In the decade after the American Civil War, Congress ratified three Amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) and passed five civil rights statutes (the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1870, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875) in an attempt to integrate African Americans into society and provide them with the full rights and privileges of citizenship. From rights to vote, hold property, and contract, to rights of access to the courts, public infrastructure, and the marketplace, these enactments represented a dream of reconstruction that strove toward a more universal application of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. In striking down and interpreting these laws, the decisions of the Supreme Court played a crucial role in curtailing the promise of this older civil rights movement. The Court’s undermining of the laws led to the legal segregation, discrimination, terrorizing, denial of due process, lynching, murdering, exploitation, and injustice that characterizes the African American experience in the century that followed.
The highlight reel that we all study in Constitutional Law class includes:
Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court rarely hears family law cases, this year it heard Michels v. Lyons, which involved Wisconsin Statutes Section 767.43(3), also known as the Grandparent Visitation Statute.
There, a child’s maternal grandmother filed a petition for visitation after the parents, who never married and were no longer together, chose to reduce the amount of time the child spent with the grandmother. The circuit court granted visitation rights to the grandmother, and the court of appeals certified the matter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to clarify the standard of proof that is required for a grandparent to overcome a fit parent’s decision regarding visitation.
It’s no secret that Wisconsin has long been known for having some of the most lenient drunk driving laws in the country. Throughout the spring semester I saw firsthand just how limited the consequences can be—compared to other states like my native Illinois—as first-time offenders were simply cited for ordinance violations in Milwaukee Municipal Court and not charged criminally. However, there have been efforts in recent years to crack down on drunk driving in a state famous for its beer. State legislators have passed a number of measures to deal help law enforcement, and this past week one such measure found itself before the United States Supreme Court.
In its decision in Mitchell v. Wisconsin, the Court upheld Wisconsin’s implied consent statute and ruled that states are not restricted from taking warrantless blood samples from unconscious drunk-driving suspects by the Fourth Amendment.
In 2013, Mr. Mitchell was arrested in Sheboygan Wisconsin after police, who were responding to reports of an intoxicated driver, found him drunk and disheveled at a local beach. Mitchell stated that he wound up there after he felt too drunk to drive. The officer decided not to preform sobriety tests at the scene because Mitchell’s condition would have made it unsafe to do so. Instead, a preliminary breath test was administered with a resulting BAC of 0.24. While being transported to the police station Mitchell’s condition deteriorated and he was eventually taken to the hospital. Upon arrival, Mitchell was completely unconscious. He was then read the standard Informing the Accused form and a blood sample was taken, all without him regaining consciousness. That sample indicated a BAC of 0.22. While consent to a blood draw is normally withdrawn when the Informing the Accused is read—a form that actually asks if the subject will submit to an evidentiary test—Mitchell was obviously unable to withdraw consent in his condition.
On June 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Curtis Flowers. The most recent appeal marks the sixth time that Mr. Flowers has been tried for charges arising from a quadruple homicide that occurred at the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona, Mississippi. Mr. Flowers has been incarcerated for over 20 years, as he awaits trial. Throughout this time, Mr. Flowers has consistently maintained his innocence. By way of background, Mr. Flowers is black. Douglas Evans, the prosecuting attorney of all six trials, is white.
APM’s investigative podcast titled In the Dark conducted an in-depth analysis of the case. The podcast explores the nature of the circumstantial evidence that the prosecution relied upon. It scrutinizes the methodology of the investigating officers and explores alternative innocent interpretations of the evidence proffered. But, for the purpose of the appeal, sufficiency of evidence is not at issue. The narrator, Madeleine Baran, explains that “we’ve talked to hundreds of people who live in this part of Mississippi and it’s clear that the way people think about the Curtis Flowers case for the most part depends on whether they are white or black.” And it is the issue of race, which is at the heart of the appeal recently decided by the United States Supreme Court. Continue reading “Out of the Shadows: Peremptory Juror Strikes At Issue in Flowers v. Mississippi”
On April 10 I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Law School Chapter of the Federalist Society. The presentation was entitled “Lawyers, Plaintiffs, and Professors, Oh My!: Janus v. AFSCME.” The other panelists were Adjunct Professor and Director of the Law Library Elana Olson, Alumnus Daniel Suhr from the Liberty Justice Center , and Mark Janus, the name plaintiff in the case of Janus v. AFSCME. What follows are my prepared remarks.
