This day in legal history, November 15th stands out as a significant moment in American legal history with the adoption of the Articles of Confederation by the Continental Congress in 1777. This critical step marked the formation of the United States of America under its first governing document. The Articles of Confederation were revolutionary, establishing a loose federation of sovereign states and a federal government with limited powers, a novel concept at the time.
Crafted during the tumultuous times of the American Revolution, the Articles reflected the colonies' wariness of a strong central authority, a sentiment rooted in their experiences under British rule. The document provided a framework for national coordination, particularly in matters of defense and foreign affairs, while preserving the independence and sovereignty of each state.
However, the Articles had significant limitations. They lacked provisions for a strong executive branch and a federal judiciary, and Congress, the sole governing body, had limited authority. It couldn't levy taxes or regulate commerce, leading to economic difficulties and interstate conflicts.
These shortcomings became increasingly apparent, leading to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The result was the U.S. Constitution, which addressed many of the weaknesses of the Articles and laid the foundation for the robust federal system in place today.
Nevertheless, the adoption of the Articles of Confederation was a milestone in American history. It represented the first attempt to unify the thirteen colonies under a single governmental framework and set the stage for the development of the United States as a nation. On this day, we remember the Articles of Confederation as a crucial step in the evolution of American democracy and legal governance.
Meta Platforms Inc., Google, and TikTok, along with Snap Inc. and Discord Inc., are facing numerous federal lawsuits over claims that they are responsible for addicting young users to social media. US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, overseeing these cases in Oakland, California, has allowed several of these claims to proceed while dismissing others, including product liability accusations. The judge rejected the defense by these companies that they are protected under the First Amendment and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which they claimed immunized them from personal injury claims related to user-generated content.
The ruling noted that the companies used algorithms to hook adolescents and young adults, allegedly causing mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. School districts have also filed complaints, accusing the platforms of creating a public nuisance. Plaintiffs argue that the mental health crisis among American youth is a direct result of harmful product designs by these social media companies.
Google, in response, emphasized their commitment to child safety across platforms, stating that allegations in the complaints are unfounded. The lawsuits seek both an injunction against allegedly harmful practices and damages. This legal development follows a surge in concern over social media's impact on youth, highlighted by former Meta employee Frances Haugen's whistleblower revelations in 2021. The case, officially titled In Re Social Media Adolescent Addiction/Personal Injury Products Liability Litigation, continues to unfold in the US District Court, Northern District of California.
Samuel Miele, a former fundraiser for U.S. Representative George Santos, pleaded guilty to wire fraud related to campaign donations, adding to the mounting legal pressure on Santos. Miele, 27, admitted to impersonating the chief of staff for then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in emails soliciting donations and making unauthorized credit card charges to benefit the campaign and personally enrich himself. He acknowledged collecting a 15% commission on the funds raised and causing over $100,000 in unauthorized charges. As part of his plea, Miele agreed to pay significant sums in restitution and forfeiture.
Prosecutor Laura Zuckerwise highlighted the impact of such fraud on democracy, promising vigorous prosecution. Judge Joanna Seybert set Miele's sentencing for April 30, 2024, with a potential prison term of 27 to 33 months. Miele's lawyer emphasized his client's acknowledgment of his mistakes and acceptance of responsibility.
The case intensifies scrutiny on Santos, who faces accusations of fraud and campaign finance violations from his 2022 campaign, including misrepresenting campaign fund sources and using them for personal expenses. Santos's trial is scheduled for September, ahead of his planned re-election campaign. He has been accused of multiple offenses, including false financial disclosures and unauthorized credit card charges.
Additionally, former Santos campaign treasurer Nancy Marks pleaded guilty to related charges last month. Despite the allegations, Santos has maintained his innocence and intends to continue in office and run for re-election. The Republican Party, holding a slim majority in the House, has resisted efforts to expel Santos. House Speaker Mike Johnson faces challenges in passing legislation due to the narrow majority, with Santos's vote becoming increasingly significant. The House Ethics Committee is expected to conduct an investigation, which could influence future decisions regarding Santos's position in Congress.
The trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump for election interference in Georgia might extend into early 2025, as indicated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Willis, leading the prosecution, stated at a Washington Post Live event that the trial would likely be lengthy, potentially concluding in the winter of 2024 or early 2025, coinciding with the 2024 presidential election season. Trump, a frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and 18 others face charges related to allegedly conspiring to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results, where Joe Biden narrowly won. To date, four co-defendants, including three of Trump's lawyers, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, while Trump and the remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty. The judge overseeing the case has not set a trial date yet and has suggested the possibility of separate trials for different aspects of the case. District Attorney Willis expressed disappointment over the leak of video clips from guilty plea statements to the media, including one that quoted a former Trump lawyer discussing Trump's refusal to leave the White House. Willis has filed a motion to prevent further public release of evidence, with a court hearing scheduled to address this issue.
The American Bar Association (ABA) is set to vote on new free speech rules for law schools, a decision prompted by recent campus conflicts, particularly those involving Israeli and Palestinian supporters. These rules are a response to the need for free expression in legal education and law development, necessitated by events at several prominent law schools over the past two years. The proposed standard emphasizes the importance of free, robust, and uninhibited idea exchange, covering a wide range of viewpoints.
According to the proposal, law schools would be required to create free speech policies that protect faculty, staff, and students' rights to express controversial or unpopular ideas, including through debates, demonstrations, or protests. These policies would also need to prohibit disruptive activities that impede free expression or significantly interfere with law school functions. Activities that pose genuine threats, harassment, defamation, or violate laws could be restricted.
While the proposed rule lacks a specific enforcement mechanism, non-compliance could lead to a law school losing its accreditation. If passed by the ABA Council, the rule will be presented to the ABA’s House of Delegates in February for final approval.
The proposal follows incidents at Stanford and Yale Law Schools where students disrupted controversial speakers, and a case at New York University School of Law where a student leader was removed for a controversial statement in an online newsletter. Public comments on the proposal, mostly supportive, suggest a demand for clearer definitions of harassment and protections against unprotected speech, but the ABA has chosen to maintain a general statement to allow law schools flexibility in drafting their policies.