Category: Constitutional Law

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Symposium on Carol Sanger’s “About Abortion”: Introduction & Commentaries

What follows is an online symposium concerning Professor Carol Sanger’s latest book, About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America (Harvard University Press 2017) (table of contents here). Links to the Introduction and Commentaries are set out below.

Related

Professor Carol Sanger

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Ratification of Constitutional Amendments

As I think about what my next big project might be, one thought is that lawyers know little about what was said in the state legislatures about the amendments to the Constitution. We know a lot about the state ratification debates on the Constitution itself (at least for the states that kept some information) but after that the quality of the historical record drops off dramatically.  I’m not sure if that is because state legislatures did not keep notes of their debates (say, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), if the debates were lackluster, or if nobody has bothered to do the research. Surely, for the more recent amendments there are complete state legislative accounts, and I’m sure that people would like to know, for example, what was said there about the Twenty-Fourth or the Twenty-Fifth Amendments.  But there is no single place to find a summary of those discussions. David Kyvig’s terrific book on constitutional change is the closest example, but that is still far from what I’m thinking about.

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FAN 147 (First Amendment News) Was Justice Scalia a First Amendment free-speech originalist?

His originalism was selective . . . and essentially absent in his First Amendment free speech jurisprudence . . . .

Like a great majority of originalists, although he recognized the problems with applying originalism, in practice he seemed to practice law office history.

Scalia was not an historian . . . His originalist opinions were almost always one-dimensional . . .  David Dorsen 

When it came to freedom of expression under the First Amendment, was Justice Antonin Scalia’s jurisprudence grounded in originalism? Did his First Amendment opinions in the following Roberts Court cases and elsewhere reflect the originalist jurisprudence he made famous?

During the Term of the Roberts Court, Justice Scalia wrote five majority opinions in First Amendment free-expression cases. Those opinions and the vote in them are set out below:

  1. Davenport v. Washington Educ. Association (2007) (9-0)
  2. United States v. Williams (2008) (7-2)
  3. New York State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres (2008) (9-0)
  4. Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011) (7-2)
  5. Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan (2011) (9-0)

During that same Court era, Justice Scalia wrote dissents in the following cases First Amendment free-expression cases:

  1. Washington State Grange v. Washington State Rep. Party (2008) (7-2)
  2. Borough of Duryea v. Guarneri (2011) (concurring & dissenting in part) (8-1)
  3. Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc (2013) (6-2)

During that same Court era, Justice Scalia wrote concurrences in the following cases First Amendment free-expression cases:

  1. McCullen v. Coakley (2014) (9-0)
  2. Doe v. Reed (2010) (8-1)
  3. Pleasant Grove City, UT, et al v. Summum (2009) (9-0)
  4. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) (5-4)

Justice Scalia & David Dorsen

How much did his originalist jurisprudence affect his thinking in those cases and others? Not much, says David Dorsen, author of The Unexpected Scalia: A Conservative Justice’s Liberal Opinions (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

In his latest book, Mr. Dorsen (who was a friend of the Justice) writes of Scalia’s “failure to look to the original understanding or meaning of many First Amendment issues ….” In a soon-to-be-posted interview I did with Mr. Dorsen for SCOTusblog, he added: “His originalist jurisprudence did have gaps. Perhaps the most important one was the freedom of speech (aside from pornography).”

Among other things, Dorsen argues that Scalia’s vote in Texas v. Johnson was inconsistent with his originalism: “No textual or historical evidence supports the contention that the society that adopted the First Amendment understood it to cover communicative activity like flag-burning. Symbolic expression, such as pictures and signs, were largely included, but that was it.”

“The distinction between content-based and content-neutral speech, the concepts of conduct as speech and fighting words, and the idea of conduct as protected speech are mid-to-late-twentieth century creations.”

Drawing on Professor Akhil Amar’s analysis, Dorsen maintains that Scalia’s opinion in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992) (cross burning) amounted to “‘an ambitious reconceptualization and synthesis of First Amendment doctrine.'”

Mr. Dorsen says more, much more, about Justice Scalia’s free-speech jurisprudence and originalism in his book, most of which highlights what Dorsen sees as the inconsistencies between the two.

