June 23, 2016

How to Interpret Away the Home Rule Provision (in 4 Easy Steps)

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Milwaukee, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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homeruleToday the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Black v. City of Milwaukee, 2016 WI 47, holding that a state law (Wis. Stat. 66.0502) that prohibits cities and other municipalities from imposing residency requirements on municipal employees does not contravene the Home Rule provision of the Wisconsin Constitution (Art. XI, sec. 3(1)).  The result of the ruling is that the City of Milwaukee may no longer require city employees to reside within the City limits, with the resultant loss of significant tax revenue for Milwaukee.

Reading the text of the Home Rule provision, one might reasonably question how the Wisconsin Supreme Court arrived at this conclusion.  The relevant text of Art. XI states:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.

However, the Justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have very helpfully demonstrated how the clear language of the Wisconsin Constitution can be interpreted away in four easy steps. Read more »

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Waukesha Diversion Approved; Focus Shifts to Potential Legal Challenges

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Category: Environmental Law, Public, Water Law
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This week the City of Waukesha celebrates the success of an impressive technical effort 13 years in the making.  After inserting some final conditions, the Great Lakes Compact Council unanimously approved Waukesha’s application to divert water from Lake Michigan for its public supply.  The application has generated significant regional and national interest because of its status as a “test case” for the Great Lakes Compact.  The Compact generally bans diversions of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes basin, but offers limited exceptions for communities that straddle the basin Waukesha diversionline, or that lie within counties that straddle the basin line, provided a community’s application meets certain stringent technical conditions.  Waukesha is the first community wholly outside the Great Lakes basin to apply for a diversion (though not the first community to receive a diversion; New Berlin, which straddles the basin line, successfully achieved that distinction in 2009).  As I have written previously in this space, the Waukesha case has been a striking demonstration that the process set up under the Compact works, no matter what one’s position on the outcome.

Yet from a legal perspective, that process may not be complete.  The technical review and approval challenge remains subject to legal challenges.  One vehicle for such a challenge is the Compact itself.  It contains a “dispute resolution and enforcement” provision that offers redress to “any person aggrieved” by an action of the Compact Council or of a party to the Compact.  The provision offers a glimpse of a legal process that may be just as complex as the technical approval process just completed. Read more »

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June 22, 2016

Commonly Confused Words, Part VII

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Here is my final set of commonly confused words. My other posts on commonly confused words are here (that/which/who; more than/over; few(er)/less; amount/number; farther/further; since/because/as; among/between; who/whom; attain/obtain), here (a/an/the; counsel/council; e.g.,/i.e.; it’s/its; principal/principle; then/than; utilize/use; you’re/your; affect/effect; tortious/tortuous; tack/tact; capitol/capital; motioned/moved; flesh/flush), here (although/while; assure/insure/ensure; complement/compliment; rational/rationale), here (a couple, a few, some, several, and many), here (born/borne; good/well; lay/lie; pair/pare/pear; peak/peek/pique; precedent/precedence; whether/whether or not), and here (disinterested/uninterested; discreet/discrete; elicit/illicit; liable/guilty; lead (lead)/lead (led)/led; loose/loosen/lose; plead/pleaded/pled; precede/proceed; prescribe/proscribe; site/sight/cite).

Adverse/averse – Both of these words are adjectives; that is, they describe or modify nouns. “Adverse” refers to something—or someone—that prevents success or blocks our path. It could be, say, adverse market conditions for certain investments; it could be an adverse party in a lawsuit. “Averse” means hostile or opposed to or showing a strong dislike or distaste, and usually refers to feelings about something. E.g., Analiese is averse to cigarette smoke. Or, Simon is risk-averse. That is, Analiese strongly dislikes cigarette smoke and Simon really doesn’t like taking risks.

Allude/elude – “To allude” is to suggest something indirectly. Like, Ryan’s report on our last meeting alludes to what we discussed the first time we met. “To elude” is to evade or escape, usually in a skillful or clever way. (Thus, you can remember elude = evade/escape.) E.g., The prisoners eluded the sheriff for a week before they were finally captured.

