This Day in Legal History: First Meeting of the Supreme Court
On this day in legal history, a landmark event occurred on February 1, 1790, marking a significant moment in the American judicial system. On this date, the Supreme Court of the United States convened for its inaugural session, a pivotal step in establishing the country's legal framework. This historic meeting took place in the Merchants' Exchange Building in New York City, which was then serving as the national capital. The first assembly of the Supreme Court was an event of monumental importance, symbolizing the operational commencement of the U.S. judiciary under the new Constitution.
The Supreme Court's first session was presided over by Chief Justice John Jay, a key figure in the early development of the United States' legal system. Alongside him were five Associate Justices: James Wilson, John Blair, James Iredell, William Cushing, and John Rutledge. These men were the pioneers in the highest court of the land, tasked with laying the foundation for the judicial interpretation of the Constitution. Despite the significance of this event, the initial meeting faced a delay. Due to the transportation challenges of the 18th century, Chief Justice Jay postponed the meeting until the next day, highlighting the logistical difficulties of that era.
The primary objective of this first gathering was not to adjudicate cases but to focus on organizing the Supreme Court itself. This organizational session was crucial for setting up the procedures and principles that would guide the Court in its future deliberations. It was not until 1792 that the Supreme Court heard its first actual case, Chrisholm v. Georgia. This case, heard two years later, would mark the beginning of the Court's long history of legal adjudication and interpretation, a legacy that continues to shape American law and society–for better or worse. The establishment of the Supreme Court in 1790 thus stands as a cornerstone in the construction of the United States’ legal system, a testament to the foresight and vision of the nation's founders–for better or worse.
A Pennsylvania lawyer, Zachary Greenberg, has escalated a challenge against an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination rule for attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court. Greenberg, associated with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, disputes the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals' August ruling which denied his standing to challenge the rule. The 3rd Circuit found the rule, which prohibits intentional harassment or discrimination, inapplicable to Greenberg’s professional activities. However, Greenberg argues that the 3rd Circuit erred in its standing decision due to subsequent revisions to the rule and assurances from a Pennsylvania bar official that he would not be disciplined under it.
Greenberg's petition to the Supreme Court claims that changes in policy do not alter the standing issue, even if his complaint adapts to new policies. The rule in question, modeled after an American Bar Association standard, forbids lawyers from knowingly engaging in discriminatory or harassing conduct. Greenberg fears that his presentations on offensive language could be construed as violations of this rule. However, the 3rd Circuit panel opined that the rule does not likely prohibit Greenberg's planned activities.
Initially adopted in 2020, the rule was later amended following Greenberg's initial lawsuit. A U.S. District Judge declared the revised rule unconstitutional in March 2022, but the 3rd Circuit reinstated it later. The rule has garnered support from the American Bar Association and other bar groups, while facing opposition from conservative, religious, and civil rights organizations over concerns of potential misuse. The case, Greenberg v. Lehocky, continues to evoke debate on the balance between professional conduct standards and free speech rights within the legal community.
Elon Musk is advancing plans to relocate Tesla's legal domicile to Texas, following a court defeat in Delaware concerning his compensation at Tesla Inc. Musk, who has already moved Tesla's headquarters and his personal and charitable interests to Texas, is now proposing a shareholder vote to change Tesla's incorporation from Delaware to Texas. This move comes after a Delaware judge invalidated his $55 billion pay package, prompting Musk to seek his followers' opinion on the relocation, which garnered overwhelming support for Texas.
Texas has been actively attracting businesses with its low taxes and regulatory environment. The state is also developing its own business-court system, presenting a challenge to Delaware's dominance in U.S. incorporations. However, moving Tesla's legal base to Texas poses risks due to the unpredictability and lengthy resolution times of business disputes in Texas courts, in contrast to Delaware's established corporate-governance laws and experienced Chancery court judges.
To address these concerns, Texas is setting up dedicated business courts in major cities, although there are challenges in recruiting experienced judges due to lower salaries compared to Delaware. Musk's interest in Texas also extends to his other ventures, such as SpaceX and a new school planned in Austin. His growing ties to Texas are evident, although his political contributions in the state have been relatively modest. Despite preferring to avoid politics, Musk has shown a warmer relationship with Texas Governor Greg Abbott on social media, aligning with the state's business and social policies.
A lawsuit filed by Donald Trump against Orbis Business Intelligence, a British private investigations firm, was dismissed by London's High Court. The suit was related to the Steele dossier, which made allegations about connections between Trump's campaign and Russia. Former U.S. President Trump, currently a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, initiated the data protection lawsuit over claims in the dossier authored by Orbis co-founder and ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
Judge Karen Steyn ruled that Trump's case lacked compelling reasons to proceed. In a witness statement, Trump had asserted that he filed the lawsuit to disprove allegations in the dossier, particularly those regarding supposed "perverted sexual acts" in Russia. These claims, published on BuzzFeed in 2017, were largely unsubstantiated, and Trump's legal team described the report as "egregiously inaccurate," containing false or fabricated allegations.
Judge Steyn, in her ruling, did not make any determination regarding the accuracy of these allegations. Orbis contended that Trump's lawsuit was merely an attempt to settle "longstanding grievances" against the company and Steele. Judge Steyn found that Trump had no reasonable grounds for seeking compensation or damages. This London lawsuit is one of many legal challenges involving Trump, who is also facing four separate criminal prosecutions in the United States.
Actor Alec Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Western movie "Rust" in New Mexico. Baldwin entered his plea and waived his right to an arraignment, following a grand jury indictment on January 19. This indictment revived the criminal case which had been previously dismissed.
Baldwin, known for his role in "30 Rock," remains free without bond. The case has garnered significant attention, raising questions about firearms safety in film and TV production. Baldwin has consistently denied responsibility for Hutchins' death, maintaining that he was told the gun was "cold" and that it discharged without him pulling the trigger. The original charges were questioned over the possibility of the gun being modified to fire on its own.
However, prosecutors pursued the indictment after an independent forensic test concluded the gun could not fire without the trigger being pulled. The shooting not only resulted in Hutchins' death but also wounded director Joel Souza. Evidence presented by the special prosecutor suggests that the live round was introduced to the set by the movie's weapons handler, Hannah Gutierrez.
Gutierrez faces a separate trial for involuntary manslaughter charges on February 21. David Halls, the film's assistant director who handed Baldwin the gun, has entered a plea deal. The core issue remains how a live round, which is strictly prohibited on film sets, ended up in Baldwin's gun. Prosecutors have evidence of live rounds on set days before the incident. Gutierrez's attorney disputes the prosecutors' claims, suggesting that the evidence will be clarified during the trial.