Category: Race

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What a “Ghetto” Party at UCSD Can Teach Us About the Importance of Racial Diversity on Campus

Black History Month just ended.  In honor of Black History (or perhaps its end), certain students at the University of California, San Diego decided to leave us with one last lesson about the importance of diversity.

On February 15, 2010, individual members of a fraternity at UCSD held an off-campus party in honor of Black History Month called the “Compton Cookout” (The President of Pi Alpha Kappa criticized the party and asserted that the party was not sponsored or condoned by the fraternity.).  The invitation included references to “dat Purple drank,” which the party creators described as consisting of “sugar, water, and the color purple, chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.”   The students sent the invitation via Facebook with dress and behavior requirements for attendees.

Men were asked to be “stuntin’ in ya white T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU. . . .”

Women were asked to come as “ghetto chicks” with “short, nappy hair” (Did we not learn anything from Don Imus?).   The dress and behavior requirements for women were extensive and included the language below:

“For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave, usually in bad colors, such as purple or bright red. They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as “constipulated”, or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as “hmmg!”, or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises, grunts, and faces. The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these “respectable” qualities throughout the day.”

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The Newest Scottsboro Boy

Hear the words “Scottsboro Boys” and what comes to mind is the picture of southern injustice.   Nearly a dozen black teenagers taken off a train in Alabama in 1931 and accused of raping two white girls.  The sheriff calling out the militia to protect the boys from a mob lynching.  The defendants, illiterate young men whose families resided in other states, held under military guard.   A summary trial held six days after arraignment.  The boys tried without counsel.  Each convicted and sentenced to death.  The case successfully challenging their conviction, Powell v. Alabama, is central to our modern conception of the requirements of due process for criminal defendants.

Fast forward 80 years and Jeffrey Skilling, former president and chief operating officer ofcollapsed energy giant Enron, is the newest Scottsboro boy.  Skilling’s attorney argued on Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court that his client was tried and convicted in Houston in what amounted to a mob atmosphere.  Skilling, was convicted of securities fraud, conspiracy and insider trader for actions he took to cover up the financial collapse of Enron, which resulted in losses estimated at tens of billions of dollars for Enron shareholders.  Thousands of Enron employees lost their retirement funds.  Skilling was sentenced to 24 years, which he is serving in a minimum security prison.  He challenges his conviction on the grounds that the crime of “honest services fraud” is unconstitutionally vague, and on the grounds that he was tried and convicted amidst an atmosphere of “pervasive community bias.”

It’s true that feelings about Skilling and Enron CEO Ken Lay ran high during those days – especially in Houston.  It’s also true that government surveys indicated that potential jurors in Houston were more likely than those residing outside Houston, to believe that Skilling and Lay were innocent.  Skilling argued, nevertheless, that “overwhelming passions” gripped the pool of Texans from which the jury was selected, stoked by a “media frenzy.”  His prosecution was, according to Skilling, “as dramatic as any in U.S. criminal trial history.” (I’m not sure that the Scottsboro boys, Sacco and Vanzetti, Richard Hauptmann (kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby),the police officers who beat Rodney King, or O.J. Simpson, would agree with that assessment, but history will have to sort it out).  At oral argument, several members of the Court – Justices Sotomayor and Breyer among them – reportedly expressed serious concerns about the trial court’s voir dire of the jury.  The Court may yet find that Skilling – who was represented by some of the finest attorneys in the country, and who reportedly spent more than $30 million dollars on his defense —   is entitled to a new trial in a different venue. Read More

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Speak of the Devil

Pat Robertson made headlines a few weeks ago with his claim that Haiti’s earthquake was the product of a centuries-old curse caused by a pact with the Devil. Of course that assertion is preposterous. In fact, Robertson was several hundred miles off course. Haiti never made a pact with the Devil; the United States did.

Our deal with the Devil, as abolitionist writers remind us, was the conscious choice made by American leaders, two centuries ago, to taint our most sacred national documents by writing racism and slavery into them. Revolutionary leaders had talked boldly of freedom and equality. The Declaration of Independence contained soaring promises: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But the constitutional framers ran into political trouble – and, as usual, Black interests were the first to be abandoned. Under pressure from Southern landowners, the framers agreed on a Constitution which left slavery untouched, and even let Southerners count slaves (as 3/5ths of a person) for representation purposes. The result was a Constitution which abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison rightly called “a covenant with death, an agreement with Hell.” Or in other words, a pact with the Devil.

