There Is Real Election Fraud (Just Not What You Think)

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Category: Civil Rights, Election Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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stamp_us_1977_3c_americanaI have been working on elections since 2000, when I helped organize a team to defend a potential recount of Wisconsin’s narrow victory for Al Gore (never happened; see Bush v. Gore).  Since 2004, I have trained thousands of attorneys to observe at polling places to ensure every eligible voter is allowed to cast a regular ballot.  That is, and should be, the only goal of our election laws: enfranchisement!

In 2005 I testified before Congress about Wisconsin’s voting laws, the lack of any actual voter fraud, and the many real administrative problems caused by running a national election in one day.  In subsequent years, I helped compile reports of Election Day issues, defended individuals accused of voting irregularities, and was part of the GAB committee to create formal rules for observers.

So, I have some background in election law.

To put it mildly, I was surprised to hear a candidate for President state: “Voter fraud is very, very common.”  Not just common, but VERY, VERY common.

The statement, if meant to suggest rampant fraudulent voting, is categorically false.  Fraudulent conduct by voters is exceedingly rare.  A comprehensive study published in 2014 confirmed 31 cases of in-person voter fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than a billion votes.  In stark numerical terms, that is one act of fraud for every 32 million votes.  When defending Wisconsin’s harsh Voter ID law, the State “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.”  Frank v. Walker.  In other words, voter fraud is very, very, very uncommon.

There is, however, an election fraud that has become common in the past decade: the suggestion that voting laws need to be tightened to combat voter fraud.  This is the BIG LIE. It has been used across the country to justify a stunning array of laws designed to make it harder to vote. Read more »

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An Election Day Primer for Wisconsin Voters*

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Category: Civil Rights, Election Law, Milwaukee, Public
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Voting_United_StatesTomorrow is Election Day. It’s important to vote, so make sure you know where and when you can cast your ballot. New for Wisconsin voters this year is a photo identification requirement. I break down the voting process below to demystify and clarify it.

The main thing, though, is to vote. Even if you don’t like your choices for president, there are down-ballot races, including a state-wide U.S. Senate race between Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson and any number of races for federal or state representatives and other local officials, for which your vote matters. Read more »

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We Need More Than Equality

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Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, Uncategorized
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girl_blowing_soap_bubblesOver the past few months, I’ve tried to wrap my brain around the multitude of complex issues that have occurred between police officers and people of color within the United States. From my recollection, it seemed like every other day there was a new incident involving an unarmed black man being gunned down by individuals who are sworn to protect the public: the police. Whenever the news of these incidents were revealed to the public, I noticed friends, family, and strangers all begin to take sides as to who they believed was either right or wrong in this situation (involving the police and the individual who was shot). Through social media and conversations with peers, I’ve observed people pick “sides,” such as, “Blue Lives Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” When I observed people use these phrases to justify their stance on life (and which lives matter), I began to establish my own thoughts about how we as a society ought to view life from a metaphysical standpoint. Within this essay, I will first illustrate the significance of the fact that humans are social beings. Second, I will illustrate the importance of sympathy and empathy for social beings like humans. Third, I will argue that human life is precious and that it ought to be appreciated and celebrated uniformly with all human life.

Humans are social beings. We are dependent upon our experiences within the world and with other human beings. Our experiences are important because they help shape our ideas and beliefs; they also allow for us to understand our surroundings as well as other people. For instance, you could not place a new born baby in a room by itself for its entire life and expect it to develop into a human being who can properly rationalize and truly understand what is going on around it. We need other human beings in order to thrive and live. As social beings who learn from experience, hopefully in some capacity during our lifetime, we learn to develop sympathy and empathy. The hope is that we are given the opportunity to have enough experiences in order to indirectly or directly relate to another human being. I’m sure you’ve heard the old phrase: “We fear what we do not know.” A majority of the time, that statement is true because we often don’t fear the things we thoroughly understand (with some exceptions of course). When we fail to sympathize or empathize with another individual who has/had different experiences than us, we occasionally resort to stereotypes and make assumptions. We can learn so much from other people when we listen, rather than immediately resorting to various preconceived notions. Sympathy and empathy wouldn’t be important if we were not the social beings that we are. We rely on others to live and, arguably, could not survive without other human beings. Read more »

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Calling 911 in the Wake of Police Violence

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Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & Law
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black_lives_matter_sign_-_minneapolis_protest_22632545857Amanda Seligman is a Visiting Fellow in Law and Public Policy at Marquette University Law School.

