HLS faculty weigh in on the Boston Marathon bombing trial

A selection of analyses and opinions from Harvard Law School experts.

Boston Bomber Trial Verdict: Analysis (video)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted of 30 charges in the Boston Marathon bombing trial and may now face the death penalty. Harvard Law School professor Ron Sullivan offers analysis.

Continue Reading at The Wall Street Journal »

Was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial necessary?

An op-ed by Nancy Gertner. The first phase of the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was supposed to be about liability. In reality, it felt like a penalty hearing, albeit in slow motion. Now that Tsarnaev has been found guilty for his role in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the jury will deal directly with the only critical question — should Tsarnaev get life in prison or the death penalty? But, even at this late stage, the real question is: Why was this trial necessary? Why did the US attorney general insist on the death penalty here, while calling for its moratorium elsewhere? Why did the US government press for the death penalty when the defendant would have pled to life without parole? That was, after all, the defense message from the outset with the opening statement of Judy Clarke, Tsarnaev’s lawyer — “it was him.” “We will not sidestep Tsarnaev’s responsibility for his actions,” she said, actions which were “incomprehensible” and “inexcusable.”

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Boston Bomber, Killer Without a Cause

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. It was sleeting hard in Boston on Wednesday afternoon as the jury returned a guilty verdict on all 30 counts against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for carrying out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing that killed an 8-year-old and two women and wounded at least 260 people. Somehow the weather seems appropriate, even though it’s after Easter. Throughout this intensely cold, snowy winter in Boston, the specter of the Tsarnaev trial has been a constant and unwelcome reminder that for all its liberalism and toleration, this city isn’t immune from the troubles that plague the rest of the world.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Why We Need Law Schools

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Who needs law school? For centuries, the answer in the English-speaking world was: no one. You prepared for the bar by serving as an apprentice or an intern alongside practicing lawyers. Sure, you had to read a lot of cases. At first, they probably made no sense. But over time, you learned by watching and doing to connect the decisions in the books with real cases and real clients. Today there’s renewed talk of returning to a world where you could join the bar after extended internships rather than formal legal study. I’m a law professor, so you’d expect me to defend the current system. Before I do, however, let me make a big admission: Law school isn’t really necessary for lawyers or their clients…Yet law school is absolutely essential — not for lawyers with clients, but for our society as a whole. The reason has everything to do with what makes law distinct as a social phenomenon.

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Winning the Too-Big-to-Fail Battle

An op-ed by Mark Roe. Headlines about banks’ risks to the financial system continue to dominate the financial news. Bank of America performed poorly on the US Federal Reserve’s financial stress tests, and regulators criticized Goldman Sachs’ and JPMorgan Chase’s financing plans, leading both to lower their planned dividends and share buybacks. And Citibank’s hefty buildup of its financial trading business raises doubts about whether it is controlling risk properly. These results suggest that some of the biggest banks remain at risk. And yet bankers are insisting that the post-crisis task of strengthening regulation and building a safer financial system has nearly been completed, with some citing recent studies of bank safety to support this argument. So which is it: Are banks still at risk? Or has post-crisis regulatory reform done its job?

Continue Reading at Project Syndicate »

Debate: Should The U.S. Adopt The ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Online?

People don’t always like what they see when they Google themselves. Sometimes they have posted things they later regret — like unflattering or compromising photos or comments. And it can be maddening when third parties have published personal or inaccurate material about you online. In Europe, residents can ask corporations like Google to delete those unflattering posts, photos and other online material from online search results. And under the right circumstances, those entities must comply…At the latest event from Intelligence Squared U.S., two teams tackled these questions while debating the motion, “The U.S. Should Adopt The ‘Right To Be Forgotten’ Online.” …Against the motion…Jonathan Zittrain is the George Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Continue Reading at NPR »

Oregon’s Example for Voters Everywhere

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein. This week, Oregon became the first state to adopt automatic voter registration. If you’re an Oregonian over 18, and if you’ve dealt with the state’s Driver and Motor Vehicles Division since 2013, you’ll get a notice in the mail letting you know you’re registered to vote. Then, unless you opt out within three weeks, you’ll automatically receive a ballot 20 days before every election. (Oregon has all-mail voting.) Almost immediately, 300,000 more voters — a big chunk of the estimated 800,000 state residents who are eligible but still unregistered — are likely to be signed up.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Ditch the SATs and ACTs

