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  • Owen Whaley

Legal News Roundup: October- November 2022


Elizabeth Holmes Sentenced to More Than 11 Years in Prison for Theranos Fraud


A federal judge sentenced Elizabeth Holmes to 135 months, or slightly more than 11 years, in prison for defrauding investors with her blood-testing startup Theranos on November 18. The sentence comes following a 15-week trial in which Holmes was found guilty of three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy earlier this year.


Holmes founded Theranos shortly after dropping out of Stanford University during her sophomore year. The company claimed to have developed breakthrough technology capable of performing comprehensive medical tests using only tiny drops of blood, a revolutionary promise that attracted such high-profile investors as Larry Ellison, Robert Kraft, and the DeVos and Walton families. At one point, Holmes was considered the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world and heralded as a transformative visionary on par with Steve Jobs. However, a Wall Street Journal investigation exposed Theranos’ claims as fraudulent in 2015.


At her trial, prosecutors argued that Holmes knowingly misled doctors, patients, and investors about Theranos’ technological capabilities for years. Few expected that Holmes, who had no prior criminal history and was pregnant during her trial, would receive such a lengthy sentence. It comes as the U.S. Justice Department redoubles its efforts to prosecute white-collar offenders under the Biden administration.


Holmes is expected to file an appeal but is required to begin her prison sentence on April 27, 2023. Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, Holmes’ former business partner and boyfriend, was also found guilty of fraud this summer and faces up to 20 years in prison.


U.K. Supreme Court Rules That Scottish Parliament Cannot Hold Another Independence Referendum


The U.K. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Scottish Parliament cannot hold a second independence referendum without the consent of the British Parliament.


Before the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed the “clear and definitive” ruling and expressed his commitment to “working constructively, collaboratively, in partnership with the Scottish government” to deliver for the people of Scotland.


Scotland previously voted in favor of remaining a part of the United Kingdom by a margin of nearly 10 percentage points in a referendum in 2014. However, polling indicates that support for independence has grown in recent years. Immediately following the ruling, protests took place in cities across Scotland, from Dundee to Glasgow to Edinburgh.


“A law that doesn’t allow Scotland to choose our own future without Westminster consent exposes as myth any notion of the UK as a voluntary partnership,” Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted in response to the ruling. “Scottish democracy will not be denied.” Sturgeon said she intends to frame the next U.K. general election as a “de facto referendum” on Scottish independence, calling it the only “democratic, lawful and constitutional means by which the Scottish people can express their will.”


Top Law Schools Boycott U.S. News & World Report Rankings


A growing number of law schools will no longer cooperate with the highly influential U.S. News & World Report rankings, including Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Berkeley.


Many of the schools claim the rankings undermine their efforts to promote equity. Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky argued that the U.S. News’ methodology punishes institutions that direct students towards public service careers and pressures admissions teams to admit high-income applicants. “Now is a moment when law schools need to express to US News that they have created undesirable incentives for legal education,” he said. “Accordingly, Berkeley Law will not participate in the US News survey this year.”


Yale Law, which has always been at the top of the rankings, was the first to announce its decision. In a statement, Dean Heather K. Gerken claimed that the U.S. News’ methodology discourages law schools from admitting low-income students, supporting graduates who go on to pursue advanced degrees, and promoting public interest careers. “We have reached a point where the rankings process is undermining the core commitments of the legal profession,” she said. “As a result, we will no longer participate.”


Still, many law schools are unwilling to join the boycott. George Mason University Law dean Ken Randall acknowledged that the rankings are fundamentally flawed but maintained that they provide guidance to students navigating the complex law school application process. U.S. News has made clear that it will continue to rank all accredited law schools in the United States, regardless of whether they submit data to the publication.


U.S. Supreme Court Reviews Race-Conscious Student Admissions


The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering challenges to the use of race as a factor in admissions to colleges and universities, in cases that could uproot affirmative action in the country.

Students for Fair Admissions brought suits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, accusing the former of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the latter of breaching the Fourteenth Amendment. Both universities have appealed to the Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which found that admissions policies favoring underrepresented minority groups are not prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. Although initially consolidated, the cases were ultimately separated after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has sat on the Harvard Board of Overseers, recused herself from the Harvard case.


The lawyer Seth P. Waxman advocated on behalf of Harvard before the firmly conservative-leaning Court. At one point, he conceded that race can be a deciding factor in some applicants’ admission, just as a student may be accepted for being an oboe player in a year in which the orchestra at the university is in need of an oboe player.


“We did not fight a Civil War about oboe players,” replied Chief Justice John Roberts. “We did fight a Civil War to eliminate racial discrimination, and that’s why it’s a matter of considerable concern.”

In her majority opinion for Grutter, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had asserted that “race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time,” and could well become unnecessary within twenty-five years. With this context, Justice Neil Gorsuch pressed Waxman on when Harvard might expect to cease considering race in admissions. “Harvard’s view about when doesn’t have a date on it,” Waxman replied.


The liberal justices offered especially lively defenses of affirmative action in the case against the University of North Carolina. Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that race can be a determinative factor in people’s life experiences and should thus be considered in the evaluation of applicants. Justice Elena Kegan expressed concern that an end to race-conscious admissions would sharply decrease African American and Hispanic participation in higher education and make achieving racial diversity in society’s leadership positions more difficult. The court is expected to release its decisions in June.



Biden, Xi, Other World Leaders Meet for G20 Summit


World leaders gathered for the seventeenth G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia on November 15, discussing a wide range of issues including food insecurity, rising inflation, and the war in Ukraine.

U.S. president Joe Biden and Chinese president Xi Jinping met ahead of the summit amidst rising tensions between the two countries. Biden raised concerns over the state of human rights in China, particularly in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. He also called for increased cooperation in order to address climate change and promote global economic stability. Xi warned against U.S. interference in Taiwan and claimed that China is committed to fostering global cooperation and peace.


Russian president Vladimir Putin was notably absent from the G20 summit, though his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was sent in his place. Putin’s absence came after American, Canadian, and Polish officials raised concerns over the prospects of his inclusion in the meeting. Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, briefly appeared at the summit via video, and reiterated his country’s refusal to accept any peace deal that involves territorial concessions to Russia.


At the summit, British prime minister Rishi Sunak helped launch the Indonesia Just Energy Transition Partnership, which aims to assist Indonesia in transitioning to renewable energy. The partnership also involves the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Denmark, and Norway. Other economic negotiations led to the establishment of multibillion dollar funds to address threats to global health and security, according to Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president and the chair of this year’s summit.


Divisions were laid bare as the leaders attempted to author a joint communiqué about the summit. The United States and its allies sought to include an unequivocal condemnation of the war in Ukraine, but China and Russia objected to their reference to the war as a “war.” The disagreement was emblematic of China’s hesitance to explicitly denounce Russia’s invasion. (The joint statement that was eventually reached included a note that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”)


For the first time in the history of the G20, world leaders did not assemble for a group photo as too many refused to be photographed alongside Russian officials.


Image via Flickr.

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