant victory for the free press was achieved in the United States. Publisher John Peter Zenger was acquitted of libel charges against New York's colonial governor, William Cosby, in a case that became a landmark moment for American liberty. The New-York Weekly Journal, printed by Zenger, had consistently criticized Governor Cosby, leading to various attempts by the governor to shut down the paper. When two grand juries failed to indict Zenger, Cosby resorted to a legal tactic called an "information" to bring Zenger before the court. The case took an unexpected turn when famed colonial lawyer Andrew Hamilton took up Zenger's defense, arguing that the crown had to prove the statements were false. Hamilton's eloquent plea for liberty and the argument that truth is the best defense against libel resonated with the jury, who returned a not guilty verdict despite the judge's instructions. The Zenger case is now seen as a landmark decision that influenced the independence of attorneys, the power of juries, and the need for a free press, and it introduced concepts like "Philadelphia Lawyer" and jury nullification into the American legal lexicon.
If you, like me, had never heard of a “Philadelphia Lawyer” outside the context of the billboards on 676 that make use of the term “Jawn,” apparently a Philadelphia Lawyer is a term used to describe a lawyer that knows detailed and minute points of law and is exceptionally competent. Hokay.
Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to obstruct the 2020 presidential election and interfere with voting rights, during an arraignment held on Thursday in the federal courthouse in Washington. The case, which Trump's legal team is prepared to "vigorously" defend, marks the third criminal case against him, with a potential fourth indictment tied to election interference in Georgia. During the 30-minute hearing, Trump personally stated his not guilty plea, and the next hearing was scheduled for August 28. Trump's lawyer, John Lauro, expressed the intention to seek a delay in the proceedings, citing the "magnitude" of the case. Meanwhile, prosecutor Thomas Windom assured that the government was ready to turn over substantial evidence and called for a "normal order" in the case. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya guaranteed a fair trial process. Outside the courthouse, barricades and crowds reflected the political divisions surrounding Trump, and he later called the charges a "persecution of a political opponent."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan recently spoke at the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in Portland, Oregon, addressing the controversy surrounding alleged ethics shortfalls by justices, including Clarence Thomas. Responding to Justice Samuel Alito's comments that Congress has no authority to impose a binding ethics code on the court, Kagan stated that Congress can't do anything it wants, but it does have some powers over the Supreme Court. She noted that Congress approves the court's budget and has the authority to regulate various aspects of the court. "We're not imperial," Kagan said, emphasizing that Congress should have the right to consider what it believes is Constitutional. She also mentioned that the justices are discussing self-imposed ethics rules, with varying views among them. Under pressure, the justices have agreed to a new voluntary disclosure policy around hospitality, but progressives argue that a formal, binding code is necessary to quell public doubt about the court's legitimacy.
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Sackett v. EPA in May has left wetlands and waterways in national parks, monuments, forests, and other federal public lands newly vulnerable to pollution and development, according to natural resources attorneys. The ruling creates a federal jurisdictional test for waters and wetlands that some say is "divorced from science" and narrows the definition of waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), leaving many wetlands unregulated or regulated only by states. This could pave the way for unpermitted dredging and filling of many streams and wetlands for construction. The ruling's impact on the nearly 640 million acres of land controlled by federal agencies is complex, and there is broad disagreement among attorneys about how Sackett affects public land. Some argue that protections under federal land management rules will not be as rigorous as those under the Clean Water Act, while others believe that existing laws and policies will continue to protect wetlands. The ruling may also affect environmental reviews for various projects on federal lands, particularly in areas with weak state-level wetlands regulations. The decision has sown confusion, with some fearing that operators may take advantage of the uncertainty to destroy valuable ecosystems.
One of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, which occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, will be re-enacted on Friday as part of a civil lawsuit. The re-enactment aims to demonstrate that Scot Peterson, the school resource officer on duty, intentionally avoided confronting the gunman. Peterson, who was armed but never entered the building during the shooting, has claimed he was unable to determine the source of the gunshots. Lawyers for the victims' families believe the re-enactment will prove that Peterson heard the 70-plus shots but chose not to act. The re-enactment is part of a civil case against Peterson, who was acquitted of criminal charges related to the shooting in June. Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips of the Broward County Circuit Court has not yet ruled on whether the audio and video recordings of the re-enactment will be admissible at trial. The building where the shooting took place will be demolished after the re-enactment, and families in the area have been notified so they can make appropriate plans for the day.