An op-ed by Lani Guinier. I was raised from an early age to be skeptical of how admission to elite schools works. My father, a black man who had been accepted to Harvard College in 1929, was told on arrival that he was not eligible for scholarship aid because he had not submitted a photograph with his application. He was also not allowed to live in the dormitories. This, he later discovered, was a ruse to discourage his matriculation. Harvard’s official policy was one in which “men of white and colored races shall not be compelled to live and eat together nor shall any man be excluded by reason of his color.” But Harvard’s unofficial policy was to admit one black student per class — a policy it had inadvertently exceeded by accepting my father’s photograph-less application. Harvard University no longer excludes people because of their color; nor does it reject students who come from poor or working class families. But, like other elite universities, Harvard’s official policy still remains far removed from how it unofficially admits students.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Supreme Court’s chance to do the right thing on Obamacare

An op-ed by Laurence H. Tribe. The Supreme Court is about to hear a case — King v. Burwell — that again threatens to undermine the Affordable Care Act and strip health insurance from millions of Americans. The King challenge, which focuses on a handful of words in that famously long piece of legislation, is a clever one. But it’s too clever by half. Finding for the challengers would require taking a few words in the ACA out of their proper context, ignoring the law’s structure and purpose, and even jettisoning the conservative justices’ own pro-states’ rights views.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

A Financial System Still Dangerously Vulnerable to a Panic

An op-ed by Glenn Hubbard and Hal Scott. Dodd-Frank restrictions on the Federal Reserve’s powers to act as lender-of-last-resort, coupled with restrictions on federal guarantees for bank deposits and money-market funds, pose a threat to U.S. and global financial stability…The Dodd-Frank Act (July 2010) pulled back the Fed’s lender-of-last-resort powers for non-banks. They can now be exercised only with the approval of the Treasury secretary, and the Fed cannot lend to a single institution as it did with AIG . It must now only lend under a broad program, and must also meet heightened collateral requirements. In addition, the FDIC cannot expand guarantees to bank depositors without congressional approval, and the Treasury can’t do the same to money-market funds without new legislative authority. These changes could make it difficult for the Fed and other regulatory bodies to act effectively in the next crisis.

Continue Reading at The Wall Street Journal »

The Wrong Path to Higher Ed Equality

An op-ed by Tomiko Brown-Nagin. President Obama’s free community college proposal and college ratings initiatives promise to further the historic expansion of college access begun in 1965, when Congress created the Pell Grant Program, which pried open the doors of higher education to deserving but poor students. But the administration’s chosen means to the praiseworthy end of further expanding college access do not fundamentally challenge inequality in higher education; instead, they reinforce our two-tiered and unequal system. Federal policy instead should encourage academically qualified, lower-income students to matriculate to selective, four-year colleges. A monetary rewards system (a Race to the Top for higher education) or statutory mandates could advance that objective.

Continue Reading at Inside Higher Ed »

The Race Hate We All Know

An op-ed by Nimra Azmi [`15]. The slayings of Razan Abu-Salha, Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat has convulsed the Muslim-American community as no other event has since September 11, 2001. It is not simply that we see ourselves reflected back in those three beautiful young people. We see our ugliest fears about the United States reflected back—that our college educations and professional degrees cannot keep us safe, that someday, someone will hate us for our faith or our skin color and no amount of American Dream will safeguard us.

Continue Reading at Colorlines »

Can Politics be a Vocation? Three Lessons on the Virtues of Good Government

An op-ed by Mary Ann Glendon. My title echoes a lecture given almost a century ago by the great German social theorist Max Weber, in which he argued that in modern constitutional states nearly everyone is engaged in politics at least by avocation – if only through voting and discussing the issues with one’s friends. Granted, if politics is, as many believe, only about getting and keeping power, it would be silly to think of politics as a “calling” in any meaningful sense. And if politics is only about power, there is no particular reason why principled people should choose public service over other pursuits, or why men and women in private life should take much interest in civic matters. But, if one takes the Aristotelian definition of politics as “free men deliberating about how we ought to order our lives together” and combines it with Weber’s insight that nearly all of us are drawn into politics, the idea of politics as a calling becomes more understandable. Moreover, one comes close to what Catholic social thought has been trying for the past fifty years to communicate about the political responsibilities of laymen and women.

Continue Reading at ABC (Australia) »

A Gay-Rights Argument Scalia Could Love

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are famous for being “originalists”; they believe that constitutional provisions mean what they meant at the time they were ratified. In Scalia’s words, originalism promotes the rule of law, because it can help ensure a “rock-solid, unchanging Constitution.” Whether or not we agree, Scalia’s goal is honorable: He wants to limit the discretion of federal judges and allow the American people to govern themselves. As the lawyers prepare their briefs for the upcoming Supreme Court argument about bans on same-sex marriage, how remarkable, then, that some prominent originalists — and admirers of Scalia — are saying that such bans are inconsistent with the original understanding of the 14th Amendment.

