Analysis and Commentary Posted in 2013-06

Will Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Be Prosecuted for Lying to Congress Regarding the NSA’s Surveillance?

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the testimony of DNI James Clapper regarding NSA data-gathering, testimony which appears to be false. Dean explains why, despite the apparent falsity of the testimony, it is highly unlikely that Clapper will be prosecuted. Some of the reasons why that is so, Dean notes, include the difficulty of successfully invoking laws that penalize lying to Congress. Dean describes the key three statutes that might be invoked, and explains why, over American history, there have been so few prosecutions for lying to Congress.

How to Read United States v. Windsor to Understand What Gay Couples Won This Week, But Why They Still Have a Long Way to Go

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a little-remarked but important aspect of the recent Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor: the limits of the decision. For instance, she notes that gay people were not granted a constitutional right to be married in any state by the decision. Moreover, Hamilton points out that, despite the decision, there are only 14 jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, where gay people will be able to marry, and where they also will be able to receive the identical federal benefits received by heterosexual couples. And, in the 37 states left to persuade, federal benefits for married couples can be limited to heterosexual couples. Thus, Hamilton notes that we are far from true equality for gay Americans.

DOMA is Dead: The Supreme Court Rules in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, holding that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—passed in 1996 in haste to ward off same-sex marriage in the states—is unconstitutional. Grossman chronicles DOMA's history; discusses challenges to DOMA Section Three; and explains why Windsor was the perfect test case for DOMA. She also covers the standing issue, in addition to the merits questions discussed by the majority opinion and the dissent.

A Restroom of One’s Own: The Maine Supreme Court Considers A Transgender Student’s Exclusion From the Girls’ Bathroom

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a Maine Supreme Court case regarding a child who was born male, but identified as a girl (“Susan Doe”). Susan’s school allowed her to use the girls’, rather than the boys’ bathroom, until a student’s grandfather complained, and Susan was required to use a separate, staff-only restroom that no other students used. Colb discusses the arguments—pro and con—for allowing Susan to use the girls’ bathroom at the school, just as other girls would.

The Inevitable Holding in Shelby v. Holder, and Its Fallout

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case that the Court just resolved. Section 4(a) of the Act establishes a formula to be applied to identify jurisdictions that must obtain preclearance before they change their voting practices. Hamilton considers the majority and the dissent, and contends that coverage of the decision features a drastic overstatement of both the Court’s decision and its likely fallout.

The Power to Harass: The Supreme Court Adopts A Definition of “Supervisor” that Reduces Employer Liability for Harassment

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman critiques the Supreme Court majority opinion in Vance v. Ball State University. There, Grossman explains, the Court majority held that a harasser does not qualify as a supervisor unless he or she has the power to “take tangible employment actions against the victim”—also known informally as having the power to hire and fire. This ruling matters in important ways, Grossman explains, because the employer’s liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for workplace harassment committed by supervisors is much stronger than it is for harassment inflicted by co-workers. Accordingly, the ruling leaves some workers with less protection from harassment than they would have had, if the Court's minority had had its way. Grossman also covers Justice Ginsburg's dissent, which she finds very persuasive.

Texas’s New Retraction Statute: Why This Strongly Pro-First Amendment Measure Should Be Passed Into Law

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a new Texas measure that will become law if Governor Rick Perry signs it. As Hilden explains, the bill at issue—a kind of retraction statute—would allow publishers to limit the damages that can be received by plaintiffs in libel lawsuits if the plaintiffs at issue did not request a correction to, or a retraction of, the offending material. Hilden praises the bill, but also asks whether, with so many and varied media, and the pervasive influence of Google searches in amassing facts and viewpoints on a particular topic, we still need retraction statutes at all.

A Preview of Next Week’s Supreme Court Ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry—The Case From California Involving Proposition 8’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: What to Expect and What to Look For

Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar offers thoughts on what we may expect to see in the Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling on Proposition 8. Among other points, Amar cautions that we should not expect a definite resolution of the federal constitutional question of same-sex marriage. He also describes some of the narrower options for which the Court might opt instead, and in some instances, the likelihood of particular options being chosen.

What Should We Think Now About the IRS? We Are All Paying the Price for Republicans’ Underfunding and Vilifying of the Tax Agency

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that the recent IRS flap should really be considered a non-scandal, for reasons he explains, although he notes that the agency did make a significant mistake regarding conservative political groups. Ultimately, Buchanan urges that we must now give the IRS the tools it needs to once again do its job as well as it has historically. He contends, too, that we will all be better off if Congress puts aside its habitual political grandstanding, and actually allows the IRS to serve the public.

The Supreme Court Rejects Arizona’s Requirement That Voters Prove Their Citizenship—For Now

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. There, as Dorf explains, a mostly united Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s efforts to require voters to provide documentary evidence of their U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote in federal elections. Dorf highlights three key features of the case: (1) the Court did not divide ideologically; (2) the majority opinion affirms a principle of broad federal preemption with respect to federal regulation of voting; and (3) the Court left open the possibility that states—including Arizona—could circumvent the Court's ruling.

