My Client Was Accused of Violating the Cuba Trade Embargo (But What Trump Did Was Worse)

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Category: Constitutional Law, Federal Law & Legal System, International Law & Diplomacy, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
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800px-havana_-_cuba_-_1366I received a phone call from Larry Dupuis of the Milwaukee Office of the American Civil Liberties Union in November of 2003.  He described a Wisconsin resident who had contacted the ACLU after receiving a PrePenalty Notice from the Department of Treasury.  In severe language, this form accused this individual of violating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations which were promulgated pursuant to two federal statutes: the Trading With the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act.  In essence, by sending him this notice, the Treasury Department wanted this individual to admit that he had traveled to Cuba and that while there he had spent money in violation of the Cuba Trade Embargo.  Technically, any financial transaction between a U.S. citizen and a Cuban national was a violation of U.S. law, no matter how small.  If he didn’t respond to the formal Requirement to Furnish Information (RFI), and thereby admit to violating the Cuba Trade Embargo, then he would be fined $10,000.

Larry asked me to consider taking on this individual as a pro bono client, and represent him in administrative proceedings before the Treasury Department.  The case raised some interesting constitutional issues.  There were possible issues relating to a Fifth Amendment right not to be punished for the failure to admit to having spent money in Cuba.  In addition, the Treasury Department regulations seemed to provide that the only way to dispute the RFI was to do so in person in front of an administrative law judge in Washington, D.C., an expensive proposition that raised due process concerns.  The ACLU was hoping to find a “test case” that would challenge the Treasury Regulations on constitutional grounds.  I agreed to take the case.

Soon after, I met with my client, a retiree on a fixed income.  He was a soft-spoken man, who had gone to Cuba in 1998 on a trip with a church group.  While there, he had spent a few days with his fellow church members bicycling around the island and meeting locals.  This was a goodwill trip, intended to foster greater understanding between the people of Cuba and the people of the United States.  Several years after his return, he received the RFI from Treasury Department alleging that while in Cuba he had spent money that went to Cuban nationals, in violation of the Cuba Trade Embargo, and demanding that he provide further information about the monies spent or else pay a fine. Read more »

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Poll Shows State’s Presidential Race Is Tight, So Where’s the Hot Campaigning?

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Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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A new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Tuesday, provided food for thought about one of the many curious aspects of this year’s presidential election.

The spotlighted finding of the poll was that the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton is tight in Wisconsin, a notch tighter now than three weeks ago and definitely tighter than six weeks ago. Among likely voters, Clinton leads Trump by two percentage points, 44 percent to 42 percent. Among all registered voters, Clinton’s lead is five points, 43 percent to 38 percent. In either case, the race is close and the portion of voters who say they will vote and who are undecided who to vote for is larger than the gap between the candidates.

So where’s the hot campaigning? Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and a handful of other states are seeing a lot of Clinton and Trump in person and far more energized campaigns overall. Neither of the candidates has been in Wisconsin recently and the ground campaigns and television buys have been quiet here, especially compared to some past presidential campaigns. With 10 electoral votes, Wisconsin is neither the biggest nor smallest prize in the race, but those votes could make a big difference to the outcome, as some experts see the national map of the race. Read more »

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Time is Running Out to Confirm Judge Garland

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Merrick_Garland_speaks_at_his_Supreme_Court_nomination_with_President_ObamaThe unprecedented, and unconstitutional, obstruction of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland is just one of many recent missteps by Republican leaders.  For example, mainstream Republican presidential candidates strategically withheld their attacks on Donald Trump during the primary season, in the hopes that he would be an easy target to topple once the field sorted out.  This was a major blunder.  More broadly, the decision of Republican leaders in Congress to make the repeal of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of their legislative agenda, at a time when Republicans lacked a veto-proof majority, was an empty gesture which merely fueled anger among their Party’s base and ultimately made Trump possible. Both of these decisions were political calculations that seemed clever at the time, but which turned out to have disastrous consequences for the Republican Party.   However, the unjustified refusal to hold hearings on a highly-regarded and moderate Supreme Court nominee has the potential to dwarf every other political miscalculation that Republican leaders have made over the last eight years.

First of all, it is important to recognize that Judge Merrick Garland is a laudable nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.  He is a former federal prosecutor, a highly respected Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and someone identified by Senator Orrin Hatch and other prominent Republicans (prior to his nomination) as the type of judge who would receive bi-partisan support in Congress.  Post-nomination arguments raised about Judge Garland’s supposed lack of respect for the Second Amendment are not justified by his actual opinions and, in reality, are merely a fig leaf contrived to rationalize opposition to the nomination by Republican lawmakers.

In addition, the refusal of the Senate to take up the nomination is a clear violation of the Constitution. Read more »

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When is it Plagiarism?

