By: Molly Cunningham
Welcome to the first weekly segment of the University of Chicago Undergraduate Law Review: Weekly Legal News Roundup.
The Weekly Legal News Roundup will feature four news stories, starting with an honorable mention, and then counting down the top three stories of the week.
So, without further ado, the best legal news of this past week:
Honorable Mention: Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani v. the Supreme Court of Pakistan Pakistani Prime Minister Gillani’s government is plagued by accusations of corruption. For example, President Asif Ali Zardari bears the unattractive nickname “Mr. 10%”, a sly reference to alleged kickbacks for illegal government services. The Supreme Court, which is allied with the powerful Pakistani military elite, recently has engaged in several raucous fights with the Gillani administration. The heart of the current dispute concerns the failure to prosecute individuals charged with corruption by the Gillani administration. Last week, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court threatened Mr. Gillani with contempt of court, a charge he strenuously denied when he appeared in court on the 19th. While the case is still unfolding in Pakistan, the government appears ready for battle with its military and judicial rivals. Al Jazeera has covered this unfolding story in detail, and offers crucial insight on both sides of this judicial conflict with bonus video coverage. It remains to be seen if the law shall triumph over the government or if the power of the courts will be quashed by the Gillani regime.
Third Best Story: YSL v. Louboutin Oh, Ms. Carrie Bradshaw would have a field day with this case, if she still wrote her sassy (and fictional) Sex and the City column. The New York Times Style Section is not a classic source of legal news. The section, however, produced a magnificent piece on a feud between two giants of luxury fashion and copyright protection for appeal. Christian Louboutin, founder of the modern company, created his coveted pumps with a red sole, allegedly inspired by an assistant painting her nails a bright rogue. This trademark rendered Louboutin heels as instantly recognizable, but under federal law, items of apparel do not enjoy the same protections from infringement. Yves St. Laurent, a venerable fashion house, produces shoes with red soles, and Louboutin is calling foul with a lawsuit against YSL. While the case has yet to be decided in court, the New York Times piece lends depth to an ordinary fashion feud with a look at the laws governing fashion merchandising and branding. I personally hope the federal courts will answer that enduring question in fashion – can you trademark the color red?
Second Best Story: Documentary Film Makers v. Aggrieved Parents An Oscar story caught my eye on the BBC website this week, telling a revealing story about justice, loss, and redemption. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the Oscar-nominated documentary, chronicles the struggles of the “West Memphis Three”. In 1993, three eight year-old boys were murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. The alleged killers, three teenagers, maintained their innocence, but the courts convicted two to life in prison and one to a death sentence. Despite the conviction, doubts remained about the integrity of the conviction while the three teenagers spent eighteen years in prison. In 1996, the first of the Paradise Lost 3 films aired in the United States, and these critically acclaimed films helped gain the three convicted murderers freedom under an Alford plea. The documentary’s Oscar nomination infuriated one of the victim’s families, which is no claiming insensitivity by the Academy and the directors. The unfortunate truth of this case is that no one, regardless of the outcome, experiences closure. Hopefully, the Oscar season can give these cases of wrongful conviction a welcome chance in the media.
Best Story: Drug Dealers v. DC Police and the FBI The United States v. Jones claims the honor of the most discussed and debated case of the week. This Supreme Court case, better known in the news media as the “GPS” case, considered the implications of the Fourth Amendment and modern technology. In 2004, the FBI and the DC Police began surveillance on Antoine Jones, a DC nightclub owner and suspected drug trafficker. The joint task force fitted a global positions system (GPS) device on Jones’s car without obtaining a warrant from a judge and monitored Jones for approximately one month. In 2008, the joint task force arrested Jones on drug trafficking and possession charges, and Jones was sentenced to life in prison.
However, the defense team for Jones appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and the appellate court found in Jones’s favor. The government appealed to the Supreme Court. The crux of Jones’s argument involved the alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Without the necessary warrant obtained through a judge demanded by the Fourth Amendment, the defense argued the joint task force performed an illegal search of Jones’s property. The judges of the Supreme Court agreed unanimously with Jones, but the majority opinion was split between the liberal and conservative judges. The case of the United States v. Jones is compelling in its intricacies and details.
Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, summarizes this popular story exquisitely. The story contrasts the two sides of the majority opinion with insights into the primary authors of each decision, Justices Sotomayor and Scalia, but subsequently joins their work into a cohesive piece. The audio transcript is just icing on the legal cupcake.
Molly Cunnigham is a third-year in the College, studying Philosophy and Human Rights. She is the Blog Editor for the Undergraduate Law Review. You may contact her with any questions or concerns.