 Again, more will be said on Justice Scalia’s originalism and textualism later this week in my SCOTUSblog Q&A with David Dorsen.

Related 

  1. Geoffrey Stone, Justice Scalia, Originalism and the First Amendment, Huffington Post, October 12, 2011
  2. FAN 7:  Justice Scalia & the First Amendment, March 19, 2014
  3. Gene Policinski, Justice Scalia: The 45 words — and original meaning — of the First Amendment, Newseum Institute, February 16, 2016
  4. Steven Heyman, Justice Scalia and the Transformation of First Amendment Jurisprudence, SCOTUS Now, February 27, 2016
  5. See Originalism and the First Amendment, Federalist Society Panel, Nov. 18, 2016 (Nadine Strossen, David Forte, & Bradford Clark)
  6. David Lat, Justice Scalia, Originalism, Free Speech And The First Amendment, Above the Law, November 22, 2016

Newseum Event: The President & the Press: The First Amendment in the First 100 Days

Today the Newseum is hosting a half-day forum that will explore the Trump administration’s relationship with the press in the critical first months. The program will be held at the Newseum and will feature one-on-one conversations, panel discussions and individual presentations.

Participants, including White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, will explore pertinent challenges to the First Amendment, a free press and protecting the free flow of information in a divided nation.

→ Live video feed here.

Guests include:

  • Jim Acosta, CNN
  • Mike Allen, Co-founder and Executive Editor, Axios
  • Bret Baier, Fox News
  • Carrie Budoff Brown, POLITICO
  • Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President
  • David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post
  • Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary, George W. Bush
  • David Kirkpatrick, journalist and author of “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World”
  • Julie Pace, The Associated Press
  • Jennifer Palmieri, former White House Communications Director, President Barack Obama
  • Bob Schieffer, CBS News
  • Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary
  • Charlie Spiering, Breitbart News
  • Brian Stelter, CNN
  • Greta Van Susteren, MSNBC
  • Cecilia Vega, ABC News
  • Glenn Thrush, The New York Times
  • Kristen Welker, NBC News
  • Michael Wolff, The Hollywood Reporter

Headline: “NRA Readies Next Attack Against The First Amendment” Read More

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FAN 146 (First Amendment News) Upcoming Conference: “Truth, Lies and the Constitution”

The Twenty-Fifth Annual Ira C. Rothgerber, Jr. Conference is sponsored by Colorado Law’s Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law. The annual event seeks to explore a broad range of issues related to law and lies. 

This year’s conference takes place on Friday, April 14 from 8:15 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and is titled “Truth, Lies and the Constitution.” The event will be moderated by Professor Helen Norton.

Panel I: Lies, Law, and Public Policy

  1. “Sex, Lies, and Ultrasound” — Jessie Hill, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
  2. “Falsehoods and the Press” – Helen Norton, University of Colorado School of Law
  3. “Too Incredible to be Believed” — Catherine Ross, George Washington University Law School
  4. “Climate Change Denial, Citizen Competence and the First Amendment” — James Weinstein, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

Panel II:  Deception, Hypocrisy, and the Constitution

  1. “The Lie of the Supremacy Clause and the Dakota Access Pipeline” — Carla Fredericks, University of Colorado School of Law
  2. “Truth, Lies, and the Confrontation Clause” — Mark Spottswood, Florida State University College of Law
  3. “Free Speech Hypocrisy:  Campus Speech, Engagement and the Sub-legal First Amendment” — Christina Wells, University of Missouri School of Law

Panel III: The Diversity of Lies (and Other Forms of Deception): Legal Theory and Doctrine

  1. “Material Benefits, Cognizable Harms and the Scope of the Constitutional Protection for Lies” — Alan Chen & Justin Marceau, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  2. “Categorizing Lies” — David Han, Pepperdine University School of Law
  3. “The Law of Deception: A Research Agenda” – Gregory Klass, Georgetown Law

→ For more information, please go here.

