Category: General Law

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FAN 113 (First Amendment News) “Abrams Court” Breaks with Tradition & Allows Cameras in Courtroom

 

June 15, 2016, Washington, D.C. It was a remarkable moment when the Abrams Court sat to hear the case of Pear v. United States. The two issues before the eight-member Court were:

1.) Does the All Writs Act empower a court to compel a third-party to design new software to provide the “reasonable technical assistance” contemplated by the Supreme Court in United States v. New York Telephone Company, 434 U.S. 159 (1977)?

2.) Does a court order requiring a technology company to develop software to overcome security measures and to authenticate the software to obtain access to private information violate the First Amendment?

Chief Justice Floyd Abrams

Chief Justice Floyd Abrams

Before oral arguments in the novel case began, however, Chief Justice Floyd Abrams (suited in his specially-designed robe) made the following announcement:

At the outset, I have an  announcement. As may be evident, this proceeding of this Court will be televised. This Court has long barred cameras from our courtroom  for publicly unstated and perhaps difficult to defend reasons.

At that point the Chief Justice paused and smiled, and then continued:

Whatever the wisdom of that decision in the past, we see no reason to do so today and a powerful basis to allow cameras today. This is an important case, one in which there is great and deserved public interest. Allowing the public to see this branch of government in this public phase of its work is undoubtedly in the public interest and we serve that interest by opening this Court to far greater public scrutiny.

The Chief Justice next turned to counsel and admonished them:

I am confident that counsel will comport themselves appropriately and have no doubt that members of this Court will do so. 

With that the video-recorded moot court event hosted by the Newseum Institute began. Noted First Amendment lawyers Robert Corn-Revere and Ronald G. London represented Pear, and argued that the United States was asking the fictional company to create an entirely new function in providing access to an iPhone, thus creating new literary work — which would be protected by the First Amendment. (See Petitioners’ brief here)

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph DeMarco, and co-counsel Jeffrey Barnum, a legal scholar and lawyer specializing in criminal and First Amendment law, argued the government does have the authority to compel companies to assist in a criminal investigation, and that there was no First Amendment protection for the kind of work the government was seeking — providing access only to a phone, not to the data it contained — for this single phone only.  (See Respondent’s’ brief here)

R.I. Governor Veteos “Revenge Porn” Bill

First Amendment lawyers and advocates have expressed concerns that htis particular bill is overbroad and vague, and, if enacted, will turn Rhode Island into an outlier on the protection of free speech. — Gov. Gina Raimondo

Gov. Gina Raimondo

Gov. Gina Raimondo

According to WPRI-12 News, “Gov. Gina Raimondo has issued the first veto of her tenure, rejecting a proposed ban on so-called ‘revenge porn’ as unconstitutional due to First Amendment concerns, her office announced Tuesday.”

“The bill, which cleared the General Assembly last week, was backed by Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. Supporters said it was designed to punish individuals who distribute sexually explicit material without the consent of everyone involved.”

“But watchdog groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the New England First Amendment Coalition had urged Raimondo to veto the bill, describing it as unconstitutional, and in the end the governor agreed.”

We do not have to choose between protecting privacy rights and respecting the principles of free speech. The right course of action is . . . [to] craft a more carefully worded law that specifically addresses the problem of revenge porn, without implicating other types of constitutionally protected speech. — Gov. Gina Raimondo

Full Text of Governor Raymond’s veto message here.

8th Circuit Orders New Trial in Jesse Ventura Defamation Case

Here are the key facts as described in Chief Judge William Riely’s majority opinion in Ventura v. Kyle (8th Cir., June 13, 2016):

Jesse Ventura

Jesse Ventura

“Before his death, Chris Kyle was a sniper for a United States Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) team. He authored the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (American Sniper). In the book, Kyle described punching a ‘celebrity’ referred to as ‘Scruff Face’ who was making offensive remarks about the SEALs at a gathering following the funeral of a SEAL killed in combat. In interviews about the book, Kyle revealed ‘Scruff Face’ was James Janos, better known as Jesse Ventura. Ventura, who was at the bar but denied a fight occurred, sued Kyle in this diversity action under Minnesota law for defamation, misappropriation, and unjust enrichment, alleging Kyle fabricated the incident. The jury found in favor of Ventura on the defamation claim, awarding $500,000 in damages, and found in Kyle’s favor on the misappropriation claim. Serving in its advisory role as to the equitable unjust-enrichment claim, the jury recommended an award of approximately $1.35 million, which the district court adopted. Kyle appeals the district court’s denial of his motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial.”

