Beyond the Cold, a Forecast for Legal Issues in 2014

Welcome to the New Year, fellow Marquette Law students and faculty! I am pleased and proud to be writing to you as the student blogger of the month for January. I’ll hopefully contribute something useful to you all over these 31 days and nights as we venture into the great unknown that is 2014.

It seems apt to talk about the years ahead and behind as we mark the beginning of the former and the closing of the latter. For 2014, the economy appears to be finally heating up, and 2014 looks to be more like a Ferrari than a Fiat, and that is something to celebrate. There are exciting issues heading to or being considered by the Supreme Court, including recess appointments, contraceptive mandates for religious non-profits, and gun rights. Even the Circuit Courts are getting a lot of attention as we see splits forming in the handling of bulk collection of phone call data by the NSA. Congress actually closed out 2013 in the spirit of cooperation by passing a budget sans major tantrums on the Senate floor. I’ll be graduating this calendar year, marking the end of my formal education, and my cell phone contract is up, so there’s that. I wish us all luck and success in the coming year as students look for summer placements and graduating 3L’s look for permanent positions. 

Since we are law students, I thought I’d talk about the new year in terms of the law — the legislative kind. The New Year brings a host of new law, some 40,000 of them, in fact. The most notable is the Affordable Care Act, about which there is nothing I can say that has not already been said. Many of these new laws are incredible and exciting, others restrictive, and a good number of them are controversial. Our neighbors to the south have passed legislation requiring warrants for law enforcement uses of drones, a measure I hope catches on nationally as drones become more commonplace and police more zealous. Additionally, groups like PETA will not be allowed to use drones to interfere with hunting, something I welcome as a hunter even though I have not had aerial visitors while hunting (besides not-a-small-number of mosquitoes trying to carry me away). As far as I know, the practice has only resulted in shot-up drones, however.

California will now permit students to play on male or female teams based on how they gender identify, rather than their biological sex, a rule that will be enormously beneficial for many in that state. In Colorado, as many of us know, marijuana is being sold with the approval of the state government and a blind eye from the feds, a change I believe will spread nationwide with surprising speed. I am happy to see this expansion of individual liberty, even if it is largely motivated by financial incentives. Oregon banned employers and schools from forcing applicants to provide the passwords to their social media accounts, something many of us were unaware was occurring, but are happy to see outlawed. Many parts of social media are entirely private; requiring employees to provide passwords is like requiring them to give personal mail to their employer before having a chance to open it.

Personally, I disapprove of some of these new laws, such as the federal ban on production of 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs and Illinois’s ban on tanning beds. Why is the government so obsessed with telling us what light bulbs we can’t use? Connecticut passed a host of restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, though the laws could create interesting cases to test the applicability of the Second Amendment. After United States v. Heller, courts around the country have either adopted the “common use” rule or bent it into irrelevance; hopefully this year will bring some clarity.

Here at home many of us are hoping a 70 MPH speed limit, currently held up in the state Senate, becomes a reality on many of Wisconsin’s roads. Considering I drive 200 miles per day to and from work and school, an extra 5 mph would  equate to 11.6 minutes per day for me, or 46 fewer hours per year in the car.

In the coming weeks, I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts and ideas with you. Those close to me will be unsurprised to find that they will likely include pieces on the Second and Fourth Amendments (my favorites). Several exciting issues are pressing at all levels and in all branches of government, from domestic law enforcement and commercial drone use to pot legalization, and I’ll likely have something to say about those, too. I hope you stick with me through the coldest month of the year, and I’ll try to make this worth reading. Until next week, try to stay warm.

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