Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
A Department of Justice investigation launched following the 2020 police killing of Breonna Taylor determined that the Louisville Police Department engaged in a pattern of discriminatory policing against Black people.
- In 2020, Louisville police officers shot and killed Taylor inside her apartment. After public outcry, in 2021, DOJ launched an investigation into the police department’s practices. Investigators have determined that the police department, among other things, “uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers,” “unlawfully stops, searches, detains, and arrests people during street enforcement activities, including traffic and pedestrian stops,” and “unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities.”
- While announcing the investigation’s findings, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “This unacceptable and unconstitutional conduct erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing. It is also an affront to the vast majority of officers who put their lives on the line to serve Louisville with honor. And it is an affront to the people of Louisville who deserve better.” Garland also announced that the police department has agreed to a consent decree (a court-enforceable agreement outlining measures to remediate) and an independent monitor to oversee the implementation of corrective measures.
- This week, the Department of Justice also launched an investigation into the Memphis Police Department for similar civil rights violations as were discovered in Louisville. The Memphis department was recently in the news following the police killing of Tyre Nichols. The investigation will also include a probe into the use of law enforcement’s specialized units — like the unit that was responsible for the fatal beating of Nichols. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said, “In the wake of Tyre Nichols’s tragic death, the Justice Department has heard from police chiefs across the country who are assessing the use of specialized units and, where used, appropriate management, oversight and accountability for such units…[DOJ is] pleased to be able to fulfill Memphis’s request for technical assistance on the police department’s use of force and de-escalation policies, as well as the use of specialized units.”
Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence are fighting the subpoena issued to Pence by special counsel Jack Smith as part of the January 6 investigation.
- Smith issued a subpoena to Pence last month seeking testimony and documents related to January 6 and Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Pence is considered to be a key witness in the investigation since Trump pressured him to interfere in the congressional certification of the Electoral College ballots, and he also spoke on the phone with Trump on the morning of January 6, 2021, as detailed by the January 6 Committee.
- Since he received the subpoena, Pence has indicated in public that he planned to oppose it by invoking the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause. The clause shields members of Congress from the specter of law enforcement scrutiny for conduct within the scope of their congressional duties. It states that “Senators and Representatives…for any Speech or Debate in either House…shall not be questioned in any other Place.” Legal experts are divided on whether the clause would apply to Pence as vice president. For his part, Pence has steadfastly denounced the subpoena, recently saying, “I’m going to fight the Biden DOJ subpoena for me to appear before the grand jury because I believe it’s unconstitutional and it’s unprecedented.” CNN now reports that Pence has filed a motion to quash the subpoena. The proceedings remain under seal.
- Former President Trump is also fighting to block the Pence subpoena. In his court filing, Trump reportedly invokes executive privilege in order to shield Pence from complying with the subpoena. The privilege permits the president to keep certain communications confidential, but it is not absolute. Before Trump initiated the process, DOJ reportedly filed a brief in which prosecutors argued that executive privilege would not apply in this case — that filing remains under seal, as does Trump’s filing.
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