Politics

Voters in Scotland decided yesterday that they will remain a part of the United Kingdom, instead of establishing a fully independent nation. Secession, even if narrowly avoided, is no mean matter. If the U.K. now makes good on its pre-plebiscite promises, constitutional change is on its way in the form of plans to devolve more power to Scotland in exchange for the “No” vote on total independence.

Before the referendum, advocates from both sides tried to convince the Scots. Celebrities chimed in. For example, Scottish actor Brian Cox, who now lives in the United States, rallied for Scottish Independence. Cox appeared in “Braveheart,” Mel Gibson’s film about the First War of Scottish Independence. (This fact may seem irrelevant to his authority on matters related to contemporary world politics, but it got mentioned in virtually every news bit about Cox’s current stance. No word yet on what Chris Cooper, actor from Gibson’s “The Patriot,” thinks about the current state of American independence.) President Obama tweeted in favor of U.K. unity, writing, “The U.K. is an extraordinary partner for America and a force for good in an unstable world. I hope it remains strong, robust and united. -bo” (Was the omission of an Oxford comma after “robust” a hidden message, though? A silent nod to the Scots?) Ordinary Scottish citizens tried to convince their peers, with many supporters of independence feeling confident before the votes were tallied. When asked by a reporter whether he thought that many of the apparent undecided voters simply did not want to admit that they intended to vote against independence, one man replied, “Ach no. You can tell No voters straight off. They’re the ones with faces like a bulldog that’s chewed a wasp.” (Feel free to imagine this response uttered in the voice of Groundskeeper Willy.)

Seen even a couple of months ago as improbable, Scottish independence gained momentum in the weeks before the vote. British officials grew nervous. David Cameron, desperate not to go down as the British prime minister who lost Scotland for the Kingdom, pledged more and more autonomy. Brits and Scots began referring to the most extreme devolution settlement proposal as “Devo Max.” The name Devo Max sounded like a Mark Mothersbaugh revival project. The tone of Devo Max sounded like a spurned spouse offering an open relationship to straying partner. The terms of Devo Max sounded unclear. And like so many compromises over constitutional authority and political independence, Devo Max focused heavily on who gets control of the purse strings….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Constitutional Ties That Bind Also Gag: The United Kingdom Keeps Scotland”

Want your name on a law school? Just pony up $50 million.

* Voters in Scotland just said no to independence from the United Kingdom (although it might not have been a big deal for the legal profession if the vote had gone the other way). [New York Times]

* Congratulations to Drexel Law on a whopping $50 million gift — and its new name, the Thomas R. Kline School of Law. [Philadelphia Inquirer via WSJ Law Blog]

* The latest chapter in the “cautionary tale” of David Lola: dismissal of the contract attorney’s lawsuit against Skadden and Tower Legal. [American Lawyer]

* An office renovation for Baker Botts in Houston strips junior associates of window offices. [ABA Journal]

* How could Watson transform the practice of patent law? [Corporate Counsel]

* Are we seeing a reversal in the trend of declining prison populations? [Washington Post]

* The chorus of voices calling for Judge Mark Fuller to resign in the wake of domestic violence charges against him continues to grow. [New York Times]

Today is Constitution Day. Today we celebrate a group of racist, white, male landowners finalizing a brilliant document that could be changed to overcome their parochial limitations.

I’m not the kind of guy to chestily proclaim that America is the greatest country on Earth, but I’ll put our organizing legal document up there with anyone’s. I’ve read a lot of constitutions (3L Comparative Constitutional Law finally paying off), and I’m always impressed by our document’s ability to allow for so many different and fractious opinions on how the country should operate. Whether or not you believe in a “living” constitution in the Brandies sense of the word, that our constitution is still alive is damn impressive. As written, our president and our presidential front-runner couldn’t even vote. Half the country went to WAR to get out of the constitution, and when they lost, we didn’t even say, “Okay, let’s start over so this never happens again.” We fixed the constitution after the Civil War, but we didn’t bother to fix the South. Amazingballs.

