Thursday, November 17, 2016

Designated Survivor trailers

As promised, I have not gone back to Designated Survivor, despite it being a hit and haled by many critics. Last night, I caught the trailer for the upcoming episode, which confirmed that decision. Based on the snippets I saw, it appears the plot has turned to Kirkman seeking to nominate a Vice President (who, naturally, seems creepy and possibly linked to terrorists).

But this is constitutionally and legally wrong. An acting president under § 19 cannot appoint a Vice President under the 25th Amendment. For one thing, § 1 says "the President" shall nominate a Vice President. But an Acting President is not a President for this Amendment, which expressly distinguishes the two titles and the two offices. Textually, therefore, an Acting President cannot perform this function. For another, any appointed Vice President arguably would have a greater statutory claim to the presidency. A cabinet official acts as President until "a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act." That would seem to include a newly constitutionally nominated and confirmed Vice President. So by nominating and having a restored Congress confirm the creepy guy, Kirkman puts himself out of a job.

If I misunderstand the plot, please let me know. Or maybe Keifer Sutherland isn't supposed to be the star of this show after all.

Update: I just realized that acting-president-selects-VP is a common mistake when television depicts presidential succession--Veep did the same thing in its storyline of a plot to have a deadlocked House making the VP (selected by the Senate) Tom James acting president, then having James select Selina Meyer, the Presidential candidate, as his VP. The problem there was that the vice presidency was not vacant; James had been elected VP and become acting president when the president failed to qualify, but he never would have resigned the vice presidency (which is the source of his power to act as president until the disability is removed). But my reading of the 25th Amendment adds an additional layer to this show's mistake.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 17, 2016 at 05:42 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Three Neutral Principles for Civil Political Discourse

As the recent election illustrated, Americans disagree foundationally on many substantive issues. I’d like to think though that while there may be profound divisions on core political values, one thing we may be able to agree on is that it would be helpful to our democracy to improve our public discourse about these matters.

But what does it mean to have a truly democratic, and perhaps even productive, public discourse? This aim may seem like a lost cause after over a year of toxic mudslinging, disingenuous character assassination, and an increasing unwillingness to tolerate opposing viewpoints—all of which were amply in evidence from supporters on both sides of the aisle.

I was given some sense of hope on this issue, though, during an incident shortly before the election in which President Obama was interrupted by a Trump-supporting protester during Obama’s speech at a political rally. The crowd immediately began to boo in order to shout down the protester, but Obama pushed back in his defense, and his reasons for doing so, I’ll argue below, may be taken as three core, nonpartisan principles that we may all be able to agree on as baselines for engaging in civil political discourse.


I enumerate these three principles after the break.

“First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech.” That platitude is obvious. But what Obama said before this was more meaningful. His lead-in to this statement was: “You’ve got an older gentleman supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him.”

“He’s not doing nothing.” The idea that others’ political expression does not harm us should be obvious too (it’s really just a version of the old schoolyard rhyme about sticks and stones not breaking bones), but in modern America, it’s not. Expressing a point of view that others disagree with is increasingly more likely to get you shouted down than heard out. It might even get you suspended on a liberal college campus or beat up at a conservative political rally.

The empirical point behind the informally phrased “He’s not doing nothing” is that the expression of others’ viewpoints are nothing more than what they are: Descriptive claims about another person’s state of mind. Another person’s claim about their own beliefs does not make those beliefs true, and it certainly does not compel us to agree with or even respond to it, or do us any harm.

This attitude is easier to describe than to adopt. Hearing someone express an opinion that you consider wrong or even profoundly harmful can be infuriating, as the level of public discourse in this past election season illustrates. But this is why adopting the “he’s not doing nothing” perspective is so important. The notion that others’ political opinions are nothing more than data indicating their viewpoint (rather than traumatizing or treasonous) not only facilitates core constitutional speech rights, it also enables a psychological freedom from others' expression that makes us free to form our own opinions as well.

Because like it or not, we're a nation that is committed to honoring free speech. This principle means something only if it requires tolerating respectfully even speech with which we profoundly disagree. And that toleration becomes much easier when we regard such speech as nothing more than information about someone else’s state of mind, rather than a threat or a harm being inflicted on us.

Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military and we got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we got to respect our elders.” These next two points can be collapsed into one very simple principle: See others generously, including and even especially those with whom you disagree. When this Trump supporter popped up at the rally the other week, the attendees may well have dismissed him as a threatening, unstable crank bent on shouting down the President, possibly even for racist reasons—hence their desire to shout him down in turn.

But these kind of uncharitable assumptions are as baseless as they are unhelpful. Maybe the protester lost his job to outsourcing and was trying to express support for protectionist trade policies that he felt were critical to having a job and being able to support his family. Maybe he was unhappy with the direction of the country under a Democratic administration and expressing his passionate support for going in a different direction.

Seeing the protester in a generous light—an elderly man with possible military service—is a key step in having a decent conversation. Stereotyping political opponents makes them easy to demonize and dismiss them without engaging. Regarding a Trump supporter as a fanatic foaming at the mouth with irrational race-hate makes it easy to conclude that he does not merit respect or deserve to be heard out. But seeing that same person as an older gentleman who fought in Vietnam and cares deeply about the fate of the country yields a different result.

Much the same is true in reverse. An effete urbanite reflexively supporting Obama and Hillary out of a sense of liberal guilt amounts renders the speaker a mere stereotype that can be categorized and ignored with ease. But if you regard the same person as someone who is partaking in a tradition of dissent that dates to the Revolution in the interest of protecting values like racial and social justice that are embedded in our Constitution you’re more likely to take them and their ideas more seriously.

Regardless of political valence, the choice to see someone in a more generous light is thus a prerequisite for having the kind of decent discussion about issues that has a better chance of producing mutual understanding rather than descending into a pointless shouting match.

“Fourth of all, don’t boo. Vote.” At first glance, this one may appear a bit more complicated. “Don’t boo”? Isn’t cheering and booing what people do at rallies? It certainly is, and I don’t think the point is that people should sit quietly and clap only on cue when they are attending these kinds of events. Rather, I think the general idea expressed by this statement goes something like this: If you hear an opinion you disagree with, it’s better to create a positive dialogue that expresses your own point of view rather than spending your efforts attacking the speaker or trying to eliminate their speech from the public sphere.

Because while I said above (and still believe) that others’ opinions need not lead us to want to shut them out or shout them down, democracy also cannot function if people do nothing more than engage in calm observation when they hear ideas they think are wrong or dangerous. The problem is that increasingly the immediate reaction to opposing viewpoints is to personally direct animus or worse toward the speaker. The suggestion of “don’t boo, vote” is that there are more and less effective responses to speech you disagree with. Silencing speech tends to be ineffective and harmful. By contrast, using one’s disagreement as a call to democratic engagement in the interest of your own beliefs, whether that action is the simple act of voting or a deeper commitment to a movement or cause, is the more productive alternative.

Let me be clear about the limits of my claim: I have no idea if Obama was intentionally trying to propound core principles for engaging in civil political discourse in his brief interaction with the protester at the rally, but regardless I think at least a few of those principles (first, you are not harmed by others’ speech; second, see others in a generous light; third, add your voice rather than squelching others’) are immanent in his response.

Finally, I should emphasize that while I think these are constructive principles for civil political discourse, this does not mean they are easy to practice. On the contrary, we’re hardwired to do pretty much the opposite in all of these instances. Hearing opposing viewpoints tends to engage the fight-or-flight response, which helps explain both the rancor of this election and the growing polarization of our nation as people increasingly surround themselves with other like-minded people to avoid the discomfort of regularly facing disagreement.

But nothing truly valuable is easy. And restraining our immediate instincts—tolerating speech we dislike, accepting a President we didn’t vote for—is in many respects what defines democracy, and distinguishes it from its many inferior alternatives. It is this kind of restraint in the interest of the greater good of our country and the maintenance of our system of government that represents the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln described in his first inaugural address, and that I hope may still prevail even after a dispiritingly ugly election season.

Posted by Dave_Fagundes on November 15, 2016 at 12:45 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, Deliberation and voices, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

But first, let me take a ballot selfie!

Social Media has been playing a huge (or is that “yuuuge”?) role in Election 2016: Twitter attacks, Facebook op-eds, youtube campaign videos, and now, Instagram and Snapchat ballot selfies. And although both candidates and constituents have and continue to use social media to express themselves, state law in nearly half of the country criminalizes this last type of “Freedom of Speech” – namely, taking a photograph of your completed ballot and posting it online.

Purported Risk of "Vote Buying" Schemes

Prevention of vote buying is the cited rationale behind ballot selfie bans. The concept being that exhibiting a photograph of a completed ballot would be the only method to cash-in on an offer to sell one's vote.   I don't find this reasoning very compelling. It seems that if someone really wanted to take a photograph of a completed ballot for a secret reason such as an illegal vote-buying transaction, it would be ridiculously easy to do so, even with the “no photographing” rule on the books. Cameras aren’t the awkward and obvious contraptions that they were in prior generations. Cameras today can be part of your phone, your watch, and, who knows, maybe even disguised as a flash drive or pen (the possibilities are limitless).  Furthermore, if the vote being bought was cast as a mail-in ballot, as are absentee votes and basically all voting in the Pacific Northwest, then ballot selfies are even easier to do. The one thing that you would probably not do - if you were taking a photograph simply in order to cash in on an illegal vote-buying scheme - would be to post that incriminating evidence on social media.

Freedom of Speech (er... Freedom to Snap & Post)

Even if there is a remote possibility that such photographs could be part of nefarious vote-purchasing schemes, ballot selfie bans also raise serious free-speech issues, and upon examination, federal courts in two jurisdictions have already declared such bans unconstitutional. An Indiana law that banned ballot selfies was struck down last year when Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the state's Southern District found that the law could not survive strict scrutiny because the state "entirely failed to identify any such problem in Indiana relating to or evidencing vote buying, voter fraud, voter coercion, involuntary ballot disclosures, or an existing threat to the integrity of the electoral process" (Indiana Civil Liberties Union v. Indiana Sec'y of State, 2015 WL 12030168).  On September 28, 2016, the 1st Circuit ruled that a similar ban in New Hampshire also impermissibly impinged on freedom of speech. The 1st Circuit went so far as to call ballot selfie bans “antithetical to democratic values.” (Rideout v. Gardner, 2016 WL 5403593).

On Friday (October 28, 2016), the 6th Circuit bucked the trend by reversing the district court-issued injunction that prevented the enforcement of Michigan’s ballot selfie ban with respect to the coming election. (Crookston v. Johnson, 2016 WL 6311623.) Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for a divided court, held that although the “interesting First Amendment issues” would eventually be adjudicated, for the purposes of November 8th, the Michigan ban on ballot selfies would stand.  The Michigan ballot selfie ban operates to disqualify a ballot that has been photographed. The plaintiff in this case, Joel Crookston, actually had his vote invalidated in 2012 after he snapped and posted a photo of his completed ballot. The majority of the 6th Circuit seemed insufficiently concerned that Crookston’s free speech would be impermissibly curtailed in the coming week by virtue of a ballot selfie ban. “A picture may be worth a thousand words,” wrote the court, “but social media users can (and do) post thousands of words about whom they vote for and why.” Although admitting that “lingering issues remain” with respect to the First Amendment effects of the selfie ban, the 6th Circuit concluded that “there will be time for due deliberation” after the election. 

Chief Judge Cole dissented, holding that because the penalty for taking and posting a ballot selfie was nullification of the vote, the majority had effectively caused voters to choose “between their freedom of expression and their right to vote.” Cole explained that restrictions on speech must serve a significant government interest and be narrowly tailored, and the Michigan ballot selfie ban fails to meet either requirement. Judge Cole was not convinced by the three alleged “important government interests,” namely (1) discouraging vote-buying and coercion,” (2) ensuring “that the polling place is a sanctuary for all,” and (3) preventing delays. “While all of these may be government interests in the abstract, there is disproportionality between the interests stated and the ballot selfie prohibition created by these laws and instructions,” wrote Judge Cole. Yesterday (October 31, 2016), citing the dissent, Crookston’s attorney filed an emergency motion for rehearing in the hopes that the issue can, in fact be definitively addressed prior to the election.

Ballot Selfie Bans - A Constitutional Open Question

The law regarding ballot selfie bans is inconsistent and in flux. On October 23, the Associated Press reported on the state of the law, state-by-state, but this listing is already outdated because of the recent Michigan ruling.  A brief glimpse at the AP's 50-state survey shows how widely varying state laws on this issue. Some states (like Hawaii, Utah, and Nebraska) have laws specifically protecting a voter’s right to take a ballot selfie. Many states neither prohibit nor explicitly allow photographs of ballots. Some states have recently repealed laws that prohibited ballot selfies (for example, California – although this change will not take effect until January), and similar legislative measures are pending in other jurisdictions (for example, New Jersey).  A few states allow photographs of mail-in ballots, but do not allow photographs at polling places in general (for example, Iowa, Maryland, Texas, and Tennessee).  

At least 18 states, however, explicitly outlaw the practice of photographing and showing one’s own ballot, whether at the polling place or (for a mail-in ballot) at home. Although a few state spokesmen (Alaka, Massachusetts) have stated that a state law ban on ballot selfies could not be practically enforced, other states lay out clear penalties for violation of the rule. In Michigan, a ballot selfie will lead to invalidation of the ballot. In several states, a ballot selfie is a misdemeanor that could carry a fine. In Illinois, knowingly showing your completed ballot to another person is a felony that carries a prison sentence of one to three years.

Infographic from NBC News:

50 state ballot selfie ban

 

 

It will be interesting to see if a national consensus develops over the next several months as the ACLU, Snapchat, and various individuals continue to challenge these laws. The next expected opinion pertains to the New York law, and Judge Castel (S.D.N.Y.) says he’ll issue his opinion by the end of this week.  

Meanwhile, the ACLU just sued in Northern California seeking a restraining order that would prohibit enforcement of the selfie ban law, even though a bill repealing that ban has already been signed into law.   The ACLU points out, however, that the new law’s effective date in early 2017 comes too late to matter for Election 2016. “This is an incredibly contentious election. Thousands of our members want to engage in this core political speech, and not just show people how they are voting but try to encourage others to vote the same way," Michael Risher, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "On November 9, it will be too late for them to do that.” Risher called ballot selfies "core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment," however the sought-after injunction seems more symbolic than pragmatic.  “In its 125-year history, California's ban on sharing one's marked ballot has not been enforced.” The California hearing is set for November 2nd.  On that same date a thousand miles to the east, another federal judge will hear near-identical arguments in a federal case challenging the Colorado ballot selfie ban.   

Outdated or Necessary Protections?

Are ballot photograph bans anachronisms? Or is do these laws serve a valid purpose? Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert argues that selfie bans are still needed. “We believe the current law protects the integrity of the election and protects voters from intimidation or inducement,” said Staiert. “In fact, given Colorado’s unique election system and rise of social networking, the prohibition may be more important in Colorado than in other states and may be more timely today than ever.” 

Another argument against repealing the bans is that prohibitions on ballot selfies do not really stifle free speech in any substantive way. The lawyer representing New Hampshire in the 1st Circuit case argued that that under that state’s law (pre-invalidation), “You're free to go out into the community and scream at the top of your lungs how you voted and who you support in the election. You just can't use your marked ballot to do so."  

I suppose that those who are concerned with the practice of taking and posting ballot selfies worry about the social pressure involved and are concerned that the expectation of proving your vote publicly can create peer pressure to vote a particular way.  If ballot selfies become socially expected, it could remove the protection from retribution (social as well as political) that complete anonymity offers. For Snapchat-happy millenials, the social pressure to post a ballot might make it difficult to vote one’s conscience rather than what is most acceptable in one’s social circle. I’m not too worried about vote buying being enabled by photos of ballots posted on social media, but perhaps there are other legitimate reasons to step back from free speech in the name of protecting the right to anonymously cast one’s vote.

Posted by Andrea Boyack on November 2, 2016 at 12:48 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Current Affairs, Deliberation and voices, First Amendment, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Designated Survivor, The End

I just got around to watching Episode 4, which will be my final one (and this my final post). The idea seems so good, but the execution is horrible, even allowing for the relatively low bar on these things. Nothing changed from my assessment of Episode 2--It is just too simplistic, craven, and heavy-handed.

The show returned to the controversy with the governor of Michigan and mass arrests of Muslim citizens, culminating in the federal arrest of the governor, although I could not figure out what the charges were. Nor could I figure out why it was necessary to fraudulently induce the governor to fly to Washington to arrest him, rather than arresting him in Michigan--were there no FBI agents anywhere in the state? There were more comparisons of Kennedy and sending people to "watch" what was going on, without any discussion of the civil lawsuits in functioning courts*that gave the Kennedy watchers (and the calling of the National Guard) its force and that would have been the obvious solution here.

[*] One whopper I forgot to mention from Episode 2 was the governor, in explaining why he was free to do what he was doing, pointing out that there was no longer a Supreme Court. Of course, there is a Sixth Circuit and there is still an Eastern and Western District of Michigan, all of which are fully capable of issuing injunctions and bringing the governor and state police of Michigan to heel.

If anyone keeps watching and it gets better, please let me know.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 19, 2016 at 01:27 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Greenberg, Koufax, and Yom Kippur

I have an essay today in Tablet Magazine, When They Were Kings: Greenberg and Koufax Sit on Yom Kippur. The piece compares Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg in their respective decisions not to play on Yom Kippur 31 years apart. I argue that Greenberg's decision was especially significant given the different, and more precarious, position of Jews in America and the world in 1934 compared with 1965. The essay elaborates on what I wrote here last Yom Kippur, on the fiftieth anniversary of Koufax sitting out.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 11, 2016 at 12:54 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Religion, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Designated Survivor, S1E2

I think I am out.

In part, as one reviewer said, it is a network drama--everything is on the nose and explained, in a way that comes across as stilted and unrealistic. For example, when the President reveals that he had lied about undercover agents to get the governor of Michigan to order the state police to stop rounding up Muslims, his aide announced "he was bluffing." Thanks for that. In part, it takes a craven and unrealistic view of the media and the public and how they are likely to react to, and report on, this story. A lot has changed in our political and media culture since 2001, to say nothing of earlier. But I would expect that, at least during the first 48 hours, someone in Kirkman's position would get a great benefit of the doubt from the press and the public, much as Lyndon Johnson did.

Still, the show followed some interesting threads this week. Unfortunately, I am just not sure the interesting threads overcome the other, less enjoyable pieces of the show.

The relevant story line (ignoring the whodunnit investigation and the drug-dealing teenage son, neither of which interests me) is that the Governor of Michigan ordered State Police to roundup Muslims in Dearborn, resulting in many arrests and the beating death of one teenager by a police officer (captured, of course, on video). The Governor explicitly rejects Kirkman's presidential authority, insisting Kirkman is not "his" President and that the Governor is the highest authority in the state.

This presents an interesting continuity-of-government problem--what if the governor of a State, an independent sovereign, declines to recognize the authority of the acting president. I believe the non-craven view of politics would prevail, at least in the early hours.