The Civil War provided a chance for repentance, as newly freed Blacks slowly began to build communities and cautiously claim their rights. But once again political exigencies required a compromise, and once again it was Black freedom which lost out in 1877. For thirty pieces of silver – the disputed electoral votes of three states – the nation’s political leaders sold the South to a century of Klan rule. Again. The pact would formally last until 1964; its effects are still easily observed today.

Haiti’s situation is complex, and made more so by some very bad decisions in American foreign policy. As we focus on rescue and rebuilding, Robertson’s ill-advised words can be a reminder of Garrison’s more apt description, and a reminder of a very real centuries-old pact with the Devil made in this hemisphere.

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Billionaire Girard’s Imperfect Legacy

GC Founder's HallIn his early-19th century will, Stephen Girard, one of the richest persons in United States history, endowed a school, Girard College, for the education of white boys who were poor and orphaned. As of the early 21st century, the Philadelphia school (whose Founder’s Hall is pictured at right and from which I was graduated in 1980), educates students of all races and both genders from families with limited financial resources headed by a single parent or guardian. Thus have the scope of race and gender radically opened and the concepts of poor and orphaned subtly shifted.

Girard’s will, which elaborately detailed all aspects of the school and dedicated his entire fortune to creating it, also prohibits clergy of any sect ever from stepping foot on campus. Despite early constitutional challenges, this provision remains unchanged and generally enforced. Though there is considerable scholarship on Girard College, in law as well as sociology and other fields, relatively little intellectual energy has been devoted to discerning how and why transformations occurred as to race, gender, poverty and family, yet not as to religion.* Read More

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On Brains and Football

There are many candidates for the best visual display of quantitative information.  But how about a prize for worst display of information?  Call it the anti-Tufte. There has been some competition of late.  The graph can’t be merely misleading, or distracting. That’s too darn easy! A really bad display has several characteristics: (1) it has to overstate the certainty of the underlying data; and (2) by using pictures, it must reinforce our biases.  A recent example is the Obama Cabinet/Private Experience graphic.

Here’s another example I’ve been thinking about lately: the claim that offensive linemen are smarter than other players on the field.  Think about it.  Doesn’t it just feel true?  And here’s the graph that popularized the claim:


olineman

Ben Fry, a smart fella by all accounts, created the graph.  The size of the circles represent mean scores by position on the Wonderlic, a 12 minute, 50-question, intelligence test which players take during the combine before the NFL draft.  This graphic is often deployed to support the cliché that players closer to the ball have to be smarter. But closer examination has led me to believe that the claim – and the graph – are bunk.  And bunk of a particular sort: misleading empiricism of the sort that reinforces racial stereotypes.

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Ricci and Briscoe as Disparate Impact Cases

UPDATE: Seven African-American testtakers in Ricci have moved to intervene in Ricci, which is back at the district court for implementation of the Supreme Court decision. Also, African-American testtakers have filed disparate treatment and disparate impact discrimination charges with the EEOC. All this reported in the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, www.ctemploymentlawblog.com/2009/11/articles/decisions-and-rulings/black-firefighters.

The main thrust of Ricci focused on the disparate impact issue and its implications will likely be worked out in Briscoe v. City of New Haven, a disparate impact case brought against the City because it has now used the test scores challenged in Ricci. In Ricci, the City argued that its decision not to use the test scores was made to avoid the risk of disparate impact liability to the African-American testtakers who would not be promoted if the test scores were used.  The Court conceded, as did all the parties, that the use of the test scores would have resulted in a disparate impact on African-American testtakers. Using the “pass rate,” or cutoff score that was set for the test, less than 80% of the minority testtakers passed. More important, the actual use of the test among those who passed would have excluded from immediate promotion all the African Americans and all but two of the 22 Hispanic testtakers. (Three African Americans might have some chance for promotion if new openings occurred in the future during the life cycle of the test.) With that prima facie case of disparate impact discrimination conceded, the focus moved to the business necessity and job relatedness affirmative defense and the plaintiff’s surrebuttal possibility of showing that an alternative was available that served the interests of the City but resulted in less impact.

Given the posture of the case – using the risk of disparate impact liability as a defense to a disparate treatment claim – the City had the burden to prove that it would not be likely to carry its burden of proving the test’s business necessity and job relatedness or that disparate impact plaintiffs would likely be able to prove an alternative way promote to promote firefighters that had less impact. The Court rejected the arguments that the City had to prove it would actually lose such a disparate impact case or that its good faith belief sufficed. Instead, the City had to have a “strong basis in evidence” for believing it would be liable for disparate impact discrimination. In other words, it should be somewhat easier for the City to win the issue of its potential risk of disparate impact liability than it would be if disparate impact plaintiffs actually had to prove the City liable for disparate impact discrimination.

