Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on an interesting lawsuit that involves both the Free Speech Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit was brought by a group of public high school cheerleaders against the school district that told them to stop displaying religious-themed banners bearing bible verses and proclaiming things like “If G-d is for us, Who Can Be Against Us?” at football games. Does the Establishment Clause forbid what they are doing? And does the Free Speech Clause come into play? Amar and Brownstein address the complex constitutional issues that the case presents.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on developments relating to the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement and other election reform proposals. The essential idea of NPV is to get various states to sign an agreement requiring each signatory state to cast its electoral college votes not for the candidate who garnered a plurality of popular votes in that state, but rather for the candidate who won the most popular votes nationally. This system, with enough signatories, would ensure that the winner of the Presidential contest would always be the person who had won the largest number of votes from individual voters nationwide. It would thus solve the problem of candidates’ focusing almost exclusively on “battleground states” in their campaigns, and would ensure that each American’s vote truly had equal weight in presidential elections. The importance of the issue is underlined by the fact that Gore won more votes in 2000, but lost the election, and this year, Romney may do the same.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar takes strong issue with Justice Scalia’s recent remark that certain constitutional questions are “easy”—including questions relating to the constitutionality of the death penalty, laws restricting abortions, and limits on the rights of gays and lesbians to engage in homosexual activity. Amar argues that even if one uses Scalia’s own interpretive method of originalism, the answers to such constitutional questions are far less easy than Scalia claims them to be; and Amar cites a number of interesting examples to prove his case. Amar also contends that a full approach of originalism would go much further than the examples Scalia gives, would destroy important and basic contemporary Court precedents, and thus would seriously disrupt constitutional law as we know it. Finally, Amar contends that the counterarguments that Scalia might make to the objections that could be raised regarding his views would only get him into deeper trouble analytically.
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.
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.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar considers whether one common justification for affirmative action in education—to allow white (and other) students to have a more diverse educational experience—is improperly using, instrumentalizing, and commodifying minority students. The challenge to this justification, Amar notes, has lately been the subject of academic commentary. Amar discusses the Supreme Court’s seminal Bakke case, which concerned affirmative action; the later Supreme Court Grutter and Gratz affirmative action decisions; and the upcoming Fisher case on the same topic. In addition, Amar explains three reasons why he isn't as concerned about the instrumentalization/commodification issue in affirmative action as some other law professors are.
Justia columnist Vikram Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, discuss the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Alvarez. As they explain, the case concerned the Stolen Valor Act, which imposes criminal penalties on those who falsely claimed to have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor or another medal granted by the United States. The Court had to decide whether the Act violated the First Amendment. Amar and Brownstein offer a subtle analysis of the various doctrinal moves that were made, in the case, by the Justices who joined the plurality opinion, the concurrence, and the dissent in the case, respectively. They focus especially on a search for a limiting principle that goes just far enough, but not too far, in the case, and target their analysis especially toward law professors who seek to teach the case, and students who seek to better understand it.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the recent study ranking law schools by scholarly impact that was conducted by University of Chicago professor Brian Leiter, who also contends that the most well-known law-school-ranking system, that of U.S. News & World Report, is seriously flawed. Amar covers ranking methodology; describes what the most recent Leiter rankings show; and explains why the U.S. News rankings tend to differ somewhat from the Leiter rankings. Amar also addresses a key underlying question for any law school ranking: How much should a school’s scholarly productivity count, as opposed to other possible ranking factors?
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on an interesting and important issue regarding the power of federal courts. Specifically, Amar addresses the question whether a federal court can issue an injunction against future prosecution: If a district court tells you that the actions you are about to take are immune from prosecution, should you be able to rely on that immunity, even if it turns out that the district judge had provided it based on a flawed legal premise? As Amar points out, the Supreme Court precedent on this question is far from clear, and at least one of the Court’s liberals has suggested that reliance by a party on immunity that is wrongfully accorded to that party by a district court may be foolhardy. Amar also explains how this issue has arisen in a current controversy about Mississippi abortion services.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on the ten key takeaways from last week’s Obamacare opinion. Some of the lessons Amar suggests that the opinion teaches are not just about the Supreme Court, but, interestingly, also about the media, and about Intrade users. Moreover, when it comes to the Court and its Justices, Amar points out lessons that we might learn about Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts, respectively, from the opinion. Amar also points out lessons that we might learn from the opinion about Commerce Clause doctrine and doctrines regarding constitutional federalism.
Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on a recent Washington State controversy that raises the issue whether a pharmacy must provide the emergency contraceptive known as “Plan B” if the pharmacy’s owner objects to doing so, based on his or her own religious beliefs. (Such pharmacy owners believe that life begins at conception, meaning fertilization; Plan B prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg.) Amar and Brownstein note that the case is important and interesting not just in itself, but also because it illustrates many of the unanswered questions that concern the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. The federal judge who heard the case ruled in favor of the pharmacy owners, but was he right to do so? Amar and Brownstein consider the arguments on both sides, focusing especially on the Supreme Court case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, in which a church sought to sacrifice animals in its rituals even though doing so was against the law. They also consider variations of the fact pattern in the Washington State case itself, and consider whether they might yield different results.
Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram Amar takes issue with Stanford law professor Michael McConnell’s critique of the arguments of liberal law professors who defend the constitutionality of Obamacare. In a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, McConnell took aim at such professors. In particular, McConnell argued that liberal law professors have failed to make “actual legal arguments, based on text, history, structure and precedent” to support Obamacare. Moreover, McConnell claimed that liberal law professors’ definition of judicial activism is one-sided—a charge that they only believe to be true when it applies to the conservative Justices. Amar counters McConnell’s arguments on both of these points, providing a very specific description of the constitutional-law basis for their view that Obamacare is constitutional.
Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin’s recent article in The New Yorker regarding the highly controversial Citizens United case, holding that not just persons, but also corporations, have a First Amendment right to spend money to advocate for or against candidates for election. Amar respectfully raises questions about Toobin’s account of the case and how it was decided by the Court. In particular, he focuses on whether this was the rare case in which oral argument actually mattered to the case's outcome, as Toobin suggests.
Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on the results of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, regarding the percentage of adult Americans who hold a favorable view of the Supreme Court. Amar notes that the current percentage is 52%, a 25-year low. After describing the details of the Pew Survey, Amar considers the possible reasons for this low rating, suggesting that factors that may play a role include (1) The perception that the Court is no better than Congress (which gets low favorability ratings and is, obviously, partisan); (2) The impressions of the Justices that have been conveyed by some recent confirmation processes, particularly when nominees have made embarrassing gaffes that were ceaselessly repeated in the media, or have constantly avoided questions about the law; and (3) Republicans’ displeasure with the Court on social-issues cases, despite the Court’s conservative track record in its cases generally—and in certain blockbuster cases—over the last dozen years, in combination with what seems to be the advent of a more radicalized Republican Party.
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.
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.
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.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar continues his two-part series of columns on the Supreme Court and affirmative action. In this column, Amar cites ways in which both the liberal and the conservative Justices have seemed to fall short of being truly intellectually honest on affirmative action issues. Amar focuses especially on what methodology the Court should use in affirmative action cases, and whether some affirmative action cases should not have been decided by the Court at all. More specifically, Amar looks at the use of originalist methodology in affirmative action cases, and issues of standing in such cases. Finally, he comments on the Fisher case, which is now before the Court, and involves the University of Texas’s admissions system.
In Part One in a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram Amar comments on the Supreme Court and affirmative action—a timely subject due to the Court's recent grant of review in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which involves affirmative action in college admissions. Amar contends that, when it comes to this explosive issue, the two wings of the Court have both engaged in intellectual dishonesty, and he details how the Justices adopted their current distrust: Amar charges the Court's liberals with an unwillingness to apply meaningful strict, or even intermediate, scrutiny to race-based programs; charges its conservatives with the unfair treatment of remedial rationales; and takes issue with some Justices' treatment of history and precedent. Amar's analysis includes some shockingly out-of-context quotes that Justices, over time, have used to try to make their points in this highly controversial area.
Justia columnist Vikram David Amar and Justia guest columnist Alan Brownstein, both U.C., Davis law professors, comment on the recent controversy regarding Department of Health and Human Services regulations regarding the extent to which employees of religious organizations must be provided with insurance coverage for contraceptive services, as part of the insurance they obtain through their employment; and on President Obama’s proposed compromise. With Obama’s proposal drawing fire from both sides, Amar and Brownstein describe the framework in which they contend that the issue should be analyzed. Acknowledging both the serious religious liberty interest here and the value to many women of insurance that provides contraceptive access, Amar and Brownstein note that often, acknowledging such an interest also confers a benefit on the religious organization or person. (For instance, a true conscientious objector gains the benefit of not having to go to war, despite his sincerity and despite his not seeking out that benefit.) Here, if a religious institution does not have to cover contraceptive services, it not only vindicates its beliefs, but also saves money. Amar and Brownstein contend that part of the ideal approach to such questions would minimize such secular benefits of religious observance. They also note that another part of the ideal approach would be mitigate or spread the costs of honoring religious liberty, so that they do not fall disproportionately or heavily on an individual or group. Finally, they apply their ideal approach to the controversy over the HHS regulations, suggesting that religious organizations that are exempted from the regulations be asked to provide some kind of alternative to compliance—just as a conscientious objector in wartime would.