Constitutional Law

Canada View From Up North As most of the world knows, last week a gunman shot and killed a Canadian soldier as he stood at his post near the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Corporal Nathan Cirillo was standing on guard in honour of his fallen brothers-in-arms when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot him with a 30-30 rifle at close range.

Hunters use 30-30s to kill moose.

As ordinary citizens tried heroically to save our soldier’s life, Zehaf-Bibeau rushed over to Parliament Hill, only a few blocks away, bent on destroying more lives. He died in an exchange of gunfire with law enforcement officers, thankfully before he could do further serious harm.

What a horrible day for Canada and an infinitely more horrible day for Corporal Cirillo’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his loved ones.

I apologize, because when a young soldier loses his life, politics should be the last thing on anybody’s mind. But, Corporal Cirillo’s death immediately turned political….

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The latest batch of presidential papers from the Clinton Administration, recently released to the public, contain some fun nuggets for law nerds. We’ve mentioned a few of them already — e.g., the time that a pre-robescent Elena Kagan, then a White House staffer, dropped the f-bomb in a memo to White House counsel Jack Quinn. Another just came to light today: as reported by Tony Mauro, a pre-robescent John Roberts, then in private practice at Hogan & Hartson, came close to representing President Clinton in the U.S. Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones.

The papers contain other interesting tidbits too — and some are sad rather than salacious. For example, there’s the story of how a brilliant and distinguished circuit judge came thisclose to landing a seat on the Supreme Court, until health problems derailed his nomination….

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In December, Steven Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, filed writs of habeas corpus on behalf of four chimpanzees he believed were wrongfully detained. Some scoffed at the idea — quips like “the law is going to the apes” or something about “appeals” and “banana peels” — but the facts were pretty bleak. One of the chimps, Tommy, is 26 years old and allegedly reduced to a life in “solitary confinement in a small, dank, cement cage in a cavernous dark shed” in upstate New York. Can you imagine more horrific conditions than upstate New York?

Seriously though, Tommy’s life sounds awful and a New York judge agreed. While admitting that he was unable to grant the order since, you know, the law doesn’t talk about chimps, Judge Joseph Sise conceded that Wise made a compelling argument. Yesterday, a five-member appellate panel heard Tommy’s case and depending on how they rule, they might just make a monkey out of Judge Sise. Is New York on the brink of a revolution in animal law?

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.

– Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, explaining the reasons why she thinks Citizens United was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of recent times, after being asked her opinion in a wide-ranging interview with Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic.

(What do you think is the worst SCOTUS ruling in recent memory? Tell us.)

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….

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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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It’s Constitution Day, or technically Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, because it’s a holiday so nice Congress named it twice. And Congress doesn’t mess around with this event: by law, all publicly funded educational institutions and all federal agencies must provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution today. So if you see someone dressed up as a Founder today, they’re probably a teacher. Or an incompetent lawyer.

In the spirit of teaching constitutional law, and generally making learning fun, I wanted to focus on the professorial stylings of Professor Josh Blackman. A couple weeks ago, I noticed Professor Josh Blackman tweeting out memes he’d created to describe Youngstown v. Sawyer. If you can inspire a chuckle (or frankly anything) over seizing steel mills, then you’ve accomplished something. He told me that he often employs memes to hammer home his lessons. And when you think about it, memes are the perfect medium for teaching constitutional jurisprudence: you take something established and scribble new stuff all over it.

Let’s look at some of his work. Maybe readers can come up with some other clever entries….

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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.

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Former White House press secretary and gun regulation activist James Brady died last week. The coroner has apparently ruled Brady’s death a homicide. Nothing new happened, the coroner is simply saying that the bullet to the head that Brady took 33 years ago killed him. As murders go, this was an extremely long-tailed killing. Crim law professors of the world rejoice: life just delivered your next issue spotter.

But can a death three decades after a shooting open the door to a murder prosecution?

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Girls in my high school briefed cases all the time, it was no big deal.

* According to Patron Saint RBG, the Supreme Court has never really come around on “the ability of women to decide for themselves what their destiny will be.” Gay people are doing well, though, so good for them. [New York Times]

* Two law professors and a consultant built a model that predicts SCOTUS decisions with 69.7 percent accuracy, and justices’ votes with 70.9 percent accuracy. For lawyers who are bad at math, that’s damn near perfect. Nice work! [Vox]

* An Alabama abortion clinic statute which required that doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals was ruled unconstitutional. Perhaps this will be the death knell for these laws. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Idaho’s Supreme Court rejected Concordia Law’s bid to allow grads to sit for the bar before the ABA granted it provisional accreditation. Too bad, since lawyers are needed in Idaho. [National Law Journal]

* Before you go to law school, you can learn how to gun with the best of them. That’s right, you can practice briefing cases before you even set foot in the door. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

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