• June 7, 2012
    So Rich, So Poor
    Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in the United States
    Peter Edelman

    By Peter Edelman a law professor at Georgetown University, co-director of the University’s Joint Degree in Law and Public Policy, and Faculty Director for the school’s Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Edelman is also the chair of the American Constitution Society’s Board of Directors, and will be signing copies of his book at the ACS National Convention next week.

    It’s never hard to find a policy hook to discuss poverty in the United States, but one we have just now is the recent budget for FY 2013 proposed by Paul Ryan and the House Republicans which proposes to slash virtually every program that helps low-income people in our country.  My new book is called So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in the United States. Paul Ryan and colleagues are definitely a policy hook for talking about my book.

    I could just say that people like Paul Ryan and the House Republicans are the reason why it’s so hard to end poverty in our nation. That’s not wrong, but the story is much more complicated than that. We have a long list of successful programs without which we’d have 40 million additional people in poverty over and above the 46 million we have now. Don’t let anybody tell you that nothing works. Paul Ryan’s line is that if we have 46 million people in poverty now, it’s because the programs are a failure – because social security, food stamps, the earned income tax credit, housing vouchers, and Medicare and Medicaid are failures. And some people – all too many -- take him seriously.    

    No, we have 46 million people in poverty and tens of millions more struggling every day to make ends meet for other reasons. There are two problems here, actually: the millions who work as hard as they can and can’t get out of poverty or near-poverty, and the smaller (but not small) group who are virtually destitute, with incomes below half the poverty line, or below $9,000 for a family of three. The first group – whose basic problem is the huge number of low-wage jobs now extant in our economy – now constitutes a third of the population, 103 million people who have incomes below twice the poverty line (below $36,000 for a family of three). The second – those in deep poverty – now number 20.5 million, up by almost 8 million since 2000. Both numbers are staggering, each in its own way.

  • May 31, 2012
    The U.S. Supreme Court
    A Very Short Introduction
    Linda Greenhouse

    By Linda Greenhouse, the Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence, a Senior Research Scholar in Law and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School. Greenhouse, a member of the American Constitution Society's Board of Directors, will be signing copies of her new book at the 2012 ACS National Convention.

    Has there been a time recently when public understanding of the Supreme Court was so important – and so lacking?

    In a Pew poll two summers ago, only 28 percent of the respondents could identify John Roberts as chief justice (a position he had then held for nearly five years) from among a list of four names. The other options, all of which some people selected, were Thurgood Marshall, who had died 17 years earlier; John Paul Stevens, who was in the news for retiring; and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. Just imagine what people don’t know about how the court sets its agenda or construes statutes, or about the powers of the chief justice or the debate over constitutional interpretation.

    With a court of conservative activists substituting their policy judgments for those of Congress; using the First Amendment as a deregulatory tool; and proposing to unsettle long-settled understandings of affirmative action and voting rights, it’s essential that we become a nation of knowledgeable, or at least better-informed, court-watchers. That’s the big ambition of my new little book – and I use the word “little” as an accurate physical description (7 by 4.5 inches in dimension, 117 pages of text), not as false modesty.

  • May 24, 2012
    Willie Mays Aikens
    Safe at Home
    Gregory Jordan

    By Gregory Jordan, an author and journalist

    I remember standing with Willie Mays Aikens outside his halfway house in a hardscrabbled  corner of Kansas City as night fell in June 2009. I was there to write a book about his life; he was merely trying to make sorts of his life. He would be late for sign-in in two minutes, but showed no urge to rush. He never rushed - his innate cool and Southern style made rushing inconceivable. But that night he seemed unnerved. Not nervous – never that, either. But unnerved at how he would provide for the woman who would soon be his wife, for a daughter at an expensive college, and for her younger sister who had her eyes set on other expensive colleges.