But the show goes off the rails when Kirkman looks for a solution. He speaks with two people from the Attorney General's office (or maybe two possible candidates for AG), who give absolute gobbledygook for advice. Thing 1 suggests the President can "invoke the Supremacy Clause" (a phrase which is meaningless) and issue an Executive Order requiring the governor to force his police to stand down (something for which there is no legal authority). Thing 2 says an executive order can be perceived as "hostile," instead recommending a presidential proclamation; when Thing 1 responds that would be a weak, symbolic, empty gesture (it is), Thing 2 reminds that President Bush used proclamations to secure disaster areas after Hurricane Katrina--which might have been effective because FEMA was in charge of the area, but has nothing to do with the current problem. Naturally, the lawyers both come across as useless schmucks. Later, the President's wife (also a lawyer) reminds her husband of Kennedy calling out the National Guard against George Wallace, but Kirkman rejects that as a "nuclear option."

Missing in all of this, of course, is that the President cannot simply order--via national guard, proclamation, executive order, or video phone call--states and state officials to do or not do anything. Even if the state is acting unconstitutionally, the federal government cannot simply tell the state what to do (or it can, but cannot expect the order alone to have any legal effect). The correct answer to the problem is for the US to sue Michigan for this massive constitutional violation, while perhaps bringing a § 242 prosecution against the officer who beat the kid to death. Or the US could support the private lawsuits that the ACLU (which is described as denouncing the round-ups, but nothing more) would be sprinting to the courthouse to file. And when the court orders the state to stop rounding up every Muslim in the city, either a) the governor complies with the order (because they usually do) or b) Kirkman calls in the National Guard (the show, like everyone else, forgets that Kennedy could call in the National Guard only after a federal court had enjoined Wallace from interfering with integration of the university--Kennedy did not simply annouce that Wallace had to stop interfering and then send in troops).

And even if a lawsuit takes time, the threat of a lawsuit and its enforcement might have been enough to get the governor to stand down. In fact, it might have been a good way to show Kirkman's power: "You may not regard me as 'your president,' but vested in me is the executive Power of the United States and I can still bring it down on you and your State if you do not fall in line." That would have been a better show of legal force; instead, the show went for Kirkman's cleverness (he lied that the sweep had caught up undercover federal agents, so the governor was obstructing justice) in an unrealistic maneuver.

Of course, a lawsuit would be more "hostile" than an executive order (especially because it actually would be valid in law, so it would have, you know, actual force). But here is a different narrative problem. During a public appearance at the bomb site, the public and press begin shouting at Kirkman about the civil rights violations in Michigan (interrupting his Bush-esque speech on a bullhorn), accusing him of not being concerned about such violations and of allowing Americans to be beaten. But if that is the public mood (that the Muslims being arrested are "Americans" deserving of protection), then the lawsuit and enforcement of the resulting injunction would be quite popular, or at least not seen as hostile. In which case, this ceases to be a "nuclear" or "hostile" option of which Kirkman should be afraid. The show wants to have it both ways narratively--Kirkman is under attack for not doing anything about civil rights violations, but he would be pilloried if he did something because the nation is again afraid of, and hostile to, Muslims.

Finally, we get talk of reconstituting the government. Kirkman insists on putting together a cabinet and sends his HUD aide and the WH Deputy Chief of Staff (the two clearly have had sex in the past) to come up with names. There is no mention of states either appointing Senators or calling for House elections. This raises one interesting, although unexplored, point: With no Senate (and again, no mention of appointments), no one can be confirmed as a cabinet officer; they only could be acting secretaries. Given that, would an acting president seek out new appointees to these posts? Or would he just elevate the # 2 in each department to acting secretary, to maintain some continuity within the department?

As I said, I think I am out. Because although the show has teased some interesting threads, it is not playing them in a way I find interesting or enjoyable.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 30, 2016 at 09:53 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Television | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

State v. Dharun Ravi: Invading the Sexual Privacy of LGBTQ Persons

*This post is based on a contribution to the Boston University Law Review symposium on Danielle Citron's Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.

Invading the sexual privacy of LGBTQ persons is particularly devastating. In a world characterized by homophobia, exposing someone as gay, publicizing his or her sexual activities to others, and transforming him or her into a sexual object means that LGBTQ victims of sexual privacy invasions face stigma and discrimination.

Cyberharassment devastates its victims. Anxiety, panic attacks, and fear are common effects; post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia and bulimia, and clinical depression are common diagnoses. Targets of online hate and abuse have gone into hiding, changed schools, and quit jobs to prevent further abuse. Some lives are devastated in adolescence and are never able to recover. Some lives come to tragic, premature ends. According to one study, almost three-quarters of cyberharassment reports come from women. Nearly half of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth experience cyberharassment each year, and LGBT teens are three times more likely than heterosexual teens to be harassed online and twice as likely to receive threatening or harassing text messages. As a gendered and sexualized phenomenon, cyberharassment plays a role in the continued subjugation of women and members of the LGBT community.

For sexual minorities, institutional discrimination amplifies cyberharassment’s horrors. This is not to say that heterosexual victims are crying wolf; to the contrary, cyberabuse is an equal opportunity offender. But LGBTQ victims face three additional hurdles. First, the personal psychological effects of cyberharassment are likely worse when victims live in jurisdictions with laws that discriminate against them. And despite some notable advances, anti-gay discrimination is still more the norm than exception. Second, when patterns of cyberharassment also involve “outing” the victim as gay, rampant discrimination and lost opportunity can follow. And third, for those LGBT and questioning youth who, by virtue of their families’ geographic and cultural isolation, lack local LGBT friends and role models, cyberharassment transforms the internet, ostensibly a door to a wider digital world of opportunity, into a danger zone. This enhances a no-where-to-turn sense of hopelessness that, although experienced by many victims of cyberharassment, is felt by none more acutely than LGBT youth.

Institutional discrimination faced by LGBT victims of cyberharassment metastasizes psychological effects because, as Mark Hatzenbuehler has shown, institutional discrimination enhances all mood, anxiety, and psychological disorders. In a 2010 study, Hatzenbuehler found that institutional discrimination can have a statistically significant negative effect on the mental health of LGB persons: lesbians, gay men, and bisexual individuals who lived in states that banned gay couples from marrying experienced mood, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders at higher rates than LGB persons living in equality states. It makes sense, then, that LGBT victims of bullying and harassment rival only homeless LGBT youth in the frequency and severity of psychological injury in the community.

As a means of “outing” gay persons, cyberharassment also triggers an onslaught of potential discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of health care. “Outing,” or the revelation of another’s identity, is a frequent element of cyberharassment targeting members of the LGBT community. It is a central reason why antigay cyberharassment is an invasion of an LGBT person’s privacy. Though emotionally harmful, the closet may be a necessary evil in a discriminatory world: in 29 states, you can be fired, denied a home, and denied public accommodation just for being gay. Consider the story of Mark C., one of the many LGBT victims of cyberharassment with whom I have spoken in the course of my research.

Many LGBT youth, in particular, also experience acute effects of cyberharassment because of their unique dependence on online social networks. Often faced with geographic isolation from fellow LGBT individuals, gay youth rely on online social networks to replace non-existent face-to-face communities because they allow roughly anonymous virtual interaction with like-minded individuals. Therefore, these adolescents are not only frequent internet users, but also completely reliant on the virtual community they create for social support, information about their sexuality, and answers to any questions they have about being gay. Empirical data bears this out. As early as 2001, more than eighty-five percent of LGB adolescents reported that the internet had been the most “important resource for them to connect with LGB peers.” Destruction of that online social support network through cyberharassment is, therefore, particularly harmful because it turns what might have been a gay student’s safe space into a danger zone. Gay and lesbian adolescents’ dependence on online media makes them more susceptible to those who would use it as a sword against them.

None of this is to say that cyberharassment does not devastate all its victims. But while it is clear that cyberharassment is a modern weapon used to subjugate sexual minorities, it also makes institutional discrimination worse. Cyberharassment turns second-class citizens into third-class denizens by ballooning psychological harms and triggering discrimination in employment, housing, and the provision of benefits. And it takes away a virtual world of great opportunity from those who need it most.

Tyler Clementi may not have been a victim of cyberharassment. But he was "outed" by his roommate's invasion of his privacy. That Mr. Ravi acted with such disregard for Tyler's humanity makes this story reek of injustice. The criminal law, as written by New Jersey's legislature, may not have been the best tool for addressing the problem. In my next post, I will discuss a few options--beyond the criminal law--for making the internet safer for us all.

 

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on September 21, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Information and Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Like Pulling Teeth": Lessons for law schools from the 1980s dental school crisis

Eric Chiappinelli (Texas Tech) recently posted a new article on SSRN that analyzes the dental school crisis of the 1980s to draw lessons for currently struggling law schools. It is a very interesting article.  Highlights and my thoughts after the jump.

While readers of the blog are surely familiar with many of the issues facing law schools, I assume that most are less familiar with the dental education crisis of the 1980s. As Chiappinelli explains, an influx of federal spending (through research grants and federal student loans) encouraged the proliferation of dental schools (from 39 in 1943 to 60 in 1980). And students flocked to these dental schools, with the number of dental school students increasing from ~12,000 in 1950 to ~23,000 in 1980. However, like with law schools, darker days were ahead.

Although the inflection point for law schools appears to have been the 2008 financial crisis, fluoride was the game-changer in the dentistry world.  By the late 1970s, enough people had grown up drinking fluorinated water that demand for dentistry's bread and butter services--filling cavities, pulling teeth and creating dentures--flattened. Around the same time, Congress grew concerned that it was contributing to the build-up of excess dentists and dramatically pared back its financial support for dental schools. In 1981, dental schools found that their revenue had suddenly declined by one-third, but their expenses continued to steadily increase. In short, dental schools were in a crisis that appears remarkably similar to the law school crisis.

Like other financially strained post-secondary education institutions, dental schools sought to balance their budgets by shifting away from tenure-track faculty and toward adjunct and other untenured faculty. Dental schools sought additional support from state governments, but state governments had their own financial troubles. Chiappinelli reports that many dental schools were able to shift some costs to students by significantly raising tuition. As a result, dental student debt increased by over 50% from 1978-1981 and doubled by 1990. However, rising debt combined with a lack of good dental jobs resulted in "a rapid and severe reduction in the number of people applying to dental school." Applicant quality, measured by their incoming credentials, dropped simultaneously. Again, echoes of the law school crisis.

Eventually, 12% of all U.S. dental schools closed. While every closed school operated at a loss, Chiappinelli notes that many that were operating at a loss did not close. Clearly, finances were only part of the story. In Part IV of his article, Chiappinelli works to identify other factors that were relevant to determining whether to close a dental school and to apply those lessons to struggling law schools. Rather than finances or operational aspects of dental schools, Chiappinelli concludes that a "school's intentional focus on mission and engagement . . . are particularly important . . ." Thus, law schools should--in Chiappinelli's view--do the following: (i) "ensure that their actions are aligned with the university's mission", (ii) "engage with their university and their relevant professional and lay communities", (iii) use clinics to demonstrate that the law school is aligned and engaged with the university's mission, and (iv) hire deans who can highlight for the university that the law school's mission is aligned with the university's, including how the law school brings prestige to the larger university.

I think that Chiappinelli's broadest point is clearly correct. In times of retrenchment, every enterprise needs to (re)consider its value proposition. Any law school that finds itself out-of-step with its affiliated university risks finding its support dry up. And I think the analogy from dental schools to law schools is a valid one, which is why I've also been working on a piece comparing distressed dental schools to other distressed colleges and universities. There are important lessons that can be learned. Nevertheless, there are at least two reasons to question the comparison.

First, it is my sense that many universities see their law schools as a "crown jewel" of the university system. As such, law schools may simply be viewed differently than dental schools, which apparently were often (but not always) perceived to lack prestige and quality compared to the rest of the university. Second, dental schools were never profitable, "as nearly every dental school loses money from continuing operations, if for no other reason than the clinical aspects of dental education cost more than they produce in revenue." By contrast, law schools were long seen as profit centers for their universities. As such, a university might be willing to subsidize losses for a longer period of time if university officials can be convinced that the law school crisis will eventually abate.

Glad to share more thoughts, but this post is already too long. It's my view that 3-4 paragraphs is the ideal blog post length. But if you're still with me, thanks for reading the whole thing.

Posted by Matthew Bruckner on September 21, 2016 at 07:37 AM in Article Spotlight, Culture, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (12)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Nonconsensual Pornography and the "Gay Bachelor"

Logo TV, an LGBTQ-themed television network, is running a sort-of reality show called "Finding Prince Charming." I hear it's absolutely terrible. It looks a lot like ABC's "The Bachelor," except Logo's version is about gay men. Its star is a statuesque man named Robert Sepulveda Jr., a model, interior designer, and, apparently, a former escort. Because Mr. Sepulveda is on television trying to become famous, a celebrity gossip website thought it was "newsworthy" to publish explicit photos of him from his escort days without his consent. The photos have now been "unpublished."  As far as we can tell, Mr. Sepulveda used those photos during his days as an escort. He didn't publish them online for everyone to see. Posting graphic or explicit photos of another without his or her consent is called "nonconsensual pornography" (NCP), more commonly known as "revenge porn." And it is a crime in 35 jurisdictions and counting.

Most NCP victims are women. But gay men are frequent victims, as well. Lokies Khan, a gay Singaporean man, had a sex tape posted online without consent. Speaking on the YouTube channel, Dear Straight People, Mr. Khan said he felt "violated," "scared," and undermined by the incident: “Things that I post on Instagram are things that are within my control, are things I want people to see, [that] I’m comfortable with people to look at. But these gifs of me on Tumblr are not within my control. I did not give consent. I did not know it was there.”

In my own research, I have spoken to more than 20 gay male victims of NCP. It usually happens in one of two contexts:

  1. As with many cases of NCP, generally, ex-boyfriends sometimes post nude or graphic images of their former partners on Craigslist, pornography websites, or use them to impersonate victims on social networking sites.
  2. Some gay male NCP victims participate in gay social networking apps. Those apps require their users to post a profile photograph, but social norms on the platforms often make sharing more intimate photos a de facto requirement of participation.

One person I spoke to was a victim of NCP at the hands of a photographer who enticed the victim with promises of free professional headshots for casting calls. Many victims felt "vulnerable"; others felt angry about a person stealing their photographs. Almost all of them found different ways to express how NCP is a devastating erosion of trust.

Victims sent intimate photos to their former partners when they were apart, as kind of a modern day love letter. And many victims were indignant when their friends, acquaintances, or online commenters blamed them for taking and sending the not-suitable-for-work photos in the first place. On gay social networking apps, in particular, a background trust exists. As one man said to me, "We're all gay on here. We're all part of the same tribe, looking for community and companionship in a tough world. You are expected to share photos, with your face and your body. If you don't, people don't talk to you. To have that thrown back in your face is really devastating."

NCP can destroy its victims, as Danielle Citron and Mary Anne Franks have described at multiple points in their work. The fact that photos may be "unpublished" does not make the situation any better. The original publisher may have changed his mind, but the photos, once available online, could have been downloaded, uploaded, and reposted thousands of time. Nor is it a publisher's First Amendment right to publish anything he wants about others. Even celebrities enjoy a right to privacy, which, in fact, fosters more, better, and diverse speech.

Despite having his private photos published online, Robert Sepulveda may be doing fine; he hasn't, as far as we know, experienced the kind of professional, personal, physical, and emotional abuse faced by many NCP victims. But he has been the subject of repeated ridicule online for his past as an escort. The attacks have been a combination of different types of shaming (those who both look down on male escorts and those who think he is a poor role model for the LGBTQ community). Whatever we think about escorting or "sex work" or his absolutely excruciating show, no one deserves to have his or her privacy invaded by transforming them into the subject of the prurient interests of others without consent.

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on September 20, 2016 at 04:19 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Television, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, September 19, 2016

State v. Dharun Ravi: A Culture of Homophobia

Dharun Ravi existed in and contributed to a suffocating culture of homophobia. It helped keep Tyler Clementi in the closet and devalued Tyler's life to the point where Mr. Ravi and his friends consciously or subconsciously felt that Tyler did not deserve a right to privacy. This is the context in which LGBTQ individuals (and many women and other marginalized groups) live: they are seen as "less than" and less deserving of equal rights. For many, it is easy to harass them, assault them, ignore their protests, and invade their privacy because their second-class status means they don't really exist as fully realized humans. The cavalier way in which Mr. Ravi and his friends approached invading Tyler's privacy contrasts with the particularly grave consequences of "outing": openly gay individuals face latent and overt discrimination in society that could make coming out terrifying and dangerous.

There were several pieces of evidence to show that Mr. Ravi himself was explicitly uncomfortable with gay people. When he heard that his roommate might be gay, he texted to a friend, "Fuck my life. He's gay" (8). He tweeted a sarcastic "yay" after seeing Tyler make out with another man on September 19 (12). His sent a dismissive tweet--"they're at it again"--on September 21. He was "shocked" at what he saw when he spied on Tyler on September 19 (20) and did not want to go back to the room afterward, suggesting he was creeped out or that there was something dirty about what Tyler did (20).

Mr. Ravi also participated in a particularly nasty homophobic exchange with a high school friend.

M.H.: hahahahha your gay roomie that. . . did you really see him make out with some guy lmao

DEFENDANT: Yeahh omg [M.W.] saw it too. He was older and creepy and def from the internet

M.H.: that's so nastyyy ew watch out he might come for you when you're sleeping! hahaha jk

DEFENDANT: Omg everyone keeps telling me that. I haven't seen him since then

M.H.: hahaha good luck with thatt

DEFENDANT: He just texted me asking when I was coming home omg.

M.H.: maybe his gay friend is in your Ed bed*

DEFENDANT: I set my computer to alert me if anyone is in it when I'm not there LOL

M.H.: really?? how lmao that's so cool

DEFENDANT: My webcam checks my bed hahaha. I got so creeped out after sunday

M.H.: hahaha that's so crazy

DEFENDANT: Yeah keep the gays away

M.H.: I saw a lesbian Asian couple today but they were like nerdy fobby asian and it was gross

DEFENDANT: Ewwww. When we were in ny we saw two guys making out on a stoop

M.H.: NY that's pretty normal though hahha one of my friends is this gay Asian guy who has his ear pierced lol I mean bellybutton pierced*

In addition to this evidence suggesting that Mr. Ravi looked down on gays and contributed to the culture of homophobia at Rutgers, there is even more evidence that Mr. Ravi knew that antigay stigma permeated his group of friends. His friends said they were "shocked" and that it was "scandalous" two men would make out with each other (11, 14). One called it "weird" (11). Everyone was gossiping and laughing about it (14). There were at least 6 people who were gossiping and whispering and pointing to the man with whom Tyler hooked up (26). One student tried to brag that being told Tyler was gay "should have fazed" her (18).

Perhaps most indicative of the fact that a culture of homophobia contributes to a devaluing of gays lives is that everyone thought what Tyler was doing in his dorm room was their business. Mr. Ravi's friends wanted to "grab a glimpse" (19). They were "curious" (14). Mr. Ravi thought nothing of purposely positioning his webcam to focus on Tyler's bed (10, 19) and tweeting out invitations to his friends to watch the sexual encounter (18, 20). And his only response to a friend asking if Mr. Ravi actually spied on Tyler was "LOL" (23).

