On this day in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, expressly relying on an amicus brief prepared by the firm on behalf of 65 major companies. “These corporations are participating in this case because they believe it is essential to their success to be able to hire individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment,” said Partner David DeBruin, who filed the brief. The brief argued that it is essential for companies to recruit individuals who were trained and educated in a diverse environment that encompasses a broad range of people, backgrounds, cultures and ideas. For today’s students to realize their potential as corporate and community leaders of the next half century, they must, according to the brief, “be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse people, ideas, perspectives and interactions.”
The storied “David-and-Goliath” battle between MCI and AT&T literally changed the way we communicate. In the early 1970s, MCI had one microwave system in the Midwest while AT&T was the nation’s “Ma Bell,” the sole provider of telephone service across the country. At issue was a 1971 order by the Federal Communications Commission that opened the way for companies like MCI to launch competitive long-distance service with the Bell System nationwide. AT&T responded by directing its local Bell companies around the country to deny MCI access to local switching systems needed to reach its customers. After nearly going out of business In 1974, MCI sued and complained to the U.S. Department of Justice about these anticompetitive tactics. In turn, the Justice Department brought suit to break up AT&T.
On this day in 1980, a federal court ordered AT&T to pay MCI $1.8 billion after a jury found that Bell had violated federal antitrust laws in denying service to MCI. “The award was stunning to AT&T both monetarily and psychologically,” the New York Times reported, “because the MCI victory could generate other actions against the communications giant.” Because of the victory, it became inevitable that the government would proceed to trial in its divestiture case.
The award would later be reduced after appeal, but the impact of the case could not be overstated. On January 8, 1982, AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that AT&T would split up its $136.8 billion domain. AT&T and DOJ representatives said the move -- with AT&T relinquishing 22 operating regional subsidiaries -- would lead to increased competition for telephone service and equipment and eventually lower long-distance rates. The move revolutionized the telephone and computer industries.
By the early 1980s, MCI, based in Washington, DC, invited Jenner & Block to establish a presence in the Capital. And in 1982, when the firm opened its Washington, DC office, MCI was its anchor client.
On this day in 2011, former partner Don Verrilli was sworn in as the solicitor general of the United States. Don was nominated by President Barack Obama in January 2011 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on a 72-16 vote. While at Jenner & Block, Don focused his practice on telecommunications law, copyright law, and First Amendment law. He was the chair of the Telecommunications Practice and co-chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice.
The firm represented William Witherspoon in a case that would have major implications for how juries are selected in capital cases throughout the nation. In 1960, Witherspoon was sentenced to death by a jury. The jury was selected in a process that permitted the prosecution an unlimited number of challenges for cause with respect to any potential juror who expressed qualms about the death penalty. As a result, the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was composed only of persons who had no qualms about capital punishment. Jenner & Block represented Mr. Witherspoon on a pro bono basis in a post-conviction review that challenged the constitutionality of this process. The Illinois Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief. In an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a team led by Albert Jenner, with Tom Sullivan, Jerry Solovy and John Tucker, secured a reversal of Witherspoon’s death sentence. On this day in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion holding that the method of selection of the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned: “A jury that must choose between life imprisonment and capital punishment can do little more – and must do nothing less – than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death. Yet, in a nation less than half of whose people believe in the death penalty, a jury composed exclusively of such people cannot speak for the community.” The Court added: “To execute this death sentence would deprive [Witherspoon] of his life without the due process of the law.” As a result of the Witherspoon decision, more than 350 inmates on death row around the nation had their death sentences lifted.
Witherspoon was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He became a model prisoner. When he became eligible for possible parole, Jerry Solovy, with assistance from associates Mike Seng and Dan Murray, mounted a concerted effort over a number of years to secure Witherspoon’s parole. His parole application enjoyed the support of all of the prison wardens under whom he served and of all of the guards in Old Joliet Prison. The Parole Board ultimately granted him parole. Witherspoon devoted the remainder of his life working at a half-way house in Detroit, helping inmates coming out of prison in their adjustment and re-entry into society.
Newman, Poppenhusen, Stern & Johnston was primarily a transactional firm in the 1920s, when name partner Jacob Newman represented the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association, a trade association based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members would share weekly statistics showing charges that had been made for the various grades of lumber during the previous week, monthly statements of lumber on hand and other statistical data. In the mid-1920s, the U.S. government complained that those activities, among others, violated the Sherman Act. Newman gave the matter to Edward "The Chief" Johnston, the firm’s principal litigator. "The Chief" took depositions of lumber dealers throughout the country that dealt with the Association to show that “they had not been faced with any monopolistic price situations,” he wrote in his memoirs. The Association, he added, did not list current prices or advise members of changes in prices but disclosed only past transactions. “We contended this was permissible economic information.” On this day in 1925, the Supreme Court agreed in a landmark decision and early appellate victory for the firm. “The natural effect of the acquisition of wider and more scientific knowledge of business conditions on the minds of the individuals engaged in commerce and its consequent effect in stabilizing production and price can hardly be deemed a restraint of commerce or, if so, it cannot, we think, be said to be an unreasonable restraint, or in any respect, unlawful,” the majority opinion read.
On this day in 1984, the court gave final approval to a settlement between firm client UV Industries and Reliance Electric, a subsidiary of Exxon Corporation, ending nearly four years of litigation and relying on an “army” of firm talent. In 1979, Reliance purchased Federal Pacific Electric Company from UV. But around the same time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated the circuit breakers that Federal Pacific manufactured, and Reliance complained that the circuit breakers were faulty and prone to cause fires. In 1980, Reliance sued the liquidating trustees of UV Industries for $345 million in damages or for rescission relating to its purchase of Federal Pacific. The UV Trust retained Jerry Solovy, who soon deployed what he referred to as his “UV Army,” consisting of more than 20 lawyers and numerous paralegals, most of whom spent the majority of their time working on the case for the next two to three years. The lawsuit came after the UV Trust had distributed more than $600 million to unit holders and held up UV’s distribution of another $400 million. Under the settlement, UV refunded Reliance $41,850,000 of the purchase price of Federal Pacific, enabling the UV Trust to distribute its remaining funds.