Assume/presume – My father used to have a saying about the word “assume,” which he once explained to me by drawing with his favorite pen on a napkin in a restaurant. It involved placing slash marks at two points in the word to show what happens when one assumes. “To assume” is to suppose or to believe, but without any proof. I assume that Jess won’t mind if we leave now means that I believe Jess won’t mind if we leave now, but really I don’t know for sure. I could be wrong. And if I am, well, there’s where my father’s diagram comes in. Read more »

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June 15, 2016

Voter Unhappiness Comes Through in New Law School Poll Results

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Category: Marquette Law School Poll, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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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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June 8, 2016

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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June 7, 2016

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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June 6, 2016

Commonly Confused Words, Part VI

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previewBack with more sets of commonly confused words. While some may think the words on my lists are elementary, I assure you that I am choosing specific sets because I have seen law students and lawyers misuse them. In an effort to help eliminate that misuse, I present ten more sets of commonly confused words.

Disinterested/uninterested – The distinction between these two words is subtle, but it’s important. “Disinterested” means impartial, unbiased, having no stake in the outcome. E.g., To settle the dispute, we want a disinterested third party. “Uninterested” means not engaged, unconcerned, or bored. E.g., I am uninterested in the NBA playoffs. That means I pretty much don’t care about NBA playoffs or their outcome. They don’t interest me. I would not say, I am disinterested in the NBA playoffs. While with both sentences, I am saying I have no stake or interest in the outcome, “disinterested” implies an impartiality that I don’t mean. I am not impartial or unbiased (disinterested) about the playoffs; I affirmatively have no interest in them (uninterested).

Discreet/discrete – Though pronounced the same way, these two words mean two different things. “Discreet” means cautious or reserved, particularly in conduct or speech. A person who is discreet knows not to talk about a sensitive subject in public. “Discrete” means something that is separate and distinct. For example, in any given case, there may be two or more discrete legal issues; that is, two or more separate and distinct legal issues.

Elicit/illicit – These two words sound nearly the same when said, though the context of the conversation will often provide the cues a listener needs to know which word is which. In writing, though, you want to be sure to choose the correct word. “Elicit” means to draw out or draw forth, usually a response or a reaction. The defendant’s testimony about the crime elicited gasps from the jurors. “Illicit” means something illegal or unlawful, and therein is the best way to remember it. Illicit = illegal. Defendant was arrested for his illicit conduct.

Liable/guilty – And while we’re on the subject of illegalities, let’s distinguish between guilt and liability. While the words may be interchangeable to lay people, in law they tend to have some specific meanings. Someone convicted of a crime is guilty, but someone who violates some civil standard is liable. Read more »

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June 3, 2016

Justice Kennedy Criticizes “Notoriously Unclear” and “Ominous” Scope of the Clean Water Act

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Category: Environmental Law, Public, Water Law
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The Clean Water Act requires regulatory agencies to make difficult choices about exactly where “water ends and land begins.”[1]  Whether a particular property contains “waters of the United States,” the touchstone for federal jurisdiction under the Act,[2] is not easy to determine, especially when the question involves not traditionally navigable waters but wetlands.  public trustThe Environmental Protection Agency defines “wetlands” as areas such as swamps, marshes, and bogs that are periodically inundated with water.  Severe consequences flow from unpermitted actions that impact “waters of the United States.”  The Act imposes criminal liability and civil penalties to the tune of $37,500 per day of violation.[3]  Upon request, the Army Corps of Engineers will issue jurisdictional determinations (“JDs”) specifying whether a particular property contains jurisdictional waters.  In recent years, the Supreme Court has wrestled with various aspects of wetlands issues again and again and again and again.  The most recent such case, United States Army Corps of Engineers v. Hawkes Co., No. 15-290, raised the question of whether Corps JDs constitute “final agency action” that is immediately appealable in federal court under the Bennett v. Spear analysis rooted in the Administrative Procedure Act.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that JDs constitute final agency action and are immediately appealable.  The Court quickly rejected the Corps’ two arguments to the contrary: first, the rather unreasonable suggestion that affected citizens could simply proceed without a permit, risking an enforcement action during which one could argue that no permit was required; and second, that upon receiving a “positive” JD, affected citizens could apply for a permit and seek judicial review of the JD upon the conclusion of the lengthy permitting process (the property owners in Hawkes estimated that it would cost well over $100,000 to “earn” the appeal right under that scenario).

Despite its importance, the decision is not particularly surprising given the tenor of the oral argument as well as the Court’s recent decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, 566 U.S. — (2012) that an EPA compliance order is immediately appealable to federal court when it was based on the factual assumption that a parcel contained wetlands.  Perhaps for that reason, it’s not the majority opinion that has everyone talking; instead, Justice Kennedy stole the show with a three-paragraph concurrence.

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May 19, 2016

New Marquette Lawyer Sheds Light on Urban Neighborhoods—and Much More

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Marquette LawyerPair up the wisdom of a leading national expert on understanding urban neighborhoods with an effort to increase the vitality of a large section of Milwaukee’s west side and what do you have? You have the cover package of the Summer 2016 issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine.