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What would LBJ do?

I am almost done with Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, his magnificent biography of the years Lyndon Baines Johnson served in the United States Senate. This is the third volume of his-yet unfinished biography of the life of LBJ. This work in progress is now approximately 2500 pages long and has not even covered the years where LBJ was Vice-President and President.

All three volumes focus on Johnson’s ambition for power and leadership. Master of the Senate begins with the history of the Senate and its role in our Constitutional structure as the place where dramatic political and social change goes to die – by design. Even after Senators were directly elected, the longer terms, the rules of the Senate, the role of seniority, committee chairmanships, the ease of filibuster, and the difficulty of cloture have made the Senate a unique institution.

Caro focuses mostly on two developments in the years between 1948 and 1960 before Johnson was elected Vice-President. First, was his meteoric rise as the first (and possibly last) Senate Majority Leader to wield true power. Second, was his burning ambition to be the first Southerner to be elected President since the Civil War.

These two developments combined in Johnson’ epic struggle to pass the Civil Rights of Act of 1957. Out of burning ambition, but also a complicated attitude toward race that was different than most Southern Senators, Johnson wanted, needed, some, any, civil rights legislation to lay the foundation for a run for the White House in 1960. Passing such legislation meant a weak enough bill so the Southern Bloc (his bloc as Caro makes clear in detail) wouldn’t filibuster, and yet enough of a bill that the Republicans, Northern liberals, and Western Democrats could support. To ensure passage, and no filibuster, Johnson had to stitch together a coalition that had never been successfully created on civil rights from the Jim Crow era on.

Caro lays out the cajoling, wheeling, dealing, strong arming, and compromising in the fight for the civil rights bill as well as the complicated linkages between the civil rights bill and other legislation to obtain LBJ’s winning coalition. Among other things, Johnson brokered a deal between Western Democrats who wanted public power and conservative Southern Democrats who wanted the most watered down civil rights bill possible. The Southerners voted for a public power bill they had previously opposed, but did not filibuster the emerging civil rights bills once key changes were made. The Southerners opposed the bill on the floor and voted against it, but would never used the one weapon which could have killed it entirely. The Western Democrats got their public power (at least in the Senate) and supported watering down the civil rights bill which would not hurt them politically back home in that era. Northern Democrats eventually were reconciled to the fact that some bill was better than nothing and Southern Democrats were reconciled to the fact that some bill was inevitable.

Does this remind you of anything currently going on in the Senate? We are seeing the same type of struggle now play out in the Senate over health care reform. Only a fraction of the sausage making is taking place in public, but the same issues of power, leadership, and strategy seems to be unfolding. Some bill, any bill, will probably ultimately pass. Obviously Harry Reid is no LBJ, but the demographics of the House, Senate, and White House are different enough that something is likely to emerge.

But the issues of power, leadership, and strategy remain. Is some bill better than no bill? Is this the first step to more comprehensive reform down the road? Is the watering down of the public option to build coalitions within the Democratic Party, and perhaps a couple of Republicans, leadership, weakness, or just rent seeking? While we will never know, what would LBJ have done on health care, and will we ever see the likes of him as a legislative leader again?

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Thanks to Danielle, Dan, and the rest of Concurring Opinions for the chance to blog for the month of October. I look forward to the new group of guest commentators for November including my Loyola-Chicago colleague Mike Zimmer.

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The Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Class Action Connection to the Chicago Olympic Bid

By this point, everyone probably knows that Chicago finished last among the finalists for the 2016 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Truth be told, I am personally glad that Rio got the games, but civic pride had me hoping that we would come in second, rather than last. I certainly knew a few people who really wanted the games for our fair city, but most actual Chicagoans I talked to were neutral to negative about the whole enterprise, but quite fascinated by the possibility of being able to rent out their homes to tourists for exorbitant sums.

A less known aspect of the now failed bid was the connection between the bid and one of the landmark cases taught in most civil procedure, civil procedure, and complex litigation courses. A temporary 80,000 seat stadium was planned for the opening and closing ceremonies and certain track and field events including the finish of the marathon. The stadium was to have been constructed in Washington Park, a south side neighborhood just west of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago campus. The park would have been the site of massive improvements and some sort of smaller permanent facility would have survived the end of the Games.