By the end of this story, more than 18 people knew that Tyler was gay and that Mr. Ravi could spy on him. This number included Ravi's friends from high school (7-8, 21), a young woman across the hall (9), her boyfriend at another school (12), her roommate (13), a friend from class (13-14), friends of the young woman's roommate (14), other friends from college (17, 19), and the members of Mr. Ravi's ultimate frisbee team (20, 21). When Tyler found out that Mr. Ravi had been spying on him, it would be hard for him to deny that his secret was out. He decided to commit suicide shortly thereafter.

Mr. Ravi cannot be directly blamed for Tyler's suicide. But the homophobic context in which he acted and to which he contributed should be relevant when considering both the gravity of the invasion of privacy and Mr. Ravi's state of mind. Mr. Ravi remained willfully blind to the consequences of his actions.

Should willful ignorance of the effects of invading the sexual privacy of a closeted gay person should be enough for sentence enhancement? That is clearly not the way the New Jersey statute invalidated in Pomianek was written; that statute made the state of mind of the defendant irrelevant. But could a re-written statute include both intentional targeting and willful ignorance of the effects of such targeting? Antigay bias is not just using antigay rhetoric--"I hate gays" or "Gays deserve to die"--and then purposefully acting on those impulses. Antigay bias includes contributing to a culture of homophobia that devalues the lives of gay persons. 

What do you think about an antibias sentence enhancement provision that gets triggered either when someone purposely acts to discriminate on someone's identity or when someone acts with reckless disregard for the discriminatory consequences of his or her actions?

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on September 19, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Information and Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, September 12, 2016

State v. Dharun Ravi: What Happened?

On September 9, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey released its opinion in State v. Dharun Ravi. Dharun Ravi, of course, was the roommate of Tyler Clementi, a young Rutgers student who, after Mr. Ravi and his friends spied on him during an intimate encounter with another man, committed suicide on September 22, 2010. The court overturned all of Mr. Ravi's convictions.

To refresh our memories, here's what happened. (All numbers in parentheses refer to the page numbers in the Appellate Division's decision).

Tyler and Mr. Ravi were roommates at Rutgers University. Shortly after being notified that Tyler would be Mr. Ravi's roommate, one of Mr. Ravi's friends found out that someone using Tyler's email address had posted on a forum for gay people (7). So, Mr. Ravi came into college with at least an inkling that his roommate was gay. Tyler, however, was not open about his sexuality. Tyler was still in the closet.

On two occasions in September 2010, Tyler asked for some time in the room by himself (10). He had met a man using a gay social networking platform and invited him to his room (24). Mr. Ravi left. On the first occasion, which took place on Sept. 19, Mr. Ravi actually came back into the room within a few minutes and appeared to "shuffle some papers" on his desk. It turned out he was also adjusting the position of his webcam to face Tyler's bed. Mr. Ravi then used his technical skills to have his video chat platform automatically accept all calls. This allowed anyone who called him to see through his webcam. On both Sept. 19 and Sept. 21, Mr. Ravi tweeted out several comments about Tyler being gay, that he asked to be alone in their room, and that he was hooking up with another man (12). He encouraged others to call his account and watch (18). Mr. Ravi and quite a few of his friends watched live video of Tyler and another man "making out" on Sept. 19 (11). They tried to do so again on Sept. 21.

By reading some of Mr. Ravi's public tweets, Tyler found out that Mr. Ravi had invaded his privacy and made him the subject of others' prying eyes without his consent. Tyler then complained to his resident advisor and asked for either a private room or a different roommate (26-27). On Sept. 22, Tyler's RA notified Mr. Ravi about Tyler's request for a new room and explained Tyler's allegation that Mr. Ravi had invaded his privacy (29). At 8:46 PM that evening, Mr. Ravi wrote Tyler a text that (sort of) apologized (29-30). Shortly thereafter, Tyler, who had already left campus, used his cellphone to write on his Facebook page: "I'm going to jump off the GW Bridge. Sorry." Moments later, he did so (30).

On April 20, 2011, a grand jury returned indictments against Mr. Ravi for invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering apprehension or prosecution. On March 16, 2012, the jury convicted Mr. Ravi on all counts. After denying a motion for a new trial, the trial judge sentenced Mr. Ravi to 3 years probation, dependent on serving 30 days in jail (4). Mr. Ravi also had to complete 300 hours of community service, attend counseling on cyberbullying and diversity, and pay $10,000 (which was to be dedicated to helping victims of bias crimes) (5).

September 2010 was a difficult month for the LGBT community. Tyler was just one of 10 gay adolescent boys to commit suicide. Billy Lucas, 15, died on Sept. 9. Cody Barker, 17, died on Sept. 13. Seth Walsh, 13, died on Sept. 19. Asher Brown, 13, died on Sept. 23. Harrison Brown, 15, died on Sept. 25. Raymond Chase, 19, died on Sept. 29. Felix Sacco, 17, died on Sept. 29. And Caleb Nolt, 14, died on Sept. 30.

Tyler's death brought extensive media attention to the problems of suicide in the LGBTQ communities and antigay bullying. Celebrities, including Ellen Degeneres and Anderson Cooper, spoke out about both issues. Antigay bullying is indeed an epidemic facing our schools and our communities. But it is worth asking: Was Tyler a victim of "cyberbullying"? In one sense, it doesn't matter. Tyler's story brought much needed attention to a problem that needs to be addressed, and his parents have joined the fight against bullying and cyberbullying in the years since his death. 

But definitions are important. There are a host of definitions of “cyberharassment” or “cyberbullying” milling around. And imprecise and inconsistent definitions frustrate our ability to understand, talk about, and solve the problem. Danielle Keats Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace and the leading cyberharassment scholar, defines cyberharassment generally as repeated online expression that intentionally targets a particular person and causes the targeted individual substantial emotional distress and/or the fear of bodily harm. There are five core elements to that definition: repetition, use of digital technology, intent to target, targeting, and substantiality of harm.

Cyberbullying is a subcategory of cyberharassment that includes all five of those elements but is focused squarely on youth-to-youth behavior. It can be understood as repeated online expression that is intended to cause substantial harm by one youth or group of youths targeting another with an observed or perceived power imbalance. This definition retains those five factors and adds two important elements: youth and power imbalance, the latter of which is actually common in many forms of cyberharassment. The asymmetry of power, which could be based on identity (i.e., a member of the majority attacking a member of a traditionally marginalized and discriminated minority), draws the line between schoolyard teasing and bullying. It should come as no surprise, then, that young members of the LGBTQ community are uniquely susceptible to bullying and its tragic consequences. They are bullied because they deviate from the norm and because antigay bullying is either tacitly or explicitly condoned by antigay bigotry and homophobia in society at large. This definition of cyberbullying captures the worst online aggressive behavior while excluding the otherwise mean, hateful, and distasteful speech that free speech norms tend to tolerate. Cyberbullying is, at bottom, cyberharassment involving youth. And it is an epidemic affecting our schools.

Although Tyler was targeted because of his sexual orientation and Mr. Ravi's behavior caused Tyler to experience substantial emotional distress, it is not clear that what happened to Tyler involved repeated behavior that rises to the level of a course of conduct. However, I am not sure that matters at all. Mr. Ravi was not accused of violating an anti-bullying law; he was accused of invading Tyler's privacy, which is exactly what he did.

With this background, I would like to use several forthcoming posts to explore several theories and questions about the Appellate Division's decision in State v. Dharun Ravi. Stay tuned for the next post!

Posted by Ari Ezra Waldman on September 12, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Current Affairs, Information and Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Designated Survivor

I am intrigued by the new ABC show Designated Survivor (long trailer after the jump, premiere on Wednesday, 9/21), which shows the HUD Secretary (played by Keifer Sutherland, wearing a Cornell hoodie and glasses to show that he is an egghead and no Jack Bauer) becoming acting president (not president) when the Capitol is destroyed by a terrorist attack during the State of the Union address.

I am curious where the show goes. It would be interesting to see the process of reconstituting a government, especially Congress. It also would be interesting to see the process of the executive trying to do anything without a legislature (as opposed to a legislature that just will not do its job). I am not particularly interested watching a revenge fantasy a la 24 (this gut-reaction preview suggests it feints in the latter direction at times). Nor The West Wing without political legitimacy, a basic political drama.

Instead, I hope the show recognizes, and plays, the uniqueness of the premise. This is more than a political drama or even a political drama about an individual thrust into circumstances for which he may not be prepared and having to grow into the job (think Harry Truman). This is that, but in a last-gasp, no-alternative situation, in which our basic governmental structure is gone or has to be recreated on the fly. I hope the show embraces that.

Around the 1:35 mark in the trailer, Sutherland is talking with a speechwriter played by Kal Penn. As the scene is shown here, Sutherland asks whether Penn thinks he should step down, Penn says "I do," and Sutherland responds that he may be right, but for the moment he is all they have. It is a good line, designed to show Sutherland's steely resolve to rise to the occasion. But the conversation undermines the show's premise or the intelligence of its characters. That is a conversation you have when there is a choice ("Sorry, A, but B would be a better president).  Who does Penn want Sutherland to step down in favor of? Or who does Penn believe Sutherland could step down in favor of? He is literally the only person on the planet legally authorized to wield the executive Power of the United States. Anyone else acting as president would do so contrary to law (put aside whether we would accept and retroactively ratify such actions). Sutherland's "For now, I'm all you've got" drives the point home. But the head WH speechwriter, someone who presumably knows something about how the government works, already should know that.

Plus, the situation allows for depictions of genuine political intrigue that at least merit discussion, rather than ginned-up stories of Machiavellian chiefs of staff. Suppose one member of the House (not the Speaker) survived the attack, declared himself elected as Speaker by a majority vote of one member, and tried to argue that he had prior authority to act as president (raising some quorum concerns that have never been resolved). Or suppose the duly elected Speaker of a reconstituted House insists he has prior entitlement. Section 19(d)(2) (providing, in a convoluted fashion, that a cabinet member acting as president cannot be supplanted by a legislative officer acting as president) seems to resolve that, but this is all new ground and arguments always can be made. The show also could depict the holes commentators and advocates (including me) have identified in the succession statute, especially post-9/11: The absence of a mechanism to quickly reconstitute the House; the need for a special presidential election when an unknown, inexperienced, lower-level cabinet secretary (who may have been fired that morning) takes the executive power. But I doubt this creates enough drama compared with Jack-Bauer-in-glasses-and-a-Cornell-hoodie.

Finally, I never looked into the designated survivor practices when I was writing about this, so I was not aware of a paradox, in terms of political legitimacy. The highest cabinet officer ever to be the designated survivor has been the Attorney General on three occasions (John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, and Eric Holder), which is fourth on the cabinet list. Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense are never designated, even though they are the highest-profile and most likely to have political, and even presidential, experience (of the last four Secretaries of State, two had run for president and one was a top military official who everyone had wanted to run for president) that would be important in the event of a catastrophe.

Anyway, I look  forward to beginning to watch this. I hope they do something good with it.

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 11, 2016 at 07:39 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Television | Permalink | Comments (17)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bard Signing In

Let me start my third visit to Prawfs Blog with warm thanks to Howard Wasserman and to my fellow bloggers for the work they have done keeping this forum going. As the public information about Professor Markel’s murder becomes increasingly lurid, I’d rather focus on his work than on the circumstances of his tragic death. And from the beginning his work on this blog was to provide legal academics a forum to talk to each-other about matters of interest to them—whether it was highlighting a new study, commenting on a case or talking about legal academe.  

As a brief self introduction, I’m starting my second year as the very proud dean of the absolutely amazing University of Cincinnati College of Law. Every day I hear something about what one of our faculty, alumni, staff or students are doing and I’m proud to have a role in sustaining the framework that allows these things to happen at our historic law school. So I’m going to talk about legal education. But as an engaged health law academic specializing in ethical issues in public health, the unchecked spread of Zika in the United States is also going to be a topic of discussion. Thank you for having me. It is a real honor to be included.

Posted by Jennifer Bard on August 31, 2016 at 09:37 PM in Article Spotlight, Blogging, Culture, Current Affairs, Dan Markel, Howard Wasserman, Information and Technology, Life of Law Schools, Lipshaw | Permalink

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Night of Conclusion

I was a guest on New York Magazine's Vulture TV Podcast (begins at 30:00 mark) discussing the finale of The Night Of. Some additional comments (with spoilers) after the jump.

1) I like the ambiguity of the ending, in which we do not really know who killed Andrea. Naz is not acquitted--it is an evenly split jury--but we do not see the end result of the investigation of Ray Halle, the suspect the show throws at us, for the first time, about midway through the finale. The truth is we never know what happened in many cases; the system makes its best guess using procedures designed to produce accurate results (albeit in an efficient and fair way).

2) I do not think the decision to continue the prosecution of Naz, even after learning about Halle, was wrong. And it certainly was not unethical. There was more evidence against Naz. The evidence against Halle was that he had motive, opportunity, and a connection to the victim--the same evidence as against the step-father and Duane Reade, although of a different nature and perhaps somewhat strong. The unforgivable sin was the prosecutor not disclosing that evidence, an obvious Brady violation. It is interesting that the show gives the prosecutor a heroic ending of sorts--she tanks the closing argument while having second thoughts, she declines to reprosecute, and she enlists Box to help her make a case against Halle. But her failure to disclose reflects a cardinal sin for a prosecutor, the most common type of prosecutorial misconduct and the source of many wrongful convictions. I wish the show had not downplayed that. And, as I said in the podcast discussion, she picked the worst of all possible ways to express her doubts--she did not dismiss the charges (a precipitous move, since I imagine jeopardy had attached, so if Halle turned out to be a dead-end, she was stuck) or disclose and let the jury hear the new evidence (and perhaps acquit). Her choice actually left Naz permanently in limbo.

3) Rule 404 does not exist in TV Land; there was more character and other-acts evidence flying around this week. Interestingly, however, some of it would have been admissible, although not for the reasons the show depicts. Some good exam hypos.

4) Trevor should have been able to plead the Fifth when asked about lying about being with Duane Reade. Wasn't he confessing to lying to police, which is a crime?

5) I did not think the decision to have Naz testify was wrong. It was poorly executed. He was unprepared for cross. And most of what came out on cross should have been presented on direct. The show presented an interesting divide over having the defendant testify. I imagine defense lawyers will say that the popular view is that an innocent defendant would take the stand and explain his side of the story and that the failure to testify is suspicious, despite the judge's charge. As presented through John, the show's theory is that, without testifying, the jury understands the defendant as wearing the "cloak of the presumption of innocence," but that if he testifies, his testimony must be strong enough to "prove his innocence." Meaning, presumably, that a defendant should never testify. In any event, his testimony is a disaster, which leads to . . .

6) I again cannot express strongly enough how turned off I was by the portrayal of women lawyers. The show destroyed Chandra's character--as always, in the service of enabling the male lawyer to emerge as the hero--in the most ludicrous ways. Several reviews have suggested the show reverse-engineered it--it needed John to be the hero, then just found the most ridiculous way to get there. Worse still, I am not sure its machinations were legally accurate. While unethical and grounds for bar discipline, I am not sure that kissing a client is grounds either for a mistrial, removal of the attorney, or forcing the attorney to yield her role as first chair. And all without asking the defendant his preferences, which should control. There is a case down here in which a defense attorney was accused of having full-on sex with her client in the interview room; she was temporarily barred from the jail, but she represented the client at trial.

There is a lot of talk about the awful portrayal of women on TV (think of some of the criticisms of Season One of True Detective). This show should be included in the discussion. Which is unfortunate, because it undermines an otherwise-good story.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 30, 2016 at 09:12 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Television | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Night Of (Updated)

I have been enjoying HBO's The Night Of, despite my general distaste for legal fiction. The acting and writing have been great and the show has presented a unique tone.

Some comments (with spoilers, for those of you who are not caught up) after the jump.

Two big evidentiary issues came up in the last episode: Naz's assaults of two high school classmates and his selling Adderall to college classmates. The first seems impermissible--we have not seen any indication that the defense has offered evidence of Naz as a non-violent person or that he was acting in self-defense, so the door has not been opened for the prosecution to offer character evidence, nor do these incidents have any non-character connection to the murder at issue. The second seemed impermissible while I was watching it, just more evidence to show he is a bad person (and through specific instances of conduct on direct, no less). But I think this could come in as preparation or plan--that the drugs they took (which explains why he blacked out or cannot remember his actions) were provided by him, not the victim.

Financial advisers may want to protect their client's confidentiality, but the law does not accord them a privilege akin to that between an attorney and her client. Just subpoena the guy.

Finally, and unfortunately, the show again falls into the trap described by Paul Bergman and Michael Asimow in their book Reel Justice: "Almost without exception, trial movies present women lawyers in viciously stereotypical terms. It's almost as if filmmakers are scared stiff of powerful, successful women." The show fell down this hole on Sunday by having Chandra, the young female lawyer, make-out with Naz--on surveillance camera, no less, and for no discernible reason. The show had shown her as a competent and serious, if new and overwhelmed, lawyer rising (somewhat) to the occasion. Why would she throw that all away and what is served by undermining the character like that? Narratively, I suppose the goal is to force John Stone to step-in as first chair, completing his redemption story and, perhaps, getting Naz off the hook?. But why must it be at the cost of the female attorney destroying her career? And, come to think of it, Chandra is not the only example in the show. Allison Crowe, Naz's second lawyer, is shown as a media hound who behaves unethically in a number of ways--in stealing Naz as a client (without speaking to Naz himself), in insulting John in open court, in jacking up her price (from pro bono to costly) when he did not do what she wanted, and then in dropping Naz as a client (without informing the court) by telling him, basically, "fuck off." I overlooked it at the time because she was supposed to be the bad guy in that part of the story, an antagonist to John. But now, in light of the development with Chandra, it seems to be a broader problem in how women lawyers are presented--another example of Bergman and Asimow's thesis.

Update: I should say something about the female prosecutor, who  been no great shakes, including telling a witness what to say. Interestingly, though, the attitude towards her seems to be that she is a world-weary part of a machine that continues of its own force once it gets rolling. Mostly, she is depicted as a typical prosecutor, putting the most-favorable spin on ambiguous evidence. This is how the adversary system is supposed to work.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 23, 2016 at 12:03 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

IP for Characters & Symbols: IPSC 2016

IPSC 2016 Breakout Session I: IP for Characters and Symbols

I summarize the following presentations, and the discussions about them, below the fold. If I didn't know an audience participant, I didn't include a name, but if you are an anonymous commenter,  tell us who you are in the comments.

Is Copyright an Author’s Right? An Authorship Perspective on Copyright Law – Mira Sundara Rajan

Works of Fiction: The Misconception of Literary Characters as Copyright Works – Jani McCutcheon

Zombie Cinderella and the Undead Public Domain – Rebecca Curtin

Trademarks, Core Values and Cultural Leadership – Deborah Gerhardt

Intellectual Property in Internet Folklore – Cathay Smith

Mira Sundara Rajan, Is Copyright an Author's Right? An Authorship Perspective on Copyright Law

Copyright is arguably the only regime designed to promote culture, and that should mean providing income to creators. But many authors struggle to make a legitimate income. Mira is concerned that copyright isn't correctly calibrated to that end. At a minimum, authors need more voice.

