On this day in legal history, December 4th, in 1969, a significant and controversial event in the history of law enforcement and civil rights occurred in Chicago, Illinois. Fred Hampton, a charismatic leader of the Black Panther Party, and fellow Panther Mark Clark were tragically killed during a predawn raid by a special tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois, State's Attorney's Office, alongside the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This incident not only sparked widespread outrage but also raised profound legal and ethical questions about law enforcement practices.
The raid was ostensibly conducted to search for illegal weapons. However, it later emerged that the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO operation, had specifically targeted the Black Panther Party as part of a broader effort to disrupt and discredit radical political organizations. The details of the raid revealed a deeply troubling scenario: most of the nearly 100 shots fired came from law enforcement, while evidence suggested that only one shot was fired by the Panthers.
Fred Hampton, who was only 21 years old, had been rapidly rising as a prominent and influential figure in the Black Panther Party. Known for his powerful oratory and organizing skills, Hampton was instrumental in brokering a nonaggression pact among Chicago's powerful street gangs and was actively involved in developing community service programs.
The deaths of Hampton and Clark led to numerous lawsuits and legal actions. In 1970, a federal grand jury concluded that the raid was "ill-conceived" and resulted in "unjustified use of excessive force." Subsequent civil suits led to a settlement in 1982, where the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government agreed to pay $1.85 million to the survivors and the families of Hampton and Clark.
This incident remains a stark reminder of the tensions between law enforcement and civil rights, highlighting issues of police brutality, racial injustice, and the limits of lawful governmental action. It has since become a significant case study in law schools and criminal justice programs, examining the balance between law enforcement objectives and the protection of civil liberties.
Sandra Day O'Connor, a towering figure in American jurisprudence, passed away at 93 on December 1, 2023. Born on March 26, 1930, O'Connor grew up on her family's Arizona ranch, a challenging environment that instilled in her a strong work ethic. Graduating high school at 16, she attended Stanford University, and at the age of 19, entered Stanford Law School, where she was one of only five women in her class. Despite graduating near the top of her class, O'Connor faced gender-based employment barriers, eventually finding work in the San Mateo County, California, county attorney’s office.
Her legal career was marked by several firsts: she was the first woman to lead a state senate as Arizona Senate majority leader in 1973, and in 1981, she broke centuries-old barriers as the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan, she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
During her tenure, O'Connor was known for her pragmatic approach and became a pivotal vote on contentious issues, including preserving a woman’s right to abortion and upholding affirmative action on college campuses. Her philosophy was one of incremental change, avoiding sweeping pronouncements in favor of building consensus. Over time, her views evolved, reflecting a growing liberal inclination, especially evident in her critical alliance to affirm Roe v. Wade's central holding in 1992.
O'Connor's impact went beyond court rulings. She was an advocate for breast cancer awareness and Alzheimer's research, the latter influenced by her husband's diagnosis. Post-retirement, she focused on civics education, founding iCivics to provide free online resources. In 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Justice O'Connor's legacy is profound. She demonstrated that the judiciary is not just a place for legal acumen but also for humanity, empathy, and a deep understanding of the evolving societal landscape. Her passing marks the end of an era, but her influence on the legal profession and the lives of Americans will endure for generations.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the legality of Purdue Pharma's bankruptcy settlement, which has been challenged by President Joe Biden's administration. The settlement involves Purdue's wealthy Sackler family owners, who would receive legal immunity in exchange for paying up to $6 billion to settle lawsuits related to the opioid crisis. This deal was initially upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Biden administration contends it could set a precedent for wealthy individuals and corporations to evade mass-tort liability through bankruptcy.
The central legal question is whether U.S. bankruptcy law allows for Purdue's restructuring to include legal protections for the Sacklers, who haven't filed for personal bankruptcy. Purdue filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2019, largely due to lawsuits alleging that its OxyContin medication fueled the opioid epidemic, causing over half a million U.S. overdose deaths in two decades. The proposed settlement, approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge in 2021, is estimated to provide $10 billion in value to creditors, including governments, hospitals, and individual victims.
While the Biden administration and eight states initially challenged the settlement, all states dropped their opposition after the Sacklers increased their contribution to the settlement fund. The 2nd Circuit ruled that allowing lawsuits against the Sacklers would undermine Purdue's bankruptcy settlement. The Sackler family, while denying wrongdoing, expressed regret about OxyContin's role in the opioid crisis. The administration argues that the settlement is an abuse of bankruptcy protections and alleges that the Sacklers withdrew $11 billion from Purdue before agreeing to the $6 billion settlement. Despite opposition from the administration, over 60,000 personal injury claimants support the settlement and the Sacklers' legal immunity, emphasizing the need for the funds in addressing the opioid crisis.
Bayer is currently facing heightened scrutiny as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a significant case involving its Roundup weedkiller, amid mounting legal challenges and investor pressure. This attention comes after a series of recent trial losses, where plaintiffs successfully argued that Roundup causes cancer, overturning Bayer's previous nine-trial winning streak. The ongoing Philadelphia trial, involving Pennsylvania resident Kelly Martel's claim of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup use, is particularly critical in determining the trend of these litigations.
Key factors influencing the trial outcomes include judicial decisions allowing jurors to consider regulatory issues and a shift in plaintiffs' strategy focusing on chemicals in Roundup besides glyphosate, its active ingredient. Bayer, which acquired Roundup through its $63 billion purchase of Monsanto in 2018, maintains the product's safety but faces about 50,000 lawsuits. In 2020, Bayer agreed to a $9.6 billion settlement for existing lawsuits but couldn't cover future claims.
Bayer's recent losses include a $1.56 billion verdict, which it plans to appeal. The company attributes these losses to what it perceives as improper evidence presented in court, particularly concerning regulatory rulings on glyphosate. However, plaintiffs' lawyers argue that new studies support the cancer link and have recently emphasized the presence of other toxins in Roundup, enhancing its cancer-causing potential.
As more trials are expected in 2024, Bayer remains selective in settlements, reassuring investors of its financial reserves for litigation. The outcome of Martel's case, expected to be decided soon, could further influence the legal landscape for Bayer and its handling of Roundup-related lawsuits.
The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear oral arguments in Moore v. United States, a pivotal tax-law case with potentially wide-ranging implications. The case centers on the constitutionality of the mandatory repatriation tax imposed by the 2017 tax law, which taxes companies' past foreign earnings. Charles and Kathleen Moore, a retired couple, are challenging this tax over a $14,729 tax bill related to their investment in an Indian company. Their case raises the question of whether income must be "realized" to be taxed, a decision that could impact future wealth taxes and existing tax provisions.
Tax experts, including academics and practitioners, are concerned that a ruling in the Moores' favor could undermine large sections of the U.S. tax code, potentially affecting taxes based on unrealized income. This includes international taxes designed to combat profit-shifting and taxes on sophisticated investments. At the state level, such a ruling could erode tax bases, as many states use federal adjusted gross income as a starting point for their tax calculations.
The case's outcome could necessitate new legislation and regulation, provoke a surge in litigation, and destabilize state tax systems. Additionally, the case is being closely watched for its potential impact on the U.S.'s participation in the OECD’s new 15% global minimum tax. With the Supreme Court's decision expected by June, the tax world is bracing for the potential consequences of this landmark case.