On this day in 1976, John Tucker argued Elrod v. Burns before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involved the City of Chicago’s time-honored party patronage system that typically governed how non-civil service positions were staffed. In this case, the new Democratic sheriff had been discharging employees who were “sponsored” by appointees of the previous Republican sheriff. On June 28, 1976, the Court struck down the patronage system, ruling that the First Amendment protects state and local government employees from being fired for partisan political reasons. While dissenters complained that the 5-to-3 vote dismantled a “practice as old as the Republic,” Justice William J. Brennan wrote for the majority that “the process functions as well without the practice, perhaps even better.” The Washington Post noted the significance of the ruling, observing that “the decision struck directly at the political machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, but it is expected to safeguard the jobs of thousands of public employees across the nation.”
In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.” Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said. As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community."
Jenner & Block opened its 11,000-square-foot Los Angeles office on this day in 2009. Launched by two lateral hires from Kirkland & Ellis, Rick Richmond and Brent Caslin, the new office in the landmark U.S. Bank Tower has since grown to 33 attorneys. At the time, the Los Angeles Daily Journal quoted firm leadership saying that the recession then gripping the country would not derail plans for its West Coast expansion -- a long-term goal prompted by client needs. Rick, the office’s managing partner, recalled that his interest in Jenner & Block dated back to when he clerked at the Seventh Circuit in 1987 and saw then-partner Barry Sullivan in practice. “I had an epiphany. I said, ‘Wow, that’s how lawyers make their argument.’ I was totally transfixed,” he said at the time. Today, the office includes several federal appellate law clerks, a former White House associate counsel, a former Justice Department counsel and award-winning lawyers in their areas of focus. With their location on the Pacific Rim, attorneys in the Los Angeles office represent clients from Asia in U.S. legal matters and manage international arbitration proceedings around the Asia-Pacific region.
April has been dubbed “First Amendment Awareness Month” by some universities; in recognition, we recall Jerry Solovy’s successful argument before the Supreme Court in Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp. Jerry defended Youngs Drug Products Corp, which in the early 1980s wanted to send unsolicited advertisements for contraceptive devices through the U.S. mail. Unfortunately for Youngs, its plan ran afoul of the 1865 Comstock Act, a federal law that made it a crime to sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion or to send materials or information about such materials through the mail. Calling the Act “antediluvian,” Jerry argued that it was an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech. In June 1983, the Court ruled that the government’s interest in purging mailboxes of contraceptive advertisements was outweighed by the harm that results from denying mailbox owners the right to receive truthful information on birth control.
On this day in 2005, in perhaps the most watched commercial case of the Supreme Court’s term, then-partner Don Verrilli argued on behalf of client MGM and other studio and content owners in MGM Studios v. Grokster, a case that would establish whether file-sharing services such as Grokster could be held liable for infringement for enabling customers to download music and movies protected by federal copyright laws. Lower courts held that because Grokster could point to legal uses of its software, such as distributing works in the public domain, it could not be held liable. But Don told the justices that these file-sharing companies could show only "minuscule" legitimate uses of their products – and should not "get a perpetual free pass" simply because they could speculate on ways a customer might use their services legitimately. In June, the Court agreed, ruling that Grokster could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement. In November, the company announced that it would no longer offer its peer-to-peer file-sharing service.
The firm played a key role in placing Louisiana’s only land-based casino on solid ground. The history of the casino dates back to the 1990s, when several developers – Harrah’s, now part of our firm’s client Caesar’s; a prominent real estate developer; and a group of Louisiana investors– conceived of the facility near the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans. They formed a joint venture, and Harrah’s Jazz Casino opened as a temporary facility in May 1995. Unfortunately, luck was not with the casino, and by that November, it filed for bankruptcy – its first. As a debtor in bankruptcy, Harrah’s Jazz was represented by a Jenner & Block team that included Dan Murray, Ron Peterson, Larry Wolfson and Tim Chorvat. The casino subsequently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding and reopened on October 28, 1999 under the name of Jazz Casino Co. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, it lost $130 million in its first year of operation and fell short in its obligations to pay creditors. It filed for bankruptcy again, with a team including Dan, Vince Lazar and Tom Monson representing the debtors. In March 2001, the Louisiana legislature met in special session and agreed to give the casino a number of concessions, among them, cutting its minimum tax liability from $100 million a year to $50 million the first year and $60 million thereafter. On this day in 2001, the bankruptcy court in New Orleans confirmed the casino’s plan of reorganization, and the state gambling board officially approved its new contract with the casino as it emerged from its secondbankruptcy. Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, as it is now called, has remained open ever since – save for a brief period following Hurricane Katrina when the facility served as a command center for the federal government’s rescue operations in New Orleans.