Lisa Ramsey asks whether Mira plans to frame this as a human right or some other way.

Mira: International law mentions a moral right of authors as a form of human rights. But the Berne treaty may effectively embody human rights in automatic protection at creation.

LRamsey: But then might the human right to copyright conflict with a human right to free speech? And if corporations hold copyright, is it proper to think about copyright as a human right?

Shyam Balganesh: There are two ways to look at copyright - looking at authors rights, and looking at the acts that authors take. You propose that the net income of authors is low, but it's not clear that copyright is the right mechanism to enhance their welfare. Perhaps authorship is the better focus than authors.

Mira: Japan grants to corporations something that looks like a human right in authorship functions, and Japan is an outlier here.

 

Jani McCutcheon, Works of Fiction: The Misconception of Literary Characters as Copyright Works

Fictional characters qualify as protectable copyright works in large part because of a problematic Learned Hand opinion, Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp.  But to protect characters as works, they must be identifiable. But where is the character perceived? You can't excise the character from the text, and characters are more abstraction than expression. If we are separating characters out as works, is there a right and a wrong way to read or construct the character. If not, it may be impossible to define the character as a protectable work. Characters traverse different media, which further complicates the question.

Deborah Gerhardt: Copyright has so many tests for the same thing. I love clear rules, I love the Feist opinion because it is clear. I'm resistant to your analysis because it gives us an entirely different originality test for characters than anything else.

Jani: I'm not sure we should be looking for a way to define the character, and I wouldn't apply the test to characters at all.

Betsy Rosenblatt: I'm quite sympathetic to the project, but I'll ask a question I've been asked. Why isn't this a problem for all of copyright? Reader response theory suggests all interaction with copyrighted works is dialogic. If so, this is a universal problem for copyrighted works. Perhaps this is similar to [Guy Rub and Margot Kaminski's] zoom-in, zoom-0ut problem.

Jani: This may be a broader phenomenon.

Lisa Ramsey: This reminds me of Betsy's work on Sherlock Holmes. But I'm conflicted. Some characters are well-delineated. If I add Harry Potter to my law school novel, is there any infringement? Of what?

Jami: What do we mean by take Harry Potter? Under my analysis, if little of the expression has been taken, and there is little / no substantial similarity between the works, there is no infringement. Admittedly, the name is potent, but because of trademark significance. 

Inayat Chaudhry: What if there are characters like Calvin & Hobbes, and the whole work is based on the characters?

Jami: This is a hybrid work, with visual and literary components, which complicates the analysis. 

Seagull Haiyan Song: I agree the current test doesn't work. But if copyright protection isn't the right solution, should there be something else? Protection of character rights as such?

 

Rebecca Curtin, Zombie Cinderella and the Undead Public Domain

[Is this the best title of the conference?]

Someone tried to register "Zombie Cinderella" as a mark for a doll. There was an initial refusal grounded in confusion with Disney's Cinderella. The Trademark Trial & Appeal Board reversed the refusal, holding the "Cinderella" part of Disney's mark was a conceptually weak indicator, in part b/c of third party dolls on the market, and in part b/c of long history of the Cinderella story.

The danger here is that the signal sent is that Disney should have worked harder to protect the mark. And we see protectable marks for Cinderella soap, cosmetics, etc., and that doesn't seem problematic in the same way. Is Cinderella generic for dolls? That doesn't seem quite right, and genericism doesn't fully animate what the public domain story lends to the underlying good.

Instead, I'm thinking in terms of extending the aesthetic functionality doctrine to cultural elements. Trademark needs a doctrine to deal with the use of fairy tale princesses as trademarks or brands.

Betsy: Aesthetic functionality is what Tyler Ochoa suggested to me instead of genericism as the solution to the Sherlock Holmes problem. I want to make a push for genericism (I'm glad you didn't go to descriptive). You are right - it's not descriptive for dolls, but it is the generic descriptor for the character. You can't call Sherlock anything other than Sherlock, and you can't call Cinderella anything other than Cinderella. We use nominative fair use to deal with it on the infringement side, but we should have to. Here, the term Cinderella is generic for what the product represents. AF is a poor fit: oxymoronic, and it seems to ask whether we buy something because it is pretty / attractive.

Deborah Gerhardt: Perhaps we need a public domain for characters like these.

Ann Bartow: Is this like copyright title, where you don't get protection in titles? [Jake: trademark handles title differently, for books - no protection for a single book, but protection for a series of books (Harry Potter & ___) or magazines.

Ed Lee: I would prefer a more full-throated defense of the public domain created by the copyrighted work aspect. You could try to recapture a trademark public domain - what's the proper boundary of a copyrighted [cultural?] character in the public domain. [JL: Is this then a Dastar problem - no trademark protection because the character as cultural artifact in doll context belongs in the copyright bucket, and protection has expired?]

Laura Heymann: You may benefit from disaggregating the individual aspects of Cinderella and her characteristics. United used Rhapsody in Blue - the fact that it's in the public domain doesn't necessarily mean it cannot have some trademark function, so more careful pulling apart may be valuable.

 

Deborah Gerhardt, Trademarks, Core Values and Cultural Leadership

A trademark may represent core values around which a community can coalesce. When you look at a brand community, what values does it have? Is the communal identity potential harmed by dilution, for example?

For example, brands are now pressured to make a stand on cultural issues. Target, for example, acted to restrict open gun carry in its stores. Here the brand is used as a tool for political reform. PayPal refused to bring in a business center in direct response to North Carolina's HB 2.

To have a mark strong enough to support a dilution claim, perhaps some identifiable core value is the minimum. If so, dilution harm is a disruption between the core value and the ostensibly diluting use. Goldfish crackers with marijuana - there may be disruption between core values and the brand. Louis Vuitton parody toy handbags? No disruption of the core value, merely playing with the core value. [JL: If that's right, is this anything more than a parody non-parody analysis? Not clear to me.]

Andrew Gilden: Does your "core values" require a popular political stance, or cultural buy in? If the majority turns in favor of equality, is this really a "core" value.

Deborah: Imagine that someone else had interfered with Ashley Madison's ability to signal its core value of secrecy and discretion. That might be a core value that the majority of Americans doesn't "value," but it at the core of Ashley Madison's brand identity.

Andrew: What if Christian Mingle tried to adopt an abandoned Ashley Madison brand.

Deborah: Sometimes core values are forged in crisis.

Seagull: Core values, under your definition, seem like they must be shifting.

Laura Heymann: Do you need to distinguish between value and core attribute?

 

Cathay Smith - Intellectual Property in Internet Folklore

Are there protectable rights in internet folklore? My project looks at the evolution of Slenderman, his propertization, and the coming movie, to investigate this question, and ask who is benefitted and harmed.

The character first showed up on the Something Awful website, in an image posted by Victor Surge.  At first, people posted their own "sightings" of Slenderman without claiming any ownership of the character. But as the character has become more popular, parties have begun claiming ownership rights. At least two short films posted online were taken down after receiving a takedown notice. But the provenance of the ownership is uncertain. The claims lead to a chilling effect.

Is there ownership in Slenderman? Cathay argues no - Slenderman as we understand him wasn't fully developed with the first Victor Surge posts, but collectively as he became popular. She also argues factual estoppel - if the author(s) claim Slenderman is a real person and posted sightings are factual, then copyright claims might be estopped. Rights in the name of the title / name are also weak, under Rogers v. Grimaldi.

Normatively, property rights seem unjust. The Hollywood blockbuster isn't giving back to the community. This is also a nice example of chilling effects. In addition, propertization runs counter to community norms and ethos.

Ed Lee: Copyright might be a bad fit. Perhaps attribution, as a sui generis right, should be respected.

Cathay: Do you mean giving rights to the community, or preventing propertization of something created by the community.

Ed Lee: There are a range of options. I mean something more unleashed / free than standard property rights.

Lisa Ramsey: This reminds me of the orphan works problem - who is the owner? There are also joint works problems. So under current copyright doctrine, if people are fixing individual images, those seem independently protectable. Are the derivative works, derived from what version of the character, and if so, can you get protection in them? 

Q: Is this character just a standard bogeyman? How much of this is really new? [Lisa Ramsey: Scenes-a-faire]

Seagull: Might we get something from creative commons analysis.

Q: Other commons uses of musical communities might also be valuable to consider.

Posted by Jake Linford on August 11, 2016 at 03:50 PM in Blogging, Corporate, Culture, First Amendment, Intellectual Property, International Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Meaning of Sex Discrimination

In response to a number of questions from school districts about how to serve transgender students under Title IX, the Departments of Justice and Education issued joint guidance in May explaining how they interpreted the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title IX and its implementing regulations. In bringing clarity to the issue, the guidance explains that the prohibition on sex discrimination “encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.” Pursuant to the guidance, “[t]he Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations.” The guidance then details that transgender students should be permitted to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

A number of states have filed lawsuits challenging the guidance, arguing that the Administration is “foisting its new version of federal law” on schools. But the Departments’ interpretation is not drawn from whole cloth. In fact, courts have recognized that sex discrimination under federal civil rights statutes includes discrimination based on someone’s transgender status for some time, authority that is noted in the Departments’ guidance, and is collected here and here. And of course, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court adopted a capacious understanding of what constitutes “sex” discrimination, prohibiting sex stereotyping or treating people differently because of their perceived failure to conform to gender norms.

The states also argue that the Departments are attempting to “redefine the unambiguous term ‘sex.’” But the statutory and regulatory meaning of the prohibition on sex discrimination as it relates to transgender individuals is far from clear, as the Fourth Circuit recently concluded in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, the lawsuit by a Virginia transgender boy challenging his exclusion from the boys bathroom. Indeed, as one of the lawsuits challenging the Departments’ guidance concedes, “[n]othing in Title IX’s text, structure, legislative history, or accompanying regulations address gender identity,” suggesting—at most—that the statute doesn’t speak, one way or another, to whether transgender individuals are protected by the statute. As the Fourth Circuit held in G.G., because the law is “silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms,” there is an ambiguity which the Departments are permitted to clarify.

As an alternative interpretation, those challenging the Departments’ guidance suggest that “sex” means what they call “biological sex.” But neither the statutory language or the legislative history quoted by those challenging the guidance appear to reference so-called “biological sex” at all. As discussed in a prior post, medical experts have established that the factors contributing to one’s sex are multifaceted, including “external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, gender identity, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics and genes.” Thus, even if one focused purely on the physical characteristics of sex, reliance on “biological sex” creates more ambiguity than it resolves. Again, as the Fourth Circuit reasoned: “For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.”

When one combines the statutory and regulatory ambiguity with the medical reality, defining “sex” with reference to one’s gender identity is far from radical,  is certainly reasonable, and is probably the best interpretation of the relevant language.

The reasonableness of that interpretation is heightened when one considers that, at least with regard to public schools, the Equal Protection Clause overlays any analysis. And, without diving into a detailed discussion, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision makes clear that “[t]he Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity” (emphasis added). Given Obergefell’s context, this is powerful language suggesting that we possess constitutional rights over our sexual and gender identity.

Posted by Scott Skinner-Thompson on July 22, 2016 at 02:42 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Employment and Labor Law, Gender | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Learning About Gender Identity

As transgender people have gained more visibility over the past couple of years, many of us have had to consider what it means to be transgender for the first time. Understanding what it means to be transgender is important for unpacking the legal issues confronting transgender individuals, but, as educators, being knowledgeable about gender identity is also necessary to make sure we are serving our students. As a recent study by UCLA’s Williams Institute concludes, roughly 1.4 million adults in America are transgender, suggesting we are likely to have trans or gender nonconforming people in our classrooms.

So, while in future posts I will dive into some of the legal issues, I thought it might be useful at the outset to share some of things I’ve learned about gender identity.

First, a transgender person is someone whose sex assigned at birth (usually based on a quick exam of their external genitalia) does not accurately reflect their gender identity.

Second, we all have a gender identity, which simply refers to one’s personal sense of being a certain gender. People whose gender identity comports with their sex assigned at birth are referred to as “cisgender.”

Third, sex and gender are not as straightforward as the boxes we check, or even our external genitalia, might suggest. There are many aspects to sex. According to medical experts such as Dr. Deanna Adkins, “although we generally label infants as ‘male’ or ‘female’ based on observing their external genitalia at birth, external genitalia do not account for the full spectrum of sex-related characteristics nor do they ‘determine’ one’s sex. Instead, sex related characteristics include external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, gender identity, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics and genes. These sex-related characteristics do not always align as completely male or completely female in a single individual.”

Fourth, gender identity is increasingly understood as the principal determinant of sex.

Fifth, many people do not fit neatly into categories we love to create (such as male, female, trans or cisgender). Many people are simply gender nonconforming, which, according to one definition, “refers to the extent to which a person’s gender identity, role, or expression differs from the cultural norms prescribed for people of a particular sex.” Indeed, to a certain extent we are all gender nonconforming in particular ways—if we are a female with short hair, a male with skinny jeans, then we are cutting against the grain—we are not conforming with gender norms or stereotypes.

Sixth, one of the most important aspects of transgender health is socially transitioning. Yet socially transitioning is extremely difficult, and to be transgender also means being subject to higher rates of violence, suicide, poverty, discrimination, and incarceration, as detailed in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.  

Finally, given the significance of socially transitioning and our responsibility to our students as educators, to me at least, it is important that we do what we can to make trans students’ lives as smooth as possible, and reduce any feelings of isolation and despair they may be feeling. We should consider ways in which our teaching methods may be silencing or singling out trans students. Gabriel Arkles has put together a great list of suggestions for ways we can make our classrooms more inclusive for trans and gender nonconforming students. One simple thing that I’ve adopted from colleagues is instead of using the school’s attendance list, I circulate a sign-up sheet on the first day of class letting students provide me their name and preferred pronoun, which prevents me from using an inaccurate pronoun based on my perception of their gender or calling them a name they no longer prefer.

Thanks for reading; happy to discuss and learn about these issues with anyone further! I look forward to launching into some of the legal barriers facing trans folk in the coming weeks.

Posted by Scott Skinner-Thompson on July 7, 2016 at 06:36 PM in Culture, Gender, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (19)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Veep, S5E10

Sunday's season finale played out the constitutional election/selection/succession contingencies to the last, producing what, in reality, would be a genuine constitutional  and political crisis. And it leaves the show in the position of a genuine reboot when it comes back next season, which presents some interesting possibilities.

We begin before the Senate vote for Vice President, which Tom James expects to win. He and Meyer are negotiating her role in his administration--she wants to be Secretary of State, he presents VP as take-it-or-leave-it. She initially leaves it by telling James she would not be his vice president if there were "a grassy knoll full of Jodie Foster fans" in the front row at the Inauguration (a great line). She relents because she believes it is the only way to continue working with China on freeing Tibet (a possibility set up two weeks ago). The scene where Meyer agrees and James cannot help laughing when he promises her that she will be an involved part of his team is a good commentary on how the vice presidency is perceived.*

[*] Although vice-presidential historian Joel Goldstein (SLU) has argued that this has not been true of the modern vice presidency, at least since Walter Mondale.

The show had been building to this since the end of last season, but, as I argued then, it gets it wrong. Under the 20th Amendment, when the House has not chosen a President, the VP elected by the Senate  "shall act as President until a President shall have qualified." That may happen in two days, when the House holds a new vote and selects a President. Or it may happen in four years, when a new election and Electoral College vote selects a President in the scheduled quadrennial election. But this VP never becomes President, although she exercises the powers of the presidency.** She remains Vice President and cannot appoint a new VP because the vice presidency is not, in fact, vacant. As I said in a comment to last week's post, this person would not be Ford after Nixon resigned, but GHW Bush when Reagan had polyps removed. And no one believed Bush could have appointed a new VP.

[**] With perhaps some informal limits on Supreme Court appointments, as Rob Kar and Jason Mazzone suggest.

The twist in the episode is that James loses the Senate election. Vice President Doyle, mad at Meyer for reneging on her promise to make him Secretary of State, orchestrates a tie in the Senate vote (by appealing to various Senators whom James had angered over the years over judicial holds, earmarks, etc.), which he then breaks to give the Vice Presidency to Laura Montez, O'Brien's running mate. And with it, the acting--not actual--presidency. This was a twist that I certainly did not see coming. Montez then is sworn in, with a huge inauguration attended by two million people. Again, this would not happen because Montez is not, in fact, the 45th President;*** formally, the presidency remains vacant.

[***] A poll discussed in the episode rates Meyer the 43d best President, just behind James Buchanan, who is "credited with causing the Civil War."

I kept waiting for some further twist back, but it never happened. My first thought was that James would go back to the Speaker to hold a new House vote**** (since that was the plot that started all this) and James would try to whip-up votes to get Meyer the win. Of course, O'Brien came closer to winning that Meyer, so it would have required not only moving the three "abstaining" states, but also one other. Then, during a discussion of Montez's Mexican-born husband, I thought it might be revealed that Montez was not a natural-born citizen, and that might blow everything up. But nothing. And that is the plan. Showrunner David Mandel has said that Season Six will focus on Selina's life after the White House, perhaps Catherine, Gary, and Amy, who are with her at the end. No word on whether other regulars from her staff will be back. Meanwhile, the agreement with China on Tibet that Meyer had negotiated is announced during Montez's address and credited to her, with talk of her getting the Nobel Peace Prize that Meyer had been craving (shades of the freeing of the Iranian hostages on January 20, 1981).

[****] A TV in the background at the White House shows a CNN chyron that the Speaker had said he would not hold a new vote. I thought that might be Chekhov's Chyron, but it turned out to be a reminder of the House role in this and a way to stop that piece of the story.

So how did the season "stick the landing" on the constitutional stuff? Not well in the details, although fun in the story. It seriously understates the political and constitutional crisis that would be involved here, producing an unrealistic result. The Twelfth Amendment was intended to prevent this "inversion" of president and vice-president. No way would O'Brien or Meyer accept the result so easily; they would be fighting like crazy for a new House vote. No way would their supporters in the House accept the result so easily. O"Brien's supporters wanted O'Brien as president; Meyer's supporters wanted Meyer; and the ones who broke were willing to go along with James's plan because they liked him better than Meyer, but would not want Montez in the White House. The Speaker could not refuse to hold a new vote if both sides demanded it; the body might remove the Speaker if he were that obstinate.

Finally, no way would the public accept this, certainly not to the tune of two million people wildly celebrating Montez's inauguration (a law the 2009 Obama inauguration)--no Meyer voter would be happy and an O'Brien voter, while perhaps happy that their party was in the White House, voted for O'Brien, not Montez. They, too, would be pushing the House for a new vote. This is exacerbated by the show suggesting that Montez is callow and ill-prepared. So was Meyer. But Montez is thrust into office because of behind-the-scenes political dealings and the refusal of the Speaker of the House to do his job.

And consider some future problems. What happens if there is a Senate tie? Montez remains the vice-president***** who should break the tie, but she is also acting as president, in which role she would sign the bill. [Correction: A commenter points to Art. I, § 3, cl.5, which provides that the President Pro Tempore presides over the Senate "in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States," which seems to capture this situation. So one problem resolved]

[*****] She cannot resign the vice-presidency, since that is the source of her power to act as president.

