Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2012-09

Assessing California’s New Law (And Others Somewhat Like It) That Tries to Regulate Funeral Demonstrations Without Violating the First Amendment

Justia columnist Vikram Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on California’s law attempting to regulate demonstrations at funerals, as well as similar efforts by the federal government and other states. Amar and Brownstein consider whether such laws are consistent with the First Amendment. As they note, the issue has arisen due to the activities of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based family group that has shown up to picket near the sites of funerals—including, often, military funerals. One of the group’s messages is that America is too tolerant of homosexuality. The group’s activities, Amar and Brownstein note, have already been the subject of a Supreme Court ruling, Snyder v. Phelps. In addition to analyzing the Snyder case, Amar and Brownstein discuss another analytical framework that they argue would better suit such cases than the one the Court invoked, and consider related questions such as how broad a no-picketing zone can be imposed to protect mourners’ privacy, and how long that zone can last, before and after a funeral.

The Rich, the Poor, and Changes Over Time: How Mitt Romney’s Condemnation of People Who Pay No Federal Income Taxes Conflicts With a Republican Talking Point About Income Mobility

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan debunks Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes. First, Buchanan points out that virtually all Americans pay taxes every year, if one counts payroll taxes, excise taxes, indirect taxes, state and local taxes, corporate taxes that are passed on to workers in the form of lower wages, and more. Second, Buchanan notes that, over a lifetime, a person may, for very good reasons, have non-taxpaying years—for instance, when he or she is a student—mixed with taxpaying years, suggesting that Romney is wrong that non-taxpaying is always a part of a culture of victimhood. Buchanan also contends that it is a contradiction for Republicans to look at income mobility in America over time, and yet to look at only an annual snapshot when it comes to income taxes.

A Supreme Court Admiralty Case Sheds Light on a Longstanding Debate

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on an admiralty case in which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument next week, on the first day of its new Term. As Dorf explains, the case raises a narrow question at first glance: whether a houseboat counts as a “vessel” under federal maritime law. But Dorf also notes that, upon closer inspection, the case has a much wider meaning, illuminating the relevance of longstanding jurisprudential debates to real-world litigation. In particular, Dorf relates the case to a famous debate between two major thinkers on jurisprudence, H.L.A. Hart and Lon Fuller. Hart was a positivist; Fuller hewed to a “natural law” view; and Dorf explains how each of these stances relates to the case before the Court. Dorf also parallels the Hart/Fuller disagreement with one between Justice Scalia and Richard Posner.

The Right to Be Untagged: As Facebook Disables Facial Recognition for EU Consumers, U.S. Consumers Are Left Wondering What’s Next for Them

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on regulatory responses in the EU and the U.S. regarding Facebook’s facial-recognition tool, which suggests the identities of registered Facebook users for possible tagging by other users in uploaded photos. As Ramasastry explains, the tool has sparked concern by EU regulators due to privacy worries, and even in the U.S., Facebook has voluntarily—but perhaps temporarily—suspended the tool. Ramasastry notes some reasons why Facebook users may have concerns about the tool, including its accompanying archive of tagged photos, which could in theory be used for law-enforcement, intelligence, or other purposes that users never authorized. In the EU, Facebook has agreed to soon stop using the tool, and to delete related data. But what will happen with the tool and the resulting database, here in the U.S.? With complaints from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a leading NGO, and a complaint filed with the FTC, the facial- recognition tool is now in hot water in the U.S. as well as the EU.

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: The Sources of Washington’s Current Problems

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the current, unfortunate state of American government—paralyzed by inaction, even in the midst of a troubled economy. In his analysis of the situation, Dean draws upon Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein’s work It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. Dean deems the book to be a very important one to read, especially for Republicans, for part of the current problem, according to Dean, and to Mann and Ornstein, is the intransigence and the growing extremism of the Republican Party. Another part of the problem, they argue, is the sorry state of contemporary American journalism. Dean distills some of Mann and Ornstein’s suggestions for addressing the problems that they isolate—and notes that just five changes in the way American journalism is done now could make a profound difference.

Why the United States Must Either Get Behind the Anti-Islam Videographer’s First Amendment Right to Insult Religion (and Politics and Politicians and Every Other Power, Large or Small), Or Lose What Matters Most

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton takes strong issue with the U.S.’s stance on the anti-Islam YouTube video that has sparked protests and violence in the Muslim world. Hamilton argues that President Obama’s statement, rather than speaking of the hurt feelings of religious believers, instead should have taken a strong First Amendment stance. Hamilton argues that the right to criticize government and religion, the two most powerful social structures in society, is key here, and that President Obama should have made that clear. Hamilton contends, as well, that Mitt Romney’s remarks on this topic—though better than Obama's in vindicating the First Amendment—still were tepid and abstract when they ought to have been passionate. Hamilton also notes that Obama is taking a page from the Bill—and now Hillary—Clinton playbook when it comes to religious believers.

