Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Fri 9/1 - Justice Thomas Discloses Crow Gifts, Proud Boys Sentenced, Apple and USPTO Settle in "Smart Keyboard" Trademark Dispute

Fri 9/1 - Justice Thomas Discloses Crow Gifts, Proud Boys Sentenced, Apple and USPTO Settle in "Smart Keyboard" Trademark Dispute

In today’s episode we have Justice Thomas disclosing vacations, Proud Boys sentenced, and Apple and USPTO settle in Smart Keyboard trademark dispute.

On this day in history, September 1, 1807, Aaron Burr, former Vice President and notable shooter of Alexander Hamilton, was acquitted of treason. 

Aaron Burr's 1807 treason trial was a landmark case and one of the earliest tests of the U.S. Constitution's Treason Clause, outlined in Article III, Section 3. The clause was carefully crafted to limit the charge of treason to the most serious of crimes, requiring "the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act" for a conviction. The trial featured key figures from the Constitutional Convention, including Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin, who were part of Burr's defense team. President Thomas Jefferson, who was convinced of Burr's guilt, directed the prosecution.

Burr was arrested in Alabama after being rejected by both major political parties: the Democratic-Republicans for opposing Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election, and the Federalists for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel. He had moved west to seek better fortunes and was involved in a plot to seize lands in Louisiana and Mexico. His plot was exposed when General James Wilkinson, a longtime friend, turned against him and informed federal authorities.

Chief Justice John Marshall, a political adversary of Jefferson, presided over the trial. In an unprecedented move, Marshall issued a subpoena to President Jefferson to provide documents for Burr's defense, which Jefferson partially ignored. The trial hinged on whether Burr had committed an "overt act" of treason. Testimony revealed that Burr was 100 miles away from Blennerhassett's Island on the Ohio River, where the government claimed he was planning an act of treason. Marshall instructed the jury to focus solely on whether an act of war had been conducted on the island, citing an earlier related case, Ex parte Bollman.

The jury quickly acquitted Burr, stating he was "not proved to be guilty under this indictment by any evidence submitted to us." Jefferson was so infuriated by the acquittal that he reportedly wanted to bring impeachment charges against Marshall, echoing a failed attempt in 1805 to impeach Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase. Interestingly, Aaron Burr had presided over Chase's acquittal as Vice President. The trial revealed the complexities and limitations of the Treason Clause, and it also exposed the personal and political animosities between key figures of the era.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas disclosed that Republican megadonor Harlan Crow funded his travel expenses for three trips last year. This is the first time in two decades that Thomas has reported travel funded by Crow, a Dallas real estate developer. The justice also revealed that he sold three properties to Crow in 2014, a transaction he had previously failed to disclose. These disclosures come after a series of ProPublica reports earlier this year that scrutinized Thomas's financial ties to Crow, including luxury vacations and real estate transactions.

In a statement, Thomas's attorney Elliot Berke refuted the allegations, calling them a "partisan feeding frenzy" and stating that the attacks were motivated by disagreement with Thomas's judicial philosophy. Thomas also noted that he did not report earlier vacations with Crow due to new rules adopted by the federal judiciary this year. He added that he had arranged for private transportation to an event in May following an "increased security risk" related to a leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade.

Thomas also corrected previous omissions in his financial disclosures, including bank accounts and a life insurance policy for his wife, Virginia "Ginni" Thomas. He stated that Crow had paid $133,000 for the three properties in Savannah, Georgia, in 2014, resulting in a capital loss for him and his wife.

The disclosure has heightened scrutiny around the ethics and transparency of the Supreme Court, especially as public confidence in the court has declined amid various controversies. Congressional Democrats and advocacy groups have filed ethics complaints against Thomas, but no action or updates have been announced by the Committee on Financial Disclosure, which oversees the reporting process for justices and lower court judges.

Justice Clarence Thomas Reports Trips Paid for by GOP Donor (2)

US Supreme Court's Thomas flew on GOP donor's jet, cites security risks | Reuters

A federal judge has sentenced former Proud Boys leaders Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. They were convicted of seditious conspiracy in an attempt to overturn Donald Trump's 2020 election loss. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly's sentences were lower than the 33-year and 30-year terms that federal prosecutors had sought. Kelly stated that while he did not want to minimize the violence of the event, it was not equivalent to a mass casualty incident.

Before their sentencing, both Biggs and Rehl expressed regret for their actions. Biggs choked up as he spoke about his daughter, who he said needs him, while Rehl broke down, stating that he had let politics consume his life. Prosecutors had partly based their sentencing recommendation for Rehl on evidence that he committed perjury during the trial.

Judge Kelly agreed that the conduct of Biggs and Rehl amounted to an act of terrorism but did not apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentences, stating it "overstates the conduct" at issue. The sentences are among the most stringent handed down in relation to the Capitol attack. To date, more than 1,100 people have been arrested, over 630 have pleaded guilty, and at least 110 have been convicted at trial for charges related to the Capitol assault. The attack resulted in five deaths, including a police officer, and injuries to more than 140 police officers.

Judge sentences ex-Proud Boys leaders to 17 and 15-year terms for US Capitol attack | Reuters

Apple and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) have settled a lawsuit over the rejection of Apple's application for a federal trademark for the term "Smart Keyboard." The dispute was resolved in principle, according to a joint filing, although details of the settlement were not immediately available. Apple's Smart Keyboard serves as an iPad cover, keyboard, and stand. The USPTO initially rejected Apple's trademark application for the term in 2018, and its Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the decision in 2021. The board found that "Smart Keyboard" was a generic term for "technologically advanced keyboards."

Apple appealed the decision to a Virginia federal court last year, arguing that "Smart Keyboard" was a distinctive trade name for its accessory. The company also pointed out that the USPTO had approved hundreds of other "Smart" trademarks, including Apple's own "Smart Cover," "Smart Case," and "Smart Connector" marks for iPad accessories. In response, the USPTO reiterated its stance that "Smart Keyboard" is a generic term and therefore ineligible for a federal trademark.

The case had been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Representatives for both Apple and the USPTO did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the settlement. The resolution puts an end to a legal battle that had implications for trademark law and the tech industry.

Apple, USPTO settle lawsuit over rejected 'Smart Keyboard' trademark | Reuters

Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
The idea is that this podcast can accompany you on your commute home and will render you minimally competent on the major legal news stories of the day. The transcript is available in the form of a newsletter at