Look up, look around — ACLU launches multilingual ad campaign Read More

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The Abortion Closet

An enormous amount of information and insight is packed into Carol Sanger’s About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First Century America.  The book is anchored in post-1973 American case law.  Yet it repeatedly incorporates examples and ideas from popular culture, prior historical periods, moral philosophy, feminist theory, medicine, literature and the visual arts, and more.

The panoramic ambition of the book, and its correspondingly multi-disciplinary method, are established in the first chapter, in a section titled “What Abortion Is About.”  By the end of this section, the reader has learned something about: Roe v. Wade; various international treaties on the rights of women; abortion training protocols in medical schools; the neurological development of a fetus; the 2012 Republican presidential primary; a 1995 papal encyclical; a 1984 lecture by the New York Governor; a 2001 concurrence by a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice; the 2003 decision by the FDA to approve the “morning-after-pill” for over-the-counter sale; the anti-abortion turn within certain Protestant denominations in the 1970s and 80s; sociological research on pro-life activists and their views on sex; anthropological research on pregnancy termination decisions following a diagnosis of fetal disability; prostitution laws in New York; abstinence-only programs in Texas; President George W. Bush’s Culture of Life; the rise and rise of parental involvement statutes and personhood amendments; the rise and fall of federal support for family planning organizations and abortion services to pregnant soldiers; the intensifying politics of abortion in state judicial elections; the recent Hobby Lobby litigation over the Affordable Care Act; and the Supreme Court’s decision last Term in Whole Woman’s Health.

This section lasts fourteen pages.  It is a testament to Sanger’s skill as a writer and to her synthetic capacities as a thinker that one comes away from this whirlwind tour feeling not vertigo, but rather an enhanced sense of clarity about the arc of abortion regulation.  While the pace soon slows down, the rest of the book maintains a relentless inquisitiveness, ever collecting and connecting data points to help guide the reader through complex socio-legal terrain.

Most of the chapters could stand on their own as original accounts of one facet or another of U.S. abortion controversies.  Chapter seven, on “Sending Pregnant Teenagers to Court,” advances an especially powerful critique of judicial bypass hearings as cruel and frequently arbitrary degradation ceremonies.  But the main throughline of the book is its catalog of the ways in which Sanger believes this country’s abortion discourse, or “abortion talk,” has been lacking—and in consequence how abortion policymaking has been lacking.  Not in passion or commitment, to be sure, but lacking in evidence, lacking in candor, and lacking in appreciation and respect for the distinctive circumstances and perspectives of women.

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Secrecy is a big part of this story.  The book’s “central argument,” Sanger writes in the preface, is that “the secrecy surrounding women’s personal experience of abortion has massively . . . distorted how the subject of abortion is discussed and how it is regulated.”  These “distortions” take myriad forms.  Politically, secrecy means that our debates about abortion often paint a misleading picture, as by overstating its health risks or understating its bases of support.  Culturally, secrecy means that abortion often gets coded as something shameful or deviant, which reinforces the desire for concealment regarding abortion decisions, which in turn reinforces the sense that there is something ignominious to be hidden away, and on and on in a self-perpetuating cycle.  And substantively, secrecy means that any number of dubious, paternalistic, or factually erroneous claims about the harms of abortion are able to circulate with less pushback than we might expect in a more open conversational climate.

Abortion, in other words, is in the closet.

Sanger doesn’t expressly adopt this framing of abortion secrecy, although she draws an analogy to sexual orientation “closetedness” in chapter two that suggests she would be amenable to it.  Closetedness, as Sanger observes, refers to “a form of concealment that is both furtive and debilitating,” set against a “shadow of disapproval.”  We know from other contexts that such closets are costly for inhabitants.  They stigmatize, they suffocate, they alienate, they create vulnerability, they obscure reality.  The abortion closet paradoxically makes our society both more obsessed with abortion—because like all taboos, it becomes an object of fascination and fear—and yet less familiar with abortion—because many of our public debates about it are disconnected from women’s actual experiences.