The Downside of Juries in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the roles that introverts and extroverts, respectively, may play on juries. Drawing on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, Colb notes that the American legal system assumes that extroversion is optimal, and both law schools and the legal world, more generally, reward it. But, Colb asks, what if we’re wrong in our assumptions about introverts and extroverts? Colb describes some of the detrimental effects that our collective elevation of extroversion may be having on the criminal justice system, and on society more generally, especially as extroverts tend to have overly optimistic views, when more balanced views would ideally be better (as is, perhaps, illustrated by the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis). Meanwhile, studies also show that in groups, people's views tend to follow those of others in a group—in a tendency toward conformity. Thus, Colb asks us to consider our juries: Are we really getting twelve individual views of the case in jury deliberations, or are the influences of conformity and extroversion undermining that ideal? If, indeed, they are, Colb offers an intriguing solution.

Single-Sex Public Schools and Classes: A Dangerous Lesson in Stereotypes?

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on some troubling aspects of the federal regulations regarding single-sex public schools and public-school classes, and how those regulations have often been distorted in practice. These developments, Grossman notes, have led to a current nationwide ACLU investigation, from which preliminary findings have been made; and to a lawsuit, with more suits possibly to come. Grossman first explains the law and regulations that govern single-sex public schools and public-school classes, some of which derive from George W. Bush Administration regulatory changes that took effect in 2006. Detailing the content of the regulations, Grossman then argues that they not only run afoul of the law, but are also likely damaging the very children whom they are supposed to be helping. She also questions the decision to have schools self-enforce the very rules that are supposed to bind them. In addition, Grossman cites other baleful aspects of the 2006 changes, including their tendency to invite gender stereotyping, along with gender segregation, and the fact that they were based on what is clearly now-discredited science. Grossman argues that the Obama Administration’s Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) should now take the opportunity to correct and update the regulations at issue.

A Federal Judge Declines to Grant a Motion to Dismiss a Minnesota Student’s First (and Fourth) Amendment Complaint Based on Her School’s Demand That She Give Up Her Facebook and Email Passwords

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by a Minnesota-based federal court, regarding a student whose school punished her for two postings she had made on Facebook, after forcing her to give over to the school her personal Facebook and email passwords. The court, as Hilden explains, refused to dismiss the student’s complaint, and offered in its opinion an excellent summary of the existing law regarding schools’ ability—or, in some cases, their lack thereof—to punish students’ off-campus, after-hours speech.

An Interesting Takings Case on the Supreme Court’s October Argument Calendar: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on an upcoming Supreme Court case that raises a Takings Clause issue. (The Takings Clause, as Amar explains, is that part of the Fifth Amendment that forbids the federal government from taking private property for public use without just compensation.) In the case before the Court, Amar explains, the key question is as follows: In the context of the facts at issue, does temporary incremental flooding, caused by the federal government, onto other lands (which are subject to some flooding in any event) amount to a taking for which compensation is required under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause? Amar explains the competing arguments, and notes the reasons why it will be very interesting to see what law the Supreme Court chooses to make in this case.

What Would Happen to Young People If We Cut Their Parents’ and Grandparents’ Government Benefits? The Third in a Series of Columns Analyzing What Mitt Romney Would Do As President

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the Romney/Ryan proposal to cut seniors’ benefits. (Although the Republicans are now backpedalling on the proposal, Buchanan points out that such cuts must be the very essence of their strategy, for they refuse to raise taxes, including taxes on the rich.) Buchanan contends that such cuts will harm not just the elderly, but also their children and grandchildren, because the harm to one generation will inevitably harm the others that follow. With younger people being forced to heavily subsidize and support their parents and grandparents, due to the cuts, Buchanan predicts that more families will then need to worry about their finances. Moreover, Buchanan adds, the brunt will fall not only on elders’ families, but also on our regional and national economies as well.

A Federal Appeals Court Upholds Louboutin’s Trademark for Red-Soled Shoes: Has the Law Granted Too Much Protection for Intellectual Property?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a very interesting court case regarding intellectual property rights. As Dorf explains, the case concerned Christian Louboutin’s famous red-soled high-heeled shoes, and pitted Louboutin against Yves Saint Laurent. Dorf discusses the reasons a New York-based federal district court ruled against Louboutin, and the reasons a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded the case. Dorf questions the Second Circuit decision; questions more generally whether the law overprotects intellectual property; and urges that our legal regime must keep in mind the very real risk that the law in this area, rather than protecting creativity, will become a barrier to it. Dorf also briefly discusses the somewhat similar Apple/Samsung dispute.