The residential portion of Washington Park immediately to the south of the actual park was the site of one of the many ugly incidents in the early part of the 20th century as many Chicago neighborhoods sought to maintain segregated communities in the face of the tremendous expansion of the African-American population that came to Chicago seeking work. At one time, the Washington Park neighborhood was all white and subject to a racially restrictive covenant. In the depths of the depression, a white home owner sold to a middle class black family. The family endured harassment beyond description as angry mobs howled outside their home and the family faced daily threats and numerous incidents of vandalism and violence.

On the legal front, there were also attempts to enforce the racially restrictive covenants that were still lawful in the days before the Supreme Court’s 1948 decision in Shelley v. Kramer. But first, the white land owners had to establish that the covenant was enforceable as a matter of contract law. The covenant was to take effect only when 95% of the owners had executed it. An action in the Illinois courts held that the requisite percentage of owners had signed the covenant. Then certain white home owners sought to enforce the covenant against the new black owner arguing that he was bound by the results of the earlier state court litigation.

By now, you may have figured out that I am describing the landmark case of Hansberry v. Lee. In the United States Supreme Court, Justice Stone wrote on behalf of a unanimous court (three Justice concurring in the result). As my civ pro students can tell you, the case holds that Mr. Hansberry could not be enjoined from purchasing or living in his home as a result of the earlier litigation, since he had been neither a party in the earlier case nor adequately represented by either side in what had amounted to a class action under Illinois law. The case matters today for all manner of principles we explore at length in civil procedure, class action, and mass litigation courses, but it also stands as an important early landmark on the way to the later civil rights rulings of Shelley v. Kramer and eventually Brown v. Board of Education.

To better understand the personal issues at stake for the Hansberrys throughout this ordeal, we have the moving play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, who was a young child when her family moved into their new neighborhood. For a detailed and sensitive history of the underlying facts and the convoluted sets of litigation leading up to Justice Stone’s opinion, we are also fortunate to have Jay Tidmarsh’s chapter on the case in Civil Procedure Stories.

I would like to think that the Olympic Games would have done some good for Washington Park and all the surrounding neighborhoods that Mr. Hansberry and others suffered so greatly to integrate, but as a somewhat cynical Chicagoan I suspect that the burdens would have shared by the public at large and the benefits enjoyed by a privileged few. But if you’re ever in town, I hope you will consider visiting Washington Park and seeing where an important part of legal history took place and where a very different type of sporting history was nearly made this past week. If you get there in the next two weeks, there is even a pretty good circus on the site of where the Olympic Stadium would have been.

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UCLA Law Review 56:6 (August 2009)

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Volume 56, Issue 6 (August 2009)

Articles

Overcoming Overdisclosure: Toward Tax Shelter Detection (pdf)
Joshua D. Blank

First Amendment Enforcement in Government Institutions and Programs (pdf)
Gia B. Lee

Ezra Pound’s Copyright Statute: Perpetual Rights and the Problem of Heirs (pdf)
Robert Spoo

Comments

Nonwaiver Agreements After Federal Rule of Evidence 502: A Glance at Quick-Peek and Clawback Agreements (pdf)
Jessica Wang

Narrowing the Definition of “Dwelling” Under the Fair Housing Act (pdf)
Karen Wong

Addressing Youth Bias Crime (pdf)
Jordan Blair Woods

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Assimilation: What Will It Mean for Affirmative Action?

Orlando Patterson, the well-respected Harvard sociologist, wrote an article in the New York Times this week in which he argued that immigrants from Latin America and Asia will assimilate into mainstream American culture (whatever that might be) in the same way as European immigrants from the late 19th and early 20th century had. Maybe he’s right. Although social scientists have argued that Latino and Asian immigrants will not be able to assimilate as rapidly as Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants because the former are not white, there is some evidence suggesting that the children of Latino and Asian immigrants are assimilating quite well. They tend to be English-dominant (many do not speak or understand their parents’ native language), they have high intermarriage rates (with whites primarily but also with other groups), and many reside in integrated or predominantly white neighborhoods—all indicators of assimilation. Many Latinos (approximately 50% according to Patterson) also self-identify as white, suggesting that their experiences might not be that different from those of European immigrants.

These facts notwithstanding, many Latino and Asian-American scholars would disagree with Professor Patterson’s assertion. They would point to continuing discrimination and evidence of implicit biases against Latinos and Asian-Americans and the widespread perception that these groups are not “really American,” as illustrated by the question “no, where are you really from?” when a person who does not look Black or White says that he is from Texas, California, or Kansas.

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