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A Smarter Way to Tax Big Banks

An op-ed by Mark Roe and Michael Troge. President Obama has reanimated the idea of taxing the debt of big banks to help stabilize the banking industry and prevent future financial crises. The administration argues that the new tax would discourage banks from taking on too much risk by making it “more costly for the biggest financial firms to finance their activities with excessive borrowing.” The president’s bank tax is unlikely to gain traction in the new Congress, following the failure of similar proposals from the administration in 2010 and last year from former House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. But even if it became law, it wouldn’t put a sizable dent in bank debt. The existing tax system strongly encourages debt finance and the proposed new tax will not fundamentally change this.

Continue Reading at The Wall Street Journal »

Three Lessons From Islamic State’s Retreat

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces say that, with the help of three months of U.S. airstrikes, they’ve retaken the town of Kobani on the Syria-Turkey border from Islamic State. This success doesn’t change the basic strategic calculus of the war on the insurgent group: The fight for Kobani was always more about symbolism than military advantage. But the victory, if you can call it that, carries three lessons about how the conflict with Islamic State is going — and how it can and cannot be affected by the use of force. The first and most important lesson is that airstrikes alone can’t retake territory from Islamic State.

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Assuring fairness during jury selection

An op-ed by Nancy Gertner. Questioning prospective jurors is tedious. The press usually ignores it. In Massachusetts, few judges or lawyers pay much attention to it. One judge bragged about the speed with which he picked a jury: “Ten minutes, tops, no matter what the case is.” But with the two high-profile cases of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Aaron Hernandez , all eyes are on jury selection. A new state statute and guidelines from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court may forecast a new approach for state courts — permitting jurors to be questioned by lawyers, not just judges, and on a broad range of issues — but only for cases after Feb. 1.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

A New Civil Rights Movement Is Already Growing at the Grass Roots

An op-ed by Derecka Purnell [`17].At a recent protest in Boston, a middle-aged woman angrily chanted at four black men: “Go to school! Get a job!” These men were my fellow Harvard Law School classmates, serving as legal observers to protect the rights of the protesters. Her thinking was an extreme representation of what many others believe: Young people are aimlessly “die-ing in” or stopping traffic without goals, strategies, preparation or even stakes. But young people are working and organizing.

Continue Reading at The New York Times »

Sexual Assault and Justice

An article by Nancy Gertner. Campus sexual assaults are horrifying, made all the worse because the settings are bucolic and presumed safe—leafy campuses, ivy-walled universities. Assaults are reported in dormitories, off-campus apartments, and fraternity houses, in elite and non-elite institutions, from one end of the country to the other. Title IX (of the Education Amendments of 1972) was supposed to promote equal opportunity in any educational program receiving federal money. But until recently, Title IX was dormant and largely ignored….Just as the complainants must be treated with dignity and their rights to a fair resolution of their charges be respected, so too must those accused of sexual misconduct. You don’t have to believe that there are large numbers of false accusation of sexual assault—I do not—to insist that the process of investigating and adjudicating these claims be fair. In fact, feminists should be especially concerned, not just about creating enforcement proceedings, but about their fairness.

Continue Reading at American Prospect »

Paris Gunmen Were Old-Style Terrorists

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Why were the offices of Charlie Hebdo targeted this morning in Paris? It’s too soon to know for sure, but if it’s correct that the gunmen told bystanders they were from al-Qaeda in Yemen, as some newspapers are reporting, then a possible hypothesis emerges: This is an old-style, al-Qaeda jihadi attack against a Western capital designed to create global attention — and its major aim is to compete with the new style of sovereignty-creating jihadism that has been so successful for Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

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The Clean Power Plan Is Unconstitutional

An op-ed by Laurence Tribe. As a law professor, I taught the nation’s first environmental law class 45 years ago. As a lawyer, I have supported countless environmental causes. And as a father and grandfather, I want to leave the Earth in better shape than when I arrived. Nonetheless, I recently filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency urging the agency to withdraw its Clean Power Plan, a regulatory proposal to reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s electric power plants. In my view, coping with climate change is a vital end, but it does not justify using unconstitutional means.

Continue Reading at The Wall Street Journal »

Obama Takes On the Cuba Lobby

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. With his announcement that the U.S. will open negotiations and try to normalize relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama is trying to break the hold of the Cuba lobby once and for all. In historical terms, that’s a remarkable undertaking. For decades, U.S. policy toward Cuba has been guided by the smart, effective lobbying of a relatively small group of interested Cuban-Americans, mostly in Miami. The Cuba lobby’s success has reflected a deep truth of American politics: where there’s a concentrated interest on one side of an issue, and only a diffuse interest on the other, the concentrated interest wins. Will it work? If so, why now? And what are the implications for other concentrated lobbying groups, such as the National Rifle Association and the pro-Israel lobby, which have themselves succeeded by following a version of the approach that the Cuba lobby pioneered?

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More than ‘enough is enough’

An op-ed by Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and David J. Harris. Last week thousands of demonstrators in Greater Boston and throughout the nation voiced their outrage at the decision of two grand juries not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, as well as the corruption and bias embedded in our law enforcement system. As veterans of civil rights struggles spanning nearly a half century, we felt heartened by the reemergence of young people as a force for change. Indeed, we experienced the collective refrain of “Enough is enough” as sweet music. But even as we nodded in agreement, we found ourselves asking a few follow-up questions: When is enough not enough? When are rage and protest necessary, but not sufficient? How do we transform “enough is enough” into “we demand more?”

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

The Silence of the Lawyers

An op-ed by Bruce Hay. As another grand jury has let a cop walk away for gratuitously killing an unarmed black man, a loud silence reverberates through the country, just at it has for many years. It is the silence of the nation’s lawyers. The fact is, we operate two criminal justice systems in the United States. One is for affluent white people, who when accused of crime are treated as citizens, as people with rights. They get the benefit of the constitutional protections we boast about in textbooks and television shows, protections like due process and trial by jury and proof beyond reasonable doubt. And they are often shown great leniency for very serious crimes, including homicide. The other system is for poor people and racial minorities, who are treated more like trash to be removed from the streets.

Continue Reading at City Watch »

Trust in the legal system must be regained

An op-ed by Martha Minow and Robert Post. In the wake of the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, outrage and despair are reverberating across the nation, including at the law schools where we teach. Many of our students are struggling to reconcile their ideals of justice with what they perceive as manifest injustices in the criminal law system. Law establishes its legitimacy through procedures that are open and fair. Legal procedures create accountability for those who wield power. We ought to determine the law’s legitimacy at least in part from the perspective of those who suffer its coercion. When the law’s blows fall persistently on the lives and bodies of identifiable groups, and when the procedures we have designed to create legal accountability are short-circuited or fail, our aspiration for a legitimate social order is put at risk.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Eric Garner and the Legal Rules That Enable Police Violence

An op-ed by Shakeer Rahman [`15] and Sam Barr [`15]. Eric Garner was not the first American to be choked by the police, and he will not be the last, thanks to legal rules that prevent victims of police violence from asking federal courts to help stop deadly practices. The 1983 case City of Los Angeles v. Lyons vividly illustrates the problem. That case also involved an African-American man choked by the police without provocation after he was stopped for a minor offense — a burned-out taillight. Unlike Mr. Garner, Adolph Lyons survived the chokehold. He then filed a federal lawsuit, asking the city to compensate him for his injuries. But he wanted more than just money. He also asked the court to prevent the Los Angeles Police Department from using chokeholds in the future.

Continue Reading at The New York Times »

Ferguson’s Grand Jury Problem

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. When was the last time you heard of a grand jury decision causing a riot? Well … never. That’s because grand juries are obscure relics of past practice, not designed to bear the full weight of a politically and symbolically important decision like the nonprosecution of police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The decision by St. Louis County Chief Prosecutor Robert McCulloch to put the issue neutrally before the grand jury was intended to create a sense of public legitimacy for whatever result followed, and also no doubt to deflect blame from the prosecutor’s own exercise of discretion. It failed on both counts — and with good reason.

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There will be more Fergusons

An op-ed by Nancy Gertner. It isn’t surprising that a grand jury on Monday ruled against indicting police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Mo. Although many are saying that the decision may have to do with race, it is more likely that Wilson is not facing charges because courts have decimated the law that holds officers accountable for excessive force, rulings that make incidents similar to Ferguson all the more likely. For example, two months before the Brown shooting, the US Supreme Court ruled in Plumhoff v. Rickard that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Harvard’s Elizabeth Bartholet Takes on Differential Response

In her latest paper, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet does her best to dismember the widely popular child welfare strategy known as Differential Response, or simply DR…But as controversial as her ideas may be, Bartholet’s “Differential Response: A Dangerous Experiment in Child Welfare” is a notable contribution to the growing debate around DR, and the chronic battle fought in a resource-starved child welfare field over family preservation and child safety.

Continue Reading at The Chronicle of Social Change »

Five principles that should govern any U.S. authorization of force

An op-ed by President Obama has stated that he wants “to begin engaging Congress” over a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State and also that he wants to “right-size and update” the 2001 AUMF “to suit the current fight, rather than previous fights.” It appears that Congress, too, is finally getting serious about putting U.S. counterterrorism operations on a contemporary and more rigorous statutory footing. There are many politically contested questions about how the government should accomplish these goals — about, for example, whether U.S. ground troops should be banned from Syria and Iraq, how the fight against the Islamic State should be conducted consistent with U.S. policy against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and what rules should govern the targeted killing of U.S. citizens abroad…We differ among ourselves on some questions. We nonetheless believe that, however they are resolved, an important foundational consensus can be reached — across branches and parties — on five core principles that should guide any new or revised authorization of force related to counterterrorism.

Continue Reading at The Washington Post »

Why It Matters That The World’s Two Biggest Polluters Forged A Climate Accord

An op-ed by by Robert C. Bordone and Sara E. del Nido [clinical fellow]. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced a climate accord that demonstrates real promise in making progress to stem global climate change. The climate accord also represents something that is rarely achieved in the struggle to come together around environmental issues: a long-term agreement that meets the interests of both parties; lays the groundwork for future actions by other key players; fundamentally changes the strategic negotiation game; and takes substantial steps toward solving the problem of collective action.

Continue Reading at WBUR »

Harvard’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Must Change

An op-ed by Janet Halley. Students have rightly protested shoddy and outright malign handling of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct claims and demanded fairer procedures on college campuses. Many of the resulting reforms will improve things by sending the clear message that sexual abuse will not be tolerated or condoned. But, as often happens when public indignation and government power combine to force reform, it is easy to go too far and to make hasty fixes that threaten values that are forgotten at the moment of crisis…We have reached that point in the institutional, political and governmental demand for stricter enforcement of sexual harassment policies by institutions of higher education. Harvard University’s new Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy, and its new procedures for student discipline, exemplify this trend.

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Protect Those Who Protect Our Food

An op-ed by Jacob E. Gersen and Benjamin I. Sachs. Every year, 5.5 million people are sickened by norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal bug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, norovirus is the leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States and is spread primarily by “infected food workers.” Last year cooks, waiters and other workers were involved in about 70 percent of the outbreaks. This is just one example of the critical role that food workers play in our nation’s economic and public health systems. And yet, while we often tailor employment rules for work that has a special impact on the public, the law has yet to recognize food workers as a distinct class — an approach that harms consumers, the economy and the workers themselves. Sick restaurant workers provide a particularly vivid example of the kind of legal reform that’s needed.

Continue Reading at The New York Times »

Obama’s Presidential Moment

An op-ed by Susan Crawford. I keep saying that telecom policy is blood and guts stuff — giant principles of equity, speech, and the importance of free markets run headlong into the extraordinary political powers wielded by Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and AT&T. All too often the drama is buried in an avalanche of acronyms and incremental influence. Then came yesterday’s message from President Obama. Here was our best Obama, telling the FCC in plain language that it should consider acting like a regulator. The message actually brought a tear to my eye. It’s the equivalent of the moving part of the war movie when the gruff but effective leader calls his troops to their better selves, reminding them why they’re there in the first place. So although the president sounded like the law-professor-in-chief yesterday (“I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act”), to me it was a General Patton moment. This is a battle cry designed to give heart to his administration — and particularly the corner of the executive branch crouching in terror behind the walls of the FCC.

Continue Reading at Medium »

Obamacare May Die So Gay Marriage Survives

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Today’s word is linkage. For example, Iran is confirming that, in October, President Barack Obama sent supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a letter linking ongoing nuclear talks to the two countries’ joint interests in fighting the Islamic State. At the Supreme Court, linkage is going to be just as important. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit last week essentially forced the Supreme Court to decide whether there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, by refusing to recognize such a right itself. The next day, the court agreed to hear a potentially fatal legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Taken together, these two cases transform the current Supreme Court term into a blockbuster — and the linkage relationship between them will be all-important.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

It’s Not Obama, It’s Just the Sixth Year

An op-ed by Kenneth W. Mack. If you want to know who to blame for any number of global and domestic crises, there is one simple answer, according to many critics: Barack Obama. The tide turned against many Democratic Congressional candidates in this year’s mid-term elections largely, some claim, because of President Obama’s relatively low approval ratings. Critics have charged Obama with indecision in the face of crises ranging from ISIS to Ebola. The seeming drift began soon after his second inaugural address – delivered only last year – when his ambitious call to collective action was quickly overtaken by a series of controversies ranging from the NSA surveillance leaks to the botched rollout of healthcare.gov. Yet a quick look back at history complicates the notion that these challenges are rooted in President Obama’s individual leadership deficiencies. It also illuminates a factor that does, indeed, make this president’s situation unique: the often-ignored fact that he is America’s first black president.

