October 27, 2016

Elections, the Holocaust, and the Senate Debate: Glimpses of Three Law School Events

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Category: Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Glimpses of three important events in recent days at Marquette Law School:

The Wisconsin Elections Commission is less than four months old and so far it has made only two major decisions, each supported by all six members. Will the new body, created to take over the election oversight role previously played by the state’s Government Accountability Board, be a steady and responsible force for conducting elections well and avoid partisan divisions?

During  an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Wednesday (Oct. 26, 2016), two of the leaders of the commission conveyed a message of professionalism and commitment to doing the jobs well . They also expressed general confidence in the quality of election practices in Wisconsin.

But Mark Thomsen, chairman of the commission and a Milwaukee lawyers, and Don Millis, a commissioner who is a lawyer from the Madison area, outlined some of the difficult and controversial issues that they face this fall and beyond, such as handling of voter identification requirements  and early voting, and showed some differences between them that reflect their own partisanship. Read more »

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October 26, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

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Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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Part Six of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In an age where the presidential vote is relatively close, a two-party system dominates politics, and the average voter recognizes that voting for an independent/splinter candidate has no real shot at electoral success, is this really what the framers intended in 1787 when drafting the Constitution of the United States?


Not only was the Electoral College system problematic almost from the moment it left the starting block, but the election process has grown more complicated, more winner-takes-all, and more divisive than perhaps the delegates could ever have imagined.

For instance, in 1797, Ththomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800omas Jefferson, the then-sitting Vice President, wrote a letter to his colleague, Edward Rutledge, in which Jefferson reported that the mood of the nation’s capital had become politically divisive:

“The passions are too high at present, to be cooled in our day. You & I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, & separate the business of the Senate from that of society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives, cross the streets to avoid meeting, & turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hats. This may do for young men with whom passion is enjoyment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds. Tranquility is the old man’s milk.” (Jefferson to Rutledge, June 24, 1797, in Jefferson, Papers, 29:456-57.)

Does Jefferson’s report of a political divide — in 1797! — sound familiar when looking at today’s election debate?

Read more »

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October 25, 2016

The Teachings of Elections Past

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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john_quincy_adams_-_copy_of_1843_philip_haas_daguerreotypePart Five of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In the run-up to Election Day, maps of the United States will be colored in as red or blue. This so-called “electoral map” is the focus of all the debate, particularly for the presidency, with pundits asking what color the “swing states” will shade. Of course, the maps don’t show green, purple, or even different tints of red or blue. There are only two colors, red or blue. So why is that?

Without getting too far in the weeds, as it were, and from a political science view, the shading is based on the “winner-takes-all” principle. One party wins and everyone else loses. When a party loses, that party is without representation. Weaker parties are pressured to join a more dominant party in hopes of gaining a voice. This leads to party-dominance. Voters learn that, because of party dominance, voting for a third party candidate is ineffectual to the result, and hence alignment into a two-party race between winners and losers.

And, in terms of the presidency, by devising a system of “electors” as opposed to popular vote, history teaches us that an indirect electoral-election scheme can lead to odd results.

The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive at least a plurality of the nationwide popular vote. What did this mean? It meant that in 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more popular votes than George Bush, yet lost the election. The same was true for Samuel J. Tilden (New York) losing to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Grover Cleveland (New York), the incumbent President, losing to Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) in 1888.

There is also tie-breaker history. Per the Twelfth Amendment, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) to win the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes in the election, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. The House chooses the President from one of the top three presidential electoral vote-winners. (A run-off vote for Vice President belongs to the Senate.)

As to a run-off presidential vote, this has happened only once since 1804. Read more »

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October 21, 2016

ACS Panel Explains Voting Rights Litigation in Wisconsin

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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img_5794-meOn October 20, I had the honor of moderating a panel discussion at the Law School devoted to Voting Rights Litigation in Wisconsin.  The event was co-sponsored by the Marquette University Law School Student Chapter of the American Constitution Society and the Milwaukee Chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS). A crowd of approximately 60 persons witnessed a lively presentation on the right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, recent legislation in Wisconsin that places burdens on the ability of some people to vote in our State, and the status of litigation in the federal courts challenging these state laws.

