Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
A jury in Georgia found three men guilty of federal hate crimes for killing Ahmaud Arbery.
- Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan were each convicted of one count of a federal hate crime and one count of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were additionally convicted for using a firearm during the crime.
- Travis McMichael shot and killed Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, in February 2020, while Arbery was jogging in a suburban Georgia neighborhood. The federal trial followed a state trial in which a jury convicted the men of murdering Arbery. The men were later sentenced to life in prison.
- The federal trial was vastly different from the state trial; the crux of the prosecution’s argument in this trial was that the men targeted Arbery because of his race.
- Over the week-long trial, prosecutors introduced evidence of the defendants’ past racism, including using racial slurs, making denigrating comments towards Black people, and expressing the desire for violence against Black people. During the prosecution’s opening statement, DOJ civil rights attorney Bobbi Bernstein said, “The evidence, in this case, will prove that if Ahmaud Arbery had been white, he would have gone for a jog, checked out a house under construction, and been home in time for Sunday supper. Instead, he went out for a jog, and he ended up running for his life. Instead, he ended up bleeding to death, alone and scared, in the middle of the street.”
- The men now face sentences of up to life in prison for the federal conviction. This is a symbolic victory for Arbery’s family and the scores of activists for racial justice who have watched the case closely. But substantively, it is also a means to ensure that the men will serve lengthy prison sentences even if the state convictions are overturned on appeal.
The Supreme Court is back in the news this week.
- The Court issued a slew of orders on Tuesday. The Justices rejected a challenge by former President Donald Trump seeking to shield from the January 6th Committee a trove of White House documents, thus ending the monthslong battle. The Committee is reportedly already in possession of the documents following a Court order last month in which the Justices declined to intervene in the matter.
- However, the Court granted certiorari in a case with implications for LGBTQ+ rights. The case, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, was filed by a graphic designer, Lorie Smith, who objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and therefore she does not want to design websites for same-sex couples. Smith is challenging a Colorado law that prohibits businesses from discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. The Court is expected to hear oral argument in this case next term.
- Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has yet to announce his nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. In a speech last month, Biden said it was his “intention to announce [his] decision before the end of February.” Thus far, Biden has reportedly interviewed at least three potential nominees, including D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and South Carolina District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs.
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