ACSBlog

  • May 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law. Follow him on Twitter @atibaellis.

    The New York Times recently published a story entitled, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.” The graphic portrayed how the war on drugs, American policies of mass incarceration and other structural forces, have left these African American men and their communities oppressed in the United States because these men are incarcerated, disabled from full citizenry or deceased.

    A purely academic discussion of this data and its meaning was what this blog post was supposed to be about.  But over the past weekend, we saw the city of Baltimore, Md. react to the fact that Freddie Gray is now missing forever.  Gray’s fatal injuries, inflicted during his custody of the Baltimore Police Department, provide us a specific case of an African American man going missing. Mr. Gray’s death puts into relief how one person loses his life due to the policies and structures of inequality, and the Baltimore police officers involved have now been charged in Mr. Gray’s death.

    Yet it isn’t simply Gray’s death that teaches us something about structural racism. The uprising that occurred in reaction to Gray’s funeral, and the reaction to opinion leaders and the Internet opinion-sphere all teach us, teach us something about how our language regarding racism falls prey to a gap of misunderstanding and misperception. This is a multilayered problem reflective of the complicated tableau of race in America.

    On one level, Gray’s death is one more tragedy that we can add to the long list of tragedies that seem to target African American men. Gray is forever missing, along with Eric Gardner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and many more. And, as Professor Elwood Watson points out, black women like Dr. Ersula Ore or Kathryn Johnston similarly suffer violence, abuse and death due to this same system of oppression.

    Though the factual circumstances vary, it appears that all these people I’ve named are the casualties of either the war on drugs, or the effects of declaring poor minority neighborhoods “high crime neighborhoods,” police bias against people of color or all of the above.  This results in their individual and communal struggles against siege policing and its short and long-term effects. Because of these factors, these men and women lose their lives or their livelihoods in a manner not subject to due process. 

  • May 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Ann C. Hodges, Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law

    In a blog post following the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Harris v. Quinn, I predicted that the constitutionality of union fair share fees would soon be back at the Court. It took little prescience to make such a prediction and indeed, the plaintiffs in Friederichs v. California Teachers’ Association worked mightily to get the case on the Court’s docket as quickly as possible. The Court will decide whether to grant cert in the near future.

    Although this issue will no doubt return repeatedly to the Court, it should decline to hear the case. The 1977 decision of the Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education correctly concluded that fair share fees are constitutional, and the decision should not be disturbed. Abood allows the union to charge for its mandated representational duties, but not for political expenditures. In this context, the objectors’ first amendment interests are reduced and the interests of the government employer that has entered into an agreement with the union enhanced. Justice Alito suggested in Harris, however, that all union activity in the government sector implicates the highest first amendment interests. This is at odds with the Court’s cases on the first amendment interests of public employees following Abood.

    In recent years, the Court has held that the government has stronger interests in restraining speech when it acts as an employer. Accordingly, when employees speak pursuant to their job duties, their speech is unprotected. Additionally, when an employee’s speech is about an internal workplace grievance, it is similarly unprotected by the first amendment. It is precisely these grievances that the union is obliged to handle for all employees regardless of membership.  If speaking about the grievance is unprotected, why is compelling the unwilling employee to pay for this otherwise unprotected speech an interference with first amendment rights?  Further, Justice Alito’s Harris opinion suggests that when one employee asks for a raise, the speech is unprotected but when the union asks for a raise on behalf of all employees, it is high order political speech which the employee cannot be compelled to support.  As Justice Kagan pointed out in the Harris dissent, the fact that it takes more money to pay multiple employees does not transform the character of the speech when the substance, asking for a raise, is the same.

    There are many other reasons for the Court to deny cert. Abood has been settled law for almost 40 years, Justice Alito’s efforts notwithstanding. As Justice Kagan ably pointed out in Harris, principles of stare decisis, including the reliance interests of thousands of employers and unions and millions of employees, counsel restraint. Moreover, as I have argued in earlier posts, fair share agreements are an essential pillar of the system of labor relations that has served our country well for 80 years.  And finally, as pointed out in the opposition to cert, the record in this case has not been developed, as the plaintiffs rushed to accept Justice Alito’s invitation for an opportunity to overrule Abood.

