ACSBlog

  • January 14, 2018

    by Gregg Ivers, professor of government, American University. He is currently working on a book, Swingin’ at Jim Crow: How Jazz Became a Civil Rights Movement.

    In 1976, when I was in tenth grade, the dreaded “back-to-school” assignment for my American history class was to write an essay about the three most important Americans in our nation’s two hundred-year history. This was, I suppose, our school’s nod to the celebration of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. I chose Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. It turned out that I was one of two people in my class to include King, the other being the class hippie, whose other two choices were Alan Ginsburg and Jimi Hendrix. My teacher returned the assignment to me the next day and said that I needed to write about someone “serious,” like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or, and I kid you not, the Rev. Billy Graham. I told my teacher that I would rather write about Rev. King than Rev. Graham, and refused to change my mind. My teacher refused to change her mind as well. I received a D on the assignment because, as my teacher told me, Lincoln and Roosevelt were “genuine” Americans. I suppose it’s important to note here that I grew up and attended public schools in Atlanta, where, at the time, more than a few people still referred to the Civil War as the “War Between the States.” My teacher offered wise counsel: “Lincoln is still not all that popular around here, you know. Let’s not push things in the future.”

  • January 12, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Lawrence J. Fox, George W. and Sadella D. Crawford Visiting Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School

    “I’ve just told you he’s guilty.”

    Still ringing through the courtroom as the last day of Robert McCoy’s trial for murder came to a close, were the stinging words, “I’ve just told you he’s guilty.” If those words had been uttered by the prosecutor, the world would have taken little note. But they were the words of Mr. McCoy’s lawyer made over his client’s express objection and protestation of innocence. They represented the ultimate act of client betrayal made by the constitutionally guaranteed defender of Mr. McCoy’s rights, his one true champion, the only participant in the criminal justice system who was constitutionally required to fulfill Mr. McCoy’s wishes so long as the client was competent and they involved no illegal conduct. On January 17, these words will be at the center of discussion at the U.S. Supreme Court, when it hears this extraordinary case, McCoy v. Louisiana.

  • January 12, 2018
    Guest Post
    by Lynn Adelman, District Court Judge, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin 

    It is a little-known and disturbing fact that the Supreme Court is in the process of gutting what may be the most important civil rights statute Congress has ever passed. It is particularly distressing that the harm is being done by a largely unanimous court—and that, other than a few legal scholars, no one seems to be paying any attention.

    The statute in question is Section 1983 of the United States Code, which was enacted in 1871 as part of Reconstruction. Section 1983 enables people to bring suits in federal court to enforce the rights created by the Fourteenth Amendment—which, among other things, prohibits state officials from depriving persons of due process and equal protection of the law. The law was designed to provide a federal remedy against officials who violated the rights of the newly freed slaves or who stood by while others, like the Ku Klux Klan, did so. Specifically, it authorizes individuals to sue in federal court “any person who under color of law” violates their constitutional rights. The purposes of the law are to compensate persons whose constitutional rights have been violated and to deter future violations. Actions brought under Section 1983 are known as constitutional tort suits.

  • January 11, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Alex Kreit, Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

    It’s been one week since Attorney General Sessions rescinded an Obama-era memo that had effectively ended federal prosecutions of state-legal marijuana businesses. Under the new policy, it is up to individual U.S. Attorneys to decide whether to go after people who comply with state marijuana laws. So far, the new Department of Justice policy has not resulted in any arrests or prosecutions.

    Why did Sessions make this move and why did he wait so long to do it? After one week, marijuana policy watchers are still left scratching their heads.

  • January 8, 2018
    Guest Post

    by Erwin Chemerinsky, ACS Board Member, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law

    Presidents and the media long have had contentious relationships, but no president in history has expressed so much antipathy to the press as Donald Trump.  During the presidential campaign, he referred to the press as “dishonest,” “disgusting,” and “scum.”  He mocked the disability of a New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, and repeatedly lashed out at reporters such as Megyn Kelly of Fox News and Katie Tur of NBC.  He threated to sue the New York Times for publishing his income tax return and the women who accused him of sexual harassment.

    As president he has continuing to express this hostility to the media.  The day after his inauguration, on January 21, President Trump, in remarks at the CIA headquarters, said: “I always call them the dishonest media. . .  I have a running war with the media.  They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.”  Less than a month later, Trump sent a tweet declaring that the nation’s news media “is the enemy of the American people.”  He has declared that “[t]he Fake News Media has never been so wrong or so dirty.”  In another tweet, Trump said, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.”  As a candidate and as president, he has urged changing libel law so that it is easier to sue the press for large amounts of money.