The majority opinion (joined by Judge Bobby Shepherd) reversed the unjust-enrichment judgment and vacated and remanded the defamation judgment for a new trial.

Judge Lavenski Smith concurred in part and dissented in part: “I concur in the majority’s reversal of the unjust-enrichment judgment. However, I disagree with majority’s decision to vacate and remand the defamation judgment for a new trial because of references to insurance in trial testimony and closing argument.”

→ Floyd Abrams joined by Susan Buckley and Merriam Mikhail filed an amicus brief on behalf of 33 media companies and organizations contesting the award. In it, the trio of lawyers advanced two main arguments:

  1. The Common Law Does Not Recognize and the Constitution Does Not Permit an Award of a Book’s Profits as a Remedy for Defamation, and
  2. The Award of Profits from American Sniper is Tantamount to an Award of Punitive Damages, Damages that Are Not Permitted Against the Estate

Court Dismisses Challenge to Met Depictions of Paintings of Jesus Read More

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Roundup: Law and Humanities 06.20.16

So much going on in law and humanities these days that it’s hard to pick and choose what to bring you. Here’s a sampling.

Conferences

There will be a Conference on Law and Ritual September 22-23, 2016 Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, sponsored by Voices of Law.

Here is a link to the conference website.

Follow news of the conference on Twitter:  #LawAndRitual @VoicesofLaw

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The organizers of the LSU Conference on Law, Authorship, and Appropriation are still accepting paper proposals for the Conference, which will take place at LSU A&M, Baton Rouge, on October 28 and 29, 2016. The original call (with updated dates) is reproduced below.

Call for Papers

By Any Other’s Name: A Conference on Law, Authorship, and Appropriation

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, October 28-29, 2016

On October 28-29, 2016, the LSU College of Music and Dramatic Arts, LSU School of Theatre, the LSU Law Center, LSU’s ORED (Office of Research and Economic Development) and the Law and Humanities Institute will co-sponsor a conference on law, authorship, and appropriation on the LSU A and M campus in Baton Rouge, LA. This conference will bring together scholars, performers, and students to discuss law and authorship in the face of challenges issued by artists who engage in appropriation—the practice of taking the works of others to rethink or recreate new works.

Some artists who engage in appropriation may describe their activities as parody, sampling, or remixing. Some artists whose work is appropriated may describe the result as misappropriation. Writers might describe the use or reuse of words variously as hommage or plagiarism. Lawyers weigh in both sides of the issue, interpreting such reuse as fair use or infringement, depending on the circumstances.

Digital technology creates a host of new considerations, from the opportunity for a creator to license rights up-front (or not at all) to opportunities for users to create content cooperatively, either on the Web or in face-to-face settings.

What do such changes, in law and in aesthetics and art, mean for our understandings of authorship and the relationship between creator and audience? Do words like “author” and “creator” even continue to have meaning?

Read More

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What Bill Clinton and Donald Trump Have in Common

One of the worst Supreme Court decisions in the past two decades was Clinton v. Jones, in which a unanimous Court held that the sexual harassment suit against President Clinton could proceed while he was in office.  This was a terrible decision in the short-run, as it led to the colossal waste of time that was the Clinton impeachment. Consider, though, it’s lousy longer-run ramifications.

If, God forbid, Donald Trump is elected, he will have to spend a lot of time in office dealing with civil litigation filed against him for his business activities.  The Trump University case is pending, but there are probably other cases that will be filed before the election and after with the goal of deposing Trump for one reason or another. How much time do we want our President spending on litigation over things that happened before he or she was President?

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Just a Step on the Boss Man’s Ladder

There is no greater privilege as a writer than to have a group of people you deeply respect take the time to read your work and respond to it. Thanks to Naomi Cahn, who organized this symposium and launched it with a wonderful introduction, I have been granted this privilege for my new book, Nine to Five: How Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace (Cambridge 2016).

This book was a labor of love. As many of the commentators have noted, it is based on a column I have been writing every other week for over fifteen years (the first ten for FindLaw’s Writ and the last five for Justia’s Verdict).   It blows my mind that what started as a one-off essay on whether a woman should be able to annul a marriage to a man she was auctioned off to on the reality television show “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” would have turned into one of the most important pieces of my professional life. Because of this column, I have gotten to chronicle legal and social developments in my areas of interest and expertise in real time—a refreshing change from the world of academic publishing—and to be part of an ongoing conversation with an audience of litigants, lawyers, judges, policymakers, journalists, and the general public.

When I began writing my column, I was at the beginning my academic career, and I had just given birth to the first of my three sons. As this book was published, I was teaching that son how to drive in the middle of a significant professional transition from Hofstra Law School, after a 17-year run, to SMU Dedman School of Law, where I will serve as the inaugural holder of the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law. This book, which collects columns on women and work and ties them together with introductory essays, gave me the opportunity to reflect at this time of transition not only on my own life and career, but also on the developments in sex equality law—where we were, where we are now, and where we are headed. The book, although packaged in a lighthearted style (with some of my favorite sex discrimination cartoons!), ends on a somewhat depressing note: despite a complicated and robust set of laws mandating women’s workplace equality, the terrain remains uneven at best, slanted firmly towards inequality at worst.  In all too many respects, today’s workplace is similar to the one farcically depicted in the movie 9 to 5, which hit the big screen almost forty years ago.  Why haven’t we as a society made more progress? From this vantage point, I feel a kind of solidarity with Ellen Solender, who spoke of her mother’s hope that women’s suffrage would bring about broad-based equality for women, but her own disappointment that even her granddaughters may not live to see it. That we aren’t there yet just means we have to continue the fight. Nine to Five is one tiny piece of the effort to promote equality for all women, and my new position will be the perfect platform from which to work.

In a forthcoming post, I will respond to the provocative and interesting points raised by the reviewers, to whom I am grateful for their generosity of time and spirit, as well as their individual and collective expertise.

 

 

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Working 9 to 5: What a Way to Make a Living

Joanna Grossman’s Nine to Five:  How Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace is an invaluable contribution to the popular understanding of how gender works – or doesn’t – at work.  With wry humor and a clarity that’s all-too-rare among those who write about the law, Grossman provides a comprehensive, must-read primer for the lay reader.  But Nine to Five also is a bracing corrective to the notion that the issues raised by the popular 1980 movie of the same name are remotely as anachronistic as the bad fashion sported onscreen by Dabney Coleman, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin. Read More

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The Limits of Anti-Discrimination Law

Joanna Grossman’s Nine to Five is a masterfully assembled set of commentary on sex discrimination cases. Joanna’s deft explanations and critiques of doctrine would make it great for the classroom, sort of like a volume from the “Law Stories” series but with a lot more law. Bringing the commentaries together also allows the collection to highlight some limits of discrimination law as it is now constituted. Nancy Dowd has already raised the challenge of intersectionality; another classic constraint in discrimination law is that equality can be achieved either by leveling up or by leveling down. On the issue of accommodating family responsibilities, for example, American law’s narrow conception of equality has a hard time justifying a level-up, despite the extensive body of feminist scholarship on the gendered nature of the neoliberal marketplace and its “ideal worker.” (See chapter 35, on Young v. UPS.) The demands of “the market” serve as conversation-stoppers in discrimination law, which is understood as regulation of the market, even though aspirations for sex equality include non-market goals. In light of emerging movements demanding that markets serve people instead of the other way around, the next phase in the development of discrimination law will be defined by whether it can move past the ideology of the market.

As I read through Nine to Five—especially the chapters on accommodating pregnancy, work/life balance, and the masculinity of the ideal worker—I kept coming back to the title. Joanna uses the movie 9 to 5 as a jumping off point for talking about gender in the workplace. I have long been curious about the phrase “9 to 5” and its relationship to the labor movement’s hard-won eight-hour workday. “9 to 5” has at times been a pejorative term for a corporate drone, but today it carries the aspirational tone of the past—the wish for a work day that really ends at 5, an office job that stays at the office.

An early expression of the demand for the eight-hour workday came from Robert Owen, who proposed an even division of the day: “8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest.” Today, we refer to the eight-hour workday as standard. After all, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime for hourly workers above forty hours a week, and the archetypal, salaried office worker is “on the job from 9 to 5.”

Except that almost nobody is actually on the job from 9 to 5. I discovered this for myself when I started my first office job, working for the federal government. As Joanna discusses (chapter 54), the federal government is the nation’s largest employer and is therefore not only the enforcer of laws but also a standard-setter in practice. With Dolly Parton echoing in the back of my naïve mind, I learned that as a salaried employee I was expected to work a minimum of eight hours per day, with a half-hour unpaid lunch break, a 15-minute unpaid break in the morning, and a 15-minute unpaid break in the afternoon. My workday could be 8 to 5, 8:30 to 5:30, or 9 to 6, but definitely not 9 to 5. Today, the vast majority of office workers work the federal day or longer. Workers subject to FLSA rules not only get their breaks unpaid but have had to go to court over whether hours spent donning protective gear or descending into coal mines are part of their work day.

From the employer’s perspective, of course, it isn’t eight hours of work if the employee disappears for an hour at lunch. What is notable, however, is that law and culture adopted the employer’s perspective and thereby shifted from the “eight-hour work day” to “eight hours of work.” When eight hours is understood not as the portion of one’s life to be devoted to employment but as the quantity of production to which the employer is entitled, the “work day” expands, stealing time from recreation and rest because the work day has been excused from recognizing the humanity of the worker.

The work day could, instead, be “one-third of the day of a human being,” who will necessarily have to deal with some aspects of her humanity during that period. After all, no one is getting any reimbursement or comp time for having to spend some of their “8 hours for recreation” on eating or going to the bathroom, nor do we get to come in late for work when our “8 hours for rest” are interrupted by any number of human realities. “Eight hours of work” instead of an “eight-hour work day” converts time, a human experience, into a commodity defined by its alienation.

This same shift from human-centered goals to market-centered rules, which ultimately place the values of the market above all else, operates in the difficult corners of discrimination law. For example, Nine to Five tackles several problems that arise in the context of school-affiliated sports: pay disparities between the coaches of boys’ and girls’ teams (chapter 3); unequal treatment of the teams themselves (chapter 9); and the toxic masculinity of sports culture, which bleeds into politics, business, and education (chapters 55 and 56). One reason discrimination law often fails to advance equality in these contexts is that it allows market ideology to trump not only non-discrimination principles but also the purported values of sports and educational institutions themselves.

In the case of coaches’ salaries, Joanna dissects the “market defense” that the EEOC has made available to schools: to justify discriminatory salaries, a school need only refute that coaching its girls’ team requires as much skill, effort, or responsibility as coaching its boys’ team. Schools routinely argue that male coaches are responsible for more money and more media management, and that male coaches arrive at the school with higher prior salaries and more experience coaching and playing sports. (p. 20) Joanna points out that these factors allow the school to “buil[d] on past discrimination against female coaches” and that the school itself creates the expectation that boys’ teams will play for higher stakes in both prestige and money. Here, not only the logic of the market but also the explicit sexism of the market is invoked to constrain discrimination law, even when the market defense is offered by non-profit institutions who claim that they sponsor athletic contests not to make money but to support “the higher education mission” and create “an inclusive culture” with “career opportunities for coaches and administrators from diverse backgrounds.”

Players from the U.S. women’s national soccer team (of which Joanna is clearly a fan!) have filed a pay equity suit that will raise these issues, albeit without a school affiliation: the soccer federation’s main defense is that the women’s game doesn’t make as much money as the men’s because it isn’t as popular with fans. There are factual questions about whether this is true and the extent to which, if true, it is the result rather than the cause of discrimination. But a larger question is whether that should matter. Assuming the market defense to be factually true, it should not end the conversation but begin it. Joanna demonstrates how this conversation should proceed in a different context: Discussing employer liability for “sudden, severe [sexual] harassment” (chapter 25), she notes that, sometimes, severe harassment will occur that no reporting system could have prevented. The question, then, is who should bear that cost? Nothing in the logic of sex discrimination law, or greater aspirations for an equal and just society, suggests that the victim rather than the employer should bear 100% of the cost. Similarly, it is not written in stone that women rather than soccer federations should bear the costs of sexist sports culture.

Other workplaces have their own versions of this market defense. In academia, it is a commonplace at many institutions that the only way to increase one’s salary is to get a job offer elsewhere. It is also a commonplace that this is a terrible policy and that it has a disproportionately negative impact on women. It persists because of the market defense.

In public debates about the gender wage gap, various factions talk past each other about whether the gap reflects “real discrimination” or “women’s choices,” which include things like taking “time off” for children or subordinating one’s own career to a spouse’s. This dichotomy is largely beside the point. Some portion of the wage gap is due to flat-out pay discrimination; some is due to discrimination in hiring; some to discrimination in the “pipeline”; some to job segregation that is linked to historical pay inequities between men’s work and women’s work; and some is due to women continuing to perform the bulk of unpaid family labor (details in chapter 51). Why does any of those things justify a skewed distribution of economic security and wealth? The market defense, writ large, puts artificial limits on aspirations for equality.

