Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2012-04

The Defamation Suit Against Rachel Maddow: Why It Should Fail

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden argues that the defamation suit that was recently brought by conservative preacher and metal rocker Bradlee Dean against television commentator Rachel Maddow and NBC and MSNBC should be dismissed. Hilden contends that each of Maddow’s comments regarding Dean either was sufficiently accurate for libel-law purposes or fell into libel law’s protection for “rhetorical hyperbole.” Hilden also notes that the fact that Maddow read Dean’s reply to her reportage on the air—although he did not like her tone of voice when she read it—should mitigate some of the damages Dean claims to have suffered from her reportage. Carefully parsing what Dean said on the radio, and what Maddow said about him on television, Hilden contends that Maddow has the better of the legal argument, and ought to prevail.

Five Free Speech Myths of Which College Demonstrators and Protestors Should Be Aware to Avoid Unexpected Trouble

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar separates First Amendment fact from First Amendment fiction when it comes to college demonstrations and protests. With campus protest activity highly likely in the Fall, Amar’s guidelines could prove invaluable in keeping protestors from inadvertently courting jail time. In the column, Amar debunks a series of myths about protests—including (1) that the protester’s intent or motive is the most important legal factor; (2) that content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions are pretextual, and need not be enforced; (3) that expressive conduct is treated exactly the same way as pure speech, under the law; (4) that government authorities could constitutionally opt to cut protestors a break when the protestors’ cause is just; and (5) that university campuses are allowed to follow their own special free-speech rules.

What Would Life Be Like Under a President Romney? The First in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan looks at past and current evidence to predict what might happen during a possible Romney presidency. First, Buchanan covers Romney’s botched attempt to court female voters by claiming erroneously that President Obama was to blame for layoffs affecting women, and traces the real responsibility for women’s layoffs to schoolteacher firings, which Romney has supported. Buchanan also argues that it will be difficult for voters to isolate a clear set of beliefs that Romney has consistently held dear, which is troubling. Buchanan asks who the “True Romney” really is, and warns that it may not be the moderate Romney who governed Massachusetts. Instead, he contends, today’s Romney will stay conservative in order to gain a second term as president. Finally, Buchanan contends that, even if Romney did remain moderate while in the White House, Republican extremists at every level of government would still push him toward extremism at every juncture.

Mug Shot Mania: The Legal and Policy Issues Surrounding Private Websites’ Postings of Arrest Photos

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the phenomenon of Internet mug shot galleries. Unlike a Megan’s Law database, Ramasastry explains, these galleries show photos of arrestees, who have not yet been, and may never be, convicted of any crime. That raises fairness issues, Ramasastry argues. Moreover, she notes that not only police departments, but also private companies, collect such photos together into mug-shot galleries. Because the private companies’ galleries tend to dominate search results, arrestees have no recourse except to pay the private companies to take down the photos. Because of issues like these, Ramasastry argues that this is an area that is ripe for reform—for you can now be exonerated in court, but not on Google. She also briefly discusses the phenomenon of police departments putting mug shots on their Facebook pages.

Recent Supreme Court Rulings May Show Hostility to Civil Rights, Even on the Part of Almost All of the Court’s Liberals

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on two recent Supreme Court decisions that, he argues, may together show that almost the entire Supreme Court is hostile to civil rights claims. The first decision, handed down last week, is Filarsky v. Delia. There, the Court unanimously held that a part-time government employee who is alleged to have committed a federal civil rights violation enjoys qualified immunity. In the second decision, Minneci v. Pollard, which drew only one dissent and was handed down earlier this year, the Court also ruled in favor of a civil rights defendant. Focusing on the juxtaposition of the two rulings, Dorf argues, reveals a Court that selectively invokes principles of judicial restraint in a way that disserves civil rights.

Did Keith Olbermann Blow His Lawsuit Against Current TV By Saying “I Screwed Up” on Letterman? Absolutely Not!

