It is with much sadness that we note the passing of Supreme Court of the Unites States Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed away on 18 September 2020. The Supreme Court of the United States released a statement in the wake of her death.  Ginsberg was 87 and was a  feminist icon on the Court.  Her passing drew obituaries from US media far and wide; from the New York Times, CNBC News, The New Yorker and The Economist among others.

Her death coming just weeks before the election to determine the next President of the United States, her replacement has caused much political conflict. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden accused Republicans of hypocrisy after they moved to nominate a replacement, contradicting their stonewalling of Barack Obama’s candidate for the Supreme Court in 2016 because it was in an election year. The move has huge political implications for the politicisation of the US’s most authoritative Court shifting the balance of political ideology on the Court significantly to the right, with conservative Justices outnumbering their liberal counterparts 6-3.

The President nominated Federal Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the vacant seat. Confirmation hearings took place on 12 October 2020. The Independent has reviewed Barrett’s background and experience and there has also been commentary from The Financial Times [£], the Guardian, CNN and NPR. Issues such as Barrett’s stance on abortion, gun control and women’s rights have been prevalent.  The ScotUS blog has a feature on “The Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett” which contains links to all the relevant materials.

On 30 September 2020 the first Presidential debate of the 2020 campaign was held. The media was critical of the “spat” between the candidates which saw a critical response from the BBC, Guardian and Financial Times.

News of the President’s covid-19 diagnosis has caused a wave of critical commentary. Sky News considers the media response. The 15 October Presidential debate has now been cancelled amidst covid-19 concerns. See reports from NPR, Reuters and Forbes.

The New York Times has published an expose of President Trump’s tax affairs.

Conservative Commentator Candace Owens has sued USA Today and Fact-Checker “Lead Stories” for Libel over allegedly false fact-checking “charging [Owens] with spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic on the internet in ‘an attempt to downplay the severity’ of the pandemic.”  There is a report on the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

The Vice-presidential debate was held on 8 October 2020 between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Mike Pence. Coronavirus featured as a key topic with climate concerns also being discussed. The New York Times has a digestible analysis of key takeaways, as does the Financial Times whereas CNN considers the hits and misses.

The US Supreme Court has announced that it will consider a case determining whether the Federal Communications Commission can deregulate media ownership. The case FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project concerns the deregulation of ownership regulations with the view to permitting more diverse media ownership, with benefits of local and national media outlets. Reuters and Competition Policy International report.

In the ongoing defamation case of Linda Fairstein against Netflix, permission has been granted to transfer the case to New York as a more appropriate venue to hear the case. Fairstein argued that her depiction as a racist prosecutor in the Netflix documentary When They See Us was defamatory. Variety reports on the recent decision and the history of the case.

The Diplomat has an opinion article on the state of US-China media relations from reporter Mu Chunshan.

Lexology has an informative analysis of privacy developments in the US in early 2020.

TikTok’s operations in the US continue to be mired by data protection and privacy concerns. CNBC reports on the developments and politicisation of the issues.

This month in the Courts

Empower Texas v. Charlie L. Green No.19-50577 A Texas government watchdog who requested press passes to give them access to the floor of the Texas House has sued alleging Frist Amendment violations as a result of them failing to receive passes due to delays. The case was ruled to have become moot and was vacated to the district court to be dismissed.

McDougal v Fox News Network LLC The plaintiff Karen McDougal claimed to have been defamed when accusations of extortion were levelled at her in the course of a interview with Tucker Carlson. It was held that it had not been established that Carlson’s statements were statements of fact, rather they were commentary intended to form part of a political debate. As such they were not actionable under an action of defamation. The motion to dismiss tabled by Fox News was therefore granted.

Re: Gaaays In Spaaace v. John Does (1-10) et al., 2020 WL 6042289 (D.N.J. October 13, 2020). The Court made an order allowing expedited discovery against an internet service provider to obtain the IP address used to hack the plaintiff’s system.  There was a comment on the case on Evan Brown’s blog.

Cable News Network v Black.  The Florida Court of Appeal upheld a decision requiring CNN to provide copies of emails and text messages in a claim by a physician who contends he was defamed in news reports about a pediatric heart-surgery program at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach.

Anonymous Grand Juror v Commonwealth of Kentucky.  A grand juror in the Breonna Taylor case was given permission to speak freely about what occurred during those proceedings conducted earlier this year.  There was a post on the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

This Round up was complied by Suneet Sharma a junior legal professional with a particular interest and experience in media, information and privacy law.