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Category: Higher Education, Legal Education, Legal Ethics, Legal Research, Legal Writing, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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trump obamaLast night’s Republican National Convention has thrust “plagiarism” to the forefront of the news. One of last night’s speakers was Melania Trump, the wife of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump. Trump’s speech sounded to many strikingly similar to one given eight years earlier—by First Lady Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

How similar?

Incredibly so. Not just identical words, but nearly identical context and sentence structure. At one point, Trump says, “Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them” (emphasis added). Eight years earlier, Obama had said, “Because we want our children — and all children in this nationto know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them” (emphasis added).

That is plagiarism.

(You can see a side-by-side text comparison here and here and side-by-side video comparison here.) Read more »

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New Poll Results: Even “Smidgens” of Change Provide Insight

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Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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The word for the day was “smidgeny” when a new round of Marquette Law School Poll results were released on Wednesday.

“I think smidgen is a word I’m going to wear out today because these differences are truly smidgeny,” Charles Franklin, director of the poll and professor of law and public policy at the Law School, said as he walked the audience at Eckstein Hall and online through the results of polling done from July 7 to 10.

A lot of the numbers on the presidential race, the US Senate race in Wisconsin, and other matters did not change much in recent weeks, even as major events focused on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump occurred.

Overall, Clinton continued to lead Trump in Wisconsin among both all registered voters and those who are likely to vote. Democrat Russ Feingold continued to lead Republican Ron Johnson in the Senate race. Margins were in single digits, but Franklin said there was enough movement in answers to some questions to indicate both races are tightening.

And even if the numbers didn’t change much, the light that the poll results shine on what is happening remains strong. Franklin pointed to several important themes people should keep in mind as the campaign season unfolds in Wisconsin and nationwide. Among them: Read more »

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Trump’s Rhetoric, Proposed Policies, and the Rule of Law

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Category: Constitutional Law, Federalism, First Amendment, Immigration Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Religion & Law
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For some, presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald J. Trump’s biggest appeal is his blustery persona and his take-no-prisoners attitude in his quest to “Make America Great Again.” For example, he started his campaign with a bold promise to build a wall on the United States border to keep out Mexican immigrants. More than that, Trump said, he would make Mexico pay for that wall. Mexican President Vincente Fox said Mexico would not and Trump just upped the ante. When Wolf Blitzer asked Trump how he would get the Mexican government to pay for a wall, Trump responded simply, “I will and the wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me.”

And, in the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump renewed his call to profile on the basis of race/ethnic origin and religion, in order prevent future terrorist attacks. (The Pulse nightclub shooter was American-born and raised; his parents were refugees from Afghanistan, but his father became a naturalized American citizen.) Though claiming he hates the “concept” of profiling, he says other countries profile, and “it’s not the worst thing to do.” Earlier in his campaign, after the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015, he talked about increasing surveillance of Muslims and mosques and has suggested registering Muslims or mandating that they carry cards that identify them as Muslims.

Trump also doesn’t suffer fools gladly—or more precisely, he doesn’t suffer his version of “fools” gladly. When the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel, the federal circuit judge presiding over two class action suits against Trump University, ordered documents in the suit be unsealed—documents that are likely to shed negative light on Trump University, Trump spoke loudly and often about Judge Curiel as a “hater” and biased against Trump because, in Trump’s view, Judge Curiel is Mexican and, presumably, would not like Trump’s wall. (Judge Curiel is an American, born in Indiana.) Trump went even further, seemingly threatening the judge: “They ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. . . . O.K.? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case?”

As well, just over a week ago, Trump revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials to cover his campaign because he did not like how it wrote about some of his comments after the mass shooting at Pulse, calling the publication “phony and dishonest.” Trump seems particularly thorny about The Washington Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon. Like Judge Curiel, Bezos has been on the receiving end of what seems very much like a Trump threat. According to The New York Times, Trump said in February about Bezos, “He owns Amazon. . . . He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

These examples and more have a common theme: Trump’s disdain for the rule of law, if not outright ignorance of it. Read more »

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Voter Unhappiness Comes Through in New Law School Poll Results

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“Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

Maybe the famous line that the comedy team of Laurel & Hardy used in several movies in the 1920s and ‘30s will emerge as a key theme for voter opinion of the 2016 presidential election.

A new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll, released on Wednesday, offers an eye-catching set of facts about voter unhappiness with both of the presumptive choices for major party nominations for president. In fact, the results suggested that slipping enthusiasm about voting, particularly among Republicans, may become a major factor in the outcome in November.

How unhappy are voters? Here are a few pieces of the bigger picture that emerged from interviews between June 9 and 12 with 800 registered voters across Wisconsin (666 who were labeled likely voters, based on saying they were certain to vote): Read more »

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Donald Trump and the Belief in Law

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
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Donald_Trump_-_CaricatureAmong Donald Trump’s many provocative statements, his recent claims that a specific federal judge with a “Mexican heritage” and Muslim judges in general would be biased against him have apparently struck a special chord.  Even Trump’s fellow Republicans have been highly critical.  Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example, completed disavowed Trump’s claims, noting “All of us come here from somewhere else.”