Continue Reading at The Weekly Wonk »

We must ensure everyone has access to equal justice

An op-ed by Martha Minow. Neglected in today’s headlines, blogs, and talk radio is a silent, shameful crisis that inflicts suffering and costs the nation money, legitimacy, and decency. Our justice system has become inaccessible to millions of poor people and so every day, we violate the “equal justice under law” motto engraved on the front of the grand United States Supreme Court. Americans who cannot afford legal help routinely forfeit basic rights as a result. Because the law does not enforce itself, veterans seeking benefits the nation has guaranteed, victims of domestic violence needing legal protection, and tenants and homeowners pursuing their rights since the financial disaster all need advisors and guides through the law and its agencies and courts.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Court Wrangles With Edward Snowden’s Shadow

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Edward Snowden may never appear before a U.S. court, much less the Supreme Court — but that doesn’t mean his whistle-blowing is far from the justices’ minds. What they think about it will be very much in evidence as the court hears oral arguments today in Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, a case concerning an air marshal who was fired for disclosing “sensitive security information” to the media. The justices will have to decide whether the federal law that protects whistle-blowers extends to those who break an agency’s regulations but not a law passed by Congress. This will matter for individual whistle-blowers in the future as well as for the overall environment in which prosecutions of government employees continue to be brought.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Hayek’s Message for Victorious Republicans

An op-ed by Cass R. Sunstein. In tomorrow’s election, the Republican Party seems poised to make significant gains in the U.S. Senate and the House, and might well end up with control of both. If so, how will it define itself? It is tempting to answer by pointing to concrete policy proposals — reducing regulation, promoting free trade, cutting the federal budget. But does any general theory, or approach to government, unify those proposals? In a magnificent essay, one of modern conservatism’s greatest heroes, Friedrich Hayek, offered an answer. Published in 1960, Hayek’s “Why I Am Not A Conservative” deserves careful attention today, perhaps above all from Republicans.

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A Voting Rights Amendment Would End Voting Suppression

An op-ed by Lani Guinier and Penda D. Hair (co-director of the Advancement Project). Contrary to popular belief, Americans’ right to vote is not guaranteed. Sure, the Constitution mentions voting more than any other right – forbidding it from being abridged on the basis of race, for example, or the ability to pay a poll tax. Yet it contains no language that makes this right explicit. This missing safeguard has become more glaring in recent years, as politicians have enacted laws that make it harder for certain people to vote. The Supreme Court’s gutting of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the Shelby County vs. Holder decision made voting rights more vulnerable than ever. In the past two years alone, the Advancement Project and other civil rights organizations legally challenged restrictive voting laws in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina and other states.

Continue Reading at The New York Times »

Obama, Not Bush, Is the Master of Unilateral War

An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Waxman. Late in the summer of 2013, President Barack Obama pulled back from his announced plans to use unilateral military force against Syria and stated that he would instead seek Congress’s approval. “I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress,” and “America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together,” he said. “This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president … while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.” Congress never authorized Obama to use force in Syria, and Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him an out by brokering a deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. But Obama’s statement on the need for congressional consent, and the noted contrast with his predecessor, are nonetheless clarifying in their irony.

Continue Reading at The New Republic »

Rethink Harvard’s sexual harassment policy

An op-ed by 28 members of the Harvard Law School faculty. As members of the faculty of Harvard Law School, we write to voice our strong objections to the Sexual Harassment Policy and Procedures imposed by the central university administration and the Corporation on all parts of the university, including the law school. We strongly endorse the importance of protecting our students from sexual misconduct and providing an educational environment free from the sexual and other harassment that can diminish educational opportunity. But we believe that this particular sexual harassment policy adopted by Harvard will do more harm than good.

Continue Reading at The Boston Globe »

Class Action Case Could Bend the Law

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Class action lawsuits are big business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — admittedly, not the most objective source — estimates that securities class actions alone cost shareholders $39 billion a year. When you add in all other class actions — for accidents, accounting errors, you name it — you can understand why potential corporate defendants as well as plaintiffs’ lawyers fight tooth and nail over every inch of the legal terrain. When the U.S. Supreme Court takes up an important question of how these class actions will proceed, as it is doing in the case of Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Company LLC v. Owens, it’s worth taking notice of what the court is doing — and why.

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The Weekly Wonk Podcast: A New Kind of Campus “Diversity”

Promoting diversity in education was one the biggest and most widely practiced ideas of the 20th century. But as Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at Harvard, argued in last week’s edition of The Weekly Wonk, diversity isn’t getting us where we need to go to help students who are truly disadvantaged. She has another big idea to make higher education a real pathway to social mobility: directing resources to students who are the first in their families to attend college. In this episode, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Brown-Nagin outline the stakes for how reaching out to first-generation students can make college, in the words of Horace Mann, a “great equalizer.”

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We Should Be Protesting, Too

An op-ed by Lawrence Lessig. This week, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents turned out to protest China’s plan for bringing democracy to that city. Rather than letting voters pick the candidates that get to run for chief executive, Beijing wants the candidates selected by a 1,200 person “nominating committee.” Critics charge the committee will be “dominated by a pro-Beijing business and political elite.”…But there’s not much particularly Chinese in the Hong Kong design, unless Boss Tweed was an ancient Chinese prophet. Tweed famously quipped, “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Beijing’s proposal is just Tweedism updated: a multi-stage election, with a biased filter at the first stage. The pattern has been common in America’s democracy too.

