Narrative and Social Control

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.”

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The Initial Appeal of Chief Justice John Roberts’ Dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges

b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Rainbows abounded on the morning of Friday, June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court held 5-4 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and a right to have their legal marriages recognized in every state.

The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was not unexpected. The divide in the Court, too, was not unexpected: Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for himself, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

(An interesting side note: Justice Kennedy, a 1988 Reagan nominee, has authored all four of the major SCOTUS cases on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights: Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and now Obergefall v. Hodges. As well, three of those cases were handed down on June 26Lawrence on 6/26/03; Windsor on 6/26/13; Obergefell on 6/26/15).

When I first read the Obergefell decision, I found myself skeptical. Make no mistake: I fully agree with and welcome the holding. However, I was concerned about the Court’s reasoning. My first thought, upon reading the opinion, was to wonder why the Court did not base its holding more on the Equal Protection Clause, like Judge Richard Posner did in his opinion in Baskin v. Bogan, 766 F.3d 648 (7th Cir. 2014). That seemed to me to be the easiest argument. There is simply no compelling justification for the State to distinguish between opposite-sex and same-sex couples when it comes to marriage.

So, when I got to Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent, it initially made some sense to me, and I could envision its appeal to many others.

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New Marquette Lawyer magazine takes long-term view of major issues 

The long-term view: That’s a theme that underlies much of the content in the just-released Spring 2015 issue of Marquette Lawyer magazine. The way events and trends that date back decades shed light on major issues today is at the heart of several of the feature articles in the magazine.
That is especially true of the cover story, “Screws v. United States and the Birth of Federal Civil Rights Enforcement,” an essay version of Marquette Law School’s 2014 E. Harold Hallows Lecture by Judge Paul J. Watford of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Watford recounts the history behind a 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision which opened the way for more widely known landmark decisions on civil rights. Accompanying the article is a commentary piece by John J. Pauly, Gretchen and Cyril Colnik Chair in the Marquette University Diederich College of Communication, and Janice S. Welburn, dean of university libraries at Marquette University.

A November 2014 conference at the Law School on the state of kindergarten through twelfth-grade Catholic schools, both nationwide and in Milwaukee, is the basis of “Much to Preserve—and Much to Change: The Challenges Facing Catholic K-12 Education,” by Alan J. Borsuk, senior fellow in law and public policy at the Law School. The article reports on the decline in enrollment in Catholic schools, going back to the 1960s, and current efforts to reverse that trend.

Columbia Law School’s Robert E. Scott, a leading expert on contract law, proposes a path for navigating different theories of contract law in “Contract Design and the Goldilocks Problem,” a print version of his 2014 Robert F. Boden Lecture at Eckstein Hall. Scott analyzes the interpretive approaches, going back decades, of contract law titans Samuel Williston (focused on text)and Arthur Corbin (emphasizing context) and suggests a middle path. The magazine includes reactions to Scott’s approach from George Triantis of Stanford Law School; Victor A. Lazzaretti, L’93, of Emerson Electric Co. in St. Louis; Nadelle E. Grossman of Marquette Law School; and Stewart Macaulay and William C. Whitford of the University of Wisconsin Law School.

The magazine includes excerpts from nine articles by Law School faculty members in the current issue of the Marquette Sports Law Review. Each excerpt focuses on an aspect of the interaction between law and the world of sports. The nine professors are Michael K. McChrystal, Nadelle E. Grossman, Matthew J. Mitten, Kali N. Murray, Chad M. Oldfather, Judith McMullen, Edward A. Fallone, Jay E. Grenig, and Lisa A. Mazzie.

Dean Joseph D. Kearney takes a long-term view of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, including the Law School’s involvement with the society’s work, in remarks that he made at a Legal Aid Society event.

The magazine begins with the dean’s column and law school news and concludes with the Class Notes section, including extended profiles of several accomplished Marquette lawyers: Jessica Poliner, L’06; Tim Reardon, L’88; R. L. McNeely, L’94; and Daniel Chudnow, L’84.

The full magazine may be found by clicking here.

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