Most of the criticisms deplore Trump’s lack of respect for American diversity and also his racism.  House Speaker Paul Ryan said in this regard that Trump’s comments amounted to “textbook racism.”  However, I wonder if some part of the strong negative reaction also relates to Trump’s challenge to an American belief in law and in the courts’ ability to apply law in a fair and objective manner.

I have argued in several of my writings that a belief in law should be recognized as an important tenet of American ideology, with “ideology” being understood as a normative expression of dominant beliefs rather than as a manipulative falsehood.  Americans have traditionally believed in law, which is presumably understandable, made in public, and useful for one and all.  In addition, law is supposed to be applied without bias, and independent courts in particular are expected to adjudicate disputes fairly and to decide similar cases in similar ways.  “Ideologues” — that is, believers in and promoters of this ideology– routinely assure us that Americans live by the rule of law more so than any other nation. Read more »

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Opposing Views, One Conversation at Session on Milwaukee Education

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Category: Education & Law, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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Until Tuesday, Dale Kooyenga and Lauren Baker had never met. That alone is an argument for why their discussion before a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall was worthwhile.

Kooyenga is a member of the state Assembly, a leader among Republicans pushing for education policies that embrace school choice, and a key figure behind a controversial new law that gives Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele powers to control what happens in some low-success Milwaukee public schools.

Baker is the executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the union that is an influential force in Milwaukee politics and MPS decision making. The union opposes almost all the plans Kooyenga supports.

Never the twain shall agree? That’s likely, given the adamancy of their positions. But never the twain shall meet? That ended at the Law School event, which was titled “The Future of Education in Milwaukee: One Conversation, Two Viewpoints.” Read more »

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At a Time of High-Charged Events, New Law School Poll Sheds Even-Handed Light

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Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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There are ways in which the volatility of the current political scene seeped into the release Wednesday of the latest round of Marquette Law School Poll results. But there are more ways it didn’t.

An extraordinary time in American politics has brought an extraordinary week in Wisconsin politics, with the state’s presidential primary on April 5 standing as the next major event on the political calendar. All five of the remaining major candidates for president have spent at least two days in the state this week, with several developments of national significance occurring on our home turf.

The passions of thousands attending events with Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the political drama of the battle (including insults) between Trump and Ted Cruz, the search by Hillary Clinton for ways to build more fire behind her support in Wisconsin, a three-hour “town hall meeting” with Trump, Cruz, and John Kasich, telecast by CNN from Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater – this is just aa partial list of events in Wisconsin this week.

So stakes are high as Wisconsin returns to being a battleground in the presidential race. High stakes bring high tension and high levels of partisanship.

And then there was a release of the poll at Eckstein Hall, with Professor Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, and Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School, leading a tour of the new results. Calm. Level-headed. Insightful. Strictly non-partisan. Much the same as several dozen poll-release events since the Marquette Law School Poll started in 2012.   Read more »

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Finally, a Little Good News for Governor Walker

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Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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We’ll leave it to others to analyze the results of the latest Marquette Law School Poll and what they tell us about the April 5 presidential primary.  Instead, let’s focus for a few moments on the other favorite political pastime in Wisconsin: Debating the fortunes of Governor Scott Walker.

His job approval rating remains well under water. But is it possible that the governor could be smiling, even just a little, after today’s release of the Law School survey?

At first glance, it’s yet another poll where Walker fares poorly.  Fifty-three percent of registered Wisconsin voters disapprove of Walker’s job performance.   Only 43 percent approve.  But the numbers are finally showing signs of improvement for Walker.  He hit a low of 37 percent job approval last fall, shortly after his presidential campaign flamed out.  Since then, his job approval number has hovered around 38 or 39 percent in Law School polling.  But the new survey shows Walker back in the low 40’s.   Nothing to shout about, but progress in what most observers see as a long, hard slog back to more solid political ground. Read more »

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County Exec Debate Presents Big Differences in Level-Headed Ways

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Chris Abele and Chris Larson have big differences and their race for Milwaukee County executive is intensely contested.

But their one-hour debate at Eckstein Hall Thursday evening, broadcast live by WISN (Channel 12), was an even-tempered and unflashy presentation of their positions on many of the specific issues and their general approach to what the county executive should do in the next four years. In other words, it was a good way for voters in large numbers, given the television audience, to get a direct view of what the candidates say, as well as some impression of how the two handle themselves.

This is a time when people nationwide have been getting heavy doses of insults, sharp personal attacks, and posturing in debates between the candidates for president. That makes for more entertaining events, “better’ television,” and more lively material for reporters and commentators to write about. But it also leaves many people (count me in) wondering: Has political dialogue come to this?

So consider this praise of the candidates, of Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy who moderated the debate, and of WISN for making serious discussion between candidates the focus of a debate and for making it available to the general public. Read more »

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