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Legal News for Fri 4/26 - SCOTUS Deliberates on Trump Immunity Claims, New EPA Rules on PFAS in Superfunds, Weinstein NY Conviction Overturned and Flynns vs. CNN

Legal News for Fri 4/26 - SCOTUS Deliberates on Trump Immunity Claims, New EPA Rules on PFAS in Superfunds, Weinstein NY Conviction Overturned and Flynns vs. CNN

The Supreme Court's deliberation on Trump's immunity claims, new EPA rules on PFAS, Flynns lose suit on "Qanon" defamation suit against CNN, and the overturning of Weinstein's conviction.
Donald Trump in court, pencil sketch

This Day in Legal History: WIPO Established

On April 26, 1970, a significant advancement in the protection and management of intellectual property took place with the establishment of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This marked the enforcement of the Convention Establishing WIPO, making it one of the specialized agencies under the United Nations focused on intellectual property (IP) issues. WIPO's primary mission is to promote and protect intellectual property across different countries by fostering international cooperation. As of now, 184 countries are signatories to the convention, showcasing a global commitment to the principles laid out by WIPO.

WIPO plays a crucial role in the development of a balanced and accessible international IP system, which benefits both creators and the public, thereby contributing to economic, social, and cultural development worldwide. The organization administers 26 international treaties, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. These treaties serve as the backbone for international IP law, standardizing the protection of IP across borders and promoting creative activity globally.

WIPO also assists countries in developing their IP strategies and provides a platform for dispute resolution concerning IP. Through its various programs, WIPO enhances the ability of countries to utilize IP for economic development. Additionally, WIPO’s efforts include tackling the challenges of IP in relation to new technologies, which continually reshape the boundaries of law and creativity.

The creation of WIPO in 1970 was a response to the growing significance of intellectual property in the age of technological and artistic innovation, recognizing the need for a systematic approach to IP issues that transcended national borders. Today, WIPO continues to evolve as it addresses emerging issues in intellectual property influenced by the digital age and globalization, underscoring its ongoing relevance in international legal and economic landscapes.

The Supreme Court is currently deliberating on Donald Trump's assertion of immunity from prosecution regarding charges that he illegally tried to remain in power. During a hearing, there was notable skepticism from the justices towards Trump's broad claims of immunity relating to his efforts to overturn the election results of 2020. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested possibly remanding the case back to lower courts for a more detailed examination of the allegations, indicating that the appeals court had not sufficiently scrutinized the specifics of the actions and documents in question.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh expressed concerns about the potential long-term implications of making presidents vulnerable to prosecution for their official acts, fearing it could cyclically affect future presidents. Meanwhile, the liberal justices questioned the absence of constitutional immunity for presidents, highlighting the risk of a president acting without fear of legal consequences. Justice Amy Coney Barrett also challenged the idea that former presidents could only be prosecuted post-impeachment.

The case underscores the urgency from Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is pressed by time constraints to try Trump before the upcoming election, given that a trial and subsequent conviction could adversely affect Trump’s electoral prospects. Trump, facing multiple prosecutions, has argued for absolute immunity for actions taken while in office, which include his conduct leading up to and on January 6th.

There are fundamental questions that must be addressed about the scope of presidential power and its limits, which are central to the case's legal and constitutional stakes.

Supreme Court Wary of Trump Immunity But May Keep Trial on Hold

The Biden administration's Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program, a key component of the Inflation Reduction Act aimed at reducing the costs of certain Medicare Part D drugs by 2026, has attracted significant legal attention. Numerous former government officials, scholars, and patient advocacy groups have filed amicus briefs supporting the administration in response to legal challenges from the pharmaceutical industry, which contests the constitutionality of the program.

These challenges involve several constitutional claims by the pharmaceutical companies, including violations of compelled speech under the First Amendment, the takings clause and due process under the Fifth Amendment, and excessive fines under the Eighth Amendment. The industry argues that the program unlawfully compels them to sell their products at government-dictated prices without just compensation.

However, a notable decision by Chief Judge Colm F. Connolly dismissed AstraZeneca's due process claims, asserting that the manufacturer did not have a constitutional property interest jeopardized by the program. This decision aligns with several key legal precedents cited in various amicus briefs that reinforce the government's position.

The case also touches on broader implications for governmental regulatory powers and the limits of constitutional protections for businesses under economic regulation frameworks. Legal experts and scholars have argued that the claims raised by the pharmaceutical industry stretch constitutional interpretations to protect against price negotiation practices that have been historically upheld as constitutional.

The legal battle also involves a debate over the First Amendment, with the government asserting that the program does not compel speech from drug manufacturers. Judges and legal experts have scrutinized these claims, emphasizing the potential impact of accepting such an interpretation on a wide range of regulatory activities.

While the majority of amicus briefs support the government, a few filed on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry focus on concerns about stifling drug innovation and the severe financial penalties imposed for non-compliance with the program's pricing mandates.

The ongoing legal proceedings at the district court level, though less common for amicus filings than higher courts, play a crucial role in shaping the preliminary legal landscape before potentially reaching the Supreme Court. The involvement of high-level legal expertise in the form of amicus briefs underscores the significant stakes and complex legal issues at play, reflecting the profound implications of the outcome on the healthcare sector and regulatory practices.

Wave of Amicus Briefs Back Drug Price Plan at Trial Court Stage

The EPA’s recent final rule under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law, designates two PFAS chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)—as hazardous substances. This designation is expected to significantly impact companies responsible for contaminated sites, potentially leading to the reevaluation and cleanup of sites previously considered resolved.

The rule aims to address sites contaminated with PFOA and PFOS, which are part of a group of chemicals known as "forever chemicals" due to their persistence in the environment. Currently, only a small fraction of National Priorities List (NPL) sites have been identified as contaminated with these substances, but this number is expected to rise as more comprehensive testing is implemented. The EPA's action follows increasing evidence of the health risks associated with high concentrations of these chemicals, including potential links to cancer and other serious health issues.