Does Match.com Have To Make Sure Its Member Profiles are Real and Accurate? Why A Federal Judge Correctly Ruled No

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a federal-court class-action lawsuit against Match.com that had been brought by disgruntled daters who alleged that Match.com engaged in deceptive trade practices, and breached its contract with its users. In particular, users have complained that after they joined the site, they found that it contained numerous profiles that were inactive, and numerous others that were merely spam. After analyzing the site's Terms of Service (ToS), however, Ramasastry concludes, as the court did, that Match.com did not violate its ToS, nor did it engage in deceptive trade practices. Ramasastry therefore warns Internet users who seek to join pay sites, to first look very carefully at what the ToS do—and do not—actually promise, before signing up. Finally, Ramasastry notes some of the guidelines for dating online that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has developed.

The Failure of Criminal HIV Transmission Laws

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp criticizes criminal HIV-transmission laws, arguing that the criminalization of HIV transmission succeeds only in marginalizing people with HIV; deterring sexually active persons from acting responsibly and getting tested; and in some instances, leading to violations of constitutional due process protections. Kemp notes that such laws have led to dramatic injustice, citing, as a case in point, the 25-year sentence that was imposed on a man after his one-time encounter involving protected sex. Though that particular sentence was ultimately commuted to five years of supervised probation, laws that allow strict punishments for consensual sexual contact still remain on the books. Rather than resort to invoking such laws, Kemp argues, states should focus their efforts on (1) seeing that people know their HIV status by getting tested; (2) seeing that people disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners; and (3) urging people to engage in safer behavior via publicly funded campaigns, using billboards or the like, to get the word out.

The Republicans’ Shameless War on Voting

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on current and past efforts by the Republican Party to suppress non-white Americans from voting in Southern states. Dean reports that these kinds of efforts have been escalating since 2010, and that they now encompass some Northern states as well. Dean covers specific, highly credible reports of such tactics being used; notes how voting laws can play into that underhanded effort; charges some Republican judges with being unwilling to enforce the amended Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA); and explains why these dirty tactics are a stain on the history of the Republican Party. Dean also notes his own role, in the Nixon Administration, in conveying Nixon’s decision not to veto a VRA extension that gave 18-year-olds the vote, and explains how that decision ultimately led, indirectly, to 18-year-olds getting the vote. Dean also notes that Mitt Romney could never make the same decision to let 18-year-olds vote today, as so many young people are Democrats or Independents. Finally, Dean cites a number of reasons for which we should all be thankful for the VRA.

The 2012 Democratic Party Platform: Religion, Women, and Children

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton continues her two-part series on the Republican and Democratic Party Platforms. In this column, she comments on the Democratic Party Platform, focusing—as she did with the Republican Party Platform—upon issues relating to religion, women, and children. More specifically, Hamilton discusses issues such as the government's relationship with faith-based organizations; same-sex marriage; contraception and abortion rights; foreign family-planning aid; and human trafficking. Hamilton also decries a key omission from the Democratic Party Platform: It fails to address the important issue of child sex abuse, except insofar as it mentions trafficking.

The 2012 Republican Party Platform: Religion, Women, and Children

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton begins her two-part series on the two major-party platforms by focusing, first, on the Republican Party Platform. (Her follow-up column on the Democratic Party Platform will appear here on Justia’s Verdict shortly.) Hamilton focuses especially on the following aspects of the Republican Party Platform: the Party’s attempt to paint gay activists—and not their foes—as the real haters; the Party’s extreme views on religion, including areas where the Party would allow one person to impose his or her religious views on another, when it comes to medical care; its embrace of having federal money go to religious organizations, but without their having to follow federal rules; its narrow view of women’s and children’s rights; and finally, its seeking rights for the unborn. Hamilton argues that, overall, women should not only oppose, but actually fear, this Platform.

The Significance of Blind Spots in Moral Reasoning

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb takes strong issue with a set of hypothetical scenarios that NYU professor Jonathan Haidt presents in his book, published earlier in 2012, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. While focusing on these moral dilemmas insofar as they affect humans, Colb argues, Haidt exposes his own blind spot with respect to the morality of eating animals. Colb then offers her own, fresh set of hypothetical moral dilemmas, in order to illustrate her contention that Haidt has not isolated all the pertinent questions and issues that his own moral hypotheticals raise. Even while considering the less significant issue of humans doing harmless but disgusting things to animals who are already dead, Colb notes, Haidt fails to consider the much more important issue of humans killing animals.

Costly Mistakes: Employers Ignore Workplace Harassment at their Peril, As the Recent Cases of New York State Assemblyman Vito Lopez and Chrysler Show

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses two recent cases of workplace harassment, one at a New York Assemblyman’s office, and another at a Chrysler factory. She focuses, especially, on why, in both cases, the harassment was allowed to continue for significant periods of time, despite the fact that the relevant decisionmakers knew about it. Grossman also raises the related question of why the prospect of even whopping punitive damages awards did not seem to make a difference in these two cases, with the harassers still being allowed to continue their bad behavior, even in the face of potentially massive legal sanctions. She also discusses the lessons that other employers should learn, from these cases, so that they, too, do not go astray, and then have to pay handsomely in court.

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