The Most Influential News Events of 2013
Here at Law Street, we are very interested in the changing world of law. So as the wild ride that was 2013 comes to an end, I thought it would be fun to count down the biggest changes, innovations, and crazy moments in the world of law and politics this year.
8. George Zimmerman Trial
What happened: On July 14, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. This verdict was understandably met with widespread shock. Some people were angry, some were vindicated, but everyone had an opinion.
Why it matters: Anyone who regularly reads my pieces knows that I’m a big fan of talking. I think, maybe misguidedly, that open dialogue is a great thing and solves 80 percent of problems. And if you’re looking for strong dialogue in 2013, look no further than the debate that occurred immediately after the Zimmerman acquittal. We saw conversations about the implications of stand your ground laws, gun control, and institutionalized racism. Now my hopeless naiveté won’t go so far as to say that these conversations were productive. But they happened, they’ve been introduced, and my dearest hope is that next year I’ll be able to say that we’ve made progress out of the tragedy that was Trayvon Martin’s death.
7. Jeff Bezos Buys the Washington Post
What happened: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, bought The Washington Post this summer in a $250 million deal. Now this might seem a little off topic — what does the purchase of a newspaper have to do with law and politics?
Why it matters: The world is changing. Media is changing, and we know this because a multi-billionaire who made his fortune from an internet sales company just bought one of the most influential papers in the country. That’s big because it means our media is getting smarter, it’s gaining control, and the internet is increasingly becoming a one-stop-shop for all we need. Plus, if Amazon follows through on its promises, we might get our newspaper delivered by drones, which would be pretty cool.
6. Pope Francis Begins His Papacy
What happened: On March 13, 2013, Pope Francis became the head of the Catholic Church.
Why it matters: He immediately enacted some pretty serious changes. He downgraded the extravagant Vatican facilities. He has been advocating for more inclusive Church policies. He stated, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?” He has said that the the Catholic Church needs to stop being so obsessed with social issues. The Pope changing his views on this could push some big changes for American politics. Don’t get me wrong, he is still a Catholic Pope and he is still a conservative man. But he works with the poor and he seems to be a man of the 21st century, and I have to give him props for that.
5. The Manti Te’o Girlfriend Hoax
What happened: This is probably an odd one to put so high on my list, but it was a very, very weird story. A Notre Dame linebacker, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers, told a story about his girlfriend, a Stanford University student named Lennay Kekua who had died of Leukemia. In January 2013, it was discovered that Lennay Kekua never existed. Her relationship with Te’o was purely online. The culprit behind the hoax turned out to be a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who may have fallen in love with Te’o while pretending to be his fictional girlfriend.
Why it matters: We’re at the point where a convincing and moving relationship can be forged 100 percent online. I know I’m a millennial who does everything online, but maybe I’m a bad one, because I simply can’t fathom that. I think this marks a big change in our world. Five years ago, if a professional athlete revealed that he had an online relationship with a woman he had never met, it would be completely ridiculous. Now, it was ridiculed, and commentators were surprised, but people understood how it could happen. Online presences can supersede our real lives now, and that’s scary.
4. Dems Detonate “Nuclear Option”
What happened: After a series of failed judicial nominees, Senate Democrats took drastic action. They changed the rules so that federal judicial nominees can move to the confirmation process with a simple majority of Senators, rather than a super majority of 60.
Why it matters: This will fundamentally change the way in which federal judicial nominees are confirmed. It may also permanently change the courts. If Presidents no longer need to pick moderates who can garner a 60-vote confirmation, the courts will get more liberal during a Democratic presidency, or more conservative during a Republican presidency.
3. NSA Spying Scandal
What happened: Although this event started in 2012, it got really big in 2013. Edward Snowden’s release of the extent of NSA monitoring shocked the American public. Snowden has since fled the United States.
Why it matters: The intersection of politics, law, and technology continues to weave a tangled web, and the NSA scandal was the greatest proof of that phenomenon. We are being watched, and there’s nothing that we can do about it. Comparisons to Big Brother and 1984 were made, but that’s the truth, and people realized that this year. There’s a different level of trust in the government now.
2. The Affordable Care Act Mess
What happened: The rollout of the Affordable Care Act was the biggest mess I’ve seen in a long time. From the government shutdown that preceded it, to the internet issues, to the logistical problems, it was kind of a hot mess.
Why it matters: The ACA is still in place. It’s not perfect. It has problems. But it’s still a law and despite the Republicans’ best efforts, it will continue. That was an important lesson for everyone to learn this year. We will have hot mess laws and these laws will create problems; however, they will remain the law. We can fix or repeal them, but we can’t pretend they don’t exist, and we can’t pretend that we can will them away.
1. Gay Rights
What happened: 2013 was a huge year for gay rights. In June, the Supreme Court handed down big successes for federal and state gay marriage rights. Gay marriage became legal in Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah, Hawaii and Illinois.
Why it matters: Obviously there’s still a long way to go, but any slow, small steps down the right path are good. Notably conservative states — Utah and New Mexico — even got in on the action, albeit through court-mandated measures.
So here’s to 2013. It was wild, it was weird, and it was revolutionary. I don’t know about you all, but I’m excited to see what 2014 brings.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [Sally Mahoney via Flickr]