BookTalk

  • July 14, 2014
    BookTalk
    The Wrong Carlos
    Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
    By: 
    James S. Liebman

    by James S. Liebman, Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, and Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren Gallo White and Daniel Zharkovsky

    Do states with the death penalty execute innocent people? That is the fundamental question at the heart of The Wrong Carlos, a book I recently published with student coauthors.

    It is also the question facing the American public following a series of devastating developments for death penalty supporters. March brought news of the 144th death row exoneration. In April, we learned that Oklahoma had botched Clayton Lockett’s execution, leaving him awake during a massive drug-induced heart attack. The Supreme Court found in May that Florida remains hell bent on executing defendants too mentally disabled to be condemned. And in June—for the first time—a majority of Americans indicated in a poll that they prefer life without parole to capital punishment.

    Death penalty supporters are left clinging to a single promise often made but never substantiated—a promise repeated by Justice Scalia in a 2006 opinion: Whatever else we do, we don’t execute the innocent.

    I began thinking about this question between 2000 and 2003, when colleagues and I issued our Broken System studies documenting judicial findings of accuracy-impugning error in two-thirds of all U.S. capital cases reviewed between 1973 and 1995.

    Our studies sparked a heated debate over two competing interpretations. Did the courts’ discovery of so many errors prove the system worked? Or do high error rates mean it is almost certain that courts miss other errors, allowing the innocent to be executed?

  • June 25, 2014
    BookTalk
    Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships
    By: 
    Clare Huntington

    by Clare Huntington, Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law

    Inequality is the issue of the decade. Both income and wealth are concentrated at the top, and social mobility in the United States, although varied in its particulars, is lower than in most developed countries.

    One way to increase social mobility is to increase human capital, but, as I show in Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships (Oxford University Press 2014), this can happen only if we strengthen families. Education is a key component of human capital, but what happens at home in the first few years of life—long before a child starts Head Start or pre-kindergarten—can set a child on a trajectory that is difficult to alter in later years.

    Family law is part of the problem. Too often, instead of helping strengthen families, our legal system undercuts family relationships, making it harder for parents to provide children with the relationships necessary for healthy child development.

    We can think of family law in concentric circles. At the center are rules about creating and ending relationships, including laws about marriage, divorce, adoption, and parentage. In the next ring are laws governing family behavior, such as child abuse and domestic violence laws. In an outer ring are legal structures and policies that we tend not to think of as family law but which deeply affect families nonetheless. These include tax policy, criminal justice, zoning, food stamp regulations, and laws governing workplace discrimination, among others.

  • June 18, 2014
    BookTalk
    Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution
    By: 
    Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz

    by Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard Law School

    As the end of its 2013 Term fast approaches, the Roberts Court is unleashing major rulings seemingly every day. Addressing topics as varied as recess appointments, cell phone privacy, abortion clinic protest buffers, public sector unions, and securities class actions, these opinions (even those not yet announced) have already triggered heated debate. The clash of values this Term is fierce and unmistakable: religious liberty versus reproductive rights, digital privacy versus security, corruption versus free speech rights

    With critics lining up to praise or castigate the justices, a clear view of the Roberts Court is more important than ever. Only with a broad and even-handed understanding of the Court and its members can we fairly evaluate its decisions. And only by understanding where each justice is coming from, in an open-minded way that can be critical without trapping justices in scorn or stereotype, can we plan for the future.

    That’s why I wrote, with Joshua Matz, a book called Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution. Reflecting my decades of experience arguing before the Court and studying the Constitution—and Joshua’s learning as a former Harvard Law Review editor and SCOTUSbloggerUncertain Justice offers an overview of nearly every major opinion since John G. Roberts, Jr. was confirmed as Chief Justice in 2005. It also provides rich pictures of each justice and a panoramic view of the most important modern trends in American constitutional law. 

  • June 5, 2014
    BookTalk
    Family Law Reimagined (Harvard University Press 2014)
    By: 
    Jill Elaine Hasday

    by Jill Elaine Hasday, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Centennial Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

    One of the law’s most important and far-reaching roles is to govern family life and family members. Family law decides who counts as kin, how family relationships are created and dissolved, and what legal rights and responsibilities come with marriage, parenthood, sibling ties, and other family bonds. Family law touches some of the most important aspects of our lives, including our most intimate relationships, our children, and our wealth. It structures both the details of daily life and the overarching features of society. Yet while there are wonderful scholars and lawyers working in family law, the field continues to attract much less critical attention than it deserves.

    I wrote Family Law Reimagined (Harvard University Press 2014) to direct more scrutiny toward a field that is so significant and ubiquitous, yet remains relatively understudied. The book seeks to better understand family law by exploring how legal decisionmakers think about the subject.

    The book focuses on the dominant stories that courts and legislatures use to explain family law and its governing principles. To a remarkable extent, these stories misdescribe the reality of family law, misdirect attention away from the actual problems that family law confronts, and misshape the policies that legal authorities pursue. In a nutshell, my book argues that much of the “common sense” that judges and legislators expound about family law actually makes little sense.

  • May 12, 2014
    BookTalk
    Place, Not Race
    A New Vision of Opportunity in America
    By: 
    Sheryll Cashin

    by Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center. This essay is adapted from parts of Cashin’s book Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America. Professor Cashin will also participating in a panel discussion, “Race and the law in 2014: Still Separate and Unequal?” at the ACS 2014 National Convention.

    Despite the Supreme Court’s compromise decision in Fisher v. Texas, affirmative action is on life support. In Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the Supreme Court upheld the ability of Michigan voters to ban race-based affirmative action. Conservative opponents will continue to attack the policy in politics and the courts. There will always be another Abigail Fisher. One important response to the demise of race-based affirmative action should be to incorporate the experience of segregation into diversity strategies. I argue that use of place, rather than race, in diversity programming will better redress the separate and unequal schooling that most black and Latino children endure, while enhancing the possibility that we might one day move past the racial resentment that affirmative action engenders.

    While I propose substituting place for race in university admissions, I am not suggesting that American society has become post-racial. My proposal accounts for the racial architecture of opportunity in this country through the race-neutral means of place. Ultimately, I conclude that the social costs of racial preferences outweigh any marginal benefits when race-neutral alternatives are available that will create racial diversity by expanding opportunity to those most disadvantaged by structural barriers. The truly disadvantaged—black and brown children trapped in high-poverty environs—are not getting the quality of schooling they need, partially because backlash wedge politics undermines any possibility for common sense public policies. Affirmative action as currently practiced in admissions at most elite institutions does little to help this group and may make matters worse by contributing to political gridlock borne of racial cleavage.