A Heartbreaker Named Detroit

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As a native Milwaukeean, Detroit breaks my heart. There are just a few cities that you can go to that you remind you of home. Chicago and Cleveland are the big two. Cincinnati is reminiscent, but a bit too southern. Detroit — or what used to be left of Detroit — was another. (Minneapolis is an entirely different kind of place.)

So pieces like Matt LaBash’s recent cover piece for the Weekly Standard disturb me. Websites like this one are fascinating and frightening chronicles of how bad urban decay can get. I have always thought that a conservatism that has no concern for places like the inner-city of Detroit is not a conservatism that I want to be part of.

But one cannot, I think, make a great city by litigation or subsidy. Here in Milwaukee, the ACLU has filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Transportation alleging that actions of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in approving the certain aspects of the reconstruction of I-94, including the partial closure of a city interchange and the construction of a new suburban interchange, violate the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI and its implementing regulations. It also complains of a decision to widen the freeway (which runs through the city) from six to eight lanes instead of using the money for commuter rail. Continue reading “A Heartbreaker Named Detroit”

Musings on Residential Segregation

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I was interested to see a  discussion on residential racial segregation in Milwaukee on the Political Environment Blog run by former journalist and Mayor Norquist aide Jim Rowen.

I was once absorbed in this debate. As a young associate at Foley & Lardner, I was part of the defense team representing twenty-four suburban school districts who were sued by the Milwaukee Public Schools. MPS sought a metropolitan-wide integration plan. We tried the case for a few months and then it settled on terms largely favorable to the suburbs.

I was in charge of the “housing” case, i.e., our response to the plaintiffs’ claim that residential racial segregation (causing school segregation) was caused by discriminatory government practices over a period of fifty years or so. Very heady stuff for a young lawyer still north of thirty.

I have kept up with the issue casually since then but I think that there were three important things that we learned then that are still relevant today. Continue reading “Musings on Residential Segregation”

New Sick Pay Ordinance May Lead to Rejuvenation of Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission

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Books The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has the scoop:

Milwaukee’s dormant Equal Rights Commission could be back in business early next year – just in time to enforce the city’s controversial new sick pay ordinance.

On Tuesday, the Common Council will consider legislation to reconstitute the body with a focus not only on the sick pay measure, but also on the city’s own equal rights performance and on forms of discrimination that aren’t covered by state or federal laws. If that measure is approved, Mayor Tom Barrett will nominate a slate of seven panel members for confirmation in January, mayoral aide Leslie Silletti told the council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee last week.

The Equal Rights Commission was founded in 1991 to investigate complaints of discrimination in housing and employment.

But the commission disbanded in 2003, amid complaints that former Mayor John O. Norquist’s administration never gave the seven-member panel the resources it needed to do its job. Since then, a single staffer in the city Department of Employee Relations has been carrying out the body’s mission, investigating some complaints himself and referring others to state and federal agencies . . . .

Continue reading “New Sick Pay Ordinance May Lead to Rejuvenation of Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission”

Responding to the Foreclosure Crisis in Milwaukee

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Everyone by now knows of the terrible consequences we face stemming from the foreclosure debacle. As part of the $700 billion bailout plan passed by Congress this fall, certain monies were allocated for cities and states to address some of the problems with the foreclosure crisis: increased crime in neighborhoods with a concentration of foreclosed (and oftentimes abandoned/vacant) properties; a depressed housing market with rapidly declining housing values; and a declining property tax base as a result of the declining home values and reduction in home ownership.

In order to make recommendations to the City of Milwaukee regarding these problems and on how to spend the $9.2 million allocated to the City in the bailout plan, Mayor Barrett established the Milwaukee Foreclosure Public Initiative (MFPI), a public-private partnership. Our own Assistant Dean for Public Service Dan Idzikowski was one of the leaders of the MFPI, serving as a workgroup chair (which oversaw three committees related to the MFPI’s work). In fact, the Mayor specifically recognized and thanked Dan in his press release on the final work product of the MFPI. Continue reading “Responding to the Foreclosure Crisis in Milwaukee”

Hope for the Milwaukee Transportation Money?