  • May 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Rena Steinzor and Thomas McGarity, past presidents and founders of the Center for Progressive Reform. Steinzor is a professor at the University of Maryland Carey Law School, and McGarity is a professor at the University of Texas Law School. Steinzor is author of Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction. McGarity is author of Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival.

    With the announcement that GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra received the outsized compensation of $16.2 million in 2014, what should have been a year of humiliation and soul-searching for that feckless automaker instead ended on a disturbingly self-satisfied note.  Purely from a public relations perspective, Barra worked hard for her money.  Appearing repentant, sincere, and downcast, she persuaded star-struck members of Congress that the company was committed to overhauling a culture characterized by what she called the “GM shrug,” loosely translated as avoiding individual accountability at all costs.  Even as she blinked in the television lights, GM fought bitter battles behind the scenes to block consumer damage cases and exploit corporate tax loopholes.

    Largely on the basis of her political adeptness, Barra has been taking victory laps in the business press, hailed as the rare (female) CEO who has led her corporation out of a morass that could happen to anyone.  This performance and the accolades it inspired provide a troubling coda to what was a destructive year for American drivers.  Dubbed “the year of the recall,” automakers recalled an unprecedented 64 million vehicles ‒ about one in five cars on the road; GM led with 26 million of this total.

    To restore justice to GM’s beleaguered customers – and the scores of families who lost loved ones in crashes caused by the defective switch – we can only hope that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation of the company and its senior executives results in prosecutions that could offset the unjust favors the legal system is already prepared to bestow.

  • May 1, 2015

    by Paul Guequierre

    Earlier this week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the consolidated marriage equality cases. It is a critical case in the fight for equal rights for LGBT Americans and the nation now waits to hear if marriage equality will soon be the law of the land (my prediction is it will be).

    The Supreme Court finally decided to take a marriage equality case after declining several when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled a marriage ban constitutional. This was the circuit split we had all been waiting for. But before the Sixth Circuit ruling, every other marriage ban before a federal court had been knocked down. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was no exception, striking down three separate marriage bans last year and making marriage equality a reality throughout the circuit. Yet there is one governor who is pulling a Roy Moore.

    After a lesbian couple filed a lawsuit after being denied a marriage license, Guam Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson last month issued an opinion that the territory should follow the rulings of the Ninth Circuit (which it falls under) and should immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Seems like an open and closed issue, right? Enter Republican governor Eddie Calvo.

    Calvo ordered the Public Health Department, the territory agency responsible for issuing marriage licenses, to hold tight. Until his legal team has the chance to do its own legal research, no marriage licenses will be issued to same-sex couples. And he continues to punt. He has asked for the legislature to take up the issue, but he has not said he wouldn’t veto a marriage equality bill. He has asked for a public referendum, putting the rights of a minority up to the will of the majority, not to mention engaging in a costly endeavor only weeks or months before the Supreme Court rules on the issue once and for all.  

    So what are loving and committed same-sex couples on the island supposed to do? It would appear they have two options, simply wait or travel to a marriage equality state (by the way the distance a couple would have to travel to get married is 3,950 miles).

    Governor Calvo is defying the Ninth Circuit. He is stalling. When the marriage equality story is written – and it will be soon – Governor Calvo will be on the wrong side of history. Biba Guam and Hafa Adai, marriage equality. 

  • May 1, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Thursday, President Obama announced five new judicial nominations: Todd Sunhwae Kim to be an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and Julie Helene Becker, William Ward Nooter, Robert A. Salerno, and Steven M. Wellner to be Associate Judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  

    Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to admit his part in the delays on judicial nominees. As the Alliance for Justice explains, the senator has claimed that Republicans should take credit for nominees confirmed last congress, but has denied any responsibility for two months of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation wait that occurred in the same time period.

    More troubling still, the senator’s comments at the National Press Club on Monday indicate that he may wish to shut down judicial confirmations entirely. Senator Grassley stated, “Come July of 2015, probably they’ll be cut off and not approving any.”

    The blog of People for the American Way illustrates the problem with cutting off judicial confirmations in July. Not only could this move continue to swell the number of judicial vacancies, but it also comes at a time when the nominees that have presented are being considered at a glacial pace.

    There are currently 55 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 17 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.