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on a remark that was recently made by Keith Olbermann—the longtime news anchor and a friend of Dean’s—on David Letterman’s “Late Show.” Dean argues that the remark, “I screwed up,” has been seriously misinterpreted and placed in the wrong context. As Dean discusses, the remark’s meaning is particularly important because it may well play a part in a lawsuit regarding Olbermann’s termination last month from his position as the anchor of “Countdown With Keith Olbermann” and Chief News Officer at Current TV. Dean clarifies the context of the comment—noting that Olbermann meant that he’d screwed up in joining Current TV in the first place, not that he’d screwed up in his work there. Dean also raises a larger issue of the press’s picking up on language in initial court pleadings—such as Current TV’s in this case—when parties are not ultimately accountable for what they’ve said in those early pleadings.

The Catholic Bishops Lobby Against Legislation to Protect Children

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton takes strong issue with the position of the California Catholic Conference, the lobbyist for the California bishops, on issues relating to child sex abuse. As Hamilton explains, the Conference sent a one-page letter opposing AB1628, a California bill that would effect a short extension of the child-sex-abuse statutes of limitations, and require more rigorous background checks for employees and volunteers who work closely with children. Hamilton argues that the bill should be passed, details the Conference’s objections to the bill, and concludes that those objections are meritless. She also notes that this is just one instance in which the bishops are seeking to block child-sex-abuse statute-of-limitations reform; similar efforts are being made in other states as well.

“Stand Your Ground” Laws and Competing Visions of “Fight or Flight” in the Real World

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb addresses several legal questions that have arisen in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, such as what do “Stand Your Ground” laws really mean, and what vision of reality do these laws reflect? Colb begins her analysis by explaining related criminal law concepts such as the duty to retreat, and the “castle doctrine,” which holds that one need not retreat in one’s own home. She then explains the idea behind “Stand Your Ground” laws: They operate to protect an individual’s liberty to lawfully occupy a place, in the face of threats, and even in the face of an ultimatum from an attacker who announces that one must leave or die. Using hypothetical examples, Colb explains the difference that an “SYG” law could make in a potentially deadly confrontation, noting that almost half the states have such laws. She also uses an imaginative hypothetical regarding a person who does not know he has a deadly, communicable disease to illustrate the role that the assailant’s culpability takes in “Stand Your Ground” situations. Finally, Colb explains why she herself ultimately opposes “Stand Your Ground” laws.

The Lady in Red: Equal Pay Day and the Continuing Problem of Gender-Based Pay Discrimination

Today, on Equal Pay Day, Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on gender-based pay discrimination and the available remedies for it. Grossman covers the current status of the gender-based wage gap; the reasons why the gap persists and has proved difficult to remedy; and the efforts that have been made to bolster pay equality. Grossman first focuses on the clear evidence that pure discrimination plays a significant role in the wage gap. Then, Grossman discusses the roles that the Equal Pay Act and Title VII play, with respect to gender-based pay discrimination, and the unfortunate limitations of both laws. She also covers the more recent Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law during his first week in office. Finally, Grossman concludes by describing the key legal steps, procedural and substantive, that she argues should be taken in order to close the pay gap.

A Spate of Complaints Asking Libraries to Censor the Hunger Games Trilogy: Why We Should Keep the Books Accessible to Kids

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden discusses the types of complaints that libraries have received about the books in the Hunger Games trilogy, and argues that libraries should nevertheless keep the books on the shelves. The complaints that Hilden discusses claim that the books contain sex, are anti-ethnic, are anti-family, contain material that is “occult/satanic,” and are too violent. Except for the claim about violence, Hilden argues, these claims are inaccurate on the facts—they either do not accurately describe the books’ content, or they fail to put material from the books in proper context. Finally, regarding the claim about violence, Hilden notes that a number of classic works that are commonly taught in schools contain violent acts—and even, in cases like Lord of the Flies, acts of violence among children.

The Trial of the Century?