She presumably will decline to break the tie, as a matter of prudence. But having four years of this strange arrangement is bound to create problems. And what happens in the new House after the mid-Term elections? Might a new Speaker hold a new vote on O'Brien-Meyer, resulting in Meyer coming back to office for two more years, as President, with Montez serving as her VP? That would be a neat plot twist, which the show closed off by talking about Montez as the President; it would take too much exposition to walk it back. Anyway, it is a moot point, since Mandel's plan is to focus on Selina Meyer outside the White House.

All-in-all, I enjoyed the season. And most of the broad strokes of the story worked. They got the details wrong, which is frustrating just because it would have been so easy to correct. Put Jonah in Connecticut instead of New Hampshire and that story works. Talk about divided states rather than abstaining states and that piece works. Have the House holding multiple votes and unable to break the impasse, with no Alexander Hamilton in sight, and that piece works.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 27, 2016 at 05:09 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

O.J. and Rodney King

I hope people have had a chance to watch O.J.: Made in America, the spectacular five-part ESPN documentary that traces O.J.'s life from his college career to his current incarceration, while weaving his story into the story of racial bias in society and the LAPD and O.J.'s lifelong efforts to "rise above" race (the telling line is "I'm not Black, I'm O.J."). The film links O.J.'s acquittal (by a largely Black jury) to the acquittal of the officers who beat Rodney King (by an all-white jury). On this telling, O.J.'s acquittal was "revenge" for the officers' acquittal, the long-awaited chance for an African-American to benefit from mistakes in the system. One juror explicitly acknowledges this as her reason for voting to acquit.

But the film (and every conversation about the connection) omits something: Two of the officers in the King beating were convicted of federal civil rights violations and sentenced to 30 months in prison (the other two were charged and acquitted). So if justice means that a wrongdoer is convicted and punished under some criminal law for his misconduct, there was some justice in that case. It may not have been enough justice or the right kind of justice. Thirty months was arguably too short (the court departed downward from an expected Guidelines range of 70-87 months). Perhaps it somehow would have been "more just" for them to be convicted of assault, etc., in state court rather than civil rights violations in federal court. Indeed,  that might prove the point. Congress enacted the Reconstruction-Era civil rights statutes because the states were incapable and/or unwilling to enforce the rights of African-Americans against whites and white public officials. Having to resort to those in 1992 demonstrated how far we had not come.* Some had a sense that the civil rights charges were illegitimate, more a result of the rioting that followed the state-court acquittals (which the Koon Court took time to call out) than legitimate prosecutorial decisionmaking or use of federal criminal law.

 [*] And still have not come, where police-abuse cases now do not even make it past a grand jury and even the civil rights backstop is increasingly unavailable.

It seems too simple to say "Stacey Koon, et. al, got off, so O.J. should have gotten off." Because Koon and Powell did not get off, at least not entirely. By contrast, two people who had nothing to do with anything were dead in a horrific manner (I had never seen the photos of the bodies or the crime scene--they were stunning) and, on the definition above, they did not receive justice.**

[**] I bracket for the moment how we consider, in terms of assessing "justice," the civil verdict that necessarily included a jury finding that Simpson killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman but that did not impose criminal punishment, or the absurdly long sentence Simpson received in 2008 for the events in Nevada, which everyone sees as having impermissibily taken the murders into account. In one interview segment, attorney Carl Douglas points out that the Nevada judge held the jury until late into the evening to announce the verdict on the thirteenth anniversary of the murder acquittal and sentenced Simpson to 33 years, matching the $ 33 million in damages awarded in the civil case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 21, 2016 at 09:31 AM in Criminal Law, Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, June 20, 2016

12 years a President?

Following up on my discussion of Veep's penultimate episode and Tom James occupying the White House for twelve years: I asked Brian Kalt (MSU), who wrote the book Constitutional Cliffhangers, which explored various gaps in the constitutional provisions on presidential selection. He wrote the following (reposted here with his permission):

On the question of whether acting as president for four years should count, it does seem right textually. As such, I think it provides one of the strongest tests I can imagine of a person’s commitment to textualism, because it is so much at odds with the purpose of the 22nd Amendment. As with the question of whether there is a distinction between being eligible to be elected president and being eligible to serve at all, the legislative history tells us that the drafters intentionally sacrificed precision and broad coverage on the altar of supposedly simple language.

Following the path I take in my book, I would dodge the question somewhat by focusing on the practical side—positing that it is very unlikely that such a person would be able to get the people to elect him two more times. Conversely, if he did manage to get the people to elect him two more times, it would be hard for the courts or Congress to deny him his prize.

Brian described evolution of the language of the 22d Amendment, where a desire for simplicity of language collided with a desire to count at least some portion of another person's term toward the term, leading to a an unintended hole.

First, the version introduced in the House said that no one: “shall be chosen or serve as President of the United States for any term, or be eligible to hold the office of President during any term, if such person shall have heretofore served as President during the whole or any part of each of any two separate terms.”

The version that passed the House had the same effect, but was more concise: “Any person who has served as President of the United States during all, or portions, of any two terms, shall thereafter be ineligible to hold the office of President.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee loosened the restraints a bit in terms of timing (one day would not count; it had to be a year) but still did not limit it to terms to which someone else had been elected: “A person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, on three hundred and sixty-five calendar days or more in each of two terms shall not be eligible to hold the office of President, or to act as President, for any part of another term.”

Senator Magnuson was the great advocate of simplicity. He also did not want to count any partial terms. To him, then, the Veep character’s position would be just fine. His language was: “No person shall be elected to the office of President more than twice.”

The Senate’s final text (to which the House agreed) accepted Magnuson’s simplification of the “eliminated from what?” language, which was the basis of the discussion here a little while back on whether two-termers can serve as President even though they cannot be elected. But on the other part of the amendment, the “eliminated based on what?” language, the Senate was not willing to fail to count unelected service. When they restored language to count unelected service, though, they used the infelicitous phrasing that we are now discussing: “or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President.” They could have just eliminated everything after “term” and avoided our current dilemma.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2016 at 09:34 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Veep, S5E9

We finally get to the House election, but the episode is shown through the documentary (Kissing Your Sister: The Story of a Tie) that Selina's daughter, Catherine, has been working on all season. It is a nice change of pace. It gives us scenes we already have seen in real time during the season, but from the different perspective of Catherine's hand-held camera. It also shows the background events for things we have seen on the show. For humor, we see the background shots of Jonah (unsuccessfully) chopping wood for his campaign commercial. We see into the personal lives of the staffers--Amy's attempts to get together with Dan, Kent's membership in a Spanish-speaking motorcycle gang, Mike's shifting preparations for the coming babies. And we see Selina's verbal revenge against Amy for her outburst last season.

For plot, Catherine catches the lobbyist and Speaker of the House walking into Tom James' office announcing "future calling;" this lead to the dinner at the Mongolian Barbecue that we saw live a few weeks ago. We also see Catherine's interview with Bill Ericsson, the former staffer who took the fall and went to jail last season for the Meyer Campaign's illegal activities; he says that if he were James, he would try to get three states to abstain to send it to the Senate. We know Ericsson got his conviction overturned on appeal (he was running the Widow Sherman's campaign in New Hampshire), so now we can wonder if James or the lobbyist helped Ericsson to get out of jail.

The show went with Ericsson's plan, hinted at the end of last season--the final House vote is O'Brien 25, Meyer 22, 3 abstentions (Missouri, Vermont, and a third state we never saw). The Speaker adjourns the House. And the implication is that the Senate will elect James as VP and he will become President next week, because "a President shall not have been chosen."

Selina made one Hail Mary, trying to get Jonah to switch New Hampshire's vote to O'Brien. If O'Brien won, she could run against him in four years, but if James won, she would have to wait eight years, at which point she would be too old. Unfortunately, Jonah did not get the word in time (he was late for the vote because he spent the night with a high school senior/congressional groupie, then could not find the House chamber). After the session ends, he tries to change his vote, announcing "The Gentleman from New Hampshire puts forth on the floor a do-over."

So how did the show do on the Constitution and the electoral process? Not well--yes, I know it is a TV show and a great one; it just does not pass the Con Law exam).

• They got the dates wrong. The House election is taking place on January 3d and we see a flashback to Jonah's swearing in the day before (right before hooking up with the groupie). But under § 2 of the Twentieth Amendment, the new House convenes on January 3. And under 3 U.S.C. § 15, the House does not open and count the Electoral College votes until 1 p.m. on January 6. And the House cannot hold an election until it actually counts the electoral votes and determines that there is, in fact, a tie (what if there had been that faithless elector?).

• I am trying to figure out why three was the magic number of abstentions for denying a majority. There does not seem anything significant about that number. Also, no states had evenly divided delegations, which seems unlikely as a practical matter, given the number of states with even-numbered House caucuses (including New Hampshire, more on that below).

• On that point: I cannot find the answer to this question and do not feel like researching it at midnight: Are abstentions treated the same as divided caucuses? Or is divided caucus a vote for neither candidate, while an abstention is a non-vote? And does the Twelfth Amendment require a majority of all states or all states that case votes, with abstentions being non-votes that reduce the denominator? History is ambiguous. In 1800, all the representatives in Delaware (1) and South Carolina (4) abstained on the 36th ballot. Jefferson already had won 10 states, so he had the election anyway. But it is not clear whether his majority was out of 16 (total states) or 14 (states casting votes, since Delaware and South Carolina abstained because each of their members abstained)? Were the abstentions from those two states the same as, say, Maryland's earlier non-committal vote when the caucus split between Burr and Jefferson?

In the Veep-iverse, this matters for two reasons. If they are the same, James did not have to necessarily plot to get states to abstain, he could have just counted the votes and seen that there were a sufficient number of evenly divided even-numbered caucuses. If they are different, then O'Brien won the election, because the three abstention reduce the denominator to 47 (states voting), so O'Brien's 25 votes constituted a majority of that.

[Update: A participant in the Con Law Prof listserv offers the right way of looking at this: If every member of the caucus abstains, then the vote from the state is 0-0-X; this is an evenly divided caucus, just as much as a 1-1-1 caucus would be. So there are no non-votes, which means the denominator must be 50. But then we go back to James not needing states to abstain, but simply be divided, whether through true division or through strategic abstentions by individual members in a state that create a tie (we thought that is what he was doing two weeks ago in getting the seventh member of Colorado's caucus to abstain, producing a 3-3-1 division). So the show seems to err again, confusing abstentions by states with abstention by individual members that tilt the balance one way or another.]

• The House adjourns with no announcement or plans for another vote. Of course, in 1801 the House immediately dove into additional votes over the course of that day and the following days and weeks. Catherine's movie catches a snippet of a conversation in which Selina and one of her staffers mention that James likely got the Speaker to agree not to hold additional votes once the first produced no winner. But would the members of the House, especially those who support O'Brien (and thus are politically opposed to James), tolerate that? Would the public? Yes, James is popular and competent. But it seems too pat.

• Jonah, of course, makes a fool of himself. But the problem of placing him in New Hampshire arose again. New Hampshire has two representatives, so Jonah does not exclusively control the caucus vote. New Hampshire only voted for Meyer because the other New Hampshire representative also voted for Meyer.  So, again, Jonah was not necessary. More importantly, Jonah could not unilaterally switch the state's vote; switching his vote, assuming his colleague did not switch (and Jonah never had a chance to talk to him), would only render New Hampshire a split caucus going for no one, denying both candidates the possibility of a majority (unless abstentions do not count as votes).

• The show got its numbers wrong, at least for purposes of season-long consistency. The idea was that Jonah would cast the vote that would give Selina New Hampshire and the presidency. Put aside that NH could not play that role. It only works if NH would be the 26th state for Meyer. But the final vote with NH going for Selina, was 25-22-3. Even if all three abstentions would have been Meyer states, that still would not produce a victory for her.

• The show is setting up a Tom James presidency, continuing to ignore that James is not becoming President, he is only becoming acting President. Put differently, he does not hold the office of President, he only exercises those powers. The 22d Amendment expressly draws that distinction, as does the presidential succession statute. Even if it lasts four years, he still only acts as president during a period in which no President has been chosen. Neither the Constitution nor § 19 places a limit on the period in which someone can act as president or a limit on how long the period of non-qualification can last.

What the Speaker is allowing to happen is inconsistent with the purpose of the Twelfth Amendment. The amendment was motivated, in part, by the risk of "inversion," in which a party's preferred candidate for Vice President would win the House election and become President, against the preferences of the party and perhaps the public. The Federalists who voted for Burr did so because they hated Jefferson, but also because they knew it would mess with the Democratic-Republican plans to have Jefferson as President and Burr as VP. The Speaker is allowing the very inversion the amendment was designed to prohibit. Again, because James is so popular and so competent, the public in the Veep-iverse is okay with it, as he will get things done. Thinking about it, however, it starts to sound like a coup--the VP is conspiring with the Speaker to prevent a vote for the presidency, allowing him to exercise those powers for an entire four-year term. I think there would be strong opposition. And I also would expect both Meyer and O'Brien to lobby House members from their respective parties to force a vote--perhaps on bipartisan threat of removing the Speaker if he does not continue holding elections. Again, too pat.

Since the show is coming back for another season, it must be setting up what it hinted at in last season's finale--James nominating Meyer as his vice president, so next season she will be back where she started--doing nothing and waiting for the President to call.  Too bad that is a constitutional impossibility.

• And now for the big mistake (ed: Maybe). Selina explains to Amy her plan to have Jonah switch so she could run against O'Brien in four years, whereas if James is made (acting) President, he would serve for eight years. Amy corrects her--"Twelve, ma'am. Tom's first term won't count because technically he'll be an elevated Vice President." My initial reaction was this is unforgivably wrong and I cannot believe they missed that badly, even if only as a piece of exposition. The Twenty-second Amendment makes clear that someone who has acted as president for more than two years of someone else's term can only be elected President once. Since James will act as president  for four years (we presume, because the Speaker is blocking a vote), he could be elected once for four more years, but not a second time.

But then someone pointed out that the 22d Amendment says "held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President." (emphasis mine). The argument is that James is not acting in a term to which someone else was elected; he is acting because no one was elected. Textually that seems right. And it cannot be excused as drafting for an unforeseen situation, since the 12th and 20th Amendments both contemplated a VP acting as president for some period of time if the House failed to elect a President. So if they intended to include that in the 10-year limit, the drafters of the 22d should have accounted for that. Amy's exposition ("he'll be an elevated Vice President") is still wrong, but the substance is right.

But this reading is so inconsistent with the purpose of all three amendments related to a House election and presidential succession that it cannot be right. The 22d was intended to limit the number of years anyone can exercise executive power. And it would incentivize the very manipulations we see here, both in the Electoral College and in any House contingency election. And those incentives would not be limited to the VP-elect. If the House cannot pick a President and the Senate cannot pick a VP, the Speaker would act as president under § 19(a). So imagine the plots that could be hatched.

• The process the show followed for the House election is interesting. One member from each state, in alphabetical order, cast the entire state's vote publicly, presumably with individual votes having been taken in secret and within each caucus. In both 1800 and 1824, however, individual votes were recorded and each state's ballot was written and sealed. The procedures for the House vote are left to the House and changeable for each election, so nothing is set in stone. Lawrence Tribe wrote a nice essay on the process prior to the 1980 election, when it seemed possible that independent John Anderson might win some electoral votes, perhaps enough to deprive Reagan or Carter of a majority and throw the election into the House (spoiler: He didn't).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 20, 2016 at 08:19 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, June 13, 2016

Veep, S5E8

So the pieces are beginning to come together as we move into the final two episodes, which apparently will involve the actual House election (where find out if there is, indeed, an Electoral College tie) and the inauguration of someone.

Jonah wins the New Hampshire special election, which is revealed to be an election to replace a representative-elect, stating that Jonah will be sworn with the rest of the House at the beginning of January. He wins in typical Jonah fashion--after he shoots himself in the foot, his opponent (the widow of the former representative and Jonah's former grade-school teacher) is quoted telling Jonah he needs to be more careful because guns can be dangerous; that last part is seized by the NRA, which undertakes a massive campaign to defeat her. So Jonah wins and promises to cast the vote that delivers Meyer the presidency.

While I like the story, let me lay out why the math does not work for the plot device of Jonah casting the deciding vote as a representative from New Hampshire. Meyer needs 26 state delegations to win. Let's say she has 25 states and the idea is that NH will be 26, with Jonah voting for her. NH has two representatives, so the  delegation voting in January will consist of Ryan and Rep. X. If Rep. X supports O'Brien, Jonah's vote creates a divided delegation and does not provide the 26th state. It keeps NH away from O'Brien, but taking a state away from O'Brien does not give it to Meyer, leaving her with 25, not the required majority. If Rep. X supports Meyer, then she alone could have given the state to Meyer; there was no need to rush the special election or to get a supporter into office by January, as Meyer and her team wanted. The only possibility is that Rep. X plans to abstain, so Jonah's vote moves NH from a non-commitment to Meyer's 26th state. But that seems an odd plot move, one the writers have not set up or even telegraphed over the season, although maybe they will next week.

[Update: Upon further consideration, even that last one does not work. If Rep. X, as the lone member of the NH delegation had abstained, then the vote from NH would not have been a non-commitment, it would have been an abstention; that would drop the denominator to 49, meaning Meyer's 25 states constitute a majority. So Meyer would have a majority regardless of whether Jonah is in the House.]

By the way, the constitutional problem with the plot is not making Jonah the deciding vote (which is a cute move, given everything we know about Jonah and how the Meyer people feel about him), but putting Jonah in New Hampshire, a state with an even-numbered delegation, as the deciding vote. If you like New England, put him in Massachusetts (9 representatives), Connecticut (5), or even Vermont (a single at-large rep [update: Although, again, see above]) and the story makes constitutional sense.

I suppose another possibility is that Jonah renegs on voting for Meyer, denying her the majority and setting up a House stalemate and clearing the way for Tom James. But, again, James still only acts as president, so that hole remains.

Meyer at one point is nonchalant about losing benefits to Ohio and North Carolina from the agreement with China, in part because Jonah appeared poised to win New Hampshire. But that, too, is inconsistent with the requirement of a House majority--Meyer needs all the states she can get. Unless she is trading NH for OH and NC, which really makes no sense--why give up two states that take you past the bare majority?

I am looking forward to seeing how the writers play this out.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 13, 2016 at 12:52 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Overview of ABF Research (Part I): Criminal Justice, Legal Education & the Profession

In my previous post, I highlighted some ABF research that was on display at LSA. I’m sure I missed several other ABF-related panels at the conference. Even so, the LSA panels reflect only part of the ABF’s broader research portfolio. Let me mention some other projects. At its core, the ABF is an empirical and interdisciplinary research institute, and thus most of our research goes beyond purely doctrinal or theoretical questions to analyze “law in action,” as the legal realists put it. In this and the next set of posts, I’ll describe a few clusters of our research that reflect this focus on how law operates in society and on the ground.

Criminal Justice

Since its founding in the 1950s, the ABF has had a strong research focus on criminal justice. One of the ABF’s first projects, funded in large part by the Ford Foundation, explored the processing of offenders from arrest to prison. Led by Frank J. Remington, this study culminated in a scholarly edited volume (Discretion in Criminal Justice), as well as a larger publication (A Plane for a Survey) that highlighted the many areas of discretionary decision-making in the criminal justice system (thanks to former ABF doctoral fellow Meredith Roundtree for pointing me to this storied history).

