Minimum Competence - Daily Legal News Podcast
Minimum Competence
Mon 11/20 - Wisconsin Electoral Drama, Trump to Challenge Gag Order, More Payments from Bayer for Roundup, and Musk Threatens Media Matters

Mon 11/20 - Wisconsin Electoral Drama, Trump to Challenge Gag Order, More Payments from Bayer for Roundup, and Musk Threatens Media Matters

In today’s episode we have a shakeup in the Wisconsin electoral map, Trump to challenge gag order, more payments in Roundup suits, and Musk threatens media watchdog with lawsuit.

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The Monopoly man using an old time telephone.

On November 20, 1974, a significant legal event unfolded in the United States with the Department of Justice filing its final antitrust suit against the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T), marking a pivotal moment in U.S. antitrust history. This lawsuit, United States v. AT&T, stemmed from suspicions in the 1970s by the Federal Communications Commission that AT&T was using monopoly profits from its Western Electric subsidiary to subsidize the costs of its network, an action contrary to U.S. antitrust law. The case, taken over by Judge Harold H. Greene of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in 1978, culminated in a significant settlement in 1982 through a consent decree between AT&T and the Department of Justice.

This settlement led to the 1982 Bell System divestiture, breaking up the old AT&T into seven regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) and a much smaller new AT&T. This decision not only altered the telecommunications landscape but also set a precedent for antitrust actions in the United States.

 However, the long-term effects of this landmark case saw a gradual re-consolidation in the industry. By the early 2000s, several of the regional Bell operating companies began to merge. For example:

  • NYNEX was acquired by Bell Atlantic in 1996, which later became part of Verizon Communications.

  • Pacific Telesis and Ameritech were acquired by SBC (formerly Southwestern Bell Corporation) in 1997 and 1999, respectively, and ultimately became part of AT&T Inc.

  • Bell Atlantic merged with GTE in 2000 to form Verizon Communications.

  • Southwestern Bell Corporation, after rebranding as SBC Communications, acquired AT&T Corporation in 2005 and subsequently renamed itself AT&T Inc., completing a significant reversal of the original divestiture.

  • BellSouth was also acquired by AT&T Inc. in 2006.

  • US West was acquired by Qwest in 2000, which was later acquired by CenturyLink (now Lumen Technologies) in 2011.

The post-divestiture era saw a surge in competition in the long-distance telecommunications market, with companies like Sprint and MCI emerging as significant players. However, the eventual re-consolidation under giants like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications indicates a return to a more concentrated industry structure, albeit not to the same monopoly status that AT&T held before 1984.

This historic case and its aftermath are a testament to the dynamic nature of antitrust law and its impact on shaping industries. The initial breakup spurred competition and innovation, but the subsequent re-consolidation raises questions about the lasting effectiveness of such antitrust interventions in rapidly evolving sectors like telecommunications.

In Wisconsin, a pivotal legal battle is underway regarding the state's electoral map and the power to modify election laws. The state, known for its extremely close presidential elections, faces a dispute over its legislative districts, which critics argue are gerrymandered to favor Republicans. This gerrymandering allegedly creates a significant GOP advantage in a state that is otherwise politically evenly divided.

Democrats are pushing for these district lines to be redrawn before the next elections, citing that the current maps create unequal voter classes and violate state law requiring contiguous districts. The Wisconsin Supreme Court previously upheld the existing maps in 2021, emphasizing minimal changes. This decision solidified the GOP's advantage, established in 2011, in both the state Senate and Assembly districts.

The controversy extends beyond redistricting to broader electoral policies. Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, has vetoed over two dozen election-related bills proposed by the Republican-controlled state legislature, including those aiming to tighten absentee ballot rules and modify the nonpartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission. Additionally, there have been efforts to remove the state's nonpartisan elections commissioner and disputes over voting rules.

The case, Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Comm'n, is set for oral argument and revolves around whether the GOP-favored maps violate the state's separation of powers and whether parts of towns and cities outside districts breach state law. The outcome could mandate the creation of new district lines, impacting future elections in this critical swing state.

America’s Tightest Swing State Goes to Court for Election Power

Donald Trump's lawyers are set to challenge a gag order in a federal appeals court, which restricts Trump from commenting on certain individuals involved in a criminal case accusing him of trying to illegally overturn his 2020 election defeat. Imposed by U.S. Judge Tanya Chutkan, the order aims to prevent witness influence and threats against officials. Trump, eyeing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has criticized the order as a free speech infringement. The order permits criticism of the Justice Department but bars targeting prosecutors, court staff, and potential witnesses. The case, involving charges of conspiring to interfere with the 2020 presidential election results, is scheduled for trial in March 2024. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, faces similar charges in three other criminal cases.

US appeals court to consider Trump gag order in election subversion case | Reuters

In a recent trial in Missouri, Bayer was ordered to pay $1.56 billion in damages related to its Roundup weedkiller. The jury found Bayer's Monsanto business liable for negligence, design defects, and failing to warn about Roundup's dangers. Three plaintiffs, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and one spouse were awarded substantial compensatory and punitive damages. This verdict follows a series of court losses for Bayer, intensifying shareholder pressure to revise its legal approach. Despite Bayer's insistence on Roundup's safety, backed by studies and recent EU approvals, the company faces about 50,000 pending claims and has previously settled thousands of similar cases.

Bayer ordered to pay $1.56 billion in latest US trial loss over Roundup weedkiller | Reuters

Elon Musk, CEO of X (formerly known as Twitter), threatened legal action against Media Matters and others, accusing them of misrepresenting his platform and damaging its advertising revenue. This follows a series of ad suspensions by major companies like IBM and Disney, due to ads appearing alongside antisemitic content on X. Musk's endorsement of an antisemitic post on X drew criticism, including from the White House. Media Matters labeled Musk a "bully" for his lawsuit threat. This controversy comes amid increasing antisemitism in the U.S. and Musk's history of threatened legal actions, such as against the Anti-Defamation League, which he hasn't pursued.

Elon Musk, under fire, threatens lawsuit against media watchdog | Reuters

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