Civil Rights Law & Policy Blog

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

John Jay College's exciting online legal history and literature course

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice is offering an online course examining the laws and guiding legal opinions that sustained the institution of slavery; and, how those laws affected writers and activists whose work eventually contributed to the institution's demise. The course is called "Literature & Law of American Slavery." The instructor is Professor John Matteson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for Eden's Outcasts: The Story Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. And the course free! Yes, free!

The course summary states:

The debate over slavery touched not only the lives and fortunes of the millions of African Americans held in bondage, but also those of every American citizen. It was decided only after a catastrophic war in which more than 600,000 Americans died. The effects of the slaveholding era are still being felt today.

 Slavery profoundly affected not only American history, but American literature as well. The writings of many of the authors whose work the American literary tradition depends – Thoreau, Douglass, Melville, Stowe, Whitman, Alcott and others – were both informed and haunted by the specter of slavery.

In this online course, the worlds of law, literature, and history come together to paint a portrait of an era of conflict and controversy. We will read the judicial opinions that shaped and tried to preserve the institution of slavery, as well as the books of authors who tried to tear it down. We shall travel to the places where history was made, including Concord, Massachusetts; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and the home of Frederick Douglass as we look for answers to the following questions: 


  • What were the legal principles behind slavery, and what were the arguments both for and against its legality? 
  • How did the leading American writers of the time respond to slavery, both in fiction and in nonfiction? 
  • What was slavery like from the perspective of the slave, and how did African-American writers take up the war of words on the subject? 
  • How did the Civil War inspire the authors who lived through it and saw it firsthand? 
  • Why does the institution of slavery, which was abolished in the United States in the 1860s, still matter to us today?

The course lasts eight weeks. The reading list is intriguing and the time commitment is very manageable. Give it a thought.

August 21, 2014 in Civil Rights History | Permalink | Comments (0)

U. of Baltimore Law seeking papers for upcoming Feminist Legal Theory Conference

The University of Baltimore School of Law's Center for Applied Feminism has issued a call for papers for its upcoming (and exciting) Feminist Legal Theory Conference scheduled for March 5-6, 2015. The Call for Papers summary states:

ImagesAs the nation emerges from the recession, work and economic security are front and center in our national policy debates.  Women earn less than men, and the new economic landscape impacts men and women differently.  At the same time, women are questioning whether to Lean In or Lean Out, and what it means to “have it all.”  The conference will build on these discussions. As always, the Center’s conference will serve as a forum for scholars, practitioners and activists to share ideas about applied feminism, focusing on the intersection of theory and practice to effectuate social change.  The conference seeks papers that discuss this year’s theme through the lens of an intersectional approach to feminist legal theory, addressing not only the premise of seeking justice for all people on behalf of their gender but also the interlinked systems of oppression based on race, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, immigration status, disability, and geographical and historical context.


Papers might explore the following questions:  What impact has feminist legal theory had on the workplace? How does work impact gender and vice versa?  How might feminist legal theory respond to issues such as stalled immigration reform, economic inequality, pregnancy accommodation, the low-wage workforce, women’s access to economic opportunities, family-friendly work environments, paid sick and family leave, decline in unionization, and low minimum wage rates?  What sort of support should society and law provide to ensure equal employment opportunities that provide for security for all?  How do law and feminist legal theory conceptualize the role of the state and the private sector in relation to work?  Are there rights to employment and what are their foundations?  How will the recent Supreme Court Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn decisions impact economic opportunities for women?  How will the new EEOC guidance on pregnancy accommodation and the Young v. UPS upcoming Supreme Court decision affect rights of female workers?  


The conference will provide an opportunity for participants and audience members to exchange ideas about the current state of feminist legal theories.  We hope to deepen our understandings of how feminist legal theory relates to work and to move new insights into practice.  In addition, the conference is designed to provide presenters with the opportunity to gain feedback on their papers. 

More information about the conference and paper submissions is available here

August 21, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

L.A. to pay $5 million in damages for 2013 shooting by LAPD officers

As protests continue in Ferguson, MO over the shooting death of Michael Brown, the L.A. City Council reminds us that the costs of excessive force by police extends beyond the physical and emotional pain such violