Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
A New York jury convicted the Trump Organization of conducting a yearslong tax fraud scheme.
- The jury found the Trump Organization guilty on all counts charged, which included, among other things, tax fraud, conspiracy, and falsifying business records. The Organization is facing up to $1.62 million in fines.
- At trial, the prosecution’s star witness was former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg testified that he received perks from the company, such as a Manhattan apartment and school tuition for his grandchildren, but he did not pay taxes on these benefits. In court, Weisselberg recounted the casual conversation that led to Trump paying for the tuition. “If I have to pay more in the way of tuition bills for these kids [referring to the tuition of his own grandchildren], I may as well pay your grandkids’ too,” Weisselberg testified that Trump said. Soon after, Trump started to pay for the tuition of Weisselberg’s grandchildren, which he ultimately subtracted from his overall compensation. Weisselberg was required to testify as part of his plea deal. He is expected to receive a five-month sentence for his cooperation — he was previously facing up to 15 years in prison.
- The Trump Organization’s defense team argued that Weisselberg orchestrated the scheme to benefit himself, not the company. Lawyer Susan Necheles said the case was about “the greed of Allen Weisselberg.” “He knew he was doing something wrong, and he was ashamed of it and he kept it secret,” Necheles continued. During the trial, another lawyer, Michael van der Veen, repeated the catchphrase, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.”
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in cases with implications for democracy, LGBTQ+ rights, and the First Amendment.
- On Wednesday, the justices heard oral arguments in Moore v. Harper. The case is a dispute over North Carolina’s election map, but it centers on a controversial doctrine called the independent state legislature theory. Proponents of the theory argue that the U.S. Constitution grants state legislatures unfettered power to determine the procedures of federal elections. Opponents of the theory counter that Constitutional grants of authority, such as this, are still subject to judicial review and other checks and balances. It wasn’t clear during oral arguments whether or not the Court will ultimately endorse the theory. Justice Elena Kagan said that adopting the theory would have “big consequences.” “I think what might strike a person is that this is a proposal that gets rid of the normal checks and balances on the way big governmental decisions are made in this country… You might think it gets rid of all those checks and balances at exactly the time when they are needed most,” Kagan said. Chief Justice John Roberts attempted to offer an alternate resolution to the case without making a determination on the theory by questioning the vagueness of the state constitution. “Is it the problem that they’re just interpreting something that gives them free rein or is that not a consideration?” Roberts asked. A decision in this case is expected next year.
- Earlier in the week, the Court heard oral arguments in 303 Creative v. Elenis. Website designer Lorie Smith brought this case challenging a Colorado law that prohibits businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. Smith argues that requiring her to design websites for same-sex marriages would infringe on her First Amendment freedom of speech — Smith says that she opposes same-sex marriage due to her Christian religious beliefs. The Court’s six conservative justices appeared to side with Smith. “It’s about the message and not about the sexuality of the couple,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett said. And Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether there was a difference between race-based discrimination and sexual orientation-based discrimination. “Do you think it’s fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage with opposition to interracial marriage?” Alito asked during the hearing. The liberal justices pushed back. Kagan questioned whether or not designing a website should be considered expressing a message — and thus, speech. “They’re not particularly ideological or particularly religious. They’re not particularly anything,” Kagan said. A decision in this case is also expected next year.
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