Professor Robert J. Sampson, the Henry J. Ford II Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard University, delivered the Robert F. Boden Lecture at Marquette Law School in September 2015, drawing on his work in Chicago and Boston examining the fabric of urban neighborhoods. ”Neighborhood Inequality and Public Policy: What Can Milwaukee Learn from Chicago and Boston?” offers an essay version of Sampson’s lecture, along with reactions from several Milwaukee leaders.

A partner piece describes efforts by Marquette University and other major institutions to improve housing, business and commercial life, safety, and community amenities in near west side areas of Milwaukee—generally between the Marquette campus and the Harley-Davidson offices and factory a couple miles to the northwest. “Writing a New West Side Story” describes the ambitious undertaking under the leadership of Marquette’s President Michael R. Lovell.  The piece concludes with a comment by Provost Daniel J. Myers.

The cover package also includes a reflection by Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy, on the Law School’s public policy initiative, which aims to increase dialogue about major issues and shed light on subjects such as what can help urban neighborhoods. The dean’s column at the beginning of the magazine also speaks to Milwaukee, urban America, and the Law School’s interest in these matters.  Read more »

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May 18, 2016

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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May 15, 2016

For Sale: George Zimmerman’s Property

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Forsale2-300x236Most law school classes in Property begin with the venerable bundle of sticks metaphor.  The “bundle” includes those rights and interests held by the owners of property.  The assorted “sticks” take on different shapes and sizes, and owners invoke one or more of them to a different extent as the times change.  In the opinion of many, the right to sell one’s property has supplanted the right to use one’s property as the most important “stick” of  in the present.

The recent efforts of George Zimmerman to market the gun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin is a particularly distasteful example of an attempt to sell one’s property.  While patrolling as part of a self-styled neighborhood watch in a gated community near Orlando, Florida, Zimmerman confronted and fought with the seventeen-year-old Martin.  In the midst of the struggle, Zimmerman fired his 9 mm Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol and killed Martin.

Zimmerman was tried for the murder in early 2012, and the media absolutely feasted on the courtroom proceedings.  Zimmerman and his attorneys successfully argued the shooting was in self-defense.  Zimmerman was acquitted in February, 2012, and he publicly delighted in his victory at trial.  What’s more, the United States Justice Department at that point returned the weapon to Zimmerman.

This past week, Zimmerman put the gun up for sale on several gun auction sites. Read more »

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May 9, 2016

Commonly Confused Words, Part V

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Category: Legal Practice, Legal Writing, Public
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I’ve previously posted on words that writers, particularly lawyers, commonly confuse. Those posts are here (that/which/who, more than/over, few(er), less, amount/number, farther/further, since/because/as, among/between, who/whom, attain/obtain), here (a/an/the, counsel/council, e.g.,/i.e., it’s/its, principal/principle, then/than, utilize/use, you’re/your, affect/effect, tortious/tortuous, tack/tact, capitol/capital, motioned/moved, flesh/flush), here (although/while, assure/insure/ensure, complement/compliment, rational/rationale), and here (a couple, a few, some, several, and many).

Today, I’ll cover seven more pairs of commonly confused words.

Born/borne – Both words are past participles of “to bear”; however, only one relates to birth. Use “born” when referring to literal or figurative birth, such as: She was born in California or Wisdom is born from years of experience. “Borne,” on the other hand, refers to the other meanings of “to bear”: such as, to carry, to produce, or to bring about. “Borne” would be proper in the following: Costs associated with this litigation will be borne by the defendant.

 Good/well – “Good” is an adjective, “well” is an adverb. That is, “good” describes and “well” modifies or qualifies. A good lawyer writes well. “Good” in that sentence describes the noun, “lawyer.” (What kind of lawyer? A good one.) “Well” qualifies the verb “writes.” (How does the lawyer write? Well.) The exception to this good/well distinction involves health. If you’re asked How are you?, the grammatically correct answer would be I am well (i.e., your health is good).

Do not use “good” to modify a verb. We might say That lawyer is good at writing, but we certainly wouldn’t say That lawyer writes good.

 Lay/lie – My wonderful colleagues Anne Enquist and Laurel Currie Oates from Seattle University have best explained the distinction between these two words in their book Just Writing: Grammar, Punctuation, and Style for the Legal Writer (4th ed. 2013). I am drawing from their explanation nearly verbatim but for style changes to fit the form here. Read more »

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