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Legal News for Weds 6/26 - Justice Jackson Surprises in Votes Against Defendants, Disparities in Lawyer Earnings, Push for Federal Privacy Law and Disney Facing Antitrust Suit

Legal News for Weds 6/26 - Justice Jackson Surprises in Votes Against Defendants, Disparities in Lawyer Earnings, Push for Federal Privacy Law and Disney Facing Antitrust Suit

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s surprising votes against criminal defendants, disparities in law grads' earnings, the push for a federal data privacy law, and Disney facing an antitrust class suit.
An anthropomorphic mouse that definitely isn’t named Mickey in court, pencil sketch

This Day in Legal History: Pivotal LGBTQ+ Rights Decisions

On this day, June 26th, in legal history, two pivotal Supreme Court decisions significantly advanced the cause of marriage equality in the United States.

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court delivered its decision in United States v. Windsor. In a 5-4 ruling, the Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had defined marriage for federal purposes as the union between a man and a woman. Edith Windsor, the plaintiff, had been denied a spousal tax exemption after her same-sex spouse's death, prompting her to challenge the law. The Court held that DOMA's definition of marriage was unconstitutional as it violated the principles of due process and equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. This landmark decision allowed same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, marking a significant step forward for LGBTQ+ rights and equality.

Two years later, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court issued another historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. In another closely divided 5-4 decision, the Court declared that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment. The case consolidated several challenges from same-sex couples who had been denied the right to marry or have their marriages recognized by their home states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment, same-sex couples cannot be denied that right. This ruling effectively legalized same-sex marriage across the United States, ensuring that all states must perform and recognize marriages between individuals of the same sex.

These decisions on June 26th were monumental in affirming the rights of same-sex couples and dismantling legal barriers to marriage equality, marking significant victories for the LGBTQ+ community and setting precedents for future civil rights advancements.

Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recently surprised defense attorneys with her unexpected votes against criminal defendants, despite her background as a former federal defender. In two cases decided at the end of the term, Jackson broke from her liberal colleagues. She joined the majority in a case broadening expert witness testimony and dissented in another that reinforced the right to a jury trial.

President Joe Biden highlighted Jackson’s unique experience as a public defender when nominating her in 2022. 

In Diaz v. United States, a 6-3 decision, the Court sided with prosecutors on expert witness testimony, allowing experts to discuss what most defendants generally know. Jackson joined Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority opinion and wrote separately, suggesting the rule could benefit both prosecutors and defendants.

In Erlinger v. United States, the Court ruled 6-3 to apply the Apprendi v. New Jersey precedent broadly, requiring juries to decide facts that could increase sentences. Jackson dissented, arguing that Apprendi limits legislative efforts to create fairer sentencing systems. She suggested overturning Apprendi, which surprised many in the defense community given its importance to defendants’ rights.

Some notable defense attorneys have expressed disappointment in her positions, though acknowledging that public defender views are not monolithic.

Justice Jackson Takes Unexpected Positions in Criminal Cases

A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce revealed that law school graduates earn a median salary of $72,000 after debt payments four years into their careers. However, this figure varies significantly depending on the law school attended. Graduates from seven elite law schools, including Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard, have median earnings of over $200,000 after debt. In contrast, graduates from 33 lower-ranking law schools earn $55,000 or less.

The report, titled "A Law Degree Is No Sure Thing: Some Law School Graduates Earn Top Dollar, but Many Do Not," shows that law graduates typically leave school with a median debt of $118,500. Columbia Law School offers the highest return on investment with net median earnings of $253,800 after four years, followed by other top-tier schools. These elite institutions account for about 20% of law students and tend to send over half their graduates to high-paying jobs at large law firms.

Conversely, 20 law schools have graduates with median net earnings of $50,000 or less after debt payments, including Cooley Law School and Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. The study utilized data from various sources, such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Bar Association, to assess employment outcomes, salaries, bar passage rates, and debt.

The report underscores a significant disparity in financial outcomes between graduates of top-ranked law schools and those from lower-ranked institutions.

Law grads' median earnings of $72,000 after debt show 'vast gulf' in pay, study finds | Reuters

Lawmakers in the United States are pushing for the first major federal data privacy legislation, the American Privacy Rights Act, which has bipartisan support. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, aims to establish a national data privacy standard. This would allow individuals to access, delete, and opt out of their data being used for targeted advertising, and would create a national data broker registry.

The U.S. has lagged behind other regions like the European Union, which implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. Industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and TechNet, argue that the bill lacks safeguards to prevent states from adding their own regulations, which could complicate compliance for businesses. They advocate for a unified national standard without additional state-level regulations.

Privacy advocates, however, contend that the bill would hinder states from addressing new technological developments and responding to emerging privacy issues. They fear that federal pre-emption could stifle the progressive influence of states like California, which often leads in privacy regulations. Ashkan Soltani, from the California Privacy Protection Agency, warned against setting static regulations given the rapid pace of technological advancements.

Democratic Representative Suzan DelBene supports the bill, citing the current "patchwork" of state laws as problematic for small businesses. The bill will undergo a markup hearing on Thursday, a crucial step before potentially advancing to a House vote.

US lawmakers push for federal data privacy law; tech industry and critics are wary | Reuters

A federal judge has ruled that Walt Disney Co. must face an antitrust class action lawsuit filed by 25 subscribers to YouTube TV and DirecTV Stream. The subscribers allege that Disney's agreements with rival streaming TV providers, which included access to ESPN content, restrained trade and led to higher prices. Judge Edward J. Davila of the US District Court for the Northern District of California found that the plaintiffs plausibly alleged Disney's conduct harmed competition in the streaming live pay TV market (SLPTV).

The lawsuit claims Disney's agreements prevented other streamers from offering lower-priced bundles excluding ESPN, thus raising subscription costs and protecting Disney-owned Hulu from competition. Despite partially dismissing the initial complaint, the judge allowed an amended complaint to proceed, alleging violations of the federal Sherman Act and state antitrust laws. While the court dismissed claims for damages under the Sherman Act, limiting potential relief to an injunction, it allowed most state antitrust claims to continue, except for those under the Illinois Antitrust Act and Tennessee Trade Practices Act.

The decision follows the Justice Department's plans to review a proposed new streaming service by Disney, Fox Corp., and Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. for potential consumer harm. The case, Biddle et al v. Walt Disney Co., continues to highlight concerns over anticompetitive practices in the streaming industry.

Disney Must Face Antitrust Class Suit by TV Streaming Consumers

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