• August 25, 2011
    Cheating Welfare
    Public Assistance and the Criminalization of Poverty
    Kaaryn Gustafson

    By Kaaryn Gustafson, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law

    Every September, the Census Bureau releases updated statistics on the poverty rate in the United States. For a day or two I will read media reports about poverty, and then poverty disappears from the news until the next September. The poverty rate varies a bit from year to year but remains consistently — and shamefully — high. 

    According to a 2009 study drawing upon data from the Luxembourg Income Study, a project that gathers comparative economic information from various nations, the only upper-income countries with child poverty rates equal to or higher than United States (22 percent) were Russia (also 22 percent) and Mexico (27 percent). Some level of economic inequality within a population may be inevitable, but poverty — and the stress, hunger, homelessness, and daily chaos that go with it — are not. How much attention a county gives poverty, how a country tolerates poverty, and how a country allocates the resources targeted for the poor are political decisions. The United States has become poverty-tolerant and, increasingly, tax dollars are going to police the poor rather than to address poverty.

    There have been moments in American history when poverty has been an issue of public and political concern but those moments are distant memories. Since the War on Poverty in the 1960s, the public and politicians have become complacent about ameliorating poverty. Political concern about the poor has, indeed, remained but it has taken a new form. Over the last few decades, federal and state governments have instituted a host of policies and practices that equate receipt of certain public benefits with criminality, that police the everyday lives of the poor, and that weave the criminal justice system into the fabric of the welfare system. 

  • August 11, 2011
    Let the Students Speak!
    A History of the Fight For Free Expression in American Schools
    David L. Hudson Jr.

    By David L. Hudson Jr., a scholar at The First Amendment Center who teaches at Vanderbilt Law School, Middle Tennessee State University and Nashville School of Law.

    A student wears facial jewelry and sports several tattoos on various parts of her body. Another student protests his school’s restrictive dress code by wearing logos bashing the dress code and the school principal. Another student, upset over a bad grade, creates a fake online social media profile page of his teacher and writes all sorts of nasty things about him. Another pupil writes an editorial about the sexual practices of high school students that is pulled from the paper by the principal. 

    These hypotheticals are more real than imagined, as battles over freedom of expression occur daily in public schools across the country. In the post-Columbine environment replete with heightened sensitivity to cyberbullying, more and more student expression is subject to censorship by school officials.  

    In my new book Let the Students Speak!: A History of the Fight for Free Expression in America’s Schools, I not only examine many of these hot-button, free-speech issues in public schools, but also take readers on a historical tour of this fascinating area of law and policy.  

    Many of the older disputes bear striking resemblance to modern free-speech controversies. 

  • July 28, 2011
    The Rights of the People
    How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties
    David K. Shipler

    By David K. Shipler, a former New York Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes online at The Shipler Report.

    The Supreme Court has an opportunity next term to play catch-up in applying the Fourth Amendment to the advanced technology of surveillance. The Court has granted the Obama administration’s cert. petition seeking to overturn a well-reasoned opinion by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requiring law enforcement to obtain warrants when secretly installing GPS tracking devices on vehicles.

    This could be a mundane case or a landmark, depending on which way the justices go. The Fourth Amendment has been seriously eroded in recent decades, as documented in my book The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties. The Court’s majority could continue the pattern by ruling with the government, carving out yet another exception to the warrant requirement. Or, the Court could decide to set broad new standards to redefine the “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a digital age.

    The expectation of privacy is a key legal concept. The courts have ruled that where no such expectation exists, no “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs, and therefore no probable cause or judicial oversight is required.

  • July 21, 2011
    Negotiating Justice
    Progressive Lawyering, Low-Income Clients, and the Quest for Social Change
    Corey Shdaimah

    By Corey Shdaimah, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, and academic coordinator of the University of Maryland’s MSW/JD dual degree program.

    In the flurry of budget discussions and funding cuts, money to the Legal Services Corporation is again on the chopping block, estimated to result in turning away 235,000 people across the country. This comes when estimates already show that for each eligible client served, another is turned away from LSC-funded programs and at least 80% of civil legal needs go unmet. Legal services for low-income clients are no luxury; they are often necessary to ensure basic survival. Funding cuts such as these always come at a time when such services are most needed. If we can shore up corporations and financial institutions, why can’t we shore up people, communities, and their faith in our legal system? In the U.S., access to justice without lawyers is largely a hollow promise.

  • July 14, 2011
    Too Young to Run?
    Too Young to Run? A Proposal for An Age Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
    John Seery

    By John Seery, the George Irving Thompson Memorial Professor of Government and Professor of Politics at Pomona College. Visit his website here.

    My just published book, Too Young to Run?  A Proposal for An Age Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, examines the historical, philosophical, and political reasons for the Constitution’s minimum age requirements for elected federal office — 25 for the House, 30 for the Senate, and 35 for the presidency — and concludes that these original barriers to candidacy ought now to be lowered to coincide with the age of majority. 

    A quick run-down of some of the argument is available here. That post doesn’t emphasize sufficiently, however, the distinction between office eligibility and office holding (the book is more focused on the former than the latter), and perhaps for that reason some commentators seem hell-bent on reminding me that electing jejune 18 year old legislators would wreck havoc upon our entire Madisonian system. Perhaps if I had gone with my original title for the book, “Jesus for President,” they would have made a more age-differentiated rebuttal. In debating the relative utility of these age thresholds, and speculating about the consequences of the AGE (All Grown-ups Eligible) Amendment that I propose, some of my virtual respondents seem to overlook that the issue is really about the principled foundations of our democratic-representative republic: What constitutes equal adulthood citizenship under the law? How can it be that our 18-34 year olds still do not enjoy full civic standing?