One may wonder whether secrecy deserves such emphasis.  Statistics on abortion are regularly compiled and circulated.  Many pro-choice women have been vocal about their beliefs on abortion, pregnancy, procreation, and related issues.  Their views, however, are liable to be discounted or discredited by competing discourses that flourish alongside their own.  The problem here may have less to do with ignorance and “unknowing” than with a refusal of empathy.  It is not clear that secret-keeping, of whatever sort, has been as central to the development of abortion regulation as the closet historically has been to gay subordination.

That said, abortion secrecy is very real, and underexplored, and my sense is that Sanger has opened up significant conceptual and political opportunities in pointing to the abortion closet.  The analogies and disanalogies to the gay closet warrant sustained attention.  Moreover, if secrecy is at the core of Sanger’s diagnosis of what ails the American discourse on abortion, the book also identifies a range of supplementary causes.  One is the persistence of stark disparities in the social roles and responsibilities of men versus women, with women bearing not only most of the practical burden of raising children but also most of the moral burden of responding to unwanted pregnancies.  A number of newer developments that might seem to enrich the conversation, meanwhile, only end up deepening the closet—from the proliferation in popular culture of fetal images that foster an association with personhood; to the proliferation of terminology, such as partial birth abortion and unborn child, that gives pro-life advocates the “rhetorical advantage”; to the proliferation of policies, such as mandatory ultrasounds and informed consent protocols, that dictate what women see and hear in their physicians’ offices.

The pro-life push to control the conversations that abortion providers have with their patients, Sanger suggests, betrays an anxiety about frank dialogue.  Proponents of Women’s Right to Know laws and informed consent protocols recognize the importance of the discursive space; their prescriptions generate a steady stream of abortion talk.  Much of this talk, however, is scripted and unidirectional.  It purports to promote more knowledgeable and responsible choices yet in reality serves to deter and demean women and to interfere with their decisional processes.

*  *  *

Among other contributions, Sanger’s subtle indictment of contemporary abortion discourse sheds light on a classic subject in legal theory: the distinction between rules and standards.  Whereas rules are thought to limit case-by-case discretion through crisp ex ante directives, standards leave much of their content to be worked out by future enforcers and interpreters.  Rules are precise, standards imprecise.  Some legal theorists have suggested that the very imprecision of standards ought to make them better at facilitating moral and democratic deliberation.  Rather than apply a rule by rote, citizens faced with a standard are forced to think hard about whether they are acting appropriately and why.

But as Sanger shows, standards in abortion law may have just the opposite effect.  In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Supreme Court famously replaced Roe v. Wade’s trimester system with the “undue burden” test to govern when abortion may be restricted.  In so doing, the Court shifted the doctrinal framework from a relatively rigid set of rules to a relatively hazy and open-textured standard.  On the rosy view of standards as deliberation-forcing, Casey should have led to richer public argument about the stakes involved in terminating a pregnancy, in each trimester, and about whether any given regulatory plan seems reasonable and respectful of women or alternatively whether it seems excessive and unjustified.

Sanger, however, suggests that the shift from Roe to Casey occasioned no such elevation of our deliberations about abortion, no salutary spur to collective self-reflection.  On the contrary, in her telling, Casey largely enabled a diminishment of the quality and integrity of these deliberations, as well as a diminishment of the abortion right.  When you combine Casey’s malleable language of undue burden—a phrase that teeters on the edge of tautology—with all the broader factors that threaten to “distort” abortion talk and policy, it turns out that you invite endless cycles of opportunism and obstruction, not sensitive and honest debate.

One general lesson we might take from Sanger’s account, then, is that the relationship between legal doctrine and cultural practice in such a politically charged field may be poorly illuminated by abstract propositions about the comparative merits of rules, standards, or the like.  Open-minded judges, in particular, might learn from Sanger’s implicit yet emphatic demonstration of the need for more realistic, empirically informed, and sociologically grounded approaches to abortion regulation.

*  *  *

Sanger begins her book with “the possibility of conversation at a lower decibel by women concerning their own abortion decisions and experience.”  Less heat, more light, is her proposal.  Less secrecy and shame, “more openness and generosity,” as she puts it in the book’s closing line.