In June of 2018 the United States Supreme Court held, in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, that it is a violation of the First Amendment for State and public sector unions to assess mandatory agency fees to non-consenting employees. The majority of the Court held that forcing non-union workers to contribute money to support non-political activities which benefit all workers violates the Free Speech rights of non-consenting employees.
In so holding, the Court overruled a precedent of over 40 years, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a 1977 case that had upheld the practice against a First Amendment challenge.
Opposition to labor unions and collective bargaining rights is a policy choice held by many political conservatives today, but it was not always the position of the Republican Party. One of the early icons of the conservative political movement in the United States, Whittaker Chambers, was himself a union member at times in his career, he was supportive of the labor movement, and his wife and many of his relatives were union members.
This icon of political conservatism in the 1950s and 1960s supported collective bargaining rights so much, that when the parent of the conservative National Review Magazine gave an award named after Whittaker Chambers to our guest Mark Janus, in recognition of his participation in the Janus v. AFSCME litigation, the family of Whittaker Chambers objected to their father’s name being associated with the case. Continue reading “The Costs of Janus v. AFSCME”
On April 18 at 4 pm Pulitzer Prize winning author Garry Wills will speak at the Marquette University Law School. The topic of his talk is “Does Democracy Protect Human Rights? Constitution vs. Plebiscite.”
The event is sponsored by a grant from the UW Stout’s Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation.
Garry Wills is Professor Emeritus of history and a cultural historian at Northwestern University. His many books include studies of George Washington, Richard Nixon, the Kennedy family, Ronald Reagan, and religion in America. His 1992 book, “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America,” won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Wills won the 1979 Merle Curti Award from the Organization of American Historians and the 1978 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction for his 1978 book, “Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.” Wills has also been awarded the National Humanities Medal, and he was inducted as a laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln. His most recent book is “What The Qur’an Meant and Why It Matters.”
A Warren Court cornerstone has been “remastered and upgraded,” as they say, by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a case that has riled the waters nationally. In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the Warren Court held that prosecutors must disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. No hiding the ball. Over fifty years of case law, however, has occluded the rule with sundry conditions and qualifications that obscure its modest disclosure provision. More time is spent describing the ball than looking for it.
In State v. Wayerski (2019 WI 11), the Wisconsin Supreme Court scraped off Brady’s barnacles, overruled fifty years of precedent, and held that prosecutors must provide the defense with any information that is exculpatory or impeaching — even if the defense could have found it as easily as the prosecutor. Continue reading “Full(er) Disclosure: Wisconsin Invigorates the Brady Rule”
States and municipalities have increasingly relied on fines and forfeitures as a means to raise revenue, and the ability of law enforcement to impose fines and forfeitures for various criminal and civil offenses has largely gone unchecked by the federal government until recently. The United States Supreme Court’s February 20, 2019 decision in Timbs v. Indianasignificantly limits the once broad leeway states and municipalities have enjoyed in imposing fines and forfeitures. Under Timbs, law enforcement must now be additionally cautious not to impose fines and forfeitures that are far out of proportion to the gravity of the offense committed. Continue reading “Timbs v. Indiana: SCOTUS Hits the Brakes on Major Source of Revenue for States & Municipalities”
On October 18, 2018, I participated in a presentation entitled “Free Speech and Originalist Jurisprudence” at the University of Wisconsin-Stout along with Professor Alan Bigel (UW-Lacrosse). The event was part of Free Speech Week sponsored by the Center for Study of Institutions and Innovation. What follows is a copy of my prepared remarks.
“In December 1783, George Washington gave a toast at a dinner celebrating the formal dissolution of the Revolutionary Army. He did not use his toast to offer a tribute to individual liberty. Nor did he sing the praises of limited government. Instead, his toast was a simple expression of what he hoped the future would bring to our new nation. He raised his glass and he said: “Competent powers to Congress for general purposes.”
I wrote that in a 2012 blog post, and I received an immediate and angry response from a lawyer who denied that George Washington ever said such a thing, and who rejected the idea that George Washington ever supported a powerful national government. This well documented historical fact did not fit within the reader’s understanding of the original intent of our U.S. Constitution — and therefore the reader simply could not believe that the quotation could be accurate.
