The Top Legal Stories of 2017: Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest, Bill Cosby’s Assault Charge, and More

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A prediction for 2017: President Trump appoints Judge Diane Sykes to the Supreme Court.A prediction for 2017: President Trump appoints Judge Diane Sykes to the Supreme Court. Credit Photograph by Jose Luis Magana / AP

It’s time for my semi-accurate, semi-serious (but always annual) list of predictions of the big legal stories for the coming year. In keeping with the iron law of cable news, there is no accountability for being wrong!

1. Trump Family Values. The President-elect will soon announce his plan for avoiding conflicts of interest with his family business. Of course, the only real way to avoid conflicts would be for him to sell the entire Trump enterprise to an outsider—which he certainly will not do. In addition, it appears clear that Trump’s adult children will both continue to run the family business and serve as top policy advisers in the White House. These conflicts, which are egregious and enduring, will not present a political problem for the new President—unless the economy starts to tank or his policies suffer noticeable setbacks. In other words, in case of bad news, Trump’s divided loyalties between his new job and his old family interests will be a convenient scapegoat for his failures. And, in light of the multiple civil actions pending against Trump himself, look for the first deposition of a sitting President since Bill Clinton testified in the Paula Jones case. (That episode did not end well for the incumbent.)

2. Trump is not releasing his tax returns. Like, ever. During the campaign, the President-elect asserted that his tax returns were being audited, and thus he could not, or at least would not, release them, as other candidates have done for decades. His legal concerns about the audit were a phantom in the campaign, and will continue to lurk in 2017. It’s never been clear that an audit is even taking place, much less multiple audits for multiple years, but the new President will figure out a way to avoid releasing the returns—forever.

Read more stories from our year in review.Read more stories from our year in review.

3. President Trump appoints Judge Diane Sykes to the Supreme Court. The President-elect’s list of twenty-one potential nominees to the Court abounds in competent, extremely conservative judges. Sykes, a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was appointed by George W. Bush in 2003, after service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She is what Republicans call a “hundred-per-center”—conservative across the board—and she has blue-collar educational roots, for a court dominated by Ivy League alumni. (She graduated from Northwestern and from Marquette Law School.) She’s older than many conservatives would like—fifty-eight—but she’s everything else they want in a Justice.

4. An otherwise quiet year at the Supreme Court. Trump’s nominee will likely not be confirmed until the end of this term, and the Justices have tried to avoid taking high-profile cases while they are at reduced strength. There are no blockbusters in the pipeline, and none in the immediate future.

5. Bill Cosby will be convicted of assault. Cosby’s lawyers have tried mightily to avoid a trial in Pennsylvania, lately claiming that the defendant’s age and failing eyesight render him unfit to defend himself, but the string will run out in 2017. In a key ruling, the judge will allow evidence of some of his “prior bad acts”—that is, his pattern of drugging and assaulting women. This, appropriately, will seal Cosby’s fate before the jury.

6. Comet Ping Pong will win a libel lawsuit against its online harassers. A North Carolina man fired a gun in the Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant earlier this month, after reading false stories on the Internet alleging that Hillary Clinton and others ran an international child-sex-trafficking ring from the basement. (The owner has noted that the restaurant has no basement.) The owners of the restaurant, understandably, will simply want to get on with their lives, but they will be persuaded to sue some of the people who have been making up malicious stories. Web sites and individuals, no less than newspapers, can be sued for libel and defamation. Such a lawsuit in the case of Comet Ping Pong will be a salutary development, as it will begin to establish some kind of accountability for the fake news that infects the Internet.

7. Celebrity misbehavior. Yes, please! Drunken high jinks, public grudge matches, and high-profile resignations (complete with storming off the set). We need some cheering up.