This Day in Legal History: The Attack on Pearl Harbor
On this day, December 7, in legal history, the focus often turns to a pivotal event in United States history: the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. This surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii led to the United States' formal entry into World War II. While primarily a military event, the attack had significant legal and political repercussions that reshaped the global legal landscape.
The aftermath of Pearl Harbor saw a swift response from the U.S. government. On December 8, 1941, the United States Congress declared war on Japan, marking the nation's official entry into World War II. This decision not only changed the course of the war but also had far-reaching legal implications for international relations and the conduct of war.
One of the most controversial legal outcomes of Pearl Harbor was the internment of Japanese Americans. In February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forcible relocation and internment of about 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. This order, rooted in wartime fear and prejudice, is now widely viewed as one of the most egregious violations of American civil liberties in the 20th century.
The repercussions of Pearl Harbor extended to the international legal arena as well. The attack prompted a reevaluation of international laws concerning warfare, leading to the development of new standards and practices. After the war, the Tokyo Trials, formally known as the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, were convened to prosecute Japanese leaders for war crimes, including those committed during the Pearl Harbor attack.
In recent years, Pearl Harbor Day has been a time not only of remembrance for those who lost their lives but also a moment to reflect on the legal and moral challenges faced during times of crisis. It serves as a reminder of the impact that pivotal events can have on the law, civil liberties, and international relations.
Murray Fisher, a former employee of Airgas USA LLC who was diagnosed with liver cancer, is challenging his termination over a positive cannabis test result in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Fisher, who used legal hemp to manage his cancer-related pain, alleges that the positive test was false and that his firing constituted disability discrimination. The case centers around the "honest belief rule," which protects employers from liability for employment actions based on incorrect information they reasonably trusted at the time. The lower court dismissed Fisher's discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, citing insufficient evidence to prove that Airgas knew the test was incorrect or unreasonably relied on the results.
Fisher's case raises questions about the application of the honest belief rule and whether judges are encroaching on factual determinations that should be left to juries. He argues that Airgas was indifferent to the accuracy of its drug testing and that there's evidence of "purposeful ignorance" on the company’s part. Airgas, on the other hand, maintains that it made a reasonably informed decision to terminate Fisher and that he has failed to demonstrate his disability was a factor in his firing or to discredit the company's rationale for his termination.
The case, which is being heard by a panel including Judges Karen Nelson Moore, David McKeague, and Raymond Kethledge, will provide the Sixth Circuit an opportunity to clarify the scope and application of the honest belief rule in employment discrimination cases. Fisher's argument hinges on the assertion that the evidence of his positive test result for THCA, not illegal THC, and the company's alleged indifference to test accuracy, should preclude summary judgment in favor of Airgas.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, along with conservative media companies The Daily Wire and The Federalist, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of State. The lawsuit alleges that the State Department funded technology through grants to the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) and NewsGuard, which the plaintiffs claim censors conservative news outlets. The lawsuit accuses these organizations of rendering "disfavored press outlets unprofitable" by using technologies that categorize them as high-risk for disinformation, thereby impacting their revenue and social media visibility.
The lawsuit challenges the State Department's statutory authority to fund such tools and argues that this funding infringes upon the media outlets' First Amendment rights. Paxton, who has filed numerous lawsuits against the Biden administration, claims the State Department is illegally attempting to silence dissenting voices. The case, assigned to Judge Jeremy Kernodle, a Trump appointee, reflects ongoing tensions between Republican state attorneys general and the Biden administration regarding the alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints online.
NewsGuard responded by stating that their work with the department’s Global Engagement Center, which accounted for less than 1% of its revenue, was limited to tracking false claims in state-sponsored media in Russia, China, and Venezuela and unrelated to the plaintiffs. They also emphasized that their website reliability ratings are developed through an apolitical process. The case adds to a broader debate about the role of government in regulating online disinformation and the impact on free speech and media revenues.
In my column this week, I discuss the IRS's recent decision to revert the 1099-K reporting threshold from $600 to $20,000 for the current tax year, with a plan to lower it to $5,000 in 2024. I argue that this approach, aimed at reducing taxpayer confusion and administrative backlog, merely postpones the problem. The central issue lies in a widespread public misconception about taxable income, particularly the belief that income is only taxable if the IRS is aware of it.
By way of very brief background, Form 1099-K is a tax document used to report payments received through payment card transactions and third-party network transactions. This form is particularly relevant for businesses and individuals who receive payments through platforms like PayPal and Venmo. When payments for goods or services are received through these platforms, the platform is required to report the transactions to the IRS if they exceed a certain threshold. The 1099-K form provides a detailed summary of these transactions, helping taxpayers accurately report their income. It's an essential tool for ensuring compliance with tax laws, especially for those who engage in significant e-commerce or provide services where payments are frequently processed through these digital platforms. Importantly, receiving it does not impact whether taxes are owed – it is merely informational. Income tax is owed on all income, from whatever source derived.
I highlight the importance of educating the public on what constitutes taxable income, especially with the growth of the gig economy and online marketplaces. The 1099-K form, introduced in 2012, is designed as a reminder of existing tax obligations, not as an indication of new liabilities. The form's thresholds, such as the initial 200 transactions and $20,000 limit, are informational and do not determine when tax is due.
To improve tax literacy, I suggest the IRS should adopt more proactive educational methods, such as creating informative videos, social media campaigns, and advertisements explaining taxable income. Additionally, introducing tax-related curricula in schools could inform young people about tax revenue uses and personal tax obligations. These measures could help address the knowledge gap, particularly among younger taxpayers and those in the gig economy.
I also emphasize the need for the IRS to demonstrate its commitment to ensuring high-income earners pay their fair share of taxes, as public perception of tax fairness is crucial. The IRS should focus on promoting an understanding of tax obligations, fairness in the tax system, and the shared responsibility of tax compliance. I critique the pattern of policy changes followed by public backlash and retraction as inefficient and ineffective in informing the public about tax policy updates. Properly addressing tax compliance and effectively communicating with taxpayers is vital for maintaining public trust and compliance in the tax system.