More recently, ABF scholars have been continuing the tradition of analyzing criminal justice issues. Several are conducting research on the social and political implications of mass incarceration. ABF Research Professor and Northwestern Sociologist John Hagan and his co-author Holly Foster (Texas A&M) have been documenting how parental incarceration of non-violent offenders has had tremendous deleterious effects on children. With support from the National Science Foundation, the ABF held a White House Conference on this important topic. Similarly, Traci Burch (ABF/Northwestern Political Science) in her recent award-winning book (Trading Democracy for Justice) has shown the pervasive political and social consequences of mass incarceration, and how the criminal justice system has helped reproduce massive inequality.

Another area of ABF research related to criminal justice is Jim Heckman’s work on early childhood interventions. Jim, who is a U. of Chicago Nobel laureate economist and an ABF Research Professor, has been investigating how investments in early education and healthcare for disadvantaged children from birth to age 5 can have significant long-term effects on boosting graduation rates, improving health outcomes, and reducing violent crime. In a sense, Jim is studying ways to break down the school-to-prison pipeline that has been preoccupying many criminologists and lawmakers.

Legal Education & the Profession

In a previous post, I mentioned the ABF’s signature “After the JD” project, which continues the Foundation’s hallmark work on the legal profession. Directly connected to this line of research is more recent work on legal education. Beth Mertz (ABF/Wisconsin Law) has long been studying the relationship between language and the law. In recent years, she has been examining how law schools operate as a site for the training of lawyers in the language of law. Her award-winning book, The Language of Law Schools, draws on deep ethnographies to explain the important role of language in the socialization of law students.   Beth is following up that earlier project with new research on the post-tenure experience of U.S. law professors.

In a similar vein, ABF Research Professor Steve Daniels has been conducting research on many aspects of the legal profession and legal education. Following up on his recent book (co-authored with Joanne Martin) about the Texas plaintiff’s bar, Steve is currently working on changing patterns within legal education. With support from the Access Group, Steve will be building on his experience as a consultant for the ABA’s Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education to explore how law schools have been responding to the current challenges facing legal education.

Criminal Justice and Legal Education & the Profession are just two historically prominent areas of ABF research. In my next post, I’ll describe other more recent areas of research.

Posted by Ajay K. Mehrotra on June 7, 2016 at 07:47 PM in Books, Criminal Law, Culture, Life of Law Schools | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 06, 2016

Veep, S5E7

It is mid-December and time for the White House Christmas party with members of Congress. And we learn what Tom James was up to in meeting with the Speaker at the end of last week and during the party this week:

James is lobbying individual House members to abstain in order to create tie delegations, denying any candidate a majority. He is then counting on winning the Senate vice-presidential vote (which is by individual, not state) and, when the House vote produces a tie fails to produce a winner,* becoming acting president when no one has qualified to be President. We particularly see the fight over two members of Congress--1) Rep. Nickerson from Colorado, who's initial agreement to vote for Meyer gives her that delegation 4-3, but whose sudden abstention makes it a tie; 2) Rep. Yeager (state not mentioned that I heard), who similarly decides to abstain, denying his state delegation to Meyer. The situation is resolved by 1) Meyer and James having sex and 2) Meyer, seemingly emboldened, threatening Nickerson (in especially colorful language) and blackmailing Yeager (who was at the party with his young female "staffer") to return to supporting her. We will see if it holds up.

[*] It is not about a tie, as the show keeps saying, but about a majority. If Selina wins 25 delegations, O'Brien wins 20, and five are deadlocked, the vote is not tied, although it does not produce a winner.

The problem with James' plan remains what I argued when they began this story line at the end of last season: Under the Twelfth Amendment as modified by the Twentieth Amendment, the plan only results in James acting as president until a president (either O'Brien or Meyer) qualifies, not becoming a president. Someone could act as president for a full four-year term, but it would be an inherently unstable situation, ending at any moment that a later House vote produces a majority and a winner who qualifies as President. James also would not have an inauguration, would not appoint a new Vice President under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, and would not be listed in the line of Presidents. Would James want that position and hope it holds up for four years? Would his apparent popularity allow him to retain public support through that instability?

The show reminds us of the magic number for Meyer: 26, a majority of state delegations. Also, note that we still do not actually know if there is an electoral tie, since we still are in December and the votes will not be counted until January 6. The show could be waiting to play the faithless-elector card as late-season trump.

Update: This review of the episode proposes a fun third wrinkle: What if, while James is trying to screw Meyer by denying her a House majority, Sidney Purcell and the Speaker (the two people James met with last week) are going to screw James by denying him a Senate majority? The Twentieth Amendment gives Congress the power to provide for the failure of both the House and Senate to pick someone; that statute provides that when there is neither a President nor a Vice President for any reason (as would be the case at noon on January 20 if both the House and Senate fail to produce majorities, so that no one has qualified for the office) the acting president is . . . the Speaker of the House. That would be a legally/constitutionally accurate twist that would fit the show's screw-your-neighbor political ethos.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 6, 2016 at 12:01 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Veep, S5E6

More small developments as the season moves towards the inevitable vote in the House.

Selina must choose two failing banks to bail out and picks one of them because it is based in Illinois, a state she needs. The show still has her treating the House vote like a mini popular vote, with individual House members voting the state's interests rather than the party line.

Along those lines, Jonah's congressional campaign turns the corner when he begins criticizing the President and her poor performance. If he wins running on that platform, how might it affect his vote in the House? (Again, this is assuming he is running to become the new representative-elect for the next Congress). [Update: Jonah Ryan for Congress has a website]

Finally, we see the next step in Tom James' plan, as he is shown meeting with the Speaker of the House and the head of the lobbying firm Dan worked for (and for which James appeared to be shilling last week). Clearly James is trying to manipulate the House vote. But how? To formally get his name in the House election, he needs that faithless elector, but we do not know what has been happening with the electors. If James is trying to create a stalemate in the House as the way to become President, I go back to my original argument that he only acts as President until the House breaks that stalemate, so this seems a constitutionally unsuccessful move (and one I hope the show does not build the entire season around).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2016 at 09:31 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Veep, S5E5

The show takes place during Thanksgiving weekend, in an episode that has a lot of House-election stuff in the air.

Selina begins making phone calls to whip votes for the coming House election. But the show approaches that election in a way that is, at least on the surface, sloppy--the correct understanding may be in the background, but the details to come out in the way characters discuss the mater.

Details (and spoilers) after the jump.

First, no one has yet acknowledged that we do not know for sure that there is an Electoral College tie. The electors have not yet voted (that happens on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, so about three weeks from the current action), not every state has a faithless-elector law (and for the states that do, their constitutionality is not settled), and in the show's universe of less-rigid partisanship, an elector defecting to the other party (to say nothing of the hypothesized rogue Tom James vote) is not outside the realm. We will not know that the vote is tied until January 6, when the House meets to count the votes. There is a presumptive tie, given how the College now works, but it remains just that.

Second, it seems odd that Selina seems to be whipping current members of the House, since it is the new House, beginning January 5, that will count the electoral votes and, if there is no majority, select the President. The show could at least mine some scenes from Selina lobbying some new House-members-elect who have not yet taken office.

Third, she is making calls as if individual votes matter, rather than the partisan make-up of the state delegation. Thus, when Rep. Harry Sherman of New Hampshire (an 89-year-old man from the other party) dies, Selina's reaction is that this is one less vote for O'Brien, rather than talking in terms of how it affects the New Hampshire delegation as a whole. New Hampshire has two representatives. If the other representative is from Sherman's party, the state still goes for O'Brien; if she is from the other party, it turns a split delegation into a vote for Selina. That should be the discussion.

That last point leads to the other narrative development over replacing Sherman The state announces it will hold a special election "before Christmas." Sherman's  widow (perhaps also-octogenarian, although it would not surprise me if the show trotted out a much-younger woman and played that for laughs) is running to replace him and Selina's party recruits Jonah to oppose her.* But the show is not clear about what vacancy is being filled. Is it the current term, that ends on January 4? Would a state bother to hold an election so someone can serve for 15 days? Or is it for the next term (the one for which Sherman was re-elected) that begins on January 5? But that seat is not yet vacant, since the term of Congress has not begun. Would a state hold a special election before the beginning of the new Congress to fill a vacancy that will occur when the new Congress is seated, but not before and that thus does not exist? It does not appear to be constitutionally obligated to do so. Perhaps it would do so here, given the extraordinary and historic circumstances. In any event, the show is being non-specific on this point.

[*] The decision to have Jonah as the candidate is discussed inconsistently. At times, he is spoken of as cannon fodder, thrown in to lose to the grieving widow. At other times, it is discussed as Jonah likely winning the election (because his uncle is king-maker in the state), but only as a short-time placeholder until his more-favored cousin returns from a tour of duty in the Middle East.

Finally, the show throws out a little Twenty-fifth Amendment action. Selina wants to disappear for the weekend to have minor cosmetic surgery to remove the bags from under her eyes, which leaves both eyes with rings of blood for a few days. Naturally, she is needed to speak to the public, first to calm concerns over a salmonella outbreak and then to address Rep. Sherman's death. She asks both Tom James** and current VP Doyle to take the lead. Doyle agrees once, then balks a second time until he is told why Selina cannot do it. When Mike lies that she just had some minor oral surgery that renders her unable to speak in public, Doyle demands to know why the amendment was not invoked for the President's incapacity or why, if not incapacitated, Selina does not do this herself; Mike's response--"she's not not incapacitated"--is classic Veep.

[**] James is shown working some scheme through his public statements, in which he appears to be shilling for companies represented by a lobbying firm. Is he setting up that one faithless elector to get him into the House vote? Dan, who has been assigned as James' bag man, catches on, but no one in Selina's camp believes him.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2016 at 11:53 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman, Television | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Veep, S5E4

The Nevada recount is moved somewhat to the background this week, with the main story being about Selina's mother suffering a stroke and Selina removing her from life support. Reports of events in Nevada are interspersed with her grieving (she did not get along with her mother), so that she breaks down while giving the eulogy because she just learned that she had lost both the Nevada recount and the national popular vote (the ballots found last week gave O'Brien a bigger win in Nevada and also flipped the national vote).

Beginning next week, things move to Congress, which is the constitutional piece I have been looking forward to. Three interesting points. First, no one has mentioned the important event before going to Congress--the actual casting of votes in the Electoral College, in December. Will the show play around with a faithless elector either changing votes and giving either Selina or O'Brien a majority (and obviating a House election) or, as some commenters here have suggested, casting a vote for Tom James (Selina's running mate), which would put him into a three-person House election? Second, I am curious to see if, and how, the show paints a House election as anything other than a straight partisan battle--everyone in O'Brien's party votes for him, everyone in Meyer's party votes for her (assuming James is not in the mix), and we see where things land. Are there going to be enough evenly divided state caucuses that straight-party voting continues to produce a tie? Third, I continue to hope the show does not make the constitutional mistake of having the Senate select James, the House unable to decide, and James becoming President and appointing Selina as his VP. Stay tuned.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 16, 2016 at 12:53 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 09, 2016

Veep, S5E3

Things continue in Nevada. We see the beginnings of litigation, although I am not exactly sure where or what level--the Meyer campaign is seeking a "Hail Mary Injunction," appears in front of a multi-member court, but everyone is making objections. The show also continues developing Richard as character: He has emerged as the one competent person working for the campaign, but is not liked or taken seriously by others, and one reason might be that he is an overweight African-American.

The episode raises an interesting question about the politics of a Twelfth Amendment House election. Meyer starts and escalates an economic war with China, first to cover for a mistaken Tweet, then to avoid looking weak in the face of cyber-security threats from China, which she fears will hurt her electoral chances. But her electoral chances where? Not in Nevada, where the voting is done and what is left is the counting. So it must be the vote in the House. But would we expect the House vote to be anything other than straight partisanship, especially in this political period? Would a member of Meyer's party really vote for O'Brien (or abstain, allowing O'Brien to win that state's delegation vote)? Worse, would this one event cause that member to change his vote (i.e., he planned to vote for Meyer, but now will not because of this China thing), given what a disaster she otherwise has been in office? The show plays the typical "I can't look weak" concerns of an incumbent President running for office, but it may not fit the context.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 9, 2016 at 09:56 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Veep, S5E2

Nothing new on the federal constitutional or succession front. The story is settling in for a recount under Nevada law--although I welcome election-law folks to offer thoughts about the state process, under which a sample of votes are recounted and if it is closer than a certain margin--Meyer needed t0 pick-up 512 votes--there would be a statewide recount.

The great lawyerly moment was over the effect of a comma on a ballot on which the voter had scrawled "Fuck Selina Meyer." The O'Brien people insist it is an O'Brien vote, the voter expressing disdain for Meyer; the Meyer people insist it is a Meyer vote because there is a comma in there ("Fuck, Selina Meyer"), the voter expressing "earthy but unambiguous enthusiasm for Selina Meyer." The election official counts it for Meyer. [Update: Courtesy of one of my students]:

GetAttachmentThumbnail

Actually, I read it a third way--indicating resignation ("Fuck, nothing better, [throwing up hands], might as well vote for Meyer"), which still would have produced the same result of a vote for Meyer.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 2, 2016 at 12:22 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 25, 2016

VEEP, S5E1

As I indicated last week, I am going to blog about VEEP's storyline of an Electoral College tie. Mild spoilers (and direct quotations from the show's unique dialogue) after the jump.

We pick up the morning after Election Day, still facing the Electoral College tie.

Early on, Selena asks "Didn't those Founding Fuckers ever hear of an odd number?" And while many a living constitutionalist has wanted to utter that phrase, this tie, per se, cannot be laid at the Founders' feet. The number of electors is based on congressional representation, which was last set by Congress in 1913. It might be more accurate to blame the Twenty-third Amendment, which, by adding three electors from D.C., turned an odd number into an even number. Or blame Nebraska and/or Maine, which allocate their electoral votes by district. The one time we see an electoral map, all five NE votes are red, although we do not see the split in Maine. Did O'Brien (Selena's opponent) win one district in Maine, giving him a vote he otherwise would not have, thereby creating the tie?

The big plot move is that Nevada, which had been called for O'Brien, is closer than 0.5%, kicking-in review of votes and a possible recount (Richard, who had been Jonah's crony all last season, is revealed to be an expert in Nevada recount procedure). So it appears that, at least initially, the show is going to satirize Florida 2000, rather than House of Representatives 1800. But just wait.

Finally, apparently con law experts are the new math/science/computer nerds. Amy returns from a conversation with the campaign's consultants and says "I don't know what's getting their dicks harder-an Electoral College tie or talking to a girl."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 25, 2016 at 06:43 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, April 22, 2016

VEEP returns amid constitutional chaos

VEEP returns to HBO on Sunday night (with a new showrunner) where it left off--an Electoral College tie; a likely tie in the House of Representatives; Selena Meyer's running mate, Tom James, likely to win in the Senate, then become acting President with the House in stalemate; and the running mate/new VP/new acting President asking Meyer to become his VP. This commentator argues that the show cannot narratively go back to Meyer as VP, although it can draw the uncertainty out well. In advance of the episode, I repeat my argument that the show cannot constitutionally go back to Meyer as VP, because James will only act as President and will not have the power to appoint a Vice President.

I hopefully will have some comments on the episode on Monday. Maybe I will try bloggging the constitutional and succession issues for the season.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 22, 2016 at 03:37 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bad presidents and fictional schools

I have been listening to WaPo's Presidential podcast, which offers 44 sequential weekly bios of the Presidents, running from the beginning of the year until the election. This week is Buchanan, next week is Lincoln.

But hearing about the forgettable presidents of the nineteenth century, especially in the period between Jackson and Lincoln, got me thinking about TV shows (especially sitcoms) naming fictional schools after presidents who are largely regarded as unsuccessful. Off the top of my head: Welcome Back, Kotter took place at Buchanan HS; Glee took place at McKinley HS; the Brady kids attended Fillmore Junior High; and Girl Meets World takes place at John Quincy Adams Middle School (this is an homage to the original  taking place at John Adams HS).

What other examples am I missing?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 19, 2016 at 12:17 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wednesday in North Carolina

It has been an interesting week in North Carolina.  Last Wednesday, the ultra-conservative Republican super majority in the NC General Assembly called itself into a special “emergency” session to overturn an ordinance passed by the City of Charlotte on February 22.  Charlotte (like many other cities) has long had a non-discrimination ordinance (section 12-58 of the Charlotte City Code), which prohibited discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of “race, color, religion, or national origin.”  The new ordinance simply added “sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression” to the existing list of protected categories.  Additionally, the new ordinance deleted section 12-59 of the Charlotte City Code which prohibited sex discrimination in public accommodations but also provided as follows: 

    (b) This section shall not apply to the following:

        (1) Restrooms, shower rooms, bathhouses and similar facilities which are in their nature distinctly private.

        (2) YMCA, YWCA and similar types of dormitory lodging facilities.

        (3) A private club or other establishment not, in fact, open to the public.

This rather innocuous change in a long-standing provision of the Charlotte City Code became known as the “bathroom ordinance.”  So vile was the bathroom ordinance that it was necessary for the legislature to convene a special session to overturn it before it took effect on April 1. 

Governor Pat McCrory (R) (who served has a member of the Charlotte City Council and as mayor for a total of 20 years, all without questioning the legality of the then-LGBT free non-discrimination ordinance), declined to call the General Assembly into special session because he feared (no doubt based on inside knowledge) that the General Assembly, if summoned, would pass legislation that was far broader than the “bathroom ordinance.” 

The Republican legislature, not to be stymied, called itself into special session, which it scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, 2016.  Despite requests from members of the General Assembly and the media, the powers that be in the General Assembly refused to release a draft of the legislation that would be introduced on March 23 claiming that it was not yet complete.  When the legislature convened around 10:00 am, the bill (House Bill 2 or “HB 2”) was introduced and made public for the first time.  [The date stamp on the last page “(03/16)” makes fairly clear that the bill had been drafted at least in substantial part well in advance.]  HB 2 was 5 single spaced pages of fairly dense statutory language.  The first vote was held 5 minutes after it was introduced.  There was a 30 minute public comment period for those who were able to get to Raleigh to testify.  Then some limited debate.  Then two more votes, culminating in final passage by the House at about 3:30 pm.  The Senate took up the bill at about 4:45, had an initial vote and then another 30 minute public comment period.  After it became clear that the Republican leadership was not interested in anything the other side had to say (according to Senate Democrats) all of the 15 Democrats walked out in protest.  The chair called a final vote and HB 2 passed by a vote of 32-0.  This was roughly 7:00 pm.  Although Governor McCrory had 30 days to consider whether or not to sign HB 2 into law, he signed it at 9:57 pm that night. 

In just under 12 hours from introduction to gubernatorial signature, North Carolina enacted what many have called the most aggressively anti-LGBT legislation in the country. 