Sanger’s book does not simply offer an eloquent brief in support of this proposal.  The book also offers, through the author’s own exemplary openness and generosity, a model of what such conversations about abortion might be like.  And what we find is that they can be intensely illuminating.

 

David Pozen is a professor of law at Columbia Law School.  This post is based on Pozen’s remarks at a recent event celebrating the publication of About Abortion.

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Introduction to About Abortion Symposium

We are delighted to introduce Professor Carol Sanger and the participants in our online symposium on About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America (Harvard University Press 2017).

Professor Sanger, in her inimitable style, updates us on the state of the abortion debate in the age of Trump.  She explains how the experiences of women who have abortions have disappeared into the shadows while those who would outlaw it control the public discourse.  She explores the explosion of hostile legislation in state legislatures, as the new laws “treat abortion not as an acceptable medical decision—let alone a right—but as something disreputable, immoral, and chosen by mistake.”  Sanger’s book captures the reasons why the discourse has changed, and how abortion, which has always been a contentious issue, drives its emotional force from its connection to underlying debates about sex, religion, gender, politics, and identity.  She nonetheless seeks to reclaim women’s perspectives on the practice of abortion.   She argues that as women become more willing to talk about their experiences, “women’s decisions about whether or not to become mothers will be treated more like those of other adults making significant personal choices.”  In short, she seeks to normalize the topic of abortion.

The book covers original material that Sanger has assembled documenting the legal infrastructure for abortion decision-making.  She presents the experiences of vulnerable teens, forced to appear before hostile judges in an effort to secure permission to proceed without parental consent.  Courts deem many of the teens too immature to make such decisions on their own, but not apparently too immature to become mothers against their will.  She also describes the women required to undergo involuntary ultrasounds, the debate about whether the women are allowed to look away, and the insidiousness of this alleged effort to “help” women make the abortion decision.

Throughout, Sanger connects these practices to law, medicine, the organization of intimate relationships, the shape of a woman’s life, and national identity.  She takes pains to present  the objections to abortion accurately even as she also counters the depiction of decisions to end pregnancies as “selfish” or casual decisions to put women’s interests ahead of their children.  She distinguishes between abortion privacy, a form of nondisclosure based on a woman’s desire to control personal information, and abortion secrecy, a woman’s defense against the many harms of disclosure.   She captures women’s varied views, whether they treat abortion as unthinkable or as a measure necessary to allow them to become “good” mothers in circumstances of their choosing.

Indeed, Sanger’s original treatment of abortion includes a chapter on the views of men.  She asks not what decisions men would make about abortion; instead, she explores how they in fact decide whether to become fathers when they are faced with the choice of what to do with their frozen embryos.  The men in such circumstances express concern over the potential child’s future welfare, distress over an ongoing relationship with the other parent, an unwillingness to consider adoption as an acceptable alternative; in short, they express the same concerns that women do about whether to proceed with a pregnancy.  Yet, the right to life forces, while they often champion the rights of frozen embryos,  do not subject the men’s decisions  to the same intrusion and vilification they reserve for women.  Sanger speculates that if the same law that governs decisions about frozen embryos applied to women’s reproductive decisions, it “would not look quite the same as it does now, with assumptions of incompetence, layers of second-guessing, and invasive counseling.”

About Abortion adds to our understanding of the abortion debate.  It confronts the dishonesty and distortions that characterizes much of the public debate.  It acknowledges the way the issue is deeply intertwined with fundamental questions about the organization of society.  It advocates bringing the experiences of those who have chosen abortion out the shadows, and it succeeds in providing a richer foundation for public consideration of the issue.

About Abortion is an important book that has already received wide attention, including a New Yorker review that coincides with our consideration of it here.  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/why-its-become-so-hard-to-get-an-abortion.

For this Concurring Opinions book symposium, we have invited an all-star cast of thinkers who have a variety  of different perspectives on abortion:  Helen Alvare, Caitlin  Borgmann, Khiara Bridges, David Cohen, Leslie Griffin, Linda McClain, David Pozen, Lisa Pruitt, and Rachel Rebouche.