The response of this reader reflects the fact that, for many persons, originalism is primarily a culturally expressive theory – a theory that expresses a culture that reflects conservative political views, moral traditionalism, and a tendency towards libertarianism. (Jamal Greene, Nathaniel Persily & Stephen Ansolabehere, “Profiling Originalism,” 111 COLUMBIA L. REV. 356, 400-402 (2011)).
However, originalism as a theory was not invented in order to provide a vehicle for cultural expression. Instead, the goal of originalism is to provide an interpretive method for objectively defining the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.
There is an abundant historical record supporting the conclusion that the United States Constitution was promoted by a core group of political leaders in order to strengthen the national government, and that the Constitution was understood by the people during the ratification debate to do just that.
In rejecting this historical record, the lawyer who responded to my blog post revealed that he was more devoted to his favored myth of original meaning than he was to objectively weighing the available evidence of actual meaning. Continue reading “On Originalism and the First Amendment”
“It requires little knowledge of human nature to anticipate that those who had long been regarded as an inferior and subject race would, when suddenly raised to the rank of citizenship, be looked upon with jealousy and positive dislike, and that state laws might be enacted or enforced to perpetuate the distinctions that had before existed.” – Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 306 (1879)
As ominously foreshadowed by the Supreme Court in 1879, current state and federal laws and practices continuously present disadvantages to people of color. Removed from enslavement and the oppressive nature of the Jim Crow Era, today many of the participants in our justice system and in politics are blind to discrepancies within this nation’s criminal justice system and erroneously believe that the black defendant enjoys the same rights as the white defendant. The black defendant is seldom given a jury that racially represents him or her, and this lack of representation is a product of case precedent, judicial reasoning, and discriminatory practices. In Wisconsin, these discriminatory practices take the form of both state and federal jury pooling procedures. As such, the purpose of this blog post is to draw attention to the disproportionate jury pooling practices in Wisconsin circuit courts as well as federal district courts in our state, and to provide a forum for debate on this important issue.
Federal Jury Pooling in Wisconsin and the Depleted African American Voting Population
The right to a jury is so critical to the makeup of our system of justice that the Constitution mentions juries in four different sections. However, while individuals have a constitutional right to a jury, the pooling and selection of such juries is not always constitutionally executed. Both the Eastern and Western District Courts of Wisconsin have jury pooling practices that raise constitutional concerns due to the disproportional impact that those practices have on black criminal defendants. Continue reading “Racial Discrimination in Wisconsin Jury Pool Practices”
On the 135th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s opinion in The Civil Rights Cases, it is worth reflecting on how that opinion — which came after Reconstruction but before Jim Crow—reflects the tensions at play today concerning how constitutional law can, through unrelenting formalism and a preference towards denying the power of the history of slavery and the salience of race, contributes to enduring white supremacy.
This week marks the 135th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883). While to some this is a mere historical footnote, the decision is worth remembering because it reflects the tensions at play today concerning how constitutional law can, through unrelenting formalism and a preference towards denying the salience of race, contributes to enduring structural oppression. The reasoning in The Civil Rights Cases is an object study in how to maintain white supremacy—and a mirror to our society today.
The opinion overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875. It sought to protect recently freed African-American slaves from discrimination in the use of “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” In striking down this nineteenth-century public accommodations law, thus allowing private businesses to deny services to African Americans because of their race, Justice Joseph P. Bradley, speaking for the 8-1 Supreme Court majority, made three arguments. Continue reading “The Mirror of Racial Tyranny in The Civil Rights Cases”
The ongoing refusal of President Donald Trump to both reveal the specifics of his personal finances and to decline any income from sources outside of his official salary as President has brought renewed attention to the Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution. There are two such clauses, which state as follows:
The Foreign Emoluments Clause prohibits any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State,” absent “the Consent of the Congress.” U.S. Const. art. I, §9, cl. 8. The Domestic Emoluments Clause entitles the President to receive a salary while in office and forbids him from “receiv[ing] within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” U.S. Const. art. II, §1, cl. 7.
The meaning of these two provisions has become the subject of public debate and also litigation. In one leading case, the State of Maryland and the District of Colombia have sued Donald Trump for violating these constitutional provisions. They are suing for declaratory and injunctive relief which would compel President Trump to comply with the terms of the Constitution. Continue reading “Emoluments, Textualism and Original Intent”