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Earlier this semester, our Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy, Mike Gousha, held an “On the Issues” session with Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett regarding how to spend the $91.5 million in federal funds earmarked for transportation needs in the region. A brief history on the money: More than seventeen years ago, the federal government set aside $91.5 million to be used for transportation projects in the Milwaukee region. Since that time, the City and County of Milwaukee have been unable to reach an agreement as to how to use those dollars. As a result, the $91.5 has sat unused — earning no interest to boot.

As part of my Legislation class, I required my students to attend some of the “On the Issues” programs this semester (as an aside, Gousha and his programs are an inimitable complement to the teaching and scholarship engaged in at the Law School — more on that perhaps some other time). One of my students emailed me recently pointing out that under President-elect Obama’s public works economic stimulus plan, states that do not expediently invest their federal highway and transportation money will lose it (the classic “use it or lose it” approach). Another sidebar here: It warms a professor’s heart to receive such emails and see his/her pedagogical theories validated, at least to some degree.

My student went on to point out that the partisan bickering between Walker and Barrett — indeed, the seemingly intransigent positions that have been staked out (see webcast and post) — may lead to the region losing a significant sum of money that could be used not only for transportation needs, but also for infusing some much-needed money into the local economy.

Last month, student guest blogger Andrew Golden posted about the issue of partisanship and whether it is a “poli-ticking time bomb.” Let’s hope that our local political leaders can end nearly two decades of political, if not partisan, bickering and find a productive and sensible way to use these federal dollars before they disappear.

No Money? Draw Your Own!

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Last Friday, I gave a talk at a CLE seminar to the St. Thomas More Lawyers Society. In introducing the program’s speakers, Dean Kearney explained why each was qualified to speak on the particular topic to be addressed. With respect to me, he said that, by virtue of being a legal academic, I was (or, perhaps more accurately thought I was) qualified to speak on the law, the weather, the Brewers schedule or absolutely anything else. (Substitute “blogger” for “legal academic” and the proposition still works.) Having heard his introduction, I suggested that Joe had the causality reversed. Having spent years opining on matters without regard to whether I actually know anything about them, I may now be unqualified to be anything other than a legal academic.

I jest, but with a purpose.

Although I have a fair amount of course work in the subject, I am not an economist, so I am ready to be corrected on this. But the notion that the East Side and Riverwest neighborhoods in Milwaukee ought to print their own money strikes me as completely pedestrian.

Continue reading “No Money? Draw Your Own!”

Thoughts About Violence Against Trafficked Women on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Posted on Categories Human Rights, Immigration Law, International Law & Diplomacy, Milwaukee2 Comments on Thoughts About Violence Against Trafficked Women on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 25th is designated by the United Nations as “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”  The date was selected to “commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters,” who were assassinated on November 25, 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship, as explained in the General Assembly resolution designating the day:

Previously, 25 November was observed in Latin America and a growing number of other countries around the world as “International Day Against Violence Against Women”. With no standard title, it was also referred to as “No Violence Against Women Day” and the “Day to End Violence Against Women”. It was first declared by the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia (18 to 21 July 1981). At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. The date was chosen to commemorate the lives of the Mirabal sisters. It originally marked the day that the three Mirabal sisters from the Dominican Republic were violently assassinated in 1960 during the Trujillo dictatorship (Rafael Trujillo 1930-1961). The day was used to pay tribute to the Mirabal sisters, as well as global recognition of gender violence.

The resolution “[i]nvites, as appropriate, Governments, the relevant agencies, bodies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system, and other international organizations and non-governmental organizations, to organize on that day activities designed to raise public awareness of the problem of violence against women.”   Continue reading “Thoughts About Violence Against Trafficked Women on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women”

Laboratories of Democracy at the Local Level

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federalism, Labor & Employment Law, Legal Scholarship, MilwaukeeLeave a comment» on Laboratories of Democracy at the Local Level

Matt Parlow has a thought-provoking new article in print: Progressive Policy-Making on the Local Level: Rethinking Traditional Notions of Federalism, 17 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 371 (2008).  (A draft can be downloaded here.)  Matt contends that the oft-quoted argument of Justice Brandeis (pictured to the left) that states may appropriately serve as laboraties for “novel social and economic experiments” applies equally well — indeed, perhaps even better — to cities and other local units of government.  Citing recent immigration initiatives and living wage ordinances (including one in Madison, Wisconsin), Matt notes a long history of local-level policy innovation in this country.  He argues,

Because they are smaller in size, local governments are more capable of being responsive to the needs of their respective communities because they are more in touch with their constituents.  This leads, in theory, to more responsive and representative policy-making as local government officials make decisions informed by the community’s wants and needs.