How does racially-tinged police violence toward civilians affect city residents’ willingness to summon aid in an emergency? A study in the October 2016 American Sociological Review asks what happened to the number of 911 calls after the public revelation that off-duty white Milwaukee police officers beat Frank Jude in 2004. In “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community,” Matthew Desmond, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk find that in the year after the initial publicity around the beating, Milwaukee residents placed 22,000 fewer 911 calls than might have been expected, resulting in a total of 110,000 calls. Although white neighborhoods saw a spike in 911 calls and then a long but shallow dip, the loss of calls was especially pronounced in black neighborhoods. The authors found no such loss of calls reporting traffic accidents.

Desmond et al.’s 911 study received extensive mass media coverage. Juleyka Lantigua-Williams wrote about the study in The Atlantic, and the New York Times’sThe Upshot” column reported the findings. The study was the subject of two articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one reporting on the findings and one offering responses from District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn. Two of the authors, Desmond and Papachristos, also published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times commenting on the significance of their research. A small host of other reports suggest broad interest in the study’s implications in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and widespread coverage of police shootings of African American civilians.

Sociologist Desmond is one of our most thoughtful observers of the cultural significance of the 911 emergency call system. In Evicted, his 2015 ethnographic study of housing and poverty in Milwaukee, Desmond observed how victims of domestic violence put themselves at risk for losing their homes if they call the police too often. Read more »

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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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Eckstein Hall Conference Focuses on Provocative National Security and Liberty Issues

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Was Apple protecting people’s privacy or its corporate interests when it wouldn’t help the FBI get information from a terrorist’s iPhone? When Edward Snowden released a trove of secret information about national security operations, was he a whistle-blower or a criminal? Did the Patriot Act of 2001 open the door too wide to mass surveillance of Americans?

More broadly, where should the line be drawn between trying to protect the nation from terrorism and protecting the rights and liberties of Americans?

These are all complicated, interesting, and timely questions—and all were discussed during a provocative half-day program at Marquette Law School on June 2 that brought together leading national figures to shed light on these issues before a full-house audience in the Appellate Courtroom. Read more »

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Metcalfe Fellow Calls for Renewed Pursuit of Martin Luther King’s Goals

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Category: Civil Rights, Poverty & Law, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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A grim assessment of current realities in central cities and some optimism about how things can and ultimately will get better.

That is what Sheryll Cashin, a professor of law at Georgetown University and Marquette University’s 2016 Ralph Metcalfe Fellow, offered in a talk last Thursday in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. The session was part of Marquette’s observance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.

“The thing I liked about Dr. King is that he always appealed to our betters angels. I believe there are a lot of better angels out there,” Cashin said in response to a pessimistic question from an audience member.

“Change is inevitable,” she said. “Nothing is permanent.”  She urged people not to limit their imagination of a better future for the nation and for those whose lives now are shaped by “a nasty othering” at the hands of those with power and wealth.

Cashin, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, focused on a set of lectures that Dr. King delivered in 1967 on Canadian public radio. She compared what King said then to circumstances now, saying little has improved in central cities, and some things have gotten worse. Read more »

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Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Evidence, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about. Read more »

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Confronting Racism

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Category: Civil Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law
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Plessy_markerIn Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote “[o]ur constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” [1] Today, most people might say they too are color-blind. However, race relations have been prevalent in the news as of late because the state of racism in America has mutated. Racism is rarely as bold as the cross burnings of yore, but no less insidious. [2]

Because racism is different, our understanding of our inherent biases must also become different. I believe the modern definition of racism has shifted. I define racism as taking a negative action towards someone, whether explicitly or implicitly, on account of their race. This means that people can take racist actions without being aware that they are doing so.[3] We can no longer oversimplify racism, and instead need to confront it within ourselves and as a community.

