A few days ago on the campus of the University of Mississippi, someone (reportedly two males) draped a Confederate flag on a statue honoring James Meredith and hung a noose around its neck. Meredith was the African-American student who courageously desegregated the University of Mississippi in 1962, weathering a storm of ugly protest, riots and threats of violence. This act was, by any measure, deeply disrespectful and hateful.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones responded by stating of those who did this: "Their ideas have no place here, and our response will be an even greater commitment to promoting the values that are engraved on the statue—Courage, Knowledge, Opportunity, and Perseverance."
This poses an interesting question. How should the University of Mississippi respond? What does it mean to say that these "ideas have no place here"? Assuming the individuals who did this were students, should the university expel or otherwise discipline them? Are there "ideas" that "have no place" on a university campus?
Litigation reform is bandied about in an inevitable way. The narrative supporting such reform says that corporations are coerced into settling frivolous claims because the cost of litigating in federal court is so high. Further, the story goes, corporations do not want to be in the United States because the litigation risks are too much. This narrative of excessive cost and abuse is used to justify various litigation reforms, ranging from tort reform to attorney sanctions. The most recent entrant into the reform fray comes from the Committee on Rules of Practice & Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States. This rulemaking body has proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These amendments would make it easier for parties to resist producing documents, provide greater protection to parties who fail to preserve key information, and limit the number of ways parties can request information from one another. By limiting access to information in this way, these proposed amendments to the discovery rules promise to lower litigation costs.
The problem with this narrative and the attendant reforms is that they are inaccurate. First, discovery costs are generally not too high in comparison to the stakes parties have in litigation. Second, the argument that the proposed restrictions on discovery are justified undervalues the benefit of civil litigation.
Controversy is swirling around a number of websites that have been set up by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in recent months. The websites have URLs and headlines that imply support for named Democratic candidates for Congress. The websites also have prominent “donate” buttons. But in less prominent text, the websites indicate opposition to the named candidates and any contributions made via the websites actually go to the NRCC.
The Los Angeles Times has counted 18 such websites so far, with URLs such as AnnKirkpatrick.com, SinemaForCongress.com and RonBarber2014.com. Ann Kirkpatrick, Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber are all Democratic Members of Congress running for reelection this year. The headlines at the top of these pages read “KIRKPATRICK FOR CONGRESS,” “Kyrsten Sinema for CONGRESS” and “Ron Barber CONGRESS,” respectively. Time has described these websites as “clearly designed to trick the viewer—at least at first—into thinking they’re on a legitimate campaign website.” But these websites aren’t merely part of the underhanded games that typically accompany political campaigns. They also violate federal law.
For decades, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the administrative agency charged with enforcing federal campaign finance laws, has been concerned with efforts by noncandidate political committees (such as party committees like the NRCC and its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) to trick people. Since the late 1970s, federal law, 2 U.S.C. § 432(e)(4), has prohibited any noncandidate political committee from “includ[ing] the name of any candidate in its name.” Initially, the FEC interpreted this statutory prohibition as applying only to the official name a committee registered with the FEC. For example, those who set up independent committees to support Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign were prohibited from using Reagan’s name in their official committee name. Instead, they registered committees with the FEC using names such as “Americans for Change” and “Americans for an Effective Presidency.”
Last week, nearly 60 years after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc’s (LDF) client, Autherine Lucy, sought to become the first Black student to integrate the University of Alabama, LDF and cooperating Louisiana attorney Ronald L. Wilson filed a federal lawsuit to empower Black voters in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana to elect their candidates of choice for the 32nd Judicial District Court for the first time in the Parish’s history.
The lawsuit, Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP et al. v. Jindal et al., filed on behalf of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP and several Black voters in Terrebonne, challenges the Parish’s at-large method of electing judges for this state court as a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
For nearly two centuries, Terrebonne Parish has used at-large voting to maintain a racially segregated 32nd Judicial District Court. That system for electing judges has guaranteed that Black voters, in spite of having tried in election after election, cannot elect their judges of choice for this court. As a result, a Black candidate has never been elected as a judge on the 32nd Judicial District Court. Meanwhile, a sitting judge on this parish court has been suspended for wearing blackface, an orange prison jumpsuit, handcuffs, and an afro wig to a Halloween party as part of his offensive parody of a Black prison inmate.
This lawsuit seeks to bring greater inclusion and democratic legitimacy to Terrebonne Parish’s political process through district-based voting. For too long, at-large voting, in combination with racial bloc voting, has functioned as a structural wall of exclusion to this parish court. Although Black voters comprise nearly 20 percent of the Parish’s voting-age population, and consistently vote together in parish-wide elections, the at-large electoral method dilutes their cohesive vote for their preferred candidates of choice.
Senator Rubio of Florida is now one of the strongest contenders in the GOP for president. He is qualified and likeable and thus far has a clean record on ethics. One or more of Rubio’s Senate colleagues also might have a shot at the nomination. There are other good candidates as well. And Republicans, if they can get their act together, have a very good chance of electing a president in 2016.
One of the most important things a new president will do is appoint judges, the job that our current president has been trying to do for the past five years. The president will need the advice and consent of the Senate to make these appointments, but courts need judges, and presidents and senators have an obligation to make sure vacancies on courts are filled.
And the place where senators should care most about filling judicial vacancies should be their own home states. The interests of constituents in access to judges and justice should be a priority over playing partisan politics.
And this is why, until recently, it usually was not a problem for the Senate to allow home state senators an informal veto—implemented through the so called “blue slip” process—over confirmation of judges in their own states. Senators might try to block nominees from other states with filibusters and other tactics, but would protect their own constituents by working out a deal with the White House for nomination and confirmation of an acceptable nominee in their state.