In the midst of our recent, deadly skirmishes with Iran, President Trump at one point threatened to bomb 52 sites that were “important to Iran and the Iranian culture.” Commentators quickly pointed out that doing so would violate the UNESCO World Heritage Convention as well as the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. (For just a sampling of those responses, see here, here, here, here, and here.) For my own part, I was struck by the President’s understanding of “culture” and his willingness to destroy it. Continue reading “Trump’s Willingness to Destroy Culture”
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:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a liberal stalwart. An icon of a generation. She has fought for everything in her life, and, in recent times, she has been fighting for her life. RBG has had an incredible career and has often been a voice for people who didn’t have one. Her liberal ideology has been a light shining through times of darkness. Through all of her incredible work, I believe that two questions still need to be asked. Was RBG selfish by not resigning toward the beginning of President Obama’s second term in office? Would that have been the right decision to allow President Obama to appoint someone who may last longer on the court? It may not be worth arguing over since it is long in the past, but there is a discussion to be had, nonetheless.
It is always tough to foresee when someone’s health will falter. With RBG, that sadly seems to be the norm rather than the exception at this point. Half of the country is left hanging every time her name comes up on a major news network or trends on Twitter. Thankfully, she has come out on top of everything she has battled thus far, but it is not outlandish to say that one of these times the country may not be so lucky. Continue reading “Did Justice Ginsburg Stay Too Long?”
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.
But why was Mitchell required to withdraw consent in the first place? Continue reading “Unconscious Mistake: Wisconsin Implied Consent Statute Upheld for Wrong Reasons”
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”
Joan Biskupic says her fourth book about a member of the United States Supreme Court involved “my most difficult subject” – Chief Justice John Roberts. But, perhaps in good part for that reason, it is also attracting much attention.
Roberts is “a very reserved individual,” Biskupic said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program in the Lubar Center at Marquette Law School on Tuesday. “There’s a lot that you see, but much more that’s held back.” She had the benefit of eight interviews, covering more than twenty hours, with Roberts, but she said she wonders still about what is not known about him.
However, Biskupic’s newly-published biography, The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts, does offer a lot, some of it not reported previously, about Roberts, who has been chief justice since 2005.
And in addition to a richly detailed description of Roberts’ life, the book breaks new ground in describing how Roberts came to be the decisive vote in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, in 2012. Biskupic describes how he initially took positions opposing the constitutionality of the law during the court’s work on the case, then switched his views.
“I think he definitely did not want the whole law to go down,” she said. “I’m fine with saying I don’t know why, for sure.”
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. Indiana significantly 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”
Last spring in Washington, D.C. at the Federalist Society’s National Student Symposium, Justice Thomas told a room full of law students to “get rid of [their] pessimism.” Justice Thomas, your words have been ringing in my ears. Admittedly, many aspects of America’s contemporary legal and political landscape engender a lingering pessimism in me. I’d like to step back a moment from this divisive arena we encounter every day and briefly discuss a few points of optimism. Continue reading “Advice from Justice Clarence Thomas”
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.
Originalism is an interpretive theory that understands a legal text to retain the meaning it had at the moment when it was enacted or ratified, until such time as the law is amended or repealed. (Chris Cooke, “Textualism is Not Strict Constructionism is Not Originalism,“leastdangerousblog.com, July 8, 2018). It holds that the discoverable public meaning of the U.S. Constitution at the time of its initial adoption should be regarded as authoritative for purposes of later constitutional interpretation. (Keith Whittington, “Originalism: A Critical Introduction,” 82 FORDHAM L. REV. 375, 377 (2013)).
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”