Continue Reading at The Huffington Post »

Obama Doesn’t Want Your Approval for War

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. The Barack Obama administration has offered no credible legal authorization for a war against Islamic State, and Congress plainly will not provide one. What’s going on here, asks the shade of James Madison? Has the U.S. completely lost the part of the Constitution that imagines Congress and thus the people as a check on the president’s war powers? And if so, does it matter?

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Why We Need a New College Admissions Strategy

An op-ed by Tomiko Brown-Nagin. Sometimes, vague can be misleading—and harmful. For years, colleges have identified disadvantaged students based primarily on “diversity” and “need.” But those categories are broad and unspecific, and can be gamed by sophisticated applicants and parents. The result? Schools aren’t helping the students that really need it. And higher education is now perpetuating—rather than alleviating—inequality. We can reverse this pattern by learning from our education history and shifting the focus of that aid effort to first-generation college students. The key here is this: Colleges need to get more specific about who they want to help, and why.

Continue Reading at The Weekly Wonk »

Students before teachers

An op-ed by Laurence Tribe. When I decided to join Students Matter, the group that spearheaded a lawsuit that invalidated California’s teacher tenure, dismissal and “last in, first out” layoff laws, I expected negative reactions from fellow progressives. Sure enough, the day of the announcement, lots of incredulous and even hostile e-mails appeared in my inbox, accusing me of betraying the Democratic Party, our allies in organized labor and even my own K-12 public school teachers. These negative reactions are rooted in a misunderstanding of what is at stake as lawsuits similar to Vergara v. California spread to the other states with similar laws.

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Obama’s Breathtaking Expansion of a President’s Power To Make War

An op-ed by Jack Goldsmith. Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars (against al Qaeda and Iraq) and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist. And they will wonder why he claimed to “welcome congressional support” for his new military initiative against the Islamic State but did not insist on it in order to ensure clear political and legal legitimacy for the tough battle that promised to consume his last two years in office and define his presidency.

Continue Reading at Time »

The Case for Kill Switches in Military Weaponry

An op-ed by Jonathan Zittrain. This summer the insurgent group ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul—and along with it, three army divisions’ worth of U.S.-supplied equipment from the Iraqi army, including Humvees, helicopters, antiaircraft cannons and M1 Abrams tanks. ISIS staged a parade with its new weapons and then deployed them to capture the strategic Mosul Dam from outgunned Kurdish defenders. The U.S. began conducting air strikes and rearming the Kurds to even the score against its own weaponry. As a result, even more weapons have been added to the conflict, and local arms bazaars have reportedly seen an influx of supply. It is past time that we consider whether we should build in a way to remotely disable such dangerous tools in an emergency.

Continue Reading at Scientific American »

The Mystery of ‘Living Will’ Rules for Banks

An op-ed by Hal Scott. Most college students now returning to campuses will never hear the words that the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spoke in August to the managements of the country’s 11 largest banks: You’ve failed. Each of these big banks flunked the course titled “living wills.” The Fed and the FDIC required the banks to make contingency plans detailing how in a crisis they would be wound down without suspending critical financial services, and without public support. The two regulators announced jointly last month that no plan earned a passing grade.

Continue Reading at The Wall Street Journal »

China Slaps Hong Kong, Taiwan Reels

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: The message China’s leaders sent when they announced that they would have to approve any future elected leaders of Hong Kong should be heard loud and clear — not as much in Hong Kong as in Taiwan, where it really matters, and throughout the region.

Hong Kong isn’t just a unique entity within China, governed in theory by the principle of “one country, two systems.” It’s also a model of what Taiwan could expect if Chinese hegemony over the island it claims as its own were to become greater. China’s message to Hong Kong puts Taiwanese democrats in a difficult strategic bind in their attempt to assure their future. It also has consequences for American efforts to engage Asian allies who are growing economically closer to China each passing day.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »

Could Trade Law Curb Chinese Hackers?

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. When a computer somewhere in China hacks into your company’s server, the Department of Justice says that’s a crime. But good luck hauling an anonymous junior officer in the People’s Liberation Army into court — much less deterring future Chinese cyber-attacks through criminal prosecution. SolarWorld Americas, a major U.S. producer of solar panels, has another idea. It has asked the Department of Commerce to impose trade sanctions against China as retaliation for cyber-attacks it has suffered. The idea is legally creative, politically risky — and the harbinger of things to come in the emerging cool war between China and the U.S.