Speaking of family labor: Readers of this symposium were likely amused by Robert Owen’s facile division of the day into “8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest.” When, pray tell, was dinner to be cooked, the house cleaned, and the children’s noses wiped? Those tasks, in Owens’s mind, presumably belonged in someone else’s work day, but today we know them as the second shift, performed by people who “talk about sleep the way a hungry person talks about food.” It’s time to revisit not just minimum wages but maximum hours so we can earn our bread and bake it too, and still have time to tend our roses.

 

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Women and Work: Ask the Other Questions Too

The persistence of gender inequality at work makes it a continuing necessity that we analyze and strategize for change. It is also an area where it might seem that law might most make a difference. Yet law has fallen short, reminding us of the power of inequality to domesticate and subdue even the most radical efforts, and the strength cultural and structural barriers.

Joanna Grossman’s new book Nine to Five: How Gender, Sex and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace powerfully focuses on these dilemmas. Composed of her columns over a 15 year period written for Justia’s Verdict and Findlaw’s Writ, this unique collection of 57 or 350 columns includes a rich array of insights and questions about gender and work. The way in which this material is presented is powerful: a series of intellectual zingers.

Organized around four key themes (what is sex discrimination; sexual harassment; pregnancy and motherhood; pay equity and the glass ceiling), the book does not purport to cover everything, but it does present the opportunity to consider a range of issues, as well as trigger other subjects and questions. It is supremely accessible, a volume that could be read by anyone. Its witty, crisp writing (and wonderful cartoons), keen intellectual insights and questions that prick one’s curiosity and challenge stock answers, make the book a natural for students, in courses on gender discrimination, gender theory, and employment discrimination.

If I were to use the volume to teach students, I would be tempted to tease out several further themes in approaching the issue of the persistence of gender inequality at work.

The focus of the book is unabashedly on women. I would “ask the other question.” Or questions. Using Mari Matsuda’s long ago insight, this means that whenever you look at a pattern or problem, and think that you have identified the core of it, you should ask if anything else might be going on that you haven’t noticed. If you think police brutality is about race, ask also about gender; if you think the transgender bathroom controversy is about gender identity, ask about gender; if you think the pay gap is about gender, ask about race. So, when we look at the workplace, and ask whether all workers are treated equally on the basis of sex, the data and statistics, as well as the qualitative accounts, many of which are presented in Grossman’s book, tell us that women are not treated equally in a host of ways. Indeed, in the last section of the book she summarizes her prior segments and details the particularly deep ways that core issues of pay and types of jobs as well as job advancement are persistently unequal.

What other questions should we ask in the face of these patterns? First, we should ask, is it the same for all women? This is the intersectionality question, the reminder that if we do not ask about race, we obscure the differentiation of women’s inequalities and reinforce the troubled and persistent critique that gender inequality analysis is solely a white women’s game. Race is present as a thread in the book, most explicitly in the last section of the book, particularly chapter 52. In addition to thinking about gender and race as separate categories of workplace inequality, intersectionality challenges that separation as potentially masking the realities of inequalities by adopting an implicit norm that makes gender raceless (white) and race genderless (male).

Asking the other question about women and race will lead us also to ask the other question about class, to explore how gender inequality plays out differently for low income and middle or high income women. Some of those themes implicitly appear in Grossman’s chapters particularly on light duty work, as many of those cases involve lower or low-middle income women in traditionally male blue collar jobs. The constraints of such jobs, whether traditionally male or female, are very different ones from the challenges of professional women in areas such as law.

We might also ask the other question about men. Where are men in this pattern of inequality; are we correct in assuming that all men benefit from this pattern, from the patriarchal dividend? Are men subordinated? And what is the role of men in challenging gender inequality? If we pursue the man question, we also must echo the questions we have raised about women: do all men have the same position in this pattern?

