Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden covers a new North Carolina law, described by the North Carolina ACLU as possibly the first of its kind in the United States, which seeks to protect teachers from students’ (1) building a fake online profile or website of the teacher; (2) posting the teacher’s private, personal, or sexual information; (3) tampering with the teacher’s online networks, data or accounts; (4) signing the teacher up to a pornographic website; or (5) making any statement, whether true or false, that is likely to provoke someone else to stalk or harass the teacher. Violations of any of these five provisions carry criminal penalties. Hilden argues that the law’s genuine concern for protecting teachers is already sufficiently addressed by existing civil and/or criminal law, and that to the extent that the provisions go further than existing law, they may raise serious First Amendment issues—issues that have already left the North Carolina ACLU primed to challenge the statute. Hilden also underlines the point that teachers typically have far greater resources and maturity to deal with bullying than students do, and thus, she argues, teachers need less protection from bullying than students do.
Justia columnist and U.C., Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a closely watched affirmative action case that the Supreme Court will very likely resolve. As Amar notes, the case concerns how a state that tries to abolish affirmative-action programs may, in doing so, violate the Constitution. As Amar explains, such programs are never constitutionally required to be initiated, but their abolition may be constitutionally problematic—for instance, if programs that benefit minorities are abolished in a way that leaves all programs that benefit other groups untouched, and that makes reenactment of the programs that minorities prefer especially difficult; or when minorities are subjected to greater political obstacles in the adoption (or re-adoption) of the programs they might support than are other groups.
Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on President Obama's options regarding the debt ceiling—noting that they are much better than one might think. Buchanan contends that Republicans may think that they can force Obama to cut spending, in order to avoid breaking through the debt ceiling, but Buchanan points out the other options that the President still has, and explains why none of these options will be appealing to Republicans.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on two questions involving same-sex marriage that the Supreme Court may or may not duck: First, there is the question whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—which defines marriage under federal law as opposite-sex marriage, even when state law recognizes same-sex marriage—is constitutionally valid. And, second, there is the question whether California violated the Constitution when it enacted Proposition 8, which prospectively eliminated the possibility of same-sex marriage, and thereby nullified an earlier California Supreme Court ruling that had found a state-constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Dorf considers why the Justices might—or might not—see the cases that raise these questions to be appropriate vehicles for Supreme Court review, and notes what might happen next if the Court does not take up a DOMA case.
Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton reviews a recent HBO Films documentary about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, noting that the paradigm that the documentary reveals also applies to many other institutions where child sex abuse has occurred, including Penn State, the Boy Scouts, other religious groups, other schools, and many more. Mea Maxima Culpa is especially heart-wrenching, Hamilton explains, because the victims of sex abuse were deaf boys, and some of their families had never learned to sign—making them all the more vulnerable to the predation. The documentary, Hamilton contends, surely deserves an Oscar nod, especially as it captures the paradigm of institution-based abuse, covering the victims, the perpetrators, and the institution.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes strong issue with the Norquist Pledge, which Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist has asked Members of Congress to sign. The Pledge says, “I [insert name] pledge to the taxpayers of the state of [insert name], and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.” The Pledge has become significant in the context of raising taxes as a solution to the potential “fiscal cliff” crisis. Dean contends that the Pledge is not only a bad idea, but also one that violates the Constitution. Moreover, Dean points out that, as the pledge is not a valid contract, for it is missing key elements that contract law requires, it is also not enforceable as such.
Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on a recent decision from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The decision addressed the question whether the New York City Board of Education can exclude houses of worship from occupying public schools. Hamilton argues that this controversy is part of a much larger issue, regarding religious groups’ seeking government entitlements. She covers the key U.S. Supreme Court cases that are relevant to this issue, and connects the issue to the “church-planting” movement. The ultimate goal of those who seek to allow religious groups to occupy public school, is much more ambitious than just that, Hamilton suggests: It is to convince governments to pay as much money to support religious private schools as it pays to support public schools.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a controversy in Germany in which Germany’s branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA-D, compared animal exploitation and slaughter to the Nazi Holocaust, in a series of seven graphic posters. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) subsequently held that Germany’s censorship of the images was lawful. Colb, who is both an ethical vegan and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, critically analyzes (1) PETA-D’s decision to launch a campaign comparing animal slaughter to the Holocaust; (2) the ECHR’s decision that such a comparison diminishes Holocaust victims and survivors; and (3) the specific nature of the offense that is felt by those who condemn the analogy between animal exploitation and the Holocaust. In her analysis, Colb refers to sources ranging from Adorno, Singer, and Coetzee on animal suffering, to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi,” a comparison to which most people don’t object, but perhaps logically should.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal definition of “supervisor” in the context of the law addressing harassment in the workplace. The topic is especially timely because the Supreme Court just recently held oral argument in Vance v. Ball State University, which focuses on this very issue. Grossman begins by covering workplace harassment basics, and then goes on to consider the scope of employers’ affirmative defense to a workplace harassment claim—which has proven to be a highly contested issue. She then focuses on Vance itself, discussing both the facts of that case, and the split among the federal circuits about who qualifies as a “supervisor.” Grossman ultimately comes down in favor of the EEOC’s definition of “supervisor,” arguing that it is clearly correct. She also comments on some of the Justices’ apparent positions on the matter, as likely betrayed by their respective comments at oral argument.
Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a federal district court case that was brought after Mississippi teen Taylor Bell was suspended based on the lyrics of a rap song he wrote and posted on Facebook and YouTube, where it was heard by his high school classmates. Hilden explains why the case implicated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, even if the rap song fell short of constituting a “true threat” under other free speech precedents. Taylor lost before the federal district court, but, as Hilden explains, his attorney has noted a number of key points that will likely help strengthen Taylor’s case in the planned appeal.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the interesting question of what President Obama’s agenda should be, now that he has been re-elected. Past presidents have often faced scandals in their second terms, Dorf notes, but assuming that Obama avoids that fate, what should his top priority be? Dorf argues that it should not be a grand bargain addressing the federal deficit by lowering spending and increasing taxes, as the options currently on offer in that vein could actually be harmful in the short run, and inadequate in the long run. Instead, Dorf says, Obama’s key agenda item should be cost internalization when it comes to health care. That would mean that we would move toward a health-care system in which the people who profit from health-care measures (doctors and patients) also bear the cost of those measures. Although we may already be headed in this direction, Dorf notes, there is much more to be done along these lines.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on the new couples pages feature on Facebook, which aggregates a Facebook user’s information with that of his or her self-designated significant other. Ramasastry notes that the feature has been controversial, and explains why some users have been upset by it. She notes, too, that Facebook is entering a privacy gray area with the couples pages feature, under which Facebook relies on its privacy policies, but users feel they have lost control. Moreover, Ramasastry suggests that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which previously criticized Facebook’s Timeline feature, may want to scrutinize Facebook’s couples pages feature as well. Finally, Ramasastry questions whether Facebook’s couples pages are permissible under Facebook’s recent settlement with the FTC.
Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp comments on the legal and ethical issues raised by self-driving cars and surgical robots. He describes current tort (including personal injury) and products liability law, and discusses why these bodies of law may fall short in addressing these technological innovations. Kemp introduces several hypotheticals to illustrate both the legal and ethical issues presented. In addition, he suggests that we should establish dynamic legal and ethical frameworks to keep up with new technologies, and encourages the law—and ethics—to begin to focus not on parties’ individual liability, but rather on the entire system of persons, machines, institutions, and governments that are relevant to a given instance in which something has gone wrong, and injury has occurred.
Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean takes strong issue with Republican polarization and obstructionism. Moreover, Dean explains why and how these strategies have worked for Republicans over the years, tracing them back to Newt Gingrich and his supporters, who innovated a three-day work week for Representatives, with their families living in their home districts—the result of which, Dean points out, was that Representatives did not get to know one another well, and there was little chance of collegiality. Now, too, Dean observes, Republicans are also employing obstructionist and divisive tactics. Dean urges that, in light of these developments, it's urgent that journalists and other s chronicle and expose these strategies. Dean is confident, though, that in President Obama, the obstructionists have met their match.
Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton discusses the child-sex-abuse investigation in Australia and developments regarding child sex abuse here in the U.S. Hamilton argues that America’s response to evidence of child sex abuse in our institutions has been woefully deficient. While some local or state prosecutors have moved forward, Hamilton argues that what is needed, as well, is a response at the federal level. Hamilton suggests that Members of Congress are afraid to take on the relevant institutions, despite the terrible toll that child sex abuse takes on children and the monetary costs that are associated with that toll. Hamilton argues, however, that addressing child sex abuse is not only the right thing to do, but also ultimately in Members of Congress’ political interests. In particular, she urges Republicans to change their focus from “unborn children” to actual children who are suffering due to child sex abuse. Hamilton also urges Democrats in Congress and President Obama to investigate and act on this important issue, including by reforming the insurance industry's role.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the fiscal cliff—the combination of higher taxes and across-the-board spending cuts that America faces if Congress and President Obama fail to reach agreement in the next few months. Dorf explains exactly what the cliff is, how we came to its edge, and why there is no guarantee that our elected leaders will avoid taking us over the cliff. In so doing, Dorf addresses both aspects of the cliff—higher taxes and spending cuts—and the deadlines that pertain to each. Dorf also addresses the question whether compromise is possible on these issues, and explains why the outcome, if there is no compromise, may have stark consequences, as everyone involved knows—and yet still might occur.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman evaluates the meaning of the votes cast across the nation on the various pro-same-sex marriage referendums. Such referendums passed in Maryland, Maine, and Washington State. Grossman describes the details of the various referendums and other ballot measures relating to same-sex marriage, and notes the split, in each state she discusses, regarding votes for Obama and for Romney, respectively. Grossman explains why such referendums are noteworthy: (1) the common but not necessarily correct idea that this is an issue for the people (not courts) to decide; (2) the fact that the referendums may augur the future of same-sex marriage in America; and (3) the referendums show that young voters tend to be pro-same-sex marriage, and as more and young people reach voting age, there very likely will be even more pro-same-sex marriage voters. Grossman concludes, citing relevant statistics and developments, that among young people, and Americans generally, we are seeing a sea change toward support of gay marriage.
Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel decision arising out of a controversy regarding the treatment by Oregon State University (OSU) of a conservative student newspaper, The Liberty. While OSU's traditional newspaper, The Barometer, was allowed to use on-campus newsbins, The Liberty first had its copies dumped out of its newsbins, with no prior notice, and then was allowed to put The Liberty in only two designated areas on campus, whereas The Barometer suffered under no such restrictions. Hilden argues that the Ninth Circuit panel was right to rule that the student newspapers should have been treated equally, with The Liberty accorded the same access as The Barometer.
Justia guest columnist and Cornell Visiting Scholar Antonio Haynes comments on an issue that was raised recently in a Los Angeles Proposition best known as Measure B: Should pornography industry performers be required to use condoms while on set? L.A. voters said yes, but Haynes contends that there is a strong First Amendment argument against the measure, based on the tenet that speech cannot (with very limited exceptions) be regulated based on its content. Although decreasing the incidence of unprotected sex is a compelling government interest, Haynes notes, Measure B does not seem to solve an “actual problem,” to use the Supreme Court’s phrase, as the adult film industry has self-regulated with great effectiveness. Thus, the objection to pornography without condoms seems to arise not from the fear of disease, so much as from the objective of controlling the content of pornography. Ultimately, too, Haynes says, performers’ dignitary interests are at stake—just as all Angelenos’ would be if everyone, not just porn performers, were subject to Measure B.
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.