On this day in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Born in France somewhere around 1412, she emerged as a pivotal figure during the Hundred Years' War. Joan, a peasant girl, claimed to receive divine visions that called her to rally the French against the English invaders. Numerous theories have been floated by modern scholars as to the underlying cause of the visions, but that makes little difference. Thereafter and owing to them, she led armies into battle, and achieved remarkable victories, ultimately contributing to the coronation of Charles VII as the rightful king of France. As so often is the case with folks that lead such movements, the story didn’t end well for her.
In a debt limit deal, President Joe Biden and GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have agreed to reduce the IRS's funding by more than $21 billion from its $80 billion supplemental funding. The White House maintains that this cut will not significantly alter the IRS's operations in the coming years and believes the agency can proceed with its overhaul plans in the near term, though additional funding may be necessary in the future.
McCarthy claims victory, stating that the bill would halt the agency's workforce expansion. The legislation trims $1.4 billion in IRS funding provided by Democrats last year and reallocates $10 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act to non-defense priorities in fiscal years 2024 and 2025. This reduction in funding may be seen as a win for Republicans who have sought to reclaim a significant portion of the allocated funds.
The bill still requires House and Senate votes, with limited time before the approaching deadline when the US could run out of funds to pay its bills. The legislation sets federal spending benchmarks, suspends the debt ceiling until after the 2024 election, and includes various spending cuts across multiple programs. The IRS's requested funding increase has faced criticism from Republicans, but the agency argues that without sufficient operational funding, the supplemental money would be ineffective in transforming its infrastructure. The allocation for enforcement funding has been a contentious issue, with Republicans spreading false claims while Democrats defend the need for increased enforcement to ensure tax compliance among the wealthiest taxpayers and businesses, exempting those making less than $400,000.
ShotSpotter, now known as SoundThinking Inc., is facing an increasing number of subpoenas from attorneys seeking to either support or challenge criminal cases using its data. The company, based in Fremont, California, has been served with subpoenas several times a week and has been asked to produce data in over 250 criminal cases across 22 states.
ShotSpotter's technology uses a network of microphones and sensors to detect possible gunshots, but this has led to arrests for unrelated crimes, putting the company at the center of a legal battle between prosecutors and defense attorneys. Defense attorneys argue that the use of ShotSpotter data violates their clients' constitutional rights, while prosecutors rely on the data to establish probable cause for police stops. The defense bar believes it is necessary to subpoena ShotSpotter data, but as cases are decided by trial courts, both sides will gain a better understanding of how judges treat this evidence, potentially resulting in a decrease in subpoenas.
ShotSpotter has an in-house team and an external law firm to handle the high volume of subpoenas.
The reliability of ShotSpotter data has been questioned, with defense attorneys arguing that it is too unreliable to be used as evidence. The rulings by judges on the admissibility of ShotSpotter evidence have been inconsistent across different states. While ShotSpotter has received court rulings in eight states allowing its data to be used as evidence, defense lawyers will continue to raise Fourth Amendment concerns if prosecutors persist in using the data. The counterargument to its use is that it lacks rigorous scientific testing and reliability comparable to the gold standard, which is DNA evidence.
The Texas House of Representatives has voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch conservative and ally of former President Donald Trump. The vote came after a lengthy debate, with 121 members in favor and 23 against impeachment. Paxton, who is accused by fellow Republicans of abusing his office, will now be temporarily removed from office pending a trial in the Senate. His wife, Angela Paxton, is a senator in the Texas Senate, which is currently in recess until Sunday. Paxton has denied the accusations and criticized the impeachment proceedings as unjust. The impeachment articles include allegations of improperly aiding a political donor, conducting a sham investigation against whistleblowers, and covering up wrongdoing in a federal securities fraud case. The impeachment has exposed divisions among Texas Republicans, with some supporting the removal of Paxton while others criticize the process and question the evidence. Paxton, known for his far-right positions on cultural issues, has filed numerous lawsuits against the Biden administration. The Texas House General Investigating Committee unanimously recommended his impeachment based on years of alleged abuse of office.
Former President Trump is intensifying his attacks on judges as he faces increasing legal scrutiny. He has criticized judges overseeing cases involving him, questioning their motives or legitimacy. Trump has targeted the judge handling the civil case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll and the judge overseeing the hush money case brought against him by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. This strategy is not new for Trump, as he frequently questioned court rulings during his presidency. However, his attacks on judges are notable as he campaigns for the 2024 presidential election, promising "retribution" for those who feel wronged by the government.
Trump has taken to social media, calling judges biased or partisan, and his attacks have raised concerns within the legal community. Observers warn that such irresponsible attacks undermine the justice system and the rule of law. Threats against federal judges have increased in recent years, and some judges and their families have received death threats due to Trump's criticism. The disruptions and threats extend beyond individual cases, potentially discouraging people from participating in the court system. While Trump's rhetoric alarms Democrats and some independents, only a few Republicans have raised concerns about his attacks on the judiciary.
Trump's disregard for the norms surrounding the justice system raises questions about the fairness of his actions and their potential impact on ongoing cases. The responsibility often falls on bar associations and legal organizations to defend the legal system when judges are attacked. Trump's speech has been restricted in some cases, but in others he remains free to discuss the cases and express his opinions on social media. It is unclear whether his strategy is strategic or primarily aimed at gaining public support and fundraising for his campaign.
The IRS's report on implementing an IRS-run direct e-file return system has received widespread approval as it promises a public option for filing tax returns. However, ensuring data security and accountability is crucial when transitioning from a system dominated by for-profit private tax preparers to one dominated by a public entity. While public entities aren't inherently more secure than private ones, accountability for data leaks and mishandling is often lacking in the private sector. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights should be amended to include the Right to Ownership of One's Data, granting taxpayers control over their personal information and the ability to seek compensation and legal recourse if their data is misused by any entity, including the IRS. Looking at Canada's tax system, which primarily relies on an online portal, it becomes evident that the IRS must not disclaim liability in the event of data security violations. A simple process for filing damage claims related to data leaks should be established to protect taxpayers' interests and ensure that the new system prioritizes security and privacy.