One of the main strengths of our constitution lies in its amendment process. The thing can be changed, quite easily actually, so long as everybody agrees. And it turns out that we don’t agree very much.

To honor this document, some of us at Above the Law wanted to look at the surprising instances since 1787 when we all agreed. The Bill of Rights doesn’t count. And the Civil War amendments don’t count because, well, we didn’t really all “agree” so much as half of us got their asses kicked and had to eat it. So let’s go with any amendment after the first 15. You could make a compelling case that American political thought can be explained by which of those first 15 Amendments are the most important to you or to your life (and if you read that and thought “the 8th,” I feel so goddamn sorry for you).

But while the latter amendments aren’t likely to show up on a 1L’s list of “amendments I know by number,” they define our modern polity almost as much as the first ten. Let’s talk about them. Let’s talk about our moddable constitution…

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Oscar Pistorius

* Following the divisive decision in Shelby County v. Holder, voting rights cases may be heading back to the SCOTUS sooner than we thought. Thanks, Texas and Wisconsin. [USA Today]

* Bienvenidos a Miami? Cities compete to be designated as sites where global arbitration matters are heard. Miami is an up-and-comer, but New York is king. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Thanks to anonymous donors, the reward for info related to FSU Law Professor Dan Markel’s murder has been raised to $25,000. Not a single suspect has been named since his death. [Tallahassee Democrat]

* After losing the Democratic primary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Professor Zephyr Teachout drank some gin and tonics like a boss before returning to her class at Fordham Law to teach property. [New York Times]

* Try as he might, the Blade Runner just can’t outrun the law: Oscar Pistorius might have been cleared on the murder charge he was facing, but now he’s been found guilty on a culpable homicide charge. [CNN]

One often hears lawyers, especially at large firms, say something like “if I were a client, I couldn’t afford to hire me.”

The reason is obvious; billable hour rates are high and quality legal work, especially in a tricky area, takes time. Legal fees for middle-class or even upper-middle-class people can easily outpace a client’s ability to pay.

This is a problem in a lot of areas of law, from divorce to employment to routine consumer litigation. In some cases, fee shifting or contingency fees can help make hiring a lawyer more affordable. Still, even for lawyers who aren’t in big firms, clients are often unable to afford the lawyer they need.

Federal employees caught up in Congressional or inspector general investigations are another sad example; they can be hit with massive fees for something they have no control over.

The political climate in Washington is hard on federal employees. Darryl Issa’s Committee on Government Reform and Oversight in the House has been bringing down a reign of terror on executive branch agencies — and the employees who work at them — for years now.

For example, think about Lois Lerner….

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We can help you waste thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to fight for what you sort of believe in.

– “William Hostetler,” the fictional voice of the very real law firm BakerHostetler. BakerHostetler, recently hired by congressional Republicans to spearhead their infamous lawsuit against President Obama, got a send-up on last night’s Tonight Show with a phony ad in the style of every ambulance-chasing firm ever committing to help you, the viewer, work out your frustrations with a frivolous lawsuit against President Obama.

(The whole bit is available after the jump….)

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Professors Tim Wu and Zephyr Teachout

* Sweet billable hours: Congrats to Proskauer Rose on its efforts to keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo, New York. It’s the largest deal for the sale of an NFL team in history. [Am Law Daily]

* Your firm brings in billions in verdicts, but that’s not prestigious enough. It needs to be on the inaugural list of America’s Elite Trial Lawyers. See if yours made the cut. [National Law Journal]

* The best way to dodge traps in the LSAT analytical reasoning section is to display your analytical reasoning capabilities by not taking the LSAT in the first place during a time when law schools are in turmoil. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Law professors Zephyr Teachout (Fordham) and Tim Wu (Columbia) were defeated in the Democratic primary election for New York governor and lieutenant governor, but they lost well. [New York Daily News]

* The world wants to know if Ray Rice can be prosecuted for domestic violence, even though he’s enrolled in a pre-trial intervention program. Like the answer to all legal questions, it depends. [WSJ Law Blog]

I’m proud to be an American. I’m ashamed to be an American. And I’m not sure what it means to be an American.

