In terms of this day in history generally, specifically American history, September 11th is synonymous with the terrorist attacks in 2001. In terms of legal history, however, while it gave rise to a lot of changes in the American legal system, it is of somewhat less import as the days that followed and policy changes that were made in response to the attacks. For that reason, today in legal history we’ll focus on another September 11th.
On this day in legal history, we turn our attention to a pivotal moment that unfolded on September 11, 1998. In the midst of a political maelstrom, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr took a decisive step that would reverberate through the annals of American politics. On this day, Starr submitted an exhaustive report to the United States Congress, a document that would ignite fervent debates and polarize the nation.
In the report, Starr accused President Bill Clinton of engaging in 11 possible impeachable offenses, a list that included grave allegations such as perjury, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. This was before that became something that a president would handle in a single tweet. These accusations were closely linked to Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, a scandal that had already captured the nation's attention. Starr's report did not hold back, painting a picture of a president who had allegedly abused the powers vested in his office to conceal an affair and mislead the public.
As the report made its way to Congress, it set the stage for a series of tumultuous events, including heated congressional debates and a media frenzy that seemed to permeate every corner of American life. The allegations contained within the report would eventually lead to the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives, marking only the second time in U.S. history that a president faced such a trial. Though Clinton would later be acquitted by the Senate, the Starr report remains a significant chapter in the narrative of American politics, a testament to the complex interplay of power, morality, and the rule of law.
The impeachment proceedings against President Trump in 2019 bear several parallels to those against President Clinton 21 years prior. Notably, 55 current House members voted on Clinton's impeachment, with some, like Lindsey Graham, changing their stance on the gravity of the president's actions since then. The political dynamics surrounding both impeachments were charged, with both Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi perceived as having made early decisions to pursue impeachment against Clinton and Trump, respectively. Both presidents exhibited patterns of repeated questionable conduct, with Clinton's involving personal indiscretions and Trump's concerning foreign influence. Additionally, both presidents attempted to maintain a public presence and focus on their duties during the proceedings. The outcomes of the impeachments also mirror each other, with party loyalty preventing conviction in the Senate. In many ways the Clinton impeachment hearings and outcome set the tempo for Trump’s proceedings and, if the GOP has its druthers, perhaps similar proceedings against Biden closer to election time.
The parallels highlight how much the status quo and mores of politics dictate the goings-on in Washington, as much as an outsider might assume these sorts of proceedings are rigidly outlined in statute.
Following the Supreme Court's ruling against affirmative action, US executives have significantly reduced public discussions about workplace diversity during the last quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The mentions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in earnings calls and conferences among companies listed in the Russell 3,000 Index plummeted by 54% compared to the previous year, marking the lowest point since 2018. Despite the decrease in public discourse, companies have not yet withdrawn their diversity initiatives, but are likely reassessing their programs and the communication surrounding them to avoid potential scrutiny.
John Eastman, a lawyer who represented Donald Trump, is defending his law license against claims of ethical and legal violations brought by the California State Bar. In the ongoing hearing, Eastman called Michael Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, as his first witness to testify about a legislative audit of the 2020 Wisconsin elections, which suggested potential grounds for decertifying the elections. This report, however, was criticized heavily by state officials. Eastman, who faces charges related to his actions post the 2020 election, including encouraging Vice President Pence to reject or delay the counting of electoral votes, could lose his license if found guilty. The hearing saw tense moments, with the judge striking part of Gableman's testimony and instructing him on the role of a percipient witness. The defense is set to present several more witnesses, including John Yoo, a law professor and long-time friend of Eastman, to testify on various charges. The case continues with Eastman returning to the stand on September 13.
In the evolving cryptocurrency landscape, "gas-to-crypto" projects are emerging as a fresh revenue avenue for gas producers. These initiatives involve utilizing gas-powered generators to fuel large data centers, known as "mining rigs", which mine cryptocurrencies. The gas used is often flared, uneconomically produced, or has limited takeaway options, and is supplied to mining rig operators at reduced or nominal fees. These setups can either be a gas sales arrangement where natural gas is sold to cryptocurrency miners, or a joint venture where the producer has a stake in the project assets like mining rigs and generators.
However, this innovative model brings new transactional and litigation risks, including potential royalty claims and breach of lease provisions. The existing legal frameworks may not fully cover the nuances of these projects, posing counterparty risks and possible disputes concerning contract or warranty breaches. As the sector grows, collaboration between industry stakeholders and legal experts will be crucial to balance the potential benefits and inherent risks. A recent lawsuit in Colorado highlights the litigation risks associated with these ventures, emphasizing the need for legal clarity and cooperation in this domain.
On September 8, a federal appeals court moderated an injunction that had limited the Biden administration's ability to communicate with social media companies. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while the government can engage with social media platforms regarding misinformation, it cannot coerce or significantly encourage them to remove content, safeguarding the First Amendment's free speech protections. This decision came in response to allegations from Missouri and Louisiana's Republican state attorneys general that federal officials had unlawfully pressured companies like Meta and Alphabet to censor posts, particularly those concerning COVID-19 and election fraud claims.
The court upheld a narrowed version of the injunction, which now applies specifically to the White House, the surgeon general, the CDC, and the FBI, excluding other federal officials previously encompassed by the lower court's order. This move was praised by Missouri's Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who emphasized that it would prevent the infringement of the First Amendment rights of numerous Americans. The initial lawsuit, which accused social media giants of censorship due to governmental urging and threats of increased regulatory scrutiny, had been filed last year by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, along with several social media users.
Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff under Donald Trump, has been unsuccessful in his attempt to transfer his Georgia state court case to a federal court. This case, where Meadows is accused of facilitating efforts to alter the 2020 U.S. election results, remains in the jurisdiction of Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold, potentially presenting a less favorable jury pool for Meadows. The ruling, delivered by U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, marks a preliminary victory for Fulton County prosecutors who had charged Trump and 18 others, including Meadows, with conspiracy to overturn Trump's election defeat to Joe Biden. Meadows, who has pleaded not guilty, argued that his actions were within the scope of his official duties, which would have allowed for a federal trial and possibly granted him immunity from state prosecution. This development might indicate that similar attempts by Trump to move his trial could also be thwarted. Trump, who is facing criminal charges in several other cases, has denied any wrongdoing.