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Under Color of Law: September and October

By November 23, 2022November 29th, 2023News

These past few months, I’ve had my eyes on: 

Individual Cases and Elections

Adnan Syed, October

Adnan Syed, the subject of the popular podcast Serial, had his charges dismissed by the Baltimore State Attorney’s office. This followed two decades of controversy about Syed’s innocence. The charges were dismissed because the prosecution discovered evidence suggesting Syed’s innocence that was never disclosed to his original defense attorney.

Instances like this show the unique position that prosecutors are in to not only represent their client – the state – but to also constantly be moderating whether justice is being upheld in the court room. Prosecutors in Florida have recently shown a similar respect for the fair implementation of law by refraining from prosecuting abortion cases. 

Keith Ellison Election, October

Keith Ellison is up for re-election for Attorney General of Minnesota, and the GOP is pouring support into his opponent, an inexperienced prosecutor who has never tried a case. The narrative being churned out about increases in crime are a clear retaliation to Ellison’s role in convicting Derek Chauvin.

Rick Caruso, September

Rick Caruso, the billionaire real estate developer, is running as a Democrat in L.A.’s mayoral race. His campaign has attracted the support of other wealthy celebrities like the Kardashians, as well as scrutiny from both sides of the aisle.

Typically, Caruso’s oscillating political status – from an ardent Republic three years ago to a Democrat now – would be the harshest criticism, but he’s had a series of controversial opinions. Recently, he rebutted the remark about the next mayor of L.A. being a black woman or a white man by claiming he was Italian and therefore Latino.

Caruso is waging one of the largest turnout initiatives in recent history, employing hundreds to canvass, phone bank, text, email and market digitally. This incredibly high investment parallels that of Bloomberg’s presidential run, but with one clear difference: data. Caruso is targeting the swing voters in the US’s second most populous city: Latinos, Asians, and independents.

Not only is this campaign clearly microtargeted, it’s bringing first-time voters into the fold and could determine their political trajectory for the rest of their voting history. Political literature is being advertised in English and Spanish and being guided by longtime political consultants, typically Democrats. All of this resulted in polls that place Caruso around 7 to 8 points behind his opponent, Bass, who has the support of labor, previous mayors, and local city council and was on the short list for Vice President under the Biden Administration.

Promises to expand the police department and remove homeless encampments, along with donations to McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, make Caruso’s political affiliates clear, but may also resonate well with voters. 

Iwen Chu, September

Sunset Park, Bensonhurst was drawn in recent redistricting to provide a representative voice for the Asian diaspora that is growing. Iwen Chu, a former TV journalist, community organizer, political aide, is running to represent District 17 as Brookyln’s first-ever female Asian-American representative.

She is running with the support of almost every other elected position in Brooklyn and unopposed – a rarity. She is running on a progressive platform of universal healthcare and childcare, affordable housing (especially for seniors), expanding gifted and talented programs, making property taxes more manageable, and extending support for the restaurant industry.

Celebrities & The Future of Regulation 

Elon Musk, October

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter was followed by a swift dismissal of Twitter’s top executives, including many who were critical to filtering out the disinformation trends across social media. This mass firing will be challenged in court. The new owner also mass-fired employees before the November 1st deadline to save the stock grants employees are provided for compensation. His perspective on protecting “free speech” is manifesting most evidently in the conspiracy theories he is amplifying from the right – most recently surrounding the Pelosi break-in and assault. He is framing any form of pushback as “censorship.” This happens at a time when the relationship between hate speech and hate crimes is already apparent following Kanye West’s mos recent inflammatory speech. 

Andrew Tate, September

Andrew Tate is the latest in a long line of misogynistic and hateful content creators expediting the pipeline to the alt-right, starting with normalizing violence toward women. The radicalization process – specifically for young white men – across the Internet features content riddled with conspiracy theories, xenophobia, and misogyny, and as this movement grows is starting to feel like a decentralized cult.

While this culture of preying on those lacking community has always existed, YouTube has streamlined the process through an algorithm that financially incentivizes “shock value” ten second clips, often dehumanizing and disparaging women and minorities and ridiculing facts. The “Up Next” algorithm prioritizes retaining user attention and does so by creating playlists of content all in the same vein. Tech companies have an obligation to their users to regulate this content. While far right content like Alex Jones and recently, Andrew Tate, have been removed, waiting until they build this lucrative followership only perpetuates the narrative of big tech censorship and substantiates many of their claims.

It also allows them the time to mobilize a base that has been indoctrinated into ideology that can ultimately culminate in violence. This is similar to the narrative that we see regurgirated in white supremacist circles that result in electional denial, hate crimes and active threats of violence.  

Kim Kardashian Cryptocurrency Scandal, September

The SEC announced charges against Kim Kardashian for failing to disclose the promotion she was paid for endorsing cryptocurrency securities, in this case Emax Tokens by EthereumMax.

Kardashian did not admit or deny this charge but she did pay the 1.26 million, including approximately $260,000 in disgorgement, which represents her promotional payment, plus prejudgment interest, and a $1,000,000 penalty. Kardashian also agreed to not promote any crypto asset securities for three years. While the federal securities law is clear on this, this sets two clear precedents that will impact the industry.