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on the official beginning of the military commission proceedings against Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and his four co-defendants. As Mariner notes, the United States is seeking the death penalty against all five men, who are accused of a litany of crimes relating to the 9/11 attacks: terrorism, hijacking, murder, conspiracy, and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Mohammad, as Mariner explains, has taken responsibility for the attacks, and the other four defendants are alleged to have played key organizational or financial roles in the attacks. Mariner argues that for the verdict in these cases to be seen as just, the defendants must be granted basic procedural guarantees and must face an impartial and independent tribunal. However, Mariner argues, neither the procedures that will be used, nor the tribunal itself, fit these requirements. In particular, Mariner emphasizes the key differences between judicial independence and military discipline, when it comes to the administration of justice, and urges that civilian courts, not courts-martial, should be the tribunals adjudicating these cases. She cites the Zacarias Moussaoui civilian trial as a success in showing that the civilian justice system can work well even in terrorism cases, and suggests that these cases, too, should have gone forward in the civilian justice system.

A Politically Moderate Constitutional Law Professor Examines the Gender Gap in This Presidential Election

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton takes very strong issue with Republicans’ current stances on issues that are of importance to women, such as contraception access, equal pay for equal work, violence against women, and child sex abuse. As a politically moderate woman herself, Hamilton notes that she would find it very difficult to support the package of views and proposals that the Party is offering voters this year. Interestingly, Hamilton observes that, had Rick Santorum never run for president, the other candidates and the voters might never have focused on these issues, and the issue of the economy might, instead, have dominated Republican speeches and stances in the run-up to the election. But because Santorum did run, Hamilton predicts that Mitt Romney, too, will face a very significant gender gap at the polls this year as he, too, is forced to address these issues—for female voters will likely be uncomfortable with some of his answers.

The High Court Needn’t Worry About Sliding Downhill: An Evaluation of the “Slippery Slope” Concerns Expressed at the Oral Argument in the Challenge to the Mandate Provision of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar focuses in on a particular—and very significant—aspect of the Supreme Court’s recent oral argument regarding the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”: Certain Justices seemed concerned that if Obamacare’s “individual mandate”—that is, its placing responsibility on individuals to purchase health insurance themselves—were to be upheld, then a slippery slope would follow. In particular, numerous conservative Justices asked, If the feds can require each person to buy health insurance, what can’t they force people to purchase? Amar contends that this “slippery slope” doesn’t really slip—pointing out that a very similar danger has existed in Commerce Clause jurisprudence for 50 years, and that the Court has proven more than able to address it. Thus, the individual mandate, he suggests, makes the slope no more slippery than it has been for quite a while now. Amar also cites the tools the Court has for limiting government powers in settings where mandates are already accepted, and contends that similar tools could be used in the context of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

Stalker Apps? “Girls Around Me” Highlights the Privacy Perils of Geolocation Apps

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the “Girls Around Me” app, which Apple has now pulled from the iTunes app store, and Foursquare has also pulled. As Ramasastry notes, concerns were raised that the app—which showed photos and information taken from Facebook and Foursquare—could compromise privacy and enable the harassment of women. Ramasastry contends that in order to address such concerns, some websites’ Terms of Use need to be clarified, and we need to carefully consider the extent to which third-party developers can use, harvest, and manipulate data relating to individuals and their lives. She also calls for a federal law to better protect consumer privacy, including in the context of apps like these, and warns that laws and policies must take notice of the context in which a person’s information is being used, for some uses may be innocuous, and others pernicious.

Severability May Hold the Key to Obamacare’s Future: How Much of the Law Will Survive the Supreme Court’s Review?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a less often discussed but highly significant issue regarding the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on Obamacare: If a majority of the Court finds that the minimum coverage provision is unconstitutional, how much of the rest of the law should—and will—also be invalidated by the Court? As Dorf notes, the Court heard from three attorneys who addressed this question, on the third day of oral argument in the case. The plaintiffs in the case contended that none of Obamacare should survive, but Dorf contends to the contrary that, if the minimum coverage provision is struck down, most of Obamacare should still be left standing. Dorf explains the root of the presumption that various parts of a law are severable from each other, and critiques the plaintiffs’ argument that Obamacare should be struck down in its entirety—setting forth three important respects in which he argues that that argument was wrong. One key point Dorf makes is that the statute as issue would work better if the minimum coverage provision were to be left standing, but it would still work if that provision were to be struck down.