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The Blindspot: Must Read New Blog

My colleague Max Stearns kicked off his new blog, The Blindspot, whose timeliness is matched by its insights. Max explains:

I’m a different kind of law professor. Over the past twenty-five years, I have come to appreciate that we all have blindspots. We see the world with the benefits and burdens of our own framings. We often don’t realize how those framings, sometimes called “priors,” disallow us even to see what our opponents regard as central to their different understandings of the world. My academic background is a bit unusual, see here, and my interests are varied. One common thread in my academic work has been to shine a light on the blindspots themselves, pointing out what others miss.

I’m going to repost two recent pieces on The Blindspot so you can see for yourselves. (With Max’s permission).

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FAN 145 (First Amendment News) David Cole: “Does anyone believe that the ‘free marketplace of ideas’ is functioning?”

In a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, the ACLU’s David Cole reviewed:

David Cole

“‘Civil liberties once were radical.’ So begins Laura Weinrib’s important revisionist history of the origins of American civil liberties, ” writes Cole. “By 1938,” he adds, “Roger Baldwin, the ACLU’s executive director, proclaimed that the ACLU had ‘no ‘isms’ to defend except the Bill of Rights.’ The ACLU had shifted its focus from labor’s struggle for economic justice to a defense of the ‘neutral’ rights of speech and association, rights that could be invoked not just by individual workers and unions but by Henry Ford and big business. As Baldwin put it one year later, ‘We are neither anti-labor nor pro-labor. With us it is just a question of going wherever the Bill of Rights leads us.'”

“Sam Lebovic tells a related story in [his book]. In his account,” Cole notes, “American constitutional law has favored a classical liberal ‘freedom of the press,’ which stresses the importance of staving off state censorship, over ‘freedom of the news,’ a concept formulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which envisions the state working proactively to ensure access to information against concentrated media ownership. Lebovic argues that the liberal conception of free speech and a free press, founded on the ‘free marketplace of ideas,’ is and always has been inadequate to address the threats to ‘freedom of the news,’ including not just the power of media moguls, but also the consequences of the Internet and the state’s over-reliance on secrecy.”

In a world where claims of “fake news” fill the airwaves, Cole asserts that “following Donald Trump’s election, on a campaign that relied on outright lies and stubborn denials of the truth, does anyone believe that the ‘free marketplace of ideas’ is functioning?” Then again, he stresses that “the inauguration of Donald Trump has dramatically reinforced the continuing importance of traditional core First Amendment rights.”

We are neither anti-labor nor pro-labor. With us it is just a question of  going wherever the Bill of Rights leads us. — Roger Baldwin (1940)

A new focus — look beyond the courts 

We were weened in an era when courts were often seen as the great defenders of equality. Even so, Cole invites his readers to reassess that reliance: “if we are to attain a more egalitarian exchange of ideas, it will be more likely through the political rather than the judicial branches.”

And as more and more liberals urge government intervention in the free speech arena, Cole counsels caution: “empowering the state to correct perceived deficiencies in the marketplace of ideas is a cure that is worse than the disease. ”

So what is the baseline for Cole’s conception of free speech?  “The best argument for protecting speech,” he stresses, “is not that the free marketplace of ideas will lead us to truth, but that it is superior to all the alternatives. . . . [W]hile it is true that a right to universal free speech can be invoked by the powerful as well as the weak, by business as well as labor, the right is nonetheless more valuable for the weak.”

SPLC: Google, Hate Crimes, and Algorithms

In case you missed it, the Southern Poverty Law Center recently issued a story titled  Google and the Miseducation of Dylann RoofRecall, Roof was the man who murdered nine African Americans during a Bible study. How did Roof go from being someone who was not raised in a racist home to someone so steeped in white supremacist propaganda the man responsible for the massacre at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston? Here is how the SPLC story answered that question:

“The answer lies, at least in part, in the way that fragile minds can be shaped by the algorithm that powers Google Search.

It lies in the way Google’s algorithm can promote false propaganda written by extremists at the expense of accurate information from reputable sources.

See SPLC video here

Roof’s radicalization began, as he later wrote in an online manifesto, when he typed the words “black on White crime” into Google and found what he described as “pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders.”

