⏩ Joe Biden hires lawyer who may drastically change Big Tech

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This week: Biden makes a techy splash, and SCOTUS has a real big issue with friends of the court. Plus, California looks toward the future with a new tech bill.

Tim Wu is ready to lead a Big Tech makeover

As the White House figures its strategy for regulating the tech industry, they hired an attorney whose name may send a few quivers down the spines of the Facebooks and Apples of the world. 

Tim Wu, Columbia law professor and author of books like The Curse of Bigness, is set to become Joe Biden’s adviser on competition policy.   

  • Tim Wu has said his life mission is to fight bullies: And he’s made it clear who he thinks the bullies are. He has compared the era ushered in by the Big Tech companies, especially Facebook, Amazon and Google, to the early 20th century robber baron age. 

  • You may know Tim Wu from his famous sayings: He came up with net neutrality. He’s also the guy who said, “When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.”  

  • Before Biden, Wu was in tune with Elizabeth Warren: He helped shape her campaign's antitrust policies, which were among the most thorough and strict of any candidate. 

Wu takes over as the antitrust world spins

After years without any relevant cases, Google and Facebook both got hit with federal anticompetitive lawsuits last year. Wu described the Google case as the end of “the antitrust winter.”

The Verdict

Biden has expressed interest in breaking up Facebook and Instagram. With Wu onboard, it’s more likely he will pursue it. 


👯 Why can’t we be friends? Amicus briefs get a cold shoulder in SCOTUS

Amicus curiae, aka friend of the court briefs, provide an argument for why a side should prevail in a case. But at the Supreme Court level, where amicus briefs flow freely, it’s getting harder than ever to tell who these “friends” are. 

  • Amicus briefs are on the rise: During the Court’s 2019-20 session, 911 were filed for an average of 16 per case. That amount was almost double the per case average from 2010-11. 

  • There’s also an identity problem: Anyone that sends a brief is supposed to disclose ties with the parties involved in the case. But the problem is many briefs come from vague organizations who don’t reveal their sources. 

  • It’s possible the parties involved in the litigation may be the amicus financers: Oracle has said that it provided funding to six different groups who filed amicus briefs in its recent case vs. Google.

Lawmakers want SCOTUS to fix this

They are pushing the Court to strengthen its own disclosure rules to essentially force amicus filers to disclose who is funding them. If not, the legislature could push for change on its own. 

The Verdict

 Whatever happens, don’t doubt the value of an amicus brief. As Massachusetts-Amherst law professor Paul Collins told the WSJ, “The justices routinely cite amicus briefs. They incorporate the arguments from the briefs into their opinions.” 


🚘 Self-driving cars aren’t here yet. California has a new law in the works, anyway

Lawmakers in the Golden State want to require all AVs (autonomous vehicles) be zero emission by 2025. 

Given that we don’t have AVs available in any significant sense yet, it means that by the time they actually hit the market all of them would have to run on electricity. 

  • California’s law is about ridesharing and trucking more than anything: These types of industries may be the earliest adopters, and they are also responsible, on a per capita basis, for more air pollution. A regular person drives about 10,000 to 12,000 miles a year, for instance, while a rideshare driver may go for 30,000 miles. 

  • AVs will also bring more people to the road: One study has suggested that car trips may increase as much as 66% if people can use autonomous vehicles. 

Many AV makers are not ready for the EV edict yet

AV models of the Ford Fusion and Chrysler Pacifica are hybrids and still use some gas. They have computer systems that burn up a battery quickly, making a traditional fuel source beneficial.

The Verdict

The bill is unlikely to move through California’s legislature for a while. But freight companies, according to TechCrunch, are already looking for an exemption for their AVs.


💌 What else we’re forwarding

LSAT scores are much higher than usual in this pandemic year: Not being able to leave the kitchen that you’re using as an office is apparently good for budding law students. The number of LSAT scores between 175 and 180 has doubled this year, and there have been gains for scores 165 and up, too.  

Working from home in a full house could be a problem for attorneys: WFH is great for many people, but here’s a helpful reminder to not to get into too much sensitive legal work when your family is hanging around you at the same time.


🎧 Music we’re working to

Today we’re working to Krishna Das, a multi-instrumentalist known for his use of Indian instruments and tracks from 1979 to 1994 to create vibrant yet peaceful soundtrack. His LP, Silence, is an excellent choice for the days when you need some meditation or deep concentration as you go through your work.

Silence - Krishna Das (70m, vocals on track one)

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Take care.

🧐 Raad