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The First Amendment Should Protect Disfavored Viewpoints

An op-ed by Laurence H. Tribe: The United States Supreme Court has said that “the constitutional right of free expression is powerful medicine.” Powerful and essential, and it needs to be administered to everyone, including physicians and those regulating their practice. Recent decisions by two federal appeals courts suggest, to the contrary, that the doctor’s office is becoming a First Amendment-free zone…Still, both judicial opinions are troubling for the same reason: They broadly paint medical care as “conduct,” not “speech,” and thereby entirely exempt occupational-licensing laws from the usual First Amendment scrutiny.

Continue Reading at New York Times »

How to Deregulate Cities and States

An op-ed by Edward Glaeser and Cass Sunstein: A lot of attention has been devoted in recent years to overregulation at the national level. For many people, though, the regulations that hit hardest come from states and localities. The story of Uber’s fight with overzealous local regulators is only a well-publicized tip of the iceberg. A 2012 study conducted by the Institute for Justice finds that 102 trades and occupations now face licensing requirements in states or cities. The people who suffer most from them are those without a lot of money or advanced education.

Continue Reading at Wall Street Journal »

Who Cares What Economists Say About Immigration?

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama tried to attract support for one of his highest priorities when he said, “Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits.” He’s right. Economists disagree about a lot of things, but on behalf of immigration reform, there is a professional consensus that cuts across the usual political divisions. Why, then, has reform stalled in Congress?

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US has yet to overcome its tortured racial past (registration required)

An op-ed by Annette Gordon-Reed. For a founding father who usually took a sunny view of his nation’s prospects, it was a darkly pessimistic prophesy. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson argued that if – as he hoped – America’s black slaves were one day set free, the result would be conflict and an inevitable descent into racial war. And in the hours after Governor Jay Nixon imposed a night-time curfew on the Missouri town of Ferguson following the killing there of an unarmed teenager by a police officer earlier this month, it is indeed reasonable to wonder whether a form of war (sometimes hot, sometimes cold) has been waged against blacks in America from Jefferson’s time until our own.

Continue Reading at Financial Times »

James Brady’s Death Isn’t a Murder 33 Years Later

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. The government would have to overcome major legal hurdles to charge John Hinckley Jr. in the murder of James Brady some 30 years after the fact. But if that were the morally right thing to do, it would be worth trying, despite the improbability of success. Is it? The answer is no — but not for the reasons you might think. It doesn’t have to do with Hinckley’s guilt or Brady’s heroism or Ronald Reagan’s presidential status. The reason not to prosecute Hinckley lies in the kind of criminal justice system we want to have: one that doesn’t seek solely to punish the guilty, but rather to punish the guilty subject to the requirements of basic fairness.

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How Maine Saved the Internet

An op-ed by Susan Crawford. Rockport, Maine, population 3,321, is trying to solve the existential dilemma of small-town America: How do you get people like Meg Weston’s students to stick around?…The town’s Internet access connection didn’t have enough room to handle the school’s demands, and private companies would charge too much to be a realistic option. That is, until this week, when Rockport opened its own gigabit-scale municipal fiber optic network — meaning it can transmit a thousand megabits of data a second.

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The Death Penalty Is Incompatible With Human Dignity

An op-ed by Charles Ogletree. I have wondered countless times over the past 30 years whether I would live to see the end of the death penalty in the United States. I now know that day will come, and I believe that the current Supreme Court will be its architect.

Continue Reading at The Washington Post »

Obamacare Has a Scary Day in Court

An op-ed by Noah Feldman. Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, the judges in Washington took another big chomp out of the Affordable Care Act. No, not the Supreme Court — this time it was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In a 2-1 panel decision on partisan lines, the appeals court ruled that the tax subsidies for insurance coverage purchased from federal exchanges are illegal. The effect of the decision is to drastically undercut Obamacare by enabling all 36 states that don’t have their own exchanges to exempt millions of people from the individual mandate that they buy insurance. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled the opposite way.

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The Poor Need Ryan’s Regulation Reform

An op-ed by Cass. R. Sunstein. While Representative Paul Ryan’s new anti-poverty plan has provoked significant discussion, little attention has been given to his ideas for regulatory reform. Those ideas deserve separate analysis and also considerable credit. They point in helpful directions, and they suggest the possibility of bipartisan cooperation on some important questions.

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Apple Pay Could Make You Poorer

An op-ed by Cass R. Sunstein. The new Apple payment system has extraordinary promise. With Apple Pay, you might not need a wallet, and you can leave your credit and debit cards at home. In terms of ease and convenience, payment cards represented a big leap from the era of cash. Apple hopes its system will be a comparable leap from the era of cards. Skeptics have focused on questions of security and privacy, but prospective users might want to pause over a different problem: When payment becomes easier, and when people don’t see the money they’re handing over, they tend to spend a lot more. And as payment becomes more automatic, people become less sensitive to what they’re losing. Apple Pay users might find that their thinner phones are making their bank accounts thinner as well.

Continue Reading at Bloomberg »