SPLC President Richard Cohen

The first web pages he found were produced by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a crudely racist group that once called black people a “retrograde species of humanity.” Roof wrote that he has “never been the same since that day.” As he delved deeper, because of the way Google’s search algorithm worked, he was immersed in hate materials.

Google says its algorithm takes into account how trustworthy, reputable or authoritative a source is.

In Roof’s case, it clearly did not.”

Speaking this past Monday evening the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, SPLC President Richard Cohen said that at first Google was reluctant to tweet its algorithms but apparently did so afterwards. Mr. Cohen said that a meeting has been set up between Google and representatives from the SPLC.

Story: “Amazon releases Echo data in murder case, dropping First Amendment argument” Read More

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An Optimist in Pessimistic Times: Chief Judge Katzmann on Civic Education

Chief Judge Katzmann (Charlie Rose program)

One of the keys to the survival of free institutions is . . .  the way citizens do, or do not, participate in the public sphere. — Robert N. Bellah

*  * * 

Civic education is a force than can provide the ties that bind.”

Those are the words of Second Circuit Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, spoken recently on the Charlie Rose program. At a time when partisan politics and ignorance of our constitutional system of government have nearly become our collective default position, Judge Katzmann is busy rallying the cause of the civic-minded citizen. To that end, two years ago he launched “Justice for All: Courts and the Community.” Its Mission:

The federal judiciary is one of the three branches of the national government. It seeks to provide the fair and effective administration of justice for all persons and interests, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or status. Federal courts and their state court counterparts provide a means for settling disputes peacefully, and help to foster democratic governance, consistent with the Constitution’s goals of “justice” and “domestic tranquility.” Those who founded our government recognized the critical importance of an independent national judiciary with a limited but essential role.

With the active participation of members of the Bar and community organizations working through several committees, its activities include:

  • hosting field trips to the courthouse for schools and community organizations to observe court proceedings and to meet with judges and court staff;
  • holding moot courts and mock trials for students;
  • developing educational resources for teachers about the law and justice system; developing learning centers;
  • creating library labs for students;
  • coordinating Constitution Day/Citizenship Day programs;
  • supporting essay contests;
  • sponsoring adult education programs in such areas as financial literacy;
  • fostering jury service; and
  • developing a speakers bureau whereby judges and members of the Bar visit the schools and community organizations to discuss the work of the courts.

Following in the footsteps of his mentors Senator Daniel P. Moynihan and Judge Frank M. Coffin, Katzmann is doing what he has long espoused: urging moderation counseled by knowledge coupled with a genuine commitment to improving our democracy. Can he succeed? That is the question.

With steadfast energy, the Chief Judge ventures to schools and elsewhere preaching the the Jeffersonian and Madisonian and Hamiltonian gospels of civic engagement . . . and those of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, too.

Duly sensitive to our “red state/ blue state” differences, Judge Katzmann believes in his mission enough to broker this renewed experiment in democracy. Of course, like any experiment, it may fail. But he moves ahead nonetheless; color him an optimist. Again, his words: “Civic education is a force than can provide the ties that bind.”

For more information, go here.

* * See also * * 

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Stone’s “Sex and the Constitution” — a monumental work

Professor Geoffrey Stone

If you thought Geoffrey Stone’s Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (W.W. Norton, 2005) was an incredible book, hold on: the University of Chicago law professor has outdone himself with his latest book — Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century (Liveright, March 21, 2017).

I know of what I speak: I’ve read both books (the latest in advance galleys). With a discerning sense of the currents of history combined with a masterful grasp of the undercurrents of law, Stone provides his readers with a wide-lens view of how sex and the law have interacted in the span of time dating back to ancient Athens. At once fascinating and disturbing, this book reveals how law works — both as a suppressor and liberator. Witness, for example, the nightmarish world of Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) in which countless lives were sacrificed on the altar of Victorian values. Contrast that with the emergence of a new day brought about by Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which thanks to the lawyer Paul M. Smith and the jurist Anthony M. Kennedy helped to free us from the shackles of sexual bigotry. It’s all there, and more, is this superbly crafted book.