The event began with a welcome from the Chair of the Milwaukee Chapter of the ACS, Attorney Craig Mastantuono.  Attorney Mastantuono began with a description of the mission of the American Constitution Society and the benefits of membership.  He also noted the excellent timing of the day’s event, given the attention currently being given to the integrity of the American voting system.  Then Attorney Mastantuono introduced the Mayor of Milwaukee, the Honorable Tom Barrett.

Mayor Barrett began his remarks by providing the Marquette University law students in attendance with a bit of career advice: namely, the importance of being nice to your colleagues in the workplace.  Turning to topic of the federal judiciary, Mayor Barrett criticized lawmakers who impose litmus tests on judicial appointees, in a misguided attempt to ensure that there is “only one type of thinking in our court system.”  Mayor Barrett also expressed his disappointment in the fact that Wisconsin is no longer a national leader in ensuring access to the ballot, and criticized recent state laws that have made it more difficult to vote in the City of Milwaukee.  Finally, while he touted the benefits of early voting as a means of improving ballot access, the Mayor explained that there are limits to the City’s ability to expand the early voting process due to the City’s interest in maintaining a well-administered voting process. Read more »

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October 19, 2016

The School Of Electoral College

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Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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Part Four of a Six Part serwashington_constitutional_convention_1787ies on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts mentioned party-politics as having emerged during the Constitutional debate — in the framing days of the late eighteenth century, delegates began aligning along federalist and anti-federalist divides. Alignment shaped the compromise that became the Constitution of the United States, with the process of choosing the President — indirectly through electors — an example of compromise at work.

The compromised solution was complicated. Rather than allowing election by the populous or allowing Congress to choose the position, each state was given a number of “electors” and these electors would vote for the President.

Each state was left to determine the manner of selecting their electors, thus allowing the states a role in choosing the president. The electors would choose the president on the same day, all in an effort to even the playing field, as it were, in election and governance.

So how did it work, at least initially?

It was a problem.

Read more »

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October 15, 2016

Whom Do I Want As My King?

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Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
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2014_1006_1024px-mount_rushmore2_largePart Three of a series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts discussed the lead-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and provided context to the debate over the American system of government. Here is further context.  For a more in depth discussion and a great read — upon which much of this blog finds its genesis — look to Ray Raphael’s book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012).

I begin with the delegates. Think of it like this: If you were a wealthy American landowner in the late eighteenth century, and held a position of prominence for some time, you probably wanted to ensure that, whatever government governed, your status remained unchanged. Should not your vote count a little more than someone else? Can we really let the people select of our elected officials?

On these basic questions the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were either conflicted, or outright opposed. As Roger Sherman, the representative from Connecticut proclaimed, “The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled.” On the flip side was Alexander Hamilton who touted the “genius of the people” in qualifying the electorate.

Basically, even if a Constitutional Convention delegate agreed to a national government and an “executive branch” to that government, he still had open questions as to what should it look like, how much power it would have, and who would decide the person/persons for such an office.

So how did the delegates get from point A to point B? First, the delegates took the unusual move of calling for secrecy in their debates, something unheard of then and which continues to be a source of confounding discussion even in today’s society; in 1787, and as often argued today, the delegates wanted the freedom to speak freely.

Second, the delegates used England’s King George III as a counter-point to an executive. They wanted no part of a monarchy, or despotic leader, yet needed the executive position to have some teeth so that it would be recognized internationally and complement intra-national needs. Read more »

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October 11, 2016

What Does It Take to be “United” As States?