First, that EthereumMax is considered a security, which means it must abide by a very clear set of laws designed to protect investors. Secondly, influencers and celebrities have been utilizing status to promote products, but endorsing encouraging investment in cryptocurrency is a significantly higher risk. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Steven Seagal, and DJ Khaled have all paid similar fines for promoting cryptocurrency, but the regulation is not fully fleshed out.

Elon Musk, who endorsed dodgecoin and caused increases and decreases in the product through a few tweets or Matt Damon’s advertisement of the platform Crypto.com were not fined, despite also using influence to increase investment. The SEC targeted Kim Kardashian because she is a trendsetter and inspires aspiration for other influencers to achieve, but the agency does not have the capacity to prevent this promotion from happening at smaller levels. 

Donald Trump’s Various Controversies

Trump’s Tax Returns, October

At times the pursuit of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns feels like King Arthur’s search for the Holy Grail—in the belief that it might “heal all wounds, deliver eternal youth and grant everlasting happiness” to our embattled democracy. The thing is, it just might. Read my full article in The Daily Beast to learn more. 

Mar-a-Largo, September

The Trump legal team asked for a special master, an court-appointed attorneys who without compensation accompanies peace officers to serve search warrants and conduct searches for evidence.

This decision not only derails the investigation, but it also sets alarming legal precedent. The decision itself was made atop a series of ill-founded assumptions. Firstly, Trump continues to retain a possessory interest in his documents, despite the fact that the Presidential Records Act “changed the “legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public”— meaning they are not Trump’s personal property.

Judge Aileen Cannon has stayed loyal to her Trump appointment making remarks, that the former President suffered indignity as a result of the search and the leaks, problems not mitigated by her appointment of a special master, though. This appointment is pragmatically inefficient and overlaps the functions of the judiciary into the executive branch by including a judicial appointment to conduct criminal investigations. The DOJ responded by filing for a request for Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon to temporarily stay part of her Trump special master order. Preventing the DOJ from reviewing the documents has been a hurdle, but the kicker is the hypocrisy of allowing an intelligence assessment, which can only be accomplished from taking investigative steps by the very agencies she has barred from the review.

This makes evident that her intention was to create logistical nightmares – not advance the legitimacy or security of the case. The biggest takeaway from the DOJ’s rebuttals is that the potential irreparable harm arising from this case is not one that would damage Trump, but rather rather the risk of irreparable harm to the government and public from delaying the criminal investigation in this case.

Other National and International News

Shireen Abu Akleh, September

After extensive investigation and scrutiny from multiple agencies, including the United States, Israel admits that the revered journalist was killed by Israeli fire but will not pursue any action on the soldiers responsible. Senior IDF officials emphasized that military only shots at active terrorist targets and this must have been an accident with no mal intention. This is difficult to believe considered the clearly labeled press vest she had on. This confirmation comes at a time when Marvel is also unveiling its newest character, an IDF soldier turned superhero named Sabra, who is reputable for perpetuating concerning tropes like dehumanizingly referring to Palestinians as ‘Arabs’ as a form of cultural erasure.

Simultaneously, Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested and sentenced 8 months at 16 years old for slapping an IDF soldier after receiving news her younger cousin had been shot and seriously wounded with a rubber bullet, has published a memoir documenting life under the occupation. She went viral for this incident and inspired protests and iconography across the globe. 

The student loan relief plan is historic… but will it hold up in court?, September

The White House’s student loan relief plan seeks to forgive between $10,000-20,000 worth of debt, contingent on the circumstances of the loans. This, alongside Biden’s strong condemnation of extremist rhetoric, historically progressive climate change legislation, and dismissal of Marjorie Taylor Green is revigorating faith in Democratic success in the upcoming midterms, but the concern this relief will not hold up in courts has been affirmed by multiple lawsuits orchestrated by the GOP.

The language in the relief plan was very specifically curated to ensure there would be no legal hiccups, but there is a concern that the SCOTUS decision in June against the EPA created “a major questions doctrine” that mandates Congress to clearly and explicitly grant agencies the authority to employ extraordinary actions. As both Biden and Trump have used the 2003 HEROES Act (which some people argue was passed by Congress, following 9/11, with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in mind) to pause federal loans in response to the pandemic, which they’ve qualified as an emergency, I am confident the case can be mounted that this is uncharted legal territory and the relief plan will survive legal challenges.

But it is ultimately up to the courts. Frank Garrison filed the first lawsuit against the plan, followed by six Republican-led states — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Carolina filed to block the action. The largest hurdle in these lawsuits has been finding plaintiffs that have been harmed by this action.  

Supreme Court Justices Alito and Roberts, September

The legitimacy of the Supreme Court has been crumbling, not just with recent and controversial rulings, but at a larger and more institutional level. Justice Roberts rebutted this belief by reaffirming the importance of separation of powers – that if the courts did ultimately fail, the political branches of government would begin dictating the constitution.

The political branches of government are the ones ultimately deciding, though, as the court builds up a conservative majority that clearly undermines impartial judicial review and weakens the trust that public has in it. Justice Alilto made a similar claim – that disparaging the institutional strength of the courts is crossing a line. But what’s unique about these defenses is that they are rooted more in traditional than legitimate functionality of the courts.

It was only Justice Kagan who pointed out that the ultimate credibility stems from the democratic institutions the courts vow to uphold, one which they are risking losing. The simple solution to this concern is the expansion of the number of justices and removing tenure for justices, as it is clear that political rhetoric has become the currency of rulings.

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