Certainly men are present in Grossman’s book not only as perpetrators of discrimination, but also as its victims. The book begins with the sex discrimination claim of a man, albeit one that does not evoke much sympathy (ladies night at a bar). Men are present in every segment. These provide opportunities to raise the other question, this series of questions about men and work. For example, the Hibbs case, brought by a man to validate his ability to use the federal leave statute discussed in the book provides one such opportunity among many to consider stereotypes about men as carers, limits on men, and the subordination of men. Discussion of racial harassment as compared to sexual harassment in the book provides another opportunity, reminding us of the ability of race to trump gender privilege. Asking about men brings in as well as the insights of masculinities studies. It enables us to consider men’s role in ending discrimination, a subject raised in the volume as well, when a man voices concerns over discrimination against women. One prominent effort to encourage male advocacy is that of the UN’s He4She campaign.

Grossman also provides the opportunity to consider variability among men by presenting chapters on discrimination suffered by gay men and several chapters on transgender discrimination. The transgender chapters both involve male-to-female transgendered persons, suggesting that it is this particular configuration that triggers the strongest discriminatory response. These patterns among men also encourage us to return to ask the other question, once again, about women. What about discrimination against lesbian women, or transgender female-to-male persons?

And perhaps the best opportunity to raise the man question is at the end of the book, when she reflects on her own life as the mother of two sons, and her question of how to raise a son. There are so many layers to that question, as it begs us again to ask other questions that matter that might affect the answer: What race is your son? What is his sexual orientation?

Asking the other question(s) embedded in this volume provides a fuller, richer picture of the complexity and dynamic of inequality, so that it can be called out, and remedied, in ways that do not have the unintended result of reinscribing some other inequality. A recent reminder of this comes outside of the area of workplace inequality, in the handling of a rape case. The Stanford swimmer Brock Turner who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman was convicted of felony rape, but then given an extremely light sentence of 6 months plus 3 years’ probation. The passionate letter of his victim protesting this outcome, coupled with the outrageous letter of the swimmer blaming his actions on campus culture, and the letter of his father minimizing his son’s conduct, ignited a firestorm that has generated an effort to remove the sentencing judge from office. All of this seems right: to find a way to sanction the continued inadequacy of the legal response to sexual response particularly when the perpetrator is an elite athlete at an elite university. Yet more analysis is required; ask the other question. In a nuanced and carefully worded opinion piece, Paul Butler raises the possibility that the message of such a successful removal might be to encourage judges to err on the harsh side of sentencing. That outcome, he points out, given the disproportionate presence of youth and adult men of color in every phase of the juvenile and adult criminal justice system, would disproportionately fall on them, reinforcing the already strong biases of the system against them. Other commentators have mused about the attention to this case in comparison to the relative lack of attention to the Holtzclaw case, which involved an Oklahoma City police officer who used his power to prey on women with criminal records and coerce them into sex. This was a case that was excruciatingly difficult to bring to justice, although he was ultimately convicted in 2015 of 18 of 36 charges. The difference in attention between the Turner case and the Holtzclaw case suggests a comparison between the victims: multiple Black women in one, a single presumed white victim in the other.

As we search for solutions and press for change in all areas of inequality, teaching our students well requires that we encourage them to ask these other questions. This wonderful volume provides us with a starting place to raise those inquiries.

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4 Wishes for Father’s Day

My post on Thursday expressed concerns about the cultural assumption that taking care of young children is a woman’s role. Today, I present a four-part wish list of public policy interventions. With Father’s Day coming up, these proposals seek to recognize dads as able caregivers.

Image from iStock.com/OlgaLebedeva

Image from iStock.com/OlgaLebedeva

1. Mandate dad-inclusive paid parental leave

The United States is notorious for being the only high-income country that doesn’t require employers to provide paid parental leave. Among employers that do offer some form of paid leave to new parents, many provide leave to new mothers (often framed as disability leave) but not to fathers. A report from 2014 estimated that 58 percent of employers offered paid leave to new mothers, but only 14 percent offered it to new fathers. Another study from 2012 reported that only 13 percent of fathers who took parental leave were paid, compared with 21 percent of mothers.

The first item on my wish list is a law requiring paid parental leave and, importantly, the law should grant leave rights to both moms and dads. A handful of states already have such legislation, but we need the whole country covered. Proposals for paid parental leave have already garnered a lot of attention, and that’s great. I think it’s important, however, not to focus too narrowly on this issue. For reasons that I discuss in a forthcoming essay, we also need to address other aspects of our social environment that affect dads as caregivers, including the following wish list items.

