In too many ways, 2013 was a year that vindicated the long-standing paranoia of many Americans, particularly the more conservative. A bewildering number of stories littered the news that seemed to confirm exactly the sort of gross government overreach that previously sounded like a delusion of someone whose eyes were scanning the skies for black helicopters. In spring 2013, for example, we learned that the IRS had been targeting the 501(c)(3) applications of conservative and libertarian organizations, apparently based solely on their political and philosophical affiliations. Nothing in 2013, though, fanned the flames of political paranoia quite like revelations of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.
In Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, decided in February, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Amnesty International’s constitutional challenge to a portion of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In its 5-4 opinion, the Court found that Amnesty lacked Article III standing, in part because the plaintiffs could not show that they had necessarily been targeted for surveillance. When Edward Snowden later disclosed details of the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, civil libertarians experienced something of a Pyrrhic victory. Standing would not be a problem in many future lawsuits because the revelation of PRISM established that millions of Americans had been subject to some NSA spying. The only question was whether that surveillance amounted to a violation of the law.
As we leave 2013 and 2014 dawns, some new developments have emerged . . . .
* Stop bullying the judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. They don’t cave to just any government data request — they make changes to about 25 percent of them. But uh… they don’t like to talk about the other 75 percent. [Bloomberg]
* Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the number of Biglaw firms with failing grades for diversity. Hunton & Williams, Patton Boggs, and Thompson Coe are by far the worst offenders of all 19 large firms, with ZERO minority partners. [Texas Lawbook]
* A contract attorney is currently facing criminal charges for felony overbilling (which isn’t actually a real crime, but it’d be cooler if it was… plus it would make lots of lawyers from DLA Piper cry). [Radio Iowa]
* Well, at least one school got the message about the tuition being too damn high. Iowa Law is reducing tuition for out-of-state students by about $8K in the hopes of filling more seats. [Des Moines Register]
* Amanda Knox, more commonly known as Foxy Knoxy, says that she’s no “femme fatale,” but she’s being portrayed, again, as a “sex-obsessed she-devil” after already being acquitted of murder. [Reuters]
* Fashion designer Christian Louboutin was seeing red over the use of his trademark red soles in anti-Islam political messages, so he sued over it, and this time, he won. Rejoice, fashionistas! [New York Magazine]
* Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Department of Justice will be declassifying some secret opinions from the FISA Court. We wonder who’ll be hosting the giant redaction party. [Associated Press]
* Morgan Lewis paid out a $1.15 million settlement over unfinished business claims to this defunct firm. Great work, Mr. Diamond, but Howrey going to get the rest to do the same? [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]
* “[Shon] Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck.” Now that this former bank robber has a clerkship with the D.C. Circuit, the judge who sentenced him is having second thoughts. [The Two-Way / NPR]
* Laptops are useful tools for students in law school classrooms, but they’re also great for checking Above the Law and buying shoes while professors are droning on and on. Apparently we needed a study to confirm this. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]
* George Zimmerman’s wife filed for divorce, citing “disappointment” as one of her reasons for ending the marriage. Don’t worry, Shellie, half of the nation was disappointed with the verdict too. [Washington Post]
* Zynga is suing the makers of Bang With Friends alleging that the latter chose its name to take advantage of market confusion with Words With Friends. To remedy the suit, the app is considering a name change to “Bangville,” which actually works better because Bang With Friends is all about pathetically bothering everyone on Facebook to give you something you can’t go out and get yourself. [BBC]
* Ariel Castro gave some testimony. It was crazy. Enjoy! [Jezebel]
* A comprehensive legal analysis of Better Off Dead. Spoiler alert: the Paperboy was a penal code violating machine. [The Legal Geeks]
* 10 Things Only Someone Who’s Taken the Bar Exam Would Know [Policy Mic]
* Just where is the FISA Court? 10 points to Gryffindor for the “Room of Requirement” reference. [Konklone]
* The NBA luxury tax is supposed to help parity. So why doesn’t it? [The Legal Blitz]
* Brutally honest Craigslist ad for temp document review work. This will probably come down at some point, so the ad is reproduced after the jump…
Last year, we noted that after five years of nothingness, despite what the law required, the federal government finally had a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), after years of nominations that went nowhere. The PCLOB does now exist and has been charged with looking into the government’s surveillance efforts. While the PCLOB does have some really good members who are strong privacy/civil liberties advocates, there are significant questions about how much authority it actually has. Still, on Tuesday, the PCLOB held hearings on the ongoing surveillance programs, and perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of them were the comments from James Robertson, a former FISC judge, who had quit the court, but had not spoken publicly about why until now…
Last week, I tested out a longer-form article picking up other stories from the week and stuff that got overlooked and put together a sort of “week in review.” Folks seemed to like it according to our handy-dandy analytics, so we’re trying it again to see if it was just a fluke of the busiest legal news week of the year.
