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”
The bald eagle symbolizes the strength of the United States, not least when the country uses its military power. The eagle on the cover of the Marquette Lawyer magazine, Fall 2018 issue, shows the determination, even the fierceness, of the eagle during times of war.
But the process involved in deciding where and how that eagle flies is more complex than many people may realize. In the cover story in the new Marquette Law School magazine, David J. Barron, judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and formerly a Harvard Law School professor, insightfully examines three chapters in American history when a president and leaders of Congress had differing positions on use of power. Barron focuses on three of the nation’s most revered presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The article is an edited and expanded version of the E. Harold Hallows Lecture that Barron delivered at the Law School in April 2018. To read the article, click here.
Interspersed throughout the article are reactions by three individuals with different perspectives on the relationship between Congress and the commander-in-chief: Russ Feingold, former three-term U.S. senator from Wisconsin and currently distinguished visiting lecturer in international studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison; Julia R. Azari, associate professor of political science at Marquette University and a scholar of the American presidency; and Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Barron’s article, together with the reactions, is only one of the thoughtful and thought-provoking pieces in the new Marquette Lawyer. Elsewhere in the magazine: Continue reading “New Marquette Lawyer Magazine Examines War Powers, State Supreme Court Elections, Legal Scholarship Ethics, and More”
I am pleased to report that my latest book, Prisons and Punishment in America: Examining the Facts, is now in print. Structured as a series of questions and answers, the book synthesizes the law and social science on sentencing, corrections, and prisoner reentry. Individual chapters cover:
- Sentencing law and practice
- Alternatives to incarceration
- Experience and consequences of incarceration
- Release and life after prison
- Women, juveniles, and other special offender populations
- Causes and significance of mass incarceration in the U.S.
- Race, ethnicity, and punishment
- Public opinion, politics, and reform
The book is intended to be accessible to readers who do not have training in law or social science, but I also hope that there are some aspects of the book that will be of interest even to those who are already quite familiar with the workings of the criminal justice system.
Two experts on the United States Supreme Court expressed concerns Thursday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School that the level of partisanship in confirmation processes for justices is causing damage to the court itself.
David A. Strauss, the Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, said, “Things have become a lot more partisan in a way that I think is really damaging for the court as an institution.”
Strauss said, that, even though partisanship has long been a part of confirming court nominees, among senators overall, “there was a consensus that we really have to kind of make sure that we take care of the court.” That meant approving well-qualified candidates who would be respected and do their jobs well, with less attention paid to their partisanship. That has eroded, he said.
“I think it has taken a turn for the much more partisan,” Strauss said. ”What’s really troubling about it . . . Once that happens, it is very hard to dig yourself out of it.” Continue reading “Two Supreme Court Experts Warn About Impact of Partisan Nomination Fights”
This semester in Professor Lisa Mazzie’s Advanced Legal Writing: Writing for Law Practice seminar, students are required to write one blog post on a law- or law school-related topic of their choice. Writing blog posts as a lawyer is a great way to practice writing skills, and to do so in a way that allows the writer a little more freedom to showcase his or her own voice, and—eventually for these students—a great way to maintain visibility as a legal professional. Here is the first of those blog posts, this one written by 2L Michael Van Kleunen.
Since the high school shooting in Parkside, Florida, we have seen an arguably unprecedented response from citizens and politicians speaking out on the topic of gun control and the extent to which a policy should be implemented. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights groups have maintained a strong stance against policies that limit the proliferation of guns in the United States, basing their argument on the Second Amendment.
These groups have profoundly affected political rhetoric and the subsequent legislative landscape for decades. Recent polls have shown a majority of Americans would like to see Congress pass some kind of gun control legislation. But why has it taken so long for such policies to move forward? One key reason is the amount of campaign contributions issued to politicians who occupy vital positions that, inherent in their position, facilitate the creation and passing of legislation. Continue reading “Is it Time for More Than Just “Thoughts and Prayers”?”
On Monday the Supreme Court heard arguments in two interstate water allocation disputes, Florida v. Georgia and Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado. The Court has also accepted a third such case, Mississippi v. Tennessee, and assigned it to a special master. The cases will force the Court to examine the balance between economic development and environmental protection, the federal role in state water disputes, and whether groundwater and surface water allocation should be governed by the same decisional rules.
The trio of pending cases belies the Court’s expressed preference for such disputes to be resolved by interstate compacts entered into pursuant to the Compact Clause (Article I, Section 10, Clause 3). It has previously commented that it approaches interstate water disputes with caution given the “complicated and delicate questions” involved, and has advised “expert administration [via a compact] rather than judicial imposition of a hard and fast rule.” Nevertheless, in these cases at least, an old adage often attributed to Mark Twain trumped the Court’s advice: “whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.”
In cooperation with 60 Minutes, the Washington Post has published a fascinating new story about the behind-the-scenes efforts of actors in the pharmaceuticals business to soften regulatory enforcement at the just the time that the nation’s opioid problems were reaching epidemic proportions. The story would be an engaging read for anyone, but Marquette folks may note a particular point of interest: the Post prominently quotes a forthcoming article in the Marquette Law Review.
According to the Post story, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has long had authority to block suspiciously large shipments of prescription painkillers that pose an imminent danger to the community. In the late years of the Bush Administration and early years of the Obama Administration, the DEA became increasingly aggressive in using this authority to target businesses that were involved in questionable ways with the distribution of opioids. The Post reports that these businesses pushed back, initially finding some success through lobbying the Department of Justice. However, they seemingly had their greatest success when Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, changes to the DEA’s enforcement standards and procedures.
This legislation is the subject of the Marquette Law Review piece, authored by John Mulrooney and Katherine Legel. Mulrooney is an administrative law judge with the DEA. Legel, a graduate of Marquette Law School, was a judicial law clerk with the DEA. Of the 2016 law, they write, “If it had been the intent of Congress to completely eliminate the DEA’s ability to ever impose an immediate suspension on distributors or manufacturers, it would be difficult to conceive of a more effective vehicle for achieving that goal.” This and other aspects of the law review article are noted in the Post’s reporting. Student-editors who have been working on the article should feel gratified to see the piece playing such a prominent role in the ongoing efforts of journalists, policymakers, and academics to better understand the multitude of factors that may be contributing to the current opioid crisis.
In Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court barred the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for crimes committed by anyone under eighteen years of age. Grounded in the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the Court’s holding recognized only one exception: juvenile LWOP might be permissible in cases involving homicide.
Despite its seemingly straightforward character, the Graham holding has spawned considerable litigation in the lower courts over its scope and application. Two interesting appellate decisions from last month highlight some of the difficulties.
In the first, U.S. v. Mathurin, the Eleventh Circuit had to consider whether a 685-month prison term should be treated as the functional equivalent of an LWOP sentence for Eighth Amendment purposes. Continue reading “New Cases on the Constitutionality of Long Sentences for Juveniles: The Graham Saga Continues”