No Unpaid Interns Need Apply: Why a Federal Court Got It Right in Finding Unpaid Interns to Really Be Employees

Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a recent ruling from a New York-based federal district judge regarding the legal status of unpaid internships. In the wake of the ruling, which held in favor of a number of former unpaid interns who had performed duties for Fox Searchlight, interns from The New Yorker, and W Magazine now argue that based on the ruling, they, too, should have been paid for the work they did at these high-profile companies. Ramasastry notes that the ruling may well be a watershed for unpaid interns. She also emphasizes the Department of Labor’s criteria relating to when an unpaid internship is—or is not—legally legitimate.

Doctors and Lawyers and Such: A Pediatric Lung Transplant Case Illustrates the Complex Relationship Between the Government and Medical Providers

Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp comments on a recent case in which a child received a much-needed pediatric lung transplant as the result of a federal lawsuit that triggered a policy change. He discusses the policy and the arguments the parents of the child put forth for changing it. He argues that the case illustrates a function relationship among experts, legislators, and judges—but only in ideal circumstances. He critiques the community of medical experts as failing to review and update policies to keep up with the latest scientific knowledge, particularly on such crucial issues like eligibility for donated organs.

Dealing with National Security Leaks: Obama’s “Plumbers”: Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

Continuing his two-part series of columns on Obama’s “Plumbers,” Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on how President Obama has approached national-security leaks. Strikingly, Dean deems Obama the most aggressive American president since Richard Nixon in dealing with national-security leaks and queries why this is so. Dean also suggests that the President’s approach might be a surprise to many of his enthusiastic supporters among the electorate. Another notable aspect of Obama’s approach to this area, Dean points out, is that it is not clear that a heavy-handed treatment of leakers, such as Obama has adopted, is actually an effective one.

The Supreme Court Renders Another Decision Interpreting the Ex Post Facto Clause That Makes It More Difficult to Incarcerate Sex Offenders: What the Ruling Means for Child Safety

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the Supreme Court’s recent Peugh decision. She contends that the ruling, although it does not deal with sex offenders, will have an impact that will surely be felt in sex-offender cases. In particular, Hamilton argues that the case's interpretation of the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause will make it more difficult to incarcerate criminals, and sex offenders in particular. As a result, Hamilton notes, the Court’s decision, and another it issued a decade ago, may put children in very serious peril.

The Road to Justice Scalia Is Paved With (Some) Intentions: The Supreme Court Decides Maryland v. King

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding a Maryland law authorizing the collection of DNA samples from people who are arrested for violent crimes, and Justice Scalia’s dissent to that decision, raising Fourth Amendment concerns. She covers the three main points of the majority’s decision, and the three main points that the dissent raised, examining the logic and persuasiveness of each.

Seneca Falls Redux: New York’s Governor Cuomo Pushes A New Law to Protect Women’s Rights

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman explains the specific provisions of, and the keen need for, the bill that Governor Cuomo of New York has recently proposed, which is entitled the Women's Equality Act (WEA). Pointing to two hypothetical babies, a boy and a girl, Cuomo notes that the girl's life will be marked with risks and forms of discrimination that the boy will never have to suffer. The bill, Cuomo contends, will help level the playing field for girls and women, via changes in the law in ten different areas, each of which Grossman comments upon.

The Newtown School Massacre; Connecticut’s New, Related Law; and How Such Laws Might Change in the Future

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the new Connecticut law, banning the release of crime-scene photos and videos from the tragic massacre that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut. Hilden covers the key Supreme Court decision related to the new law, and questions whether future generations—acclimated to Facebook and to broad disclosure of personal material—may change the default rules in this area of law, and if so, how.

What Should the Supreme Court do With Town Board Prayers in Galloway v. Town of Greece? A Liberty-Based Analysis That Bolsters the Second Circuit’s Equality-Based Ruling

Justia columnist Vikram Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C. Davis law professors, comment on last week’s Supreme Court grant in Galloway v. Town of Greece, a case which raised the question whether it is constitutional for a Town board meeting to begin with a prayer that—while the Town claims that anyone can deliver the invocation—has in practice nearly only been delivered by Christian clergy. Amar and Brownstein agree with Judge Guido Calabresi of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that the Town’s practice constitutes an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and thus violates principles of religious equality. But they also contend that there is another important constitutional issue here, regarding religious liberty, as well, and they focus their column on that issue. They also contrast the roles of Town Boards and of State Legislatures in this context, and note why analogies to public schools are inapposite here.

Economic Stagnation, Social Security, and the Future: Young People Should Blame the Rich and Powerful, Not the Baby Boomers

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that young people's ire at the Baby Boomers and the state of Social Security is misplaced. He contends that, despite baleful commentary on the state of the Social Security, it will be there for today's young people, unless they choose to dismantle it. Much more worrisome, Buchanan explains, is economic inequality in America, which is affecting both today's young people, and many of the Baby Boomers alike. He also notes that Social Security, while stable, could be further fortified by taxing the non-labor income of especially high earners.

Whom Should Chris Christie Name to Frank Lautenberg’s Senate Seat? Current Law Provides No Perfect Options

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains the complex situation regarding the New Jersey Senate seat that was held by Frank Lautenberg, who just recently passed away. Lautenberg was a devoted Democrat, but now a Republican will name his immediate successor, who will then have the advantage of incumbency in the next election. Dorf explains how and why this somewhat odd-seeming sequence of events occurred, and explains the role that the U.S. Constitution’s Seventeenth Amendment, in conjunction with New Jersey law, played here. Dorf also contends that there are far better ways than this to fill Senate vacancies, and describes one such system.

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