So here are three bits of legal news from the holiday-shortened week that was, including the George Zimmerman trial’s technical difficulties, a lot of butthurt FISA judges, and… wait, is that an honest to God Third Amendment case?!?
* Who is the real John Roberts? Will he forever be known as health care reform’s savior, or the man who disregarded precedent to gut minority voting rights? Hell if we know, so we’ll let you be the judge. [Opinionator / New York Times]
* The man may be a mystery, but one thing’s for sure when it comes to Chief Justice Roberts: it’s fair to say that at this point, he’d sincerely appreciate it if his colleagues would kindly STFU during oral argument. [Big Story / Associated Press]
* Elena Kagan, a justice who was never a judge, is now being praised for her ability to put the law into terms that non-lawyers can understand. That’s a score for law professors everywhere. [New York Times]
* In terms of the Voting Rights Act, while the chances of the current Congress enacting a universal voting law are approximately nil, there are other effective avenues that could be taken. [New York Times]
* On Friday, the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay on gay marriages in California, and less than 24 hours later, Prop 8 supporters filed an emergency motion with SCOTUS to stop all of the weddings. Lovely. [NPR]
* Meanwhile, ex-judge Vaughn Walker thinks Justice Scalia’s having joined the high court’s majority on standing telegraphed the fact that he didn’t have votes to uphold Prop 8 as constitutional. [NPR]
* Rubber stamp this: Judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are so upset that they’re being made out as government patsies that they’re talking to the press about it. [Washington Post]
* Whether you think Chevron is “suing [Patton Boggs] lawyers for litigating” or for promoting fraud that “shocks the conscience,” here’s a summary of what’s going on in an epic case. [Washington Post]
* Got a high-profile criminal defense firm? Look out, because you may have captured Biglaw’s eye. Take, for example, Stillman & Friedman, which will be merging with Ballard Spahr. [New York Times]
* Apparently being in your mid-50s is a “good time to [retire]” for law deans who pull in six figures. Ken Randall, outgoing dean of Alabama Law, says he’s “really ready for the next challenge.” [AL.com]
* You think you know Justice Clarence Thomas, but you have no idea. Here are several myths about the silent Supreme Court star that he was capable of busting in just this term alone. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* According to the CBO, the immigration reform bill being considered in the Senate would allow eight million immigrants to gain legal status and lower the deficit by billions. But alas, dey still terk er jerbs! [NPR]
* Google is doing its best to try not to be evil by asking the FISA court to ease up on gag orders preventing the internet giant from telling the world about what it’s required to give to the government. [Washington Post]
* Florida firm Becker & Poliakoff will withhold 20% of equity partners’ pay, a move that made some lawyers cry. The firm is apparently planning to save the cash for a rainy day. [Daily Business Review]
* Paul Mannina, an attorney with the Labor Department charged with sexually assaulting a coworker, was found in his cell with his throat slashed. Police are investigating the death. [Washington Post]
* FYI, your aspirational pro bono hours — or complete and utter lack thereof — will now be public record in New York, and you must report them on your biannual registration forms. [New York Law Journal]
* Coming soon to a law school near you: really old books from the 13th century that’ll probably turn into dust if you dare try to read them. You can find this nerdgasm over at Yale Law. [National Law Journal]
* The family of Lauren Giddings, the slain Mercer Law graduate, has filed a $5 million wrongful death suit in federal court against accused killer Stephen McDaniel in the hopes of finding her remains. [Telegraph]
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