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Category: Constitutional Law, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
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washington_constitutional_convention_1787Part Two of a series providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

Anyone who has been part of a committee, whether it be in government, business, or even the local PTA, will recognize that the same discussion points come up over, and over, and over again. In the political realm, the issue is largely taxation. In the PTA, it’s fundraising. Between April 15th and the local bake sale, the same discussions are had, year after year after year.

So imagine yourself in May of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention. The topic de jure was the present form of government — the Articles of Confederation — and how to improve on what was, by then, government gridlock (sound familiar?).

Those in attendance had a choice of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, or improving upon what got them there.

In retrospect, the choice of what to do was clear — out goes the baby — but in 1787 it was as clear as mud.

Keep in mind, the Articles of Confederation were years (decades) in the making, and were fashioned with state-interests in mind. Essentially, the delegates needed to ask themselves who they wanted to govern: themselves as states or a national government with power over the states.

And as the days dragged on, and as the weather changed from comfortable to hot, so too did the debate over what to do, how to do it, and why. Read more »

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Ribble Eager to Discuss Issues, Not Presidential Race at Law School Program

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It was more than a half hour into an hour-long conversation with Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican who represents much of northeastern Wisconsin in the US House of Representatives, when Mike Gousha, the host, said he wanted to talk about the presidential election.

“Do we have to?” Ribble replied.

Well, yes. You can’t exactly ignore it these days. But Ribble made it clear that he would much rather talk about issues that are central to the nation’s future, and he would much rather if everybody else did, too.

That’s why the first 25 minutes or so of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday focused on Ribble’s proposals for altering Social Security to assure the system functions well for many decades to come. Read more »

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October 8, 2016

What Happens if Trump Drops Out?

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Category: Constitutional Law, Election Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court

Donald_Trump_-_CaricatureWhat happens if Donald Trump drops out of the presidential race?  Some Republican politicians have begun to call on Mr. Trump to step down as the Republican nominee for President (he cannot be forced out).  If this happens, the Republican Party would then select a new nominee for President.

It might be conceivable for Donald Trump to voluntarily step down, and for the Republican Party to select an alternative nominee.  However, the real issue is whether the name of the alternative nominee would appear on the ballots of a sufficient number of states to permit an Electoral College victory.  At this late date in the election cycle, the names of presidential candidates on absentee ballots have already been finalized in many states.  In fact, early absentee voting using the final ballots already is underway in Wisconsin and many other states such as California, Ohio and Indiana.  Every day, more state deadlines for placing names on the ballot pass, and it is probably already too late to prevent Donald Trump’s name from appearing as the Republican nominee on a majority of the ballots used by states across the country.  To get state officials to print new ballots and then allow re-voting of ballots already turned in would require 1) litigation in state courts across the country and 2) the willingness of a large number of these state court judges to adopt an unprecedented procedure based upon vague “emergency” arguments.  Such a high stakes multi-state litigation effort would make the combative Bush v. Gore lawsuit look like a law school moot court competition in comparison.   Read more »

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October 6, 2016

Kimberley Motley: Pursuing “Justness” in Afghanistan and Across the Globe

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Kimberley Motley says she considers herself to be “a global investor in human rights.” Her “investment” is a legal practice that has brought her involvement since 2008 in cases on every continent except Antarctica, including some of international importance. She’s gained enough prominence to have a movie made about her work in Afghanistan, as well as profile pieces done about her in several major news media venues.

It’s been a momentous ride for the 2003 graduate of Marquette Law School, and Motley said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Thursday at Eckstein Hall that she wants that ride to grow and produce increasing impact.

Motley, a Milwaukee native, spent five years working in the public defender’s office in Milwaukee after law school. Then, in 2008, she signed up for a US State Department program to go to Afghanistan to work on training lawyers. She told Gousha and the audience in the Appellate Courtroom that she did it for the money, but it soon became “something else.” By 2009, she had started her own legal practice. She was and is the only non-Afghan lawyer in the country.