That “more” includes everything from the rigid righteousness of St. Augustine (who was a lustful sinner before he became a revered saint), to those ever-so-pious Puritans who loved to lash the impure, to the Temperance Movement crowd and their campaign to ferret out lust in books (and in loins, too, by way of “anti-masterbation devices”), to those entrusted with enforcing Comstock morality and who felt it their God-given duty to persecute the likes of Margaret Sanger (the birth-control activist) and Ira Craddock (author of Right Marital Living), to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who with zealous conviction launched the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, to the Moral Majority’s Grand Poobah, Jerry Falwell, and his insistence that the government not spend any money to combat AIDS because this “plague” was the “judgment of God,” to all those who so vigorously opposed gay marriage because it threatened the continued viability of traditional marriages. Oh, the price we have paid for those virtues bequeathed to us by St. Augustine!

As one turns the pages of this book, something of the marvelous freedom-affirming spirit of When we Rise leaps from the pages of Sex and the Constitution. Still, this is not a work that takes liberties with facts; rather, it is a needs-to-be told story presented with legal acumen and a sophisticated sense of history. The scholar in Stone presents his case with nuanced precision, while the humanitarian in him presents his narrative with a gripping sensitivity to those subjected to the whip of sexual morality.

Have I overstated the importance of Sex and the Constitution? Have I exaggerated its worth? No, not at all; truth is my defense. If you doubt that, read the book. If you accept that, buy the book. If you disagree with that, challenge the book. But of this there can be no doubt: Sex and the Constitution is destined to be the defining work of its genre for a long, long time to come.

The epigraph quote for the prologue  to Sex and the Constitution is the same one used as the quote for epilogue.  And it is a fine line, one from Justice William Brennan’s opinion in Roth v. United States (1957):

Sex, a great and mysterious motive force in human life, has indisputably been a subject of absorbing interest to mankind through the ages.

And it is also a fitting tribute to the memory of the Justice for whom Geoffrey Stone once clerked.

__________What Others Are Saying ___________

“No one should miss out on Stone’s spectacular tour through more than 2,000 years of sex, religion, culture, and law. A treasure-house of philosophical brilliance and legal and historical insight—not to mention erotic delights!—this masterpiece is the rarest of combinations: a page-turner that is also a magisterial font of erudite wisdom.”

Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University

“A vivid, sweeping, and compellingly readable account of the history of sex, religion, and the law by one of our most prominent legal scholars.  This monumental study illuminates the origins and stakes of some of the most heated contemporary debates in constitutional law.”
George Chauncey, Samuel Knight Professor of History, Yale University

“Few, if any, legal scholars possess the capacious intellect and encyclopedic command of constitutional law and American history to make us see in an entirely new light what is perhaps society’s most commonly discussed subject.  In devoting his unique talents to Sex and the Constitution, Geoffrey Stone has created a volume of lasting significance that quickly will become essential reading for all who want to better understand sweeping cultural transformations that continue to roil society.”
Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University

Sex, which has simultaneously inspired and eluded regulation through the ages, has been the focus of many of our greatest constitutional controversies.  No one is better suited than the always erudite and lucid Geoffrey Stone to provide the panoramic treatment that the subject deserves.  Unless you are the rare person who has no interest in either the Constitution or sex, you will want to read this book.”
David Cole, LegalDirector, American Civil Liberties Union

“This fascinating account of how sexual mores, religion, and law have intersected or—more often—collided throughout American history is really about even more than that. It’s about the role of law in maintaining a civil society in a diverse 21st century America, and a call to the Supreme Court to step up to the challenge.”
Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize winner & Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence, Yale Law School

“Magnificent and monumental—a stunning blend of dispassionate analysis and deep moral conviction. Think that the United States was born as a Christian nation? Think again.”
Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard     University

“A superb examination of the history of how the law has regulated sexual behavior and sexual expression from the ancient world to today. This is a brilliant book that offers a balanced and nuanced treatment of controversial topics such as obscenity, abortion, and same sex marriage.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Raymond Pryke Professor, University of California, Irvine School of Law