Constitutional Law

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.

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

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]

We recently asked readers to submit possible captions for this picture:

Now that readers have voted on the finalists, it’s time to announce our worthy winner….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Caption Contest Winner: A Sneaky Law Student’s Hidey-Hole”

* When it comes to bans on same-sex marriage, for Justice Anthony Kennedy, animus is a “doctrinal silver bullet” — the fact that there was no animus involved in the enactment of many of them may be problematic at the high court. [New York Times]

* Relying on some obscure Supreme Court precedent, the Fifth Circuit saved Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic after striking down as unconstitutional a state law that would have required doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. [National Law Journal]

* Given the situation over at Bingham McCutchen, people are starting to wonder about whether all the guaranteed contracts to members of merger partner McKee Nelson’s partnership helped to shape the firm’s current financial plight. [Am Law Daily]

* Hot on the heels of Cooley Law canceling its first-year class at Ann Arbor and announcing tentative plans to close the campus, the ABA approved the school’s affiliation with Western Michigan. Yay? [MLive.com]

* Here’s one way to become a lawyer without racking up massive amounts of debt: you could try to “read” the law like Abraham Lincoln, and work as a law firm apprentice. That sounds delightful. [New York Times]

The Constitution of the United States is a flawed document… [its] thinly veiled language… basically reaffirmed the legality of slavery.

– Justice Anthony Kennedy, explaining something historically accurate and entirely obvious to anyone with a third-grade education. But that hasn’t stopped right-wing commentators from freakingthe hellout, decrying Kennedy for suggesting that human bondage may undermine their totemic reliance on “original intent.” Because when the only justification for your preferred jurisprudence is that the Framers farted laser beams, a nuanced view of the Constitution isn’t in the cards.

* Have you all called the Breaking Bad law firm number yet? Because it works, so go for it! [Legal Cheek]

* How to make airlines more profitable: make everyone sit on bicycle seats! [Lowering the Bar]

* Ilya Somin explains why the D.C. Circuit’s interpretation in Halbig isn’t absurd. And it’s not absurd. It just reflects the hilariously cynical conservative opposition to giving their own citizens tax breaks. [The Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

* Ohio State fired its band director amid sexual harassment allegations. To fire a guy, Ohio State must have dotted every “i” in this investigation. [USA Today]

* Speaking of sexual harassment, the Navy’s Blue Angels are the subject of a sexual harassment suit. And somehow it involves a blue and gold penis seen from space. [Slate]

* The Chevron battle over Ecuador continues. Turns out the star witness Chevron paid upwards of $1 million to testify took 50 days of prep to finally get his ever-shifting story straight. [Huffington Post]

* There’s a new book out called Kate’s Escape from the Billable Hour (affiliate link). We haven’t read it, but apparently this tale of “a burnt-out, second-year attorney working in the dysfunctional world of Big Law” mentions ATL. So they definitely did their research. [Amazon]

* Watch a drunk guy give cops a lesson in Con Law. Video after the jump…. [Barstool Sports]

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