Companies and other entities responsible for releases of these chemicals will face new reporting requirements if they release one pound or more of PFOA or PFOS within a 24-hour period. These reports will contribute to the Toxics Release Inventory and are part of broader efforts to increase transparency and regulatory oversight regarding PFAS releases into the environment.

The designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA is likely to lead to significant legal and financial implications for responsible parties due to the costly nature of cleanup efforts and potential litigation. Moreover, the rule’s implications extend beyond immediate cleanup efforts, potentially impacting water utilities and prompting them to seek remediation and accountability from polluters as stricter limits on PFAS in tap water are set to take effect.

This regulatory change reflects a growing recognition of the serious environmental and health impacts of PFAS chemicals, and it aligns with broader environmental justice efforts to address pollution exposure disparities among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. The long-term challenges of managing PFAS contamination will involve complex legal, environmental, and public health considerations, particularly as affected communities and regulatory agencies navigate the implications of these pervasive pollutants.

New PFAS Designation Expected to Spark Rise in Superfund Sites

Harvey Weinstein's 2020 conviction for sexual assault and rape was overturned by New York's highest court on April 25, 2024. The court, in a closely contested 4-3 decision, cited critical errors by the trial judge, particularly in allowing testimony about alleged assaults that were not directly related to the charges Weinstein faced. This decision has reignited discussions about the challenges in prosecuting powerful figures and has been met with dismay by many, including actress Ashley Judd, who viewed it as an institutional betrayal.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office, led by Alvin Bragg, has indicated plans to retry the case, underscoring their ongoing commitment to addressing sexual assault. The overturned conviction, which had been a significant victory for the #MeToo movement, involved allegations by Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann that dated back to 2006 and 2013, respectively.

Weinstein's legal team celebrated the decision as a triumph for justice, noting Weinstein's relief and resilience despite his ongoing incarceration. He remains imprisoned on a separate 16-year sentence in California for similar charges, which stands unaffected by the New York ruling.

This case has had broad implications, influencing legislation and public awareness about sexual misconduct. New York, among other states, has passed laws allowing civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct outside the typical statutes of limitations, reflecting a legislative response to #MeToo. The case's developments continue to be closely watched, with potential impacts on both legal precedents and societal norms concerning accountability for sexual violence.

Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction is overturned by top New York court | Reuters

The defamation lawsuit filed by Jack and Leslie Flynn against CNN, which involved claims of being wrongfully associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, has been dismissed by a judge. The case revolved around a CNN segment that showed the Flynns at a barbecue raising their hands while Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor, recited a phrase linked to QAnon. The Flynns argued that this portrayal falsely labeled them as QAnon followers, which they considered defamatory.

CNN countered that the phrase "where we go one, we go all" used by Michael Flynn during the event is widely recognized as associated with QAnon, and that the Flynns were visible participants in the event. The court, upon review, determined that the term "QAnon followers" as used in the context of the CNN segment is a non-defamatory opinion, not a statement of fact. The judge ruled that opinions, especially when based on disclosed, non-defamatory facts, do not constitute defamation.

Furthermore, the court highlighted that the portrayal of the Flynns in the segment was based on their actual appearance and participation in an event alongside Michael Flynn, which is not disputed by the Flynns. The dismissal reflects judicial recognition of the challenges in proving defamation when the statements in question are based on interpreted opinions rather than explicit facts. The decision underscores the importance of context in defamation cases, particularly when public figures and political movements are involved. This case also reflects ongoing legal debates about the limits of free speech and the scope of media responsibility in reporting on controversial public figures and events.

Flynn Family’s SLAPP Suit Against CNN Slapped Down By Judge | Techdirt

Ludwig van Beethoven frolicking and having fun, pencil sketch

This week’s closing theme is by Ludwig van Beethoven.

For this week's closing piece of classical music, where we will once again delve into the towering genius of Ludwig van Beethoven and his monumental Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, Op. 106, known as the "Hammerklavier." Composed in 1819, the "Hammerklavier" Sonata stands as one of the pinnacles of Beethoven’s creative output and showcases his profound depth in musical structure and expressive range.

This sonata is particularly renowned for its technical difficulty and ambitious scope, pushing the boundaries of the piano sonata form of the time. Beethoven's late period, during which he composed the "Hammerklavier," is marked by an increased use of complex structures and an exploration of new musical ideas, and this sonata is a testament to his innovative spirit.

This week, we will focus specifically on the second movement of this sonata, the Scherzo: Assai vivace. In stark contrast to the grandiose and deeply serious first movement, the Scherzo bursts with energy and playfulness. Its rapid tempo and lively rhythms present a dazzling display of technical prowess and artistic flair. This movement is a brilliant example of Beethoven’s ability to juxtapose contrasting moods within a single piece, providing a refreshing and exhilarating counterpart to the sonata’s more introspective segments.

The Scherzo is structured around a lively theme that leaps and dances across the keyboard, filled with syncopated rhythms and sudden dynamic changes that challenge even the most skilled pianists. It embodies a sense of joy and almost mischievous playfulness, showcasing Beethoven’s mastery in transforming musical ideas into a vivid emotional narrative.

As we close this week's episode with the Scherzo from Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata, let the vivacity and brilliance of this music inspire you. It serves not only as a showcase of Beethoven’s technical mastery but also his undiminished spirit and the enduring power of his music to evoke a wide range of profound emotions. Enjoy the spirited journey through one of the most challenging yet rewarding pieces in the piano repertoire.

Without further ado, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29 “Hammerklavier”, Op. 106 - II. Scherzo - Assai vivace.

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