As a country, we need to do a better job confronting racism. A plethora of high profile incidents, involving police brutality and campus outrage, have given us another opportunity to confront our inherent biases. Unfortunately, too many “color-blind” people have not heeded the second part of Justice Harlan’s dissent and have instead tolerated or even justified the systemic mistreatment of classes of citizens. [4] Read more »

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Atticus Finch Revisited

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Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_courtHarper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has an undeniably odd publication history. Ms. Lee wrote the novel in the 1950s, well before she wrote and published her beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. When she finally agreed to publish Go Set a Watchman in 2015, it registered on critics and readers as a sequel of sorts for To Kill a Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman involves the moving rebuilding of a parent-child relationship after the child has lost respect for the parent, and this account deserves contemplation and reflection. However, the novel as a whole is only mediocre. Furthermore, many readers will be shocked and disappointed by the novel’s suggestion that Atticus Finch is not the heroic man they thought he was.

In particular, Finch is hardly a staunch defender of civil rights for the people he calls “Negroes.” He tells his daughter Jean Louise, who was known as Scout as a young girl, “Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” He also reveals he is taking the case of an African American defendant so that the case does not fall into the hands of NAACP lawyers. In Finch’s opinion, the latter are too eagerly seeking cases they can rush into the federal courts.

If Finch is not the champion of civil rights people took him to be in To Kill a Mockingbird, his attitude about the law has supposedly remained consistent. Uncle Jack Finch tells Jean Louise: “The law is what Atticus lives by. He’ll do his best to prevent somebody beating up somebody else, and then he’ll turn around and try to stop the Federal Government if it is breaking the law . . . . [B]ut remember this, he’ll always do it by the letter of the law. That’s the way he lives.” Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part One: Obergefell v. Hodges

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Marquette Law School, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Today marks the beginning of the United States Supreme Court’s 2015-2016 Term, and coincidentally it also marked my participation in an annual event at the Marquette University Law School entitled “Supreme Court Roundup.”  Along with Cato Institute Scholar and Supreme Court expert Ilya Shapiro, I was invited by the Law School Chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society to share my perspective on three cases from the Supreme Court’s docket last year.  The cases we discussed included Obergefell v. Hodges (the “Gay Marriage case”), King v. Burwell (the “Obamacare case”) and Yates v. United States (the “fish case”).  Thanks to the law students for the invitation and a special thank you to Mr. Shapiro for his participation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on the Obergefell case.

I call this case “Thurgood Marshall’s Revenge.”

In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court held that state laws denying marriage licenses to same sex couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell is notable for what it does not talk about. The majority opinion does not rely upon the theory that marriage is a fundamental right and that therefore state laws infringing upon the right to marriage must be subjected to strict scrutiny. Nor does the majority opinion rely upon the theory that homosexuals are a suspect class, thereby subjecting state laws that treat homosexuals different than heterosexuals to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

The methods by which the Court has traditionally determined whether to apply heightened standards of review to legislative acts – strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, heightened rational review – are what are known as “heuristic devices.” These are artificial aids to problem solving. The Constitution does not use the phrases “strict scrutiny” or “suspect class,” but by creating artificial rules that group cases under these headings, the Supreme Court has developed a methodology for defining the outer boundaries of state policing over individual freedom.

Instead of using the Obergefell case as an opportunity to develop and clarify how the concepts of strict scrutiny and suspect class inform the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution, the majority opinion simply ignores these heuristic devices altogether. In doing so, the majority seems to be belatedly embracing the view of Justice Thurgood Marshall in a 1973 dissenting opinion. Read more »

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Narrative and Social Control

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copslogoIn recent decades, awareness of narrative and of stories in general has increased in many fields and academic disciplines, law included.  However, it is nevertheless surprising to see that even law enforcement specialists in the Justice Department have developed an appreciation of the workings and importance of narrative.

This heightened sensitivity surfaced in the recent Justice Department report on police conduct in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown.  Issued by the Department’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” office, the report outlines no fewer than 113 lessons that police in Missouri and elsewhere might learn from developments during the seventeen days following Brown’s death and funeral.

Much of the report is predictable.  It criticizes such police tactics as the use of dogs, tear gas, and so-called “overwatching.”  With the latter, police use rifle sights to survey a crowd from positions on top of police vehicles.  Overall, the report warns that “militarization” of a volatile situation will probably make things worse.

Toward the end of the report, its authors turn to what they label “lost narrative.”  In their opinion, Missouri law enforcement was too slow to provide information about the shooting of Brown and thereby created an opening for alternative representations of the incident.  Supporters of Brown and his family seized the opportunity and offered an alternative narrative, one conveyed largely but not completely through the social media and one stressing that “Black Lives Matter.” Read more »

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