On this day, July 5th, in legal history, a death sentence for a Florida man convicted of a racially motivated murder was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.
In the case of Barclay v. Florida (1983), the petitioner and a group of men aimed to indiscriminately kill white individuals and incite a racial war. They murdered a white hitchhiker in Florida. The petitioner was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Florida state court jury. According to Florida's death penalty statute, a separate sentencing hearing was conducted before the same jury, which recommended life imprisonment. However, the trial judge, after reviewing a presentence report, imposed the death penalty.
In accordance with the Florida statute, the judge provided written findings of fact, including the presence of aggravating circumstances such as the petitioner knowingly creating a significant risk of death to multiple individuals, committing the murder during a kidnapping, attempting to disrupt governmental functions and law enforcement, and displaying extreme cruelty. Additionally, the judge considered the petitioner's criminal record as an aggravating circumstance, ultimately determining that there were enough aggravating circumstances to justify the death sentence. The judge did not find any mitigating circumstances, noting the petitioner's extensive criminal history and the absence of the statutory mitigating circumstance of no significant prior criminal activity.
The case was automatically appealed, and the Florida Supreme Court upheld the trial judge's findings, concurring with the rejection of the jury's recommendation of life imprisonment. However, the Florida Supreme Court later overturned its decision and sent the case back to the trial court for the petitioner to have a complete opportunity to challenge the information in the presentence report. After a resentencing hearing, the trial court reconfirmed the death penalty based on nearly identical findings, and the Florida Supreme Court once again affirmed the decision.
Thereafter the Supreme Court of the United States took up the case and affirmed the decision once more, holding that the imposition of the death penalty by the trial judge in a situation where the “aggravating circumstances” relied upon were not enumerated in the state’s death penalty statute was not in violation of the constitution. In other words, broad discretion was given to the sentencer in imposing capital punishment.
Labor negotiations between United Parcel Service (UPS) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have reached an impasse, increasing the likelihood of a strike by over 300,000 UPS workers. Talks between the two parties collapsed after weeks of negotiations, with the union claiming that UPS presented an "unacceptable offer" that did not address workers' needs. The Teamsters accused UPS of refusing to provide fair compensation to its employees, while UPS argued that the union had stopped negotiating despite a generous pay offer. The current labor contract, which is the largest private-sector union agreement in the US, expires at the end of July. However, labor leaders have stated that they need additional time to educate and convince their members to ratify a new contract. UPS shares fell following the breakdown in talks. The Biden administration is involved in the negotiations and is hopeful that a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. The discussions have been characterized by tension and tough talk, with both sides failing to agree on issues related to pay and cost-of-living increases. The potential strike comes amid a broader wave of labor unrest in the transportation sector.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is considering a $1 billion plan to stimulate demand for clean hydrogen and provide initial revenue for large-scale producers, as part of its efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The plan aims to address the challenge of scaling up the hydrogen industry by providing certainty to potential buyers. The DOE will explore demand-side commitments to hydrogen producers through mechanisms such as pay-for-delivery contracts and feasibility funding. The program targets industries that are hard to decarbonize, such as heavy-duty trucking, steel, cement, and chemicals. Public comments will inform the program's setup, and the DOE plans to announce up to $7 billion for regional hydrogen hubs across the country. The hydrogen industry faces feasibility challenges and debates over emissions and infrastructure, and demand-side incentives are crucial to attract private capital and mitigate market failures. The DOE draws inspiration from successful funding programs for technologies like photovoltaics and aims to collaborate with other government agencies, including the Defense Department, to support hydrogen procurement needs.
A federal judge in Louisiana has issued a preliminary order that restricts Biden administration officials from contacting social media companies about moderating their content.
The order was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who alleged that U.S. officials violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment by pressuring social media companies to take down posts that officials worried could fuel vaccine hesitancy during the COVID-19 pandemic or conspiracy theories about elections.
The order bars government agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services and certain government officials from communicating with social media companies for "the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech" under the First Amendment.
The Biden administration has argued that there was no threat of harm because the lawsuit challenged communications that ended more than a year ago. It also said that while it urged social media companies to stop the spread of dangerous misinformation, the companies themselves ultimately made their own decisions.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will consider both U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana’s finding, laid out in a 155-page opinion, that the government violated the First Amendment, as well as whether the order he issued in response was too broad, or necessary to prevent harm to the plaintiffs.
The order is likely to face tough legal challenges on appeal, as experts say there is no precedent to support such a sweeping restriction on government communications.
Walt Nauta, a personal aide to former U.S. President Donald Trump, is expected to enter a plea in Miami federal court regarding charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified documents. It is alleged that Nauta helped Trump conceal top-secret documents when he left the White House in 2021. Nauta initially appeared alongside Trump on June 13 but was not arraigned due to the absence of a lawyer licensed to practice in Florida. His arraignment was subsequently postponed a second time for the same reason.
Trump, who is currently the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, pleaded not guilty to 37 criminal counts related to unauthorized retention of national security documents and obstruction of justice. Nauta, a former White House valet and current Trump aide, faces six counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, making false statements, and withholding and concealing documents. Prosecutors claim that Nauta hid boxes of documents from Trump's legal team, who were searching for classified material requested by the U.S. Justice Department, and also lied to investigators during an interview.
The prosecutors have requested a trial delay until December 11, while the initial trial date was set for August 14. Trump is the first U.S. president, past or present, to face criminal charges in both federal and state courts. In addition to the documents case, he was charged in New York for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up payments to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case as well, denying any wrongdoing and claiming that the investigations are part of a political conspiracy against him. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon has scheduled a hearing on July 14 to discuss the handling of classified information in the case, and legal experts anticipate that the complexities surrounding the use of highly classified documents as evidence may lead to delays in Trump's trial.
Conservative legal group, America First Legal, has sent a letter to 200 U.S. law schools threatening legal action if they continue to use racial preferences in admissions and hiring. The group, led by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, argues that such preferences based on race, gender, or national origin are discriminatory and unlawful. The letter, dated June 30, came after the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on affirmative action, which held that giving preferential treatment to some minority college applicants based on race violated the U.S. Constitution. The conservative group demands that law schools immediately terminate all forms of preferential treatment and announce policies prohibiting such practices before the start of the school year. The letter also claims that racial and gender preferences in law journal participation and article selection are violations of the law. Legal experts believe that the interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision and the use of proxies for racial diversity will likely be resolved through future litigation. America First Legal describes itself as a civil rights organization providing free legal representation to victims of unlawful discrimination. The response from law schools, including Harvard and the University of North Carolina, remains unclear.