ALL local non-discrimination ordinances were banished.  All local governments in NC were prohibited from protecting any group not protected by state law.  In the place of inclusive local laws (passed by the duly elected representative of those local jurisdictions), the General Assembly created a statewide public accommodation law was passed which protects only race, national origin, color, religion, and BIOLOGICAL sex.  It also mandated that all public restrooms in NC (including in public schools and universities) must be single sex and that a person may only use the restroom designated for his or her BIOLOGICAL SEX, as listed on his or her birth certificate. 

Not content to stop there, HB 2 also contained a slew of EMPLOYMENT related provisions, despite the fact that Charlotte’s ordinance had nothing to do with employment.  More on those later. 

So, North Carolina – once the most progressive of southern states – is now, perhaps, the most regressive on LGBT rights. 

Perhaps it was fitting that this special session that culminated in HB 2 was on Wednesday of Christian Holy Week, the day on which Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus.  I cannot think of a bigger betrayal of the teachings of the Jesus I learned about in Sunday School than legalizing discrimination against a minority group.

Posted by Brian Clarke on March 28, 2016 at 10:06 PM in Culture, Current Affairs, Gender, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Visualizing Last Night's GOP Debate

So finally last night I watched my first presidential debate. (Why wait until now? Primarily because (a) I don't have cable, and (b) the debates usually come on right around my kids' bedtime.) And, based on the after-debate commentary I've heard about the other GOP debates, this was probably a good one to start with, it being higher on substance and lower on scatology. And shouting.

Still, around the hundredth time I heard Trump say the word deal, I started to wonder: what would a word cloud of the candidates' debate performance look like? So I present here, as a public service, a visualization of the candidates' messages from last night. (The transcript I used is here.) 

Ted Cruz

I was surprised to find out that Cruz spoke the least in the debate last night: he only said about 3,578 words. They looked like this:

WordItOut-word-cloud-1512339

John Kasich

Kasich got 3,590 words in during the debate:

WordItOut-word-cloud-1512372

Rubio

Rubio managed to say 4,609 words last night.

WordItOut-word-cloud-1512359

Trump

Not surprisingly, Trump spoke the most last night with 5,002 words last night. And, although deal isn't the biggest word in the bunch, frankly, my intuition wasn't that far off.

WordItOut-word-cloud-1512385

 

Special Bonus

Last night, David Lat provided a Twitter version of my final word cloud: 

Posted by Sam Bruson on March 11, 2016 at 11:47 AM in Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Bartlet=Trump?

I do not have time to write this out fully for now, so I will just throw the idea out there for discussion, since we have been discussing The West Wing:

Donald Trump is Jeb Bartlet. That is, Aaron Sorkin wrote Donald Trump as president/presidential candidate in Jeb Bartlet, in terms of the "game-on, don't stand on ceremony, tell the dummies how it is" approach to talking to everyone. Bartlet's first scene on the show had him telling a group of religious-conservative political activists to "get your fat asses out of my White House."* Can you not picture Trump saying the same thing? The only difference, of course, is that Trump is doing it in service of a conservative/populist/angry-alienation agenda rather than a '60s Great Society liberal agenda?

[*] Mind you, that scene also contained one of the great free speech quotations of all time. When one of the activists asked whether the fact that any child could buy pornography for $ 5 was too a high a price for free speech, Bartlet responded, "No. But $5 is too high a price to pay for pornography."

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 17, 2016 at 08:01 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Sci-Fi Pay Equity Blog

The X-Files returns tonight. The world seems a wee bit better when Mulder and Scully are flirting while chasing aliens and discovering inbred Pennsylvanians tied under beds.

And the good news is that the show's stars, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, will be receiving equal pay for the revival. According to this story, as well as a gaggle of others, Anderson was initially offered half of Duchovny's salary. Which is, you know, silly, especially since she had to fight for equal pay with her co-star the first time around.  Apparently, when the show first started, Anderson was instructed to walk behind, rather than alongside, Duchovny, so she would seem more like a sidekick than a partner.

I, of course, blame the government. It's a conspiracy. Aliens are involved. The truth is out there.

Posted by Zachary Kramer on January 24, 2016 at 11:45 AM in Culture, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Waiting

Like every third person on the planet, I like Serial. Regardless of what people are saying about the podcast's second season, the show is very good. These are master storytellers at the height of their game. Now that the show is leaking out slower than it used to, I've had more time to think about it. And that's one of the things I like best about it.

Waiting often sucks. My friend is late to pick me up. Sucks. The light has been green for twenty seconds and no one is driving their effing car. Sucks. The professor still hasn't posted grades. Sucks. But the anticipation is wonderful. The waiting is one of the things that makes it great.

Don't get me wrong. I binge with the best of them. I binge-watch shows that beg for a cooling off period, like Sundance Channel's Rectify. It's a beautiful show, to be sure, but the main character's whole Boo Radley thing is straining, especially when you power into the third episode straight. And yet I chug it down like it has the antidote. Perhaps the problem is my lack of self-control, but that's a different post for a different day.

 There's a lot of talk out there about the changing nature of entertainment norms and structures. Content is increasingly being dumped at once, and we watchers/listeners/readers have more access to good content than ever before. For the most part, I think this is great. I just worry that we lose the benefit of anticipation. My son is 12. Basically all he knows is streaming content (and he's never looked up something in a phone book, which is messed up.) I like to have stories stick with me. I like the opportunity to speculate. I like being able to set down a show for a bit. And Netflix knows this about me, which is why it just fires up the next episode. Don't let him stop. Keep him watching. Eventually he'll give in and watch Marco Polo or Hemlock Grove.

It's only a matter of time before the major networks abandon the current method of scheduling programming. And it's a shame. A show like Lost shouldn't be binge-watched. You have to dedicate a certain amount of hours to wondering where that frigging polar bear came from. The struggle is real, and we're losing it, and that's unfortunate.

Posted by Zachary Kramer on January 21, 2016 at 10:29 AM in Culture, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Being a Struggling Student of Talmud Made Me a Better Professor of Law

My mother passed away last March. With my dad’s passing six years earlier, my brother and I suddenly found ourselves parentless while still in our 30s. Dealing with the grief has been difficult enough. Equally difficult in many ways has been the challenge of administering my mom’s estate—working through the modern morass of medical forms, bills, taxes, mail and magazine subscriptions, bank accounts, and credit cards is essentially a second full-time job. It turns out that dying in the twenty-first century involves a tremendous amount of paperwork.

The silver lining to all this, I suppose, is that acting as personal representative of my mom’s estate has allowed (forced?) me to employ several long-dormant aspects of my legal education. I have reviewed more contracts, communicated with more federal and state agencies, and spent more time at the probate court clerk’s office in the last year than at any time since I left full-time practice (and maybe ever). Like working an underused muscle for the first time in a long time, doing this kind of legal work is simultaneously invigorating, exhausting, and humbling. I am despondent about the circumstances, but grateful for the experience.

The circumstances have created another unexpected educational benefit: I have been reintroduced to the awesome challenge of Talmud study. In a year when many things have been cloudy and overwhelming, a weekly dip into Talmudic debates has sharpened my mind and changed some of my perspective on teaching.

The Talmud is a compilation of commentaries surrounding Judaism’s Oral Law (that is, the law said to be provided directly to Moses and orally transmitted through the generations, before the teachings were compiled in written form around 200 CE). Serious Talmud scholars intensely focus on a single page of text each day (Daf Yomi). A statement of law or practice in the center of the page is accompanied (literally surrounded) by a variety of rabbinic debates on the meaning and application of the statement, or offering proof for the statement. Commentaries build upon commentaries, and pull in citations from a variety of other textual sources. For a very rough sense of what it feels like, imagine a treatise on the First Amendment written by a squabbling committee of brilliant academics over the course of several centuries, and referencing a dizzying array of cases, law review articles, statutes, regulations, and local practices.

My entry into the Talmudic waters has been far less intense than daily study, but still offers plenty to digest. I meet with a small group of adult learners once a week shortly before evening minyan (the service that permits me to say Kaddish, the obligatory mourning prayer said daily for eleven months after a parent’s death). We have an excellent instructor, who is both prepared and patient. I dutifully bring my book, puzzle over the debates with the others around the table, and try to understand each strand of argument line by line, paragraph by paragraph.

In some ways, my legal training has been immensely helpful for this kind of work. I can easily recognize and appreciate some of the tools of argumentation: reasoning by analogy, reasoning from history, reasoning by custom, etc. It’s Cardozo, 1500 years before Cardozo. In other ways, my American legal training is virtually useless: because the debates in the Talmud operate in a closed environment in which text, history, and practice are of divine origin, the policy arguments that animate difficult legal questions in our time are noticeably absent. You cannot just say, “Why does any of this matter? “ One must take it as a given that it matters—even when the debate is about something as arcane as when to celebrate the New Year for Vegetables. (Yes. Really.) Nor can one simply dismiss a purported proof text as wrong; since the point of the exercise is to explain the law rather than develop or discover it, rejection of one proof requires the submission of an alternative proof. Once you accept these parameters, it’s a wonderful stretching exercise for the logical mind.

More strikingly, my journey into Talmud study has been humbling. If you were to ask me at the end of each study session whether I understood what we covered, the answer would be an unequivocal yes—and an unequivocal no. I understand the scope of the debate as presented in the limited form we discussed, but at the same time I realize how little I understand of how it fits into the larger discussion. So I get it—and I don’t. And it occurs to me that only years of consistent and rigorous study will truly make some of it clear (or more accurately, clearer).

This realization has had effects on the way I teach civil procedure. My own experience suggests to me that student silence (especially among 1Ls) almost certainly does not have a uniform meaning. Some students may be quiet because they are unprepared and cannot follow the discussion in a meaningful way. Others may think they understand, but need time to process the discussion and rearticulate it in their own words. They are not ready to ask questions or jump in. Still others may understand the terms of the specific discussion we are engaged in at the moment, but (like me at Talmud study) don’t know enough (or don’t feel comfortable enough) trying to tie it together to other topics in the course. I have to try to reach all of these groups in different ways—through classroom discussion, formative assessment methods, and one-on-one meetings.

So I will stick with Talmud study, even when my other executor duties are complete. I think my mom would approve.

I would be curious to hear from others who had the simultaneous experience of being a teacher in one discipline and a student in another. How did your experience in one area influence your approach to the other?

Posted by Jordan Singer on January 20, 2016 at 10:35 AM in Culture, Legal Theory, Religion, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Soderbergh Blog

Steven Soderbergh is a productive guy. Like really productive. In the last few days, I've stumbled upon some interesting pieces about the man, the myth, the auteur . Those familiar with my writing already know that Soderbergh has been a huge influence on me and my thinking about New York hospital culture in the early years of the 20th century. So please enjoy:

The first is his own list of stuff he watched, read, and listened to in 2015. Yes, it's weird he keeps a list. And weirder that he publicizes it. But I'm really struck by the range of his interests. Dude loves him some news magazine shows. Which makes sense, because Lester Holt is awesome.

The second is a Vulture piece by Matt Zoller Seitz about how The Knick, Soderbergh's show on Cinemax, is made. It's a crazy schedule. I found it riveting--more so than the show it covers.

I'm glad no one has decided to write one of these stories about me ("He writes slowly and infrequently, breaking for podcasts, donuts, and naps.")

Happy Sunday. 

Posted by Zachary Kramer on January 10, 2016 at 06:17 PM in Culture, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Making a Murderer

We just finished watching the 10-part Netflix documentary that everyone is talking about and I highly recommend it. For those of you who do not know, it tells the story of Steven Avery; Avery served 18 years in prison in Wisconsin for a sexual assault he did not commit, was released in 2003, was in the midst of a multi-million dollar § 1983 action against local police and prosecutors (from Manitowoc County), then was charged (along with his nephew) with a grisly murder, with some indications that officers from the original police department  (who were supposed to have been removed from the investigation because of perceived conflicts of interest) might have planted evidence. The filmmakers spent ten years working on the film; they begin filming following his initial exoneration, then following the story in all its turns. The film is very defense-focused because that is where their access was; there is some conflict whether they offered the prosecution similar access.

Details of the case (and thus possible spoilers) aside, it provides great, realistic insight into the judicial process--what lawyers do, what trials and depositions look and sound like, how evidence really works, how procedure operates, and how lawyers put cases together and question witnesses. It turns out that Laura Ricciardi, one of the filmmakers, is a (formerly practicing) lawyer, which explains her focus on and interest on the judicial side of things Although not complete, it offers a great counterweight to those students who come to law school having watched too much Law & Order, NCIS, and CSI. I recommended it to my Civil Rights students because of the focus on the § 1983 action in the first two episodes, as well as the depiction of the problems in the criminal-justice system that may or may not lend themselves to remedy through private civil rights litigation.

I would have liked to see or hear about more of the prosecution's evidence beyond the stuff that the defense argued was planted or tainted and that was attacked at the trials. Tooling around the internet reveals some other stuff that was perhaps inculpatory or, at the very least, gives a fuller picture of the state's case. But this is a small quibble in a film I otherwise really enjoyed and believe could make a good teaching tool.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 29, 2015 at 08:07 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Goldbergs do Super-Chanukkah

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the TV show The Goldbergs, which is understood as a "Jewish" show based largely on the character names and the fact that the showrunner is Jewish, but without really playing up the Jewishness of the family. As if on cue, the show that week did its first Chanukkah episode (titled A Christmas Story). The mother on the show, Beverly, worries that her family is not sufficiently enthusiastic about the holiday, certainly as compared with the Christian family across the street doing an enormous Christmas. So she creates "Super-Chanukkah," which looks a lot like Christmas, down to the tree ("no, it's a Chanukkah bush"), the stockings hung by the chimney with care ("not stockings, Chanukkah socks"), and candy canes ("not candy canes, peppermint J's"). This brings her into conflict with her father, who calls her out for discarding thousands of years of culture and tradition (without, interestingly, using the word "Jewish"). The episode ends with Beverly introducing the Christian family to the most important Jewish holiday tradition of all--eating Chinese food on Christmas.

Showrunner Adam F. Goldberg has said that Chanukkah was not a big deal around his house, so this episode (like the rest of the show) is true to his vision and the semi-autobiographical story he is telling about his childhood and family. More interestingly, the real Beverly Goldberg has taken to Twitter to discuss her son's vision for the show; back in April, she said:

The GOLDBERGS is a love letter from Adam to our family,the 80's, Jenkintown , philly sports teams. We r also proudly Jewish/ but this is -- Not a show about religion . We are role model in being a loving caring family Adam has great integrity/honesty portraying us Its his show-- We r not Blackish nor Fresh off Boat. Great shows. We are about family &love Religion is private/ personal. It's up to Adam. It's his show.

Which is similar to my point in my earlier post--Goldberg is not obligated to make a show that is as Jewish as those other shows are African-American or Asian, respectively. But my other question remains, as well: Could Goldberg (or anyone else) make that show if he wanted to? I genuinely do not know the answer.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 20, 2015 at 08:51 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crowdfeeding

Apparently, crowdfunding can rely on the adage, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." A Baltimore crab house has offered Orioles star Chris Davis free crab cakes for his life and for the next two generations of his family for re-signing with the Orioles. It reminds me that we might have underemphasized the purely symbolic value and benefit to fanfunding. It need not be about raising significant amounts of money or outbidding competing fans, but about expressing support for the player in any way, including unique ways that reflect a connection to the particular city.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 14, 2015 at 08:36 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Sinatra's Mug and Postmortem Publicity Rights

Yesterday I listened to an entertaining and fairly illuminating Planet Money podcast about Frank Sinatra's publicity rights and his estate's (officially, Frank Sinatra Enterprises') control over the commercial use of his image.  Aside from a light-hearted, music-filled history of California's right of publicity statute--which Sinatra helped spearhead in the wake of Elvis Presley's death--I was particularly taken by the journalist's interview with his daughter, Tina, who heads FSE.  The interview raises important questions about children serving as stewards for their parents' cultural legacies.

Publicity rights are often justified via an analogy to patent and copyright; they incentivize investment in celebrity persona and/or ensure that celebrity laborers reap the commercial value of their efforts.  At times in the podcast, both the producers and Tina Sinatra speak in these terms and emphasize Frank's financial legacy to his children and the concern with others free-riding--"ripping him off"--after he died.  Although Frank did not leave his children much in the way of cash, he left lots in the way of valuable IP, which FSE has used to develop an "upscale luxury brand" around Frank's image, e.g. lounges, restaurants, special edition whiskeys.

On the other hand, much of the rhetoric in the podcast is focused on nostalgia, Frank's cultural legacy, and the integrity of his image.  Tina confesses that she can't "separate [her]self" from him; that her father is with her "every second of every minute of every hour of every day."  She is looking for opportunities to "honor her father" and to make sure that licensees of his image "keep it classy."  Although compared with other IP estates, the Sinatras appear relatively sane in terms of allowing third-party uses (but no Bobbleheads!), it's important to acknowledge the role of a family's emotional attachments in driving its decisions about the use of celebrity imagery (or popular culture in the analogous copyright context).  Publicity rights are asserted not just against traditional merchandising like t-shirts and coffee mugs, but against a range of commercial goods with a strong expressive element, such as video games.  (See cert petitions in Davis v. EA).  Accordingly, in trying to achieve a better balance between IP rights and free speech, it's crucial for scholars, judges, and lawmakers to see how family members' feelings of nostalgia, prestige, and legacy can skew the equation.  Estates are often some of the most notoriously litigious IP holders, and it's important to account for the differences in motivations and incentives between the initial rights holder and his or her successors.  There's wide variation in the postmortem terms between states (zero in New York; 100 years in Indiana), so any effort to amend/harmonize these protections would ideally account for the psychology of the IP estate. 

Lastly, in light of the substantial postmortem term in many states (and the life +70 term in copyright), this story does point to the importance for celebrities, artists, and authors to actively think about and plan for cultural stewardship of their works after they die.  Frank Sinatra sat down with his children long before he died and asked them to take the helm of Sinatra licensing.  He also communicated to them, "I don't want to end up on a f***ing coffee mug."  While as a matter of cultural policy we might not want to defer categorically to the wishes of deceased celebrities, much of the mess around postmortem rights arises when the rights holder dies intestate.  See, e.g., MLK, Jr. and Marvin Gaye.  

To keep up on all things publicity rights, I want to second last month's endorsement of Jennifer Rothman's new website.

 

Posted by Andrew Gilden on December 11, 2015 at 05:53 PM in Culture, Intellectual Property | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 07, 2015

'Jew-ish?

My wife and I have been enjoying the tv show 'black-ish since it premiered last year. The show started as an exploration of an African-American from a hardscabble background who has "made it" (living in a wealthy, mostly white neighborhood, sending his kids to a mostly white private school, working in a mostly white ad agency) and how to maintain the family's connection to black culture. It has evolved to the story of an upper-middle-class black family, depicting and taking on (directly or indirectly) racial and cultural issues in a unique way from a unique perspective (see, e.g., this episode), usually through humor and satire. I cannot say how much the African-American perspective has been watered down for a broader audience, but the show seems to retain something of a special voice and context.

We also just started binge-watching The Goldbergs, which is similarly fantastic. It is a semi-autobiographical show about producer Adam F. Goldberg's childhood in suburban Philadelphia in the '80s. The characters are based on Goldberg's real family and friends and he intercuts photos and home movies of the real-life counterparts. The show never reveals what year it takes place (the narrator begins each episode by saying "it was [date], 1980-something"), instead combining pieces from all over the decade into a single pastiche (the kids are seeing Return of the Jedi and listening to New Kids on the Block at around the same time).