Good Luck, Wisconsin, You’ve Got A Classic Authoritarian Governor: Part Two in a Two-Part Series on Scott Walker

In the second in this two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean puts together substantial evidence suggesting that controversial Wisconsin governor Scott Walker possesses disturbingly authoritarian personality traits. Dean’s analysis draws from both his own 2006 book, Conservatives Without Conscience, and the work of Professor Robert Altemeyer. Here, in Part Two, Dean explains in greater detail, based on evidence from Walker’s life, why he believes that Walker is a “double high authoritarian”—a suggestion which, if true, would be very troubling, Dean explains, as those with such personalities tend to find it difficult to govern in a democratic fashion. With Walker facing a recall vote on June 5, voters will have another chance to assess their governor and consider whether they believe Dean is correct.

‘The One Percent’ and the Rewards of Education: Collecting the Revenue Necessary to Send More Americans to College Is Vital

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes strong issue with several arguments that have often been made by Republicans in the run-up to this year’s presidential election. Specifically, Buchanan counters arguments that taxpayers should not help pay for others’ college educations—and perhaps not their K-12 educations, either. He also takes on the two mutually contradictory arguments that (1) college is a waste of time and money, and (2) college education is the only force driving economic inequality. As to the first argument, Buchanan points out that education is a key indicator of economic progress, and that as we stagnate in our population’s educational achievement, other countries eagerly seek out more college education for their own people. As to the second argument, Buchanan argues that it can be rebutted by basic statistics, and that, even if it were true, the logical response would be to broaden American educational attainment.

Was It a First Amendment Violation for a New York School to Suspend a Fifth Grader Who Shared a Violent but Perhaps Joking Wish?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a student-speech case that was recently decided by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. As Hilden explains, the case raised the question whether a 10-year-old student’s First Amendment rights were violated when he was suspended for six days based on arguably threatening—but possibly merely joking—words that he had written during a classroom assignment. The Second Circuit panel split 2-1, with the majority siding with the school. However, Judge Rosemary Pooler, in dissent, contended that under the central school-speech precedent of Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., the student should have won. Judge Pooler argued that the young student's words were much more innocuous than the majority seemed to think, and emphasized that the Tinker test focuses on foreseeable disruption—of which, she concluded, there was little evidence in this case.

Flag-Waving Gametes: Biology, Not Gestation or Parenting, Determines Whether Children Born Abroad Acquire Citizenship from U.S. Citizen Parents

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the important questions of whether and when a child who is born outside the U.S. can acquire citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent. Grossman focuses especially on the heartbreaking case of U.S. citizen Ellie Lavi, who gave birth to twins in Israel. When Lavi sought U.S. citizenship for the twins, the State Department informed her that the twins would not be deemed U.S. citizens unless Lavi could prove that the donor sperm or egg came from a U.S. citizen. Grossman strongly criticizes the State Department’s decision to, in effect, deem the gamete donors, not Lavi, the babies’ parents for purposes of U.S. citizenship—even though no one disputes that Lavi, a U.S. citizen, gave birth to the twins. Grossman covers the ways in which children can gain U.S. citizenship by descent; describes the more onerous rules for out-of-wedlock children; considers whether treating unwed citizen fathers and unwed citizen mothers differently is discriminatory; and discusses who counts as a “mother” and thus a person able to convey citizenship. Finally, Grossman considers four interesting scenarios regarding the descent of citizenship to children; describes the consequences of non-citizenship; and urges the State Department to deal more fairly and justly with the modern realities of reproductive technology.

The “Other” Case This Term Testing Congress’ Enumerated Powers to Pass a Healthcare Law: Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland and FMLA

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a Supreme Court case from this Term that involves health care, but does not involve the PPACA (also nicknamed “Obamacare”). The case is Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, and the Court handed down its decision in that case last week. As Amar explains, in Coleman, the Court, by a 5-4 vote, struck down the provision in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that subjects state-level government employers to damage liability if they fail to provide the legally-required unpaid leave to employees for self-care for a serious medical condition. Amar contends that Coleman is noteworthy not only because FMLA is a significant federal statute, but also because the Court’s decision gives us insight regarding the judicial doctrines that govern the scope of federal powers.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more