She has been involved in cases that have improved the situations of people such as young girls who had been sold to marry older men, while establishing broader awareness that, under Afghan law, people are entitled to strong and independent legal representation. She said about 70 percent of her work in Afghanistan involves clients such as embassies of France, Great Britain and Germany or several major news organizations, and 30% is pro bono work.

Motley said she considers herself more an advocate for “justness” than for justice. She said justice is a broader concept – she called it the poetry of legal work. She said she is interested in the prose, which is using laws for their intended purpose to protect people. She said Afghanistan has good laws when it comes to matters such as the right to a lawyer but that they had been almost totally ignored.

Motley lives in North Carolina with her husband and three children, but spends large portions of her time in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. She is involved currently in defending a major opposition political leader in Malaysia who has been accused of sex crimes. She considers the charges false and a tactic to keep the politician from power.

Motley said that what started as a law practice has become a movement she calls “Motley’s law.” That’s also the name of the movie that was made about her. It has had limited circulation in the United States so far, but was shown at the Milwaukee Film Festival this week.

Her goal, she said, is to be a “powerhouse litigator internationally,” involved in “interesting places and interesting cases.“

“When I went to college, I wanted to be a DJ, to be honest,” she told Gousha. In some ways, she feels like she’s still pursuing that impulse by working as a lawyer who wants to give people ”something to dance to.”

Video of the one-hour program may be viewed by clicking here.

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October 2, 2016

The Aesthetics of Brief Writing

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Category: Legal Writing, Public, Uncategorized
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aesthetics-1Conversations around aesthetics are generally found in the context of the arts. As visual aesthetics are highly important in the context of interactive work (be it music, sculpture, paintings, and the like), it seems only natural to have those conversations. However, when we think of a legal brief, it is rare to ever hear mention of aesthetics. This is because we often are more concerned about the content of the brief rather than the physical appearance—this is a critical flaw. We should concern ourselves with the aesthetics of our brief just as much as we are concerned about the content. We are all aware that judges are busy. Let’s make their job easier: make them want to read your brief.

A brief, much like music, sculpture, paintings and the like, is interactive. A brief is argument that an attorney prepares specifically for the court to interact with. The court’s first impression of the attorney will be how the brief looks. Regardless of what I have been told, I always judge a book by its cover. The judge can and will judge your brief based on how it looks, too. There are simple steps to ensure your brief is the belle of the ball:

1 . Although obvious, do not screw up the basic formatting. Don’t miss the easy ones. Call the clerk and ask what the local rules are if you are not aware of requirements and cannot find the formatting requirements on your own.

2. Leave white space. Why do we need white space? It gives the eyes a break. There is nothing more daunting than flipping the page to see nothing but a wall of text. Your reader will thank you for the white space. In addition, white space can improve the legibility of the document, increase the attention of the reader, and lead to higher overall comprehension of the point you are asserting. A writer can create whitespace by:

  • breaking up a paragraph into multiple paragraphs
  • using point headings
  • using bullet points
  • inserting charts
  • inserting graphics

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October 1, 2016

How Many Years Does It Take to Bake a Constitution?

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Law, Federalism, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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articles_of_confederation_13c_1977_issueAs the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November approaches — that is, National Election Day — the talking-head debate intensifies over candidates, politics and what is right/wrong with the American system of governance.  There is one missing piece to the debate — context — that is seldom discussed, or understood. Indeed, if the average voter dislikes the candidates and the election process (something I hear a lot), then it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture question of how we got here. In what I hope will be a six part series, I will attempt to provide context to our system of government, our election process and, hopefully, a little history to evaluate and consider in your next candidate-debate.

Part One – How Many Years Does it Take to Bake A Constitution?

If you polled the average American citizen, asking if they heard of the Declaration of Independence, most would answer yes. The citizen might even know the year and date — July 4, 1776.

But ask the same citizen when the Constitution of the United States was adopted (which technically means when it was “ratified” by the States), and you’ll likely get a blank stare, an “I don’t know”, or a guess — likely July 4, 1776.

The correct answer to that question is: June 21, 1788. Read more »

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