The latter show is understood as being "Jewish," but is it Jewish in the same way that 'Black-ish is black? The Jewish label seems to derive largely from the title and the names of the characters,* because showrunner Goldberg is Jewish, and because the characters behave in stereotypical Jewish ways.**  On the other hand, only two of the six main actors are Jewish.*** Their house is not decorated with the background items that identify it as a "Jewish" home. And we have not yet seen an episode (halfway through Season Two) that discusses or addresses things that mark the family as Jewish--holy days, Bar Mitzvahs, Jewish culture, etc. There was one episode in which the family seemed to be discovering Chinese food for the first time. In fact, the show changes reality to pull back from one Jewish stereotype--Goldberg's real-life father was a doctor and the family lived in a large house, while on the show he owns a small discount furniture store, the home is smaller, and the family more middle class. The show seems "Jewish" in the same way that Seinfeld was Jewish. Otherwise, it really is about kids growing up in the '80s who happen to have a Jewish last name.

[*] In an interview, the actor who plays Murray Goldberg, Adam's father, said they could not get much more obvious unless they called the show "The Jews."

[**] The mother (or the "smother," as she is called) is loud, overbearing, and thinks her children are God's gift. The sons are geeky and non-athletic, but you can tell they will grow up to be "Nice Jewish Boys."

[***] The father and the grandfather, the latter played by George Segal. An older brother is played by an actor with the last name Gentile, which may be the apex of the old adage "Write Yiddish, Cast British." The actress who plays the mother is wonderful, but does not look remotely Jewish.

I am curious about this difference and why 'Black-ish offers a much more recognizable slice of black culture than The Goldbergs does of Jewish culture. Some of this may be artistic vision. Obviously, people make the show they want to make (and ABC execs insist this is Goldberg's vision). And, again, I love the show he is making and am not trying to suggest that Goldberg was somehow obligated to write 'Jew-ish.

But I am wondering whether that show would fly if he had wanted to make it. One might argue this is unnecessary, that Jewish pop culture is a big piece of American pop culture; there is no need for a distinctly "Jewish" voice on TV because so many of the voices on TV are Jewish (actually or stylistically). On the other hand, we need the distinctly black voice that 'Black-ish provides because it is otherwise non-existent. Alternatively, perhaps the vision of the "cultural" Jewish family depicted on the show is that similarly watered-down vision that can appeal to a broader audience that would not, for example, relate to an episode showing the youngest son's Bar Mitzvah. If so,  then it seems that, despite the very different power positions the two groups occupy in American society, there is more of an acceptance for African-American culture (in watered-down, but still recognizable, form) than for Jewish culture in similar form.****

[****] The "Jewish" show that does go beyond last names to depict Jewish culture and people who are part of that culturis Transparent, which, of course, is far better known for the other culture it depicts.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2015 at 09:31 AM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Second Circuit Sides with the "Cannibal Cop"

Today, the Second Circuit (2-1) issued its long-awaited opinion in United States v. Valle--the so-called "Cannibal Cop" case.  The court upholds the lower court's judgment of acquittal on Valle's kidnapping conspiracy charge and, joining the Fourth and Ninth Circuits, reverses his conviction under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

A brief recap of the case:  Gilberto Valle was convicted of a conspiracy to kidnap, kill, and eat several women based largely upon a set of 40 conversations he had via the website DarkFetishNet.  He was convicted under the CFAA for accessing a police database to look up one of the women he had discussed with his alleged co-conspirators (obviously not for NYPD-related purposes).  A year after his conviction, Judge Gardephe granted a Rule 29 motion solely on the kidnapping charge on the basis that the government had not sufficiently shown that Valle's online conversations were anything more than fantasy--Valle had thousands of conversations with at least 24 different people on DarkFetishNet, and the government failed to provide any reasonable basis for plucking out 40 "real" conversations from the thousands it conceded were "fantasy."  All the conversations involved the same gruesome kidnapping and cannibalism scenarios, and if the prosecution's theory was true, he was planning on kidnapping three different women in three locations (in two different continents) on the same day.  Moreover, the alleged conspiracies were contingent upon a number of elements--e.g., a human-sized oven, a secluded cabin in the woods--that didn't exist, and Valle repeatedly lied about and avoided giving any actually identifying information about the victims.  

The Second Circuit largely adopts Judge Gardephe's reasoning and as well as the concerns (without citing) that Thea Johnson and I raise in a recent essay:  "We are loathe to give the government the power to punish us for our thoughts and not our actions. Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 565 (1969). That includes the power to criminalize an individual’s expression of sexual fantasies, no matter how perverse or disturbing. Fantasizing about committing a crime, even a crime of violence against a real person whom you know, is not a crime." 

 I see at least three important aspects of this case:

First, as pointed out by Judge Straub's dissent, both Judge Gardepehe and the majority rather boldly set aside the jury's conclusion that Valle's conversations were not merely fantasy.  Indeed, a number of other courts addressing Internet sex-related crimes have acknowledged that the defendant presented a potentially viable fantasy defense but nonetheless deferred to the jury’s assessment about the credibility of that defense.  See, e.g., United States v. Dwinells, 508 F.3d 63 (1st Cir. 2007); United States v. Howard, 766 F.3d 414 (5th Cir. 2014).  The court does really seem to be reweighing the evidence, but this reweighing is demonstrably infused with an awareness of the need to separate out fantasy from real crime.  This is an issue that courts will increasingly be called upon to tease out in the Internet era, as people's intimate lives have become both more transparent and more easily admissible in court.  Jurors sitting in a single trial are less likely to be sensitive to this need and are more likely to be swayed, as the court recognizes, by a sense of disgust or revulsion.  As tempting as it may be to defer to jurors' common sense in these matters, the court recognizes the difficulty of soberly teasing apart fantasy from criminal intent.  Relatedly, in an HBO documentary about this case (Thought Crimes), I was struck by an interview with one of the jurors, who said the jury was convinced Valle "wanted to do it."  This, of course, is not the relevant inquiry.

Second, and relatedly, the court recognizes the limited probative value of Internet searches, namely that is inappropriate to conflate an interest or curiosity in a particular subject matter with an actual intent to move forward with that fantasy.  "Valle’s Internet searches show that he was interested in committing acts of sexualized violence against women. Interest may be relevant evidence of intent, but it does not by itself prove intent." (p 21).  Judge Straub counters that the jury could reasonably deduce that his inquiries showed criminal intent (p 57), but this again assumes that a reasonable person has a good grasp on how people use the Internet to explore sexual interests.  There’s a growing body of research showing that people search a wide range of “wicked” thoughts online, and as legal scholars like Neil Richards have argued, search history is often  an externalized recording of our inner thought processes.  It therefore shouldn’t be conflated with probative evidence of our intended actions.  As the majority in Valle acknowledges, “the link between fantasy and intent is too tenuous for fantasy alone to be probative.”  (p. 4)

Third, the Second Circuit adds to a growing circuit split on whether the CFAA applies broadly to where an individual "exceeds authorized access" by violating the terms and conditions of otherwise authorized use, or more narrowly to where an individual accesses information to which he or she doesn't otherwise have authorization (a more traditional "hacking" scenario).  According to the court, the CFAA is susceptible to two different interpretations, and rule of lenity requires giving criminal defendants the benefit of the narrower reading.  The Second Circuit doesn't appear to break much new ground compared with the (far more colorful) analysis of the Ninth Circuit.  The broader interpretation risks criminalizing a broad range of day-to-day activities (e.g. planning a vacation while on work computers, lying about your age on a dating website) based upon the vagaries of terms of use policies that people rarely read.  (see this video that's been making the rounds).

The "Cannibal Cop" case may seem like an anomalous case with a strange outcome driven by very strange facts.  However, as I am examining in a new paper, it raises important questions that have and will continue to plague courts:  what line should the law draw between the virtual and the real? what inferences can we draw from Internet and social media activity?  how can judge, juries, and prosecutors adapt free speech and due process to unfamiliar and uncomfortable subject matter made newly transparent?

 

Posted by Andrew Gilden on December 3, 2015 at 03:25 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, First Amendment, Information and Technology | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

World AIDS Day: Non-disclosure, Criminal Law, and Contracts

Many thanks to Prawfsblawg for hosting me this month!  I look forward to discussing my scholarship and sharing some of my favorite cat videos in the coming weeks.  I thought I'd start, however, on a more sober note:

Today is World AIDS Day, and I wanted to share two recent items about how the law handles--and mishandles--issues of HIV disclosure.  The first is this excellent, yet disturbing, write-up of the trial of Michael Johnson, a black, gay, HIV-positive college wrestler given a 30 year sentence for not disclosing his HIV status to his sexual partners.  Although Johnson maintains that he in fact disclosed his status, the article does a good job connecting his conviction to issues of racism, homophobia, and a widely held (and mistaken) belief that no one would have consensual sex with someone HIV-positive.  Johnson's case highlights an increasingly wide schism between highly punitive non-disclosure laws and today's reality of HIV treatment and prevention.  Current treatments allow HIV-positive people to have a life expectancy roughly comparable to the average US population and can reduce viral loads to undetectable, nontransmittable levels.  The best way to prevent the spread of HIV is through testing and treatment, yet criminalizing non-disclosure can deter people from getting tested and taking on the legal obligations that might come with their results.

The other item concerns, perhaps unsurprisingly, Charlie Sheen.  Much has been written about Sheen's potential legal issues in the wake of his HIV disclosure (see, e.g., here, here, and here), but I wanted to focus on one interesting detail.  Sheen reportedly required his sexual partners to sign a non-disclosure agreement, with liquidated damages of $100,000, covering any personal or business information obtained during time spent with him.  The NDA was exclusively leaked to the esteemed repository of legal research, InTouch Weekly.  My initial reaction to the NDA was in line with with most others: forcing young women to sign a contract before sex seems sleazy and censorial, designed to insulate potentially humiliating, abusive, or exploitative behavior.  After thinking some more about Sheen's circumstances, however, things may be a bit more complex and perhaps sympathetic.  As highlighted in the previous paragraph, Sheen's HIV status put him in a rather difficult bind.  If he complied with his legal obligation to disclose his status, he faced the high likelihood that his status would either be sold to the press or used as blackmail (which reportedly it was).  And even though Sheen had an undetectable viral load--and thus posed minimal risk of infection to his partners--he was at the very least arguably under a moral obligation to disclose that risk.  An NDA in these circumstances might thus be a way for Sheen to disclose his status while navigating the unique circumstance of being an HIV-positive celebrity.  This is certainly not meant to beatify Sheen, but it highlights an effort to use contract law to organize intimate affairs in the face of continued fear, stigma, and misinformation about sex and HIV. 

(By the way, aside from the bigger policy issues, Sheen's NDA is chock full of geekery: sexual consideration (see my student note!); arbitration clauses; copyright assignments (more here); and contracting for irreparable harm) 

In the spirit of World AIDS Day, I hope this post will encourage a few more people to learn about the current state of HIV and AIDS, both in the US and abroad.  Here are a few useful links I've come across in the past few weeks:

The HIV/AIDS pandemic, explained in 9 maps and charts

Things You Should Know Before Discussing Charlie Sheen's HIV Status

Pill to prevent HIV faces critics, stigma

 

Posted by Andrew Gilden on December 1, 2015 at 03:41 PM in Criminal Law, Culture, Intellectual Property, Science | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"It sounds so simple I just got to go"

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking before the Mexican Electoral Tribunal in Mexico City at a conference titled "Two Paths in the Law of Democracy." The conference was sponsored by the Mexican Electoral Tribunal and the University of Texas.  The U.S. delegation consisted of five American scholars who study election law and politics, and we presented on various aspects of election law to the researchers, staff, and judges of the Tribunal.  It was a fascinating experience and I learned a lot.

Mexico, as a young democracy, is trying to learn best practices for running free and fair elections.  Yet there is so much that we can learn from the Mexican experience as well -- both procedurally and substantively.  

For example, as the very existence of the Tribunal demonstrates, Mexico has a federal agency that is charged with administering elections.  This Tribunal also includes a court that decides all election disputes.  Although we, too, have two federal agencies that focus on elections -- the Federal Election Commission and the Electoral Assistance Commission -- neither are very effective, especially because they often deadlock along partisan lines on most important issues.  In addition, our regular courts hear election law controversies, and we all know how well that has gone.  Mexico has figured out a way to, at least initially, avoid this partisan deadlock, and its Tribunal and court are well-respected and effective at administering elections in a way that people perceive as generally independent.  Perhaps this is because the members of the Tribunal are non-political and because of the strong research and education focus of its activities.

Substantively, Mexico has figured out some things that we are still struggling to solve.  For instance, partisan gerrymandering is not allowed in Mexican redistricting, which is conducted by the independent Tribunal.  (That said, there are still questions about whether Mexico has sacrificed transparency in the process and whether politics still infiltrates the resulting maps.)  Similarly, there seem to be fewer Election Day mistakes at the polls in Mexico, perhaps due to the robust educational and training programs the Tribunal puts on throughout the country.

Just traveling to Mexico City was a learning experience itself.  It is a fascinating place with beautiful museums, amazing tacos, and extremely nice people.  The researchers at the Tribunal are among the most respected people at the agency.  There is a true commitment to understanding American election law to discern best practices for their own system.  And our hosts showed us genuine sincerity, respect, deference, and collegiality.

This experience demonstrates the importance of looking beyond our borders to improve our own laws and legal structures.  Although we often espouse American exceptionalism, we also deal with the same kinds of issues and share the same kinds of struggles as places all over the world.  We can learn a lot from other countries, especially newer democracies where the rules are not as entrenched.  The Mexican Electoral Tribunal invited the American scholars so it could learn how we do things in an effort to improve its own processes, but of course with any exchange like this, we learned as much, if not more, from them.  This further suggests that we should not shy away from looking to international norms when evaluating our own rules and laws--whether in legislative debates or judicial decisions.

Oh, Mexico -- It sounds so sweet with the sun sinking low.  It sure was.

 

Posted by Josh Douglas on November 17, 2015 at 11:15 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Culture, International Law, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Art Film That (Helped) Torpedo a Supreme Court Nomination

On Friday, October 30, the New York Times published an article titled "The Prosecution Resets in a 1964 Obscenity Case," which relates how Gerald Harris, the prosecutor of a 1964 obscenity case, recently apologized to Jonas Mekas, one of the defendants. In the early '60s, the New York District Attorney pursued a large number of misdemeanor obscenity cases, famously including the prosecution of comedian Lenny Bruce. But the DA also charged several members of the New York underground film scene with showing obscene films, including Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures and Jean Genet's Un Chant d'Amour.

Specifically, Jonas Mekas, Ken Jacobs, Florence Karpf, and Jerry Sims were charged with showing Flaming Creatures, and Jonas Mekas and Pierre Cottrell were charged with showing Un Chant d'Amour. The Flaming Creatures trial began first. Gerald Harris was the prosecutor, and the defendants were represented by civil rights lawyer Emile Zola Berman and David G. Trager, who later became a federal judge. The defense attempted to call a series of art world luminaries - including Susan Sontag, Allan Ginsberg, and Shirley Clarke - to testify that Flaming Creatures was a work of art, but their testimony was largely excluded as irrelevant. Jonas, Mekas, and Karpf were convicted and received suspended sentences, and the Un Chant d'Amour trial was dismissed. After exhausting state appeals, Berman filed a notice of appeal of Jacobs v. New York with the United States Supreme Court, which was initially granted, but stayed pending the Court's decision in Redrup.

In 1967, the court dismissed Jacobs as moot in a per curiam opinion, because the suspended sentences had lapsed. However, Justice Fortas voted to reverse on the merits, on the ground that Flaming Creatures was not obscene as a matter of law. The following year, President Johnson nominated Justice Fortas to replace Chief Justice Warren. The Republicans were determined to block the Fortas nomination, and pursued several angles, including Fortas's relationship with the President (as described by Gerald Magliocca in the Green Bag), and his votes in the obscenity cases. Senator Strom Thurmond took the lead on the obscenity issue, alleging that Fortas was "soft on pornography." Thurmond took the unorthodox tack of sharing with his fellow Senators the stag films that Fortas had voted were not obscene (memorably dubbed "The Fortas Film Festival"), with little effect, until Charles Keating of the Catholic anti-pornography group Citizens for Decent Literature sent him a print of Flaming Creatures that had been confiscated at a screening at the University of Michigan. When Thurmond showed Flaming Creatures in the Senate Office Building, his colleagues were horrified, one anonymous Senator walking out after a few minutes and exclaiming, "That film was so sick, I couldn't even get aroused!" Soon afterward, the Fortas nomination was withdrawn, and Fortas eventually resigned, because of an ethics scandal.

If you're interested in reading more about the Flaming Creatures prosecution and its role in the Fortas nomination, I published an article (rather exhaustively?) documenting and reflecting on the events.

Img925

Still from Flaming Creatures (1963)

Posted by Brian Frye on November 1, 2015 at 01:14 PM in Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 01, 2015

How to Remember a Scholar Who Dies?

Thanks to the Prawfs gang for having me back. It's a pleasure to be here again. 

I'd like to blog a little this month about the quirks of the legal academy. For my first post, I want to tip my hat to the wonderful Al Brophy, who is one of the most thoughtful members of our profession. Though Al is a denizen of a different blog, he has for years done something that deserves our attention. When a scholar passes away, Al not only mentions it on his blog, but he also engages with that scholar’s work. If a recently departed scholar wrote a book, for example, Al will discuss it and often post a picture of the book's cover. And he always ensures that this discussion is engaging and thoughtful. I find these posts to be deeply moving. Though I may never have met the former scholar, I often find myself, after reading one of these posts, going to Amazon and buying one of his books.  Al’s “memorial” notices (I’ll link to several here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) remind us of what's important in life, and perhaps in death, too. I say that because I can think of no better way to celebrate a person’s life than by reading his words.

How should the legal academy remember a scholar who dies? We seem to have these ways: 

(1)   The Book Dedication: Many of us will dedicate a book to a colleague who passes. It’s a great honor when this is done. It is, perhaps, a reason to write books.

(2)   The Symposium: In academia, we use a Festschrift to honor a respected person during his or her lifetime. A comparable event held posthumously is a Gedenkschrift. Commonly, we will hold a symposium honoring a life’s contributions.

(3)   The Scholarship: Law schools often name the scholarships that they give to their students in honor of their former long-serving faculty members.

(4)   The Endowed Chair. Many law schools have chairs named after longtime faculty members to honor and remember their years of service after they pass.

(5)   Name a Prize … or a Classroom ... or a Building: Naming a prize after someone is also common, as might be naming a classroom or something similar of the sort.

These are the ways I can think of, and you are welcome to add to my list. We owe thanks to Al Brophy for doing something over the years that I have always found to be thoughtful, caring, and decently humane. And thanks to his colleagues over at The Faculty Lounge, and on other blogs, for doing the same.

Posted by Eugene Mazo on October 1, 2015 at 02:41 PM in Culture | Permalink | Comments (1)