2. Require equal access to diaper changing facilities

Cities like Honolulu, Miami, and San Francisco have laws that give men and women a right of equal access to diaper changing facilities. I wish this right existed across the country. In 2014, California’s legislature passed two laws that would have required new and newly renovated buildings to grant men equal access to diaper changing tables by placing changing tables in men’s restrooms or family restrooms. It’s a shame that Governor Brown vetoed the measures. All too often, diaper changing tables are located exclusively in women’s restrooms. This is troubling because of the difficulty it creates for dads who need to change diapers. Moreover, lack of equal access sends the troubling message that only women should be expected to care for young children.

Restrooms have long been sites of regulation because they are so central to health and well-being. OSHA rules, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state-level Restroom Access Acts all aim to make restrooms accessible. There is also pending litigation about the extent to which federal civil rights laws protect transgender individuals’ ability to use restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Further regulating restrooms to ensure that men have equal access to diaper changing tables is long overdue.

3. Reframe state-supported “Mommy & Me” classes

When my daughter was a few months old, I began exploring community events for infants and parents. Friends told me how fun it would be to take her to “Mommy and Me” classes. “They’re called Mommy and Me classes, but I’m sure they’d let a dad in too,” one friend tried to reassure me. Mommy and Me classes abound—for example “Mommy and Me Yoga,” “Mommy and Me Music,” and “Mommy and Me Tender Twos.” While these classes may technically be open to fathers, the Mommy and Me moniker sends the message that fathers do not belong. This framing reinforces cultural expectations that caregiving should be left to mothers.

To be clear, these classes are not biological in nature. They are not breastfeeding classes. For example, Huntington Hospital in Pasadena offers a “Mommy and Me” class that it describes as “song time, parachute play, and bubbles with baby.”  All of these activities could surely involve fathers. Some places have begun to offer Daddy and Me classes, but these options are rare and I see no reason why moms and dads need to be segregated for song time and bubble play. Moreover, I’ve found that Daddy and Me Classes take place outside of the usual work schedule—on weeknights and weekends—thus reinforcing the outdated assumption that dads are breadwinners and moms are caregivers.

While we should lobby companies to rename their Mommy and Me classes, public policy also has a role to play. Many, if not most, Mommy and Me classes are offered by government-funded entities such as hospitals and public libraries. As a public policy intervention, the government should condition its funding on the reframing of Mommy and Me classes. Some places have already begun to call their classes “Baby and Me” instead, a name that is much more inclusive of dads and other caregivers. The government should require this change of any state-funded entity that offers a Mommy and Me class.

4. Recast the image of dads in the federal government’s Fatherhood & Mentoring Initiative

The federal government runs a public education campaign that encourages fathers to be more engaged with parenting. While this is certainly a laudable goal, the program has set a very low bar, focusing on preventing fathers from being completely absent. As a result, the campaign’s media clips risk reinforcing the belief that dads ought to leave the bulk of hands-on caregiving to women. For my fourth wish list item, I wish the government would revamp its media campaign.

Consider, for example, the first video clip at the bottom of this post. It features three television personalities from the MLB (Major League Baseball) Network.  The men are in their offices, taking a moment out of the day to call their children by phone or videoconference to say hello.  The clip closes with one of the men telling viewers: “Remember: You’re never too far away from your kids to be a dad. Reach out and take a second to check in—because sometimes, the smallest moments can have the biggest impact on a child’s life.”

This clip might have the unfortunate effect of reproducing the idea that a model father is, first and foremost, a breadwinner. And being an engaged father simply means picking up the phone to call the kids from work. I wish the federal government would replace videos like this from its campaign with clips that showcase multiple sides of fatherhood, including images of fathers as hands-on caregivers.

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Clay v. United States

192px-Muhammad_Ali_NYWTSIn honor of today’s funeral for Muhammed Ali, I thought I’d post about the Supreme Court’s opinion reversing Ali’s conviction for refusing induction into the draft.  The Court held that the Draft Board’s refusal to grant Ali conscientious objector status as a believer in Islam was not explained and thus must be reversed because at least one of the reasons why that denial could have occurred was invalid. Justice Douglas wrote one of his quirky concurring opinions that discussed the concept of jihad at some length.  Basically, Justice Douglas’s point was that Islam was not pacifist, but that only a “just” war against non-believers was valid under the Qu’ran. Douglas then added a footnote that shows you how much things have changed since 1971:

“The last attempt to use jihad as a significant force was made in 1914 by the Ottoman Sultan; but it failed and the jihad has fallen into disuse.”