In light of these considerations, Matt argues against the tendency of some courts to squelch local initiatives through narrow constructions of home rule powers and liberal invocations of the implied preemption doctrine.

All of this connects nicely to the recent, lively discussion on this Blog of Milwaukee’s ballot initiative mandating paid sick leave for employees.  I take it that Matt would be skeptical of arguments that the Milwaukee law is preempted by state and federal law — at the least, his analysis would suggest some good reasons why a court ought to be slow to find preemption. 

Continue reading “Laboratories of Democracy at the Local Level”

Wisconsin University Students Fighting for the Rights of Workers

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This student activism makes me smile. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article which illustrates that college students in Wisconsin are still concerned about the plight of low-income workers. Erica Perez writes today:

Two student groups at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee plan to demonstrate tomorrow morning in the Student Union to push the school to endorse a program designed to protect the rights of the workers who sew university logo apparel. The Milwaukee Students for a Democratic Society and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistant Association plan to protest at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the student union, according to a statement issued today.

The Designated Suppliers Program requires university licensees to verify they source their apparel from factories that pay a living wage and allow workers to unionize, among other requirements. Some 44 colleges and universities across the country have penned policy statements in support of the program, including UW-Madison and Marquette University. UWM released a statement Aug. 25 saying it supports the principles of the Designated Supplier Program but “feels the program may pose legal, logistical, and economic issues as it is currently structured, concerns shared by other institutions and organizations.” The statement stops short of endorsing the program.

Continue reading “Wisconsin University Students Fighting for the Rights of Workers”

Milwaukee’s Safe Streets Initiative

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An interesting new website describes the activities of Milwaukee’s Safe Streets Initiative, an innovative antiviolence program involving Marquette Law School, local and federal law enforcement authorities, and community organizations and volunteers.  The SSI represents an effort to bring principles of restorative justice to bear in mobilizing high-crime communities against gang- and drug-related violence.  The core of the program seems to be the “call-in,” a session in which community leaders meet with known drug dealers and offer a choice: either stop dealing (in which case mentoring and community support will be made available to help the offender transition to a law-abiding life) or face swift, tough law enforcement action.  (A photograph from the first call-in in 2007 is above.) The SSI also sponsors similar meetings for offenders returning to the community from prison. 

The community involvement piece seems to me an especially welcome development.  As I discuss in a forthcoming article in the Standford Law & Policy Review, when police and prosecutors come down hard on drug offenders in poor, minority neighborhoods, it is important that their actions are seen as having legitimacy in those neighborhoods, rather than being perceived as arbitrary or racially discriminatory.  Opportunities for neighborhood residents to voice their opinions and collaborate with law enforcement in responding to crime can help build the perceived legitimacy that is necessary for long-term gains in crime reduction.

Is Milwaukee Mow-Town?

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As long-time baseball fans know, stadium groundskeepers have been using increasingly intricate mowing patterns to create fancy visual effects in the outfield grass. What they may not know is that the trend began here in Milwaukee at the old County Stadium in 1993. The whole story is detailed in this New York Times article. I wonder if the landscaping of new Marquette Law School building will prove similarly trend-setting?

Responding to Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

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The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, a manual for policymakers that describes numerous best practices for addressing disparities.  This publication should be of particular interest in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, which have some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the nation.  As The Sentencing Project described in a May publication, blacks in Milwaukee are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, the second-highest such disparity among the forty-three major American cities analyzed.  Similarly, a state-level analysis by Human Rights Watch determined that blacks in Wisconsin are forty-two times more likely than whites to receive a prison term for a drug conviction, the highest such disparity among the thirty-four states studied.

Of course, to say that there are racial disparities is not to say the disparities are necessarily unwarranted.  For instance, if it turned out that blacks committed serious drug crimes more frequently than whites, then at least some of statistical disparities might be warranted.  Still, the magnitude of the racial disparities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is so high, particularly in comparison to national norms, that there is good reason to believe we do indeed have a serious problem.