• February 9, 2016
    Video Interview

    by Nanya Springer

    Last June in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling granting marriage equality to LGBT couples nationwide. Last week, the named plaintiff in the case, Jim Obergefell, spoke to the Indiana University Maurer School of Law Student Chapter about his status as a civil rights icon and how he unwittingly became the modern face of the fight for LGBT rights.

    Obergefell, before a packed auditorium, recounted the events that spurred him to file a federal lawsuit to force the state of Ohio to recognize his marriage to his ailing longtime partner John Arthur. The couple had decided to marry after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions were legal. Obergefell told the audience he proposed to Arthur because “that was the first time in our almost 21 years together that suddenly at least one level of our government would say, ‘You exist. We acknowledge you. Your relationship matters.’” The couple famously flew to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was already legal, and tied the knot on the tarmac in a brief ceremony before immediately flying back to Ohio.

    When asked by moderator Steve Sanders, co-counsel on a brief in favor of the Obergefell plaintiffs, whether he foresaw a legal battle for recognition of the marriage in his home state, Obergefell replied, “When we decided to marry, we made that decision solely to get married. We had no plans to do anything else. We simply wanted to live out John’s remaining days as husband and husband.” As the case gained national attention, however, Obergefell realized the case was “a lot bigger than just us.” Nevertheless, following Arthur’s death mere months after their marriage, Obergefell quit his job and spent a year traveling and “running away from life” before reengaging in the movement for LGBT equality.

    Consistently humble, Obergefell expressed some guilt about his designation as the lead plaintiff, which was due to the low number of his federal case, and his resulting celebrity. “I felt guilty. I really did, because it isn’t just me. It’s my name and my face that’s out there so much, but I’m not the only one. . . . There are thirty-some plaintiffs in our case,” he said. After the blockbuster decision, though, his attention was refocused on the gravity of the plaintiffs’ achievement. “Wow. We really do matter,” he remembered thinking. He added, “I have the utmost respect for [the legal] profession and the court system.”

    Watch the full conversation below.

  • February 9, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In The New York Times, Ekow N. Yankah contrasts society’s sympathetic response to the current epidemic of heroin addiction plaguing white neighborhoods with the criminal treatment of crack addiction that crippled communities of color in the 1980s, noting “the heroin epidemic shows that how we respond to the crimes accompanying addiction depends on how much we care about the victims of crime and those in the grip of addiction.”

    At The Root, Premilla Nadasen blasts the blatant disregard for black children in many state welfare policies, citing a recent report that exposes Mississippi’s racially discriminatory distribution of child care subsidies.

    Saru M. Matambanadzo discusses the complicated history of legal personhood at Race and the Law Prof Blog, opining that legal personhood is merely a starting point for “relief and recognition,” but does not guarantee it.

    Lincoln Caplan at The New Yorker examines proposals to move away from retention elections and institute partisan elections of Kansas Supreme Court justices, concluding that such elections “often make judges indistinguishable from politicians, and judging indistinguishable from politics.”

  • February 8, 2016
    Vagrant Nation
    Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s
    Risa L. Goluboff

    by Risa L. Goluboff, John Allan Love Professor of Law and Professor of History, University of Virginia School of Law

    Long before I finished writing Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s, my new book about the rapid downfall of age-old vagrancy laws in the 1960s, I began talking about it with colleagues, lawyers, and friends. Each time I did, they pointed out connections to the present.

    The present each had in mind was very different, however. To poverty lawyers and scholars, my tale of the downfall of vagrancy laws—originally passed and long used to criminalize the status of being idle and poor—naturally led to questions about homeless policies today. To political activists who learned from my book that vagrancy laws had long been used against unpopular speakers—everyone from the Industrial Workers of the World to Communists to civil rights leaders and Vietnam War protestors—Occupy Wall Street seemed the natural endpoint. Scholars and activists focused on race and policing saw how stop-and-frisk in many respects had replaced the vagrancy arrests of those who seemed suspicious to the police. More generally, they reflected that the arbitrary and discriminatory policing I describe in the book is still (or once again) the subject of considerable controversy and social movement organizing today. Those interested in criminal law identified analogues to the vagrancy laws in the criminalization of certain people for their status—though now the most obvious examples are convicted sex offenders and undocumented immigrants rather than gay men, prostitutes, or poor people.

    My colleagues were all right. Much of the social, criminal, and political regulation that exists today has roots, analogues, echoes, or precursors in the single category of criminal law that made vagrancy illegal in every state in the nation for hundreds of years. Vagrancy laws that outlawed not only being idle and poor but also being immoral or dissolute, or wandering about with no apparent purpose, were eminently flexible. They could do, and did do, just about anything law enforcement authorities—or the powerful people in their communities—wanted them to do.

  • February 8, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    In advance of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (formerly Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole), Robert Barnes at The Washington Post discusses a brief that cautions against laws “protecting women” written by men.

    In the Los Angeles Times, David G. Savage considers whether the Supreme Court will rule against President Obama’s use of executive authority and undermine his executive actions on immigration.

    On Saturday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state of New York will bar insurance coverage of conversion therapies aimed at changing the sexual and gender orientation of young people, reports Laila Kearney at The Huffington Post.

    At Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost explains why voter ID laws suppress minority participation in elections, noting that in this year’s primary elections, “a strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points.”

  • February 5, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    The United Nations has declared abortion a human right, crucial to achieving gender equality worldwide, reports Lauren Barbato at Bustle.

    On Wednesday, Google Fiber announced a partnership with ConnectHome, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the White House, to provide public housing residents with free gigabit connections, expanding access to the Internet for low-income individuals, writes Mark Bergen at Recode.

    Current New Mexico law mandates a life sentence for offenders convicted of three separate violent felonies. In a move toward harsher penalties and away from national trends, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill that would increase the number of felonies that qualify as “strikes” under this “three-strike” law, says P.R. Lockhart at The American Prospect.

    Ellen Nakashima and Andrea Peterson at The Washington Post discuss developing negotiations between the United States and the United Kingdom that would enable the British government to service wiretap orders on American communications firms for criminal and national security investigations involving its citizens. This agreement is intended to be reciprocal.

    At Race and the Law Prof Blog, Craig L. Jackson criticizes the United States Constitution’s lack of enumerated social rights, stating “in effect, our constitution is an incomplete document.”