    He was an ex-con, a month out of the slammer after learning the hard way what mandatory minimum sentencing is, and he had been offered a job on a road crew fixing potholes. He had two bad hips, two bad knees, an empty bank account, and a used car that broke down every other day. But he also had something he hadn’t had in over 14 years: freedom. And one more thing: spiritual cleanliness. He was not only drug free, not only did he have that cursed addiction tucked in under his hat where it belonged, but he also had what he called “a spiritual life.” He correlated it with God and churchgoing; I equated it with his boundless hope and joy. 

    As I walked him up the steps of the big brick building that night, I looked at my watch. He walked through the swinging doors, signed in, and the second hand on my wristwatch hit twelve as he put down the pen. 9 p.m. on the nose, and Mr. Cool Faith Hope Joy was heading to his bunk bed.

    I walked to my rental car, and thought: if I were a betting man, I’d bet on him. He wants it. He can taste it. Even though they set him up and locked him up and came close to throwing away the key, he had somehow corrected himself. Not cured himself, but set a right and steady course, destination pending.

  • May 17, 2012
    Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law
    Justin D. Levinson and Robert J. Smith (editors)

    By Justin D. Levinson, a law professor and Director of the Culture and Jury Project at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Robert J. Smith, a visiting assistant professor of law at DePaul University

    A young girl walks to school, eager for the opportunity to engage and learn, despite the so-called “achievement gap.” Later that morning, her mother reports to the courthouse, jury summons in hand, excited to participate in a civic responsibility. On the same day, her grandfather goes to the local Emergency Room, afraid that his chest pains might mean that has suffered a heart attack. Nearby, a non-profit serving underprivileged youth prepares to make its “pitch” to a local corporation, seeking a charitable donation that will allow it to survive and fulfill its mission. Each of these storylines, which by themselves illustrate separate challenges within the health, educational, and economic systems, share a troubling commonality: each depicts an area of social life that is characterized by racially disparate outcomes.

    Indeed, despite cultural progress in reducing overt acts of racism, stark racial disparities continue to define American life. Our new book, Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law, is for anyone who wonders, 58 years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, why race still matters and is interested in what emerging social science can contribute to the discussion. The book explores how scientific evidence on the human mind might help to explain why racial equality is so elusive. This new evidence reveals how human mental machinery can be skewed by lurking stereotypes, often bending to accommodate hidden biases reinforced by years of social learning. Through the lens of these powerful and pervasive implicit racial attitudes and stereotypes, Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law examines both the continued subordination of historically disadvantaged groups and the legal system's complicity in the subordination.

  • May 10, 2012
    Building the Judiciary
    Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development
    Justin Crowe

    By Justin Crowe, an assistant professor of political science at Williams College

    Gee, for a one-time constitutional law professor, Barack Obama sure does seem to harbor a lot of hostility for judges. (And, judging [a legal pun — ha!] by Samuel Alito and Jerry Smith, they for him.) Doesn’t he? First there was the broadside at his 2011 State of the Union criticizing the Court's decision in Citizens United, prompting Alito's now-infamous “not true” moment. Next there was his claim that the Court wouldn't dare strike down the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, prompting Smith’s surely soon-to-be-infamous order to a DOJ lawyer for a memo outlining the Justice Department’s views on judicial review. For all his claims about “due deference to the separation of powers” and supposed belief in the importance of an independent judiciary to protect the rights of citizens and the rule of law, it appears Obama only likes the Court — only likes the judiciary more broadly — when it agrees with him. And surely that sort of “anti-judgeite” perspective is a terrible one for American constitutionalism and American democracy. Right?

    Well, yes — sort of ... and no, not at all. In a sense, Obama only really values judicial power to the extent that its exercise comports with his policy preferences. But, at base, who doesn’t? Presidents always want — have always wanted — courts to bend to their will. And politicians generally always try — have always tried — to shape courts to serve their interests. So what? Does this really “politicize” the judiciary in some needless, inappropriate, and harmful way? Does it really demonstrate that judicial power — that judicial independence, that law itself — is somehow perpetually under political siege? Not even remotely.

    As I attempt to show in my recent book, Building the Judiciary: Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development, any claims that judicial power — that judicial autonomy or judicial independence — has ever been, in any meaningful sense, beyond the sphere of politics are fundamentally incorrect.