As you know, I’ve been living in London for the past two years. I’m beginning to feel like a local, but I’m still occasionally jolted by my American roots.

When have I felt proud to be an American in London? The first videotaped beheading of an American journalist by a jihadist with a British accent drew some attention over here. But I was dumbstruck to read this sentence in one of the local newspapers: “Scotland Yard warned the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating the video within the UK might constitute a criminal offence under terrorism legislation.”

Viewing the video might be a criminal offense??? Toto, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

In my mind’s eye, I see scores of college kids at Oxford and Cambridge, six drinks into the evening, saying: “Whoa! That dude got his head cut off?! We gotta Google that!”

And now they’ve committed criminal offenses?

Maybe that’s true over here in England, but I’m pretty sure we’d never stand for that in the United States. It makes me proud to be an American.

(I must say that the news of the second beheading of an American journalist dramatically changed the picture in my mind’s eye. Those college kids have now sobered up, and they’re heading off to enlist.)

So much for pride in being an American. Then that nine-year-old girl blew away her shooting instructor with an Uzi. . . .

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “On Beheadings, Shootings, And ‘The Book Of Mormon’”

* Bob McDonnell, former governor of Virginia, guilty of 11 counts of corruption. Maureen McDonnell guilty of 8. If only they’d gotten that severance motion. [Wonkette]

* The best way to catch drunk drivers is to give them something to crash into. [Legal Juice]

* Chaumtoli Huq, a former general counsel to the New York Public Advocate, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that NYPD officers arrested her for waiting on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. She says she was targeted for being Muslim. [Gawker]

* In somewhat related news, Prawfsblawg pointed me to this interesting Slate piece on the effect that body-worn cams — the en vogue solution to police misconduct pushed by many including Huq’s old boss — really have on policing. [Slate via Prawfsblawg]

* Google paying $19 million to settle the FTC suit over kids making in-app purchases. It was going to be a $5 million settlement, but the FTC told Google that they would let them skip level 410 in Candy Crush if they kicked in another $14 million. [Washington Post]

* Some people have a problem with duct-taping kids to force them to take naps. Kids are growing up soft these days. [Lowering the Bar]

* And guess what? The D.C. Circuit is hearing the Halbig case en banc. Nullifying any argument that the Supreme Court act immediately to resolve a circuit split. Seems like someone predicted this outcome while the mainstream media wet themselves over a Supreme Court showdown. [Constitutional Accountability Center]

* Adam Steinbaugh got a DMCA takedown notice for criticizing a company for… overactive DMCA takedown notices. He replies eloquently. [Adam Steinbaugh's Blog]

This week, a Louisiana court became the first federal district court to uphold a state ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor. Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana granted the state’s motion for summary judgment in Robicheaux v. Caldwell. Finding that the claims of same-sex couples did not implicate a fundamental right triggering heightened scrutiny of the state law, he applied rational basis review to the challenge. Judge Feldman rejected arguments that sexual orientation warrants intermediate or heightened scrutiny based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Windsor, as well as Equal Protection arguments against the Louisiana ban based on sex discrimination.

“Many states have democratically chosen to recognize same-sex marriage,” he writes. “But until recent years, it had no place at all in this nation’s history and tradition. Public attitude might be becoming more diverse, but any right to same-sex marriage is not yet so entrenched as to be fundamental. There is simply no fundamental right, historically or traditionally, to same-sex marriage.”

American attitudes about LGBT people have changed. The fight for same-sex marriage has come far, fast. African Americans, women, disabled people, and members of other disenfranchised groups should envy the speed with which the LGBT community has achieved so much success. Not only have laws changed, but popular moral sensibilities have changed as well. In 2008, opposing marriage equality would put you in the company of most California voters. In 2014, expressing moral opposition to homosexuality can get you in big trouble. You can even face retroactive stigma — Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was ousted in 2014 because of his support of California’s Prop 8 in 2008, can attest to that.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Fast Progress, Fundamental Rights: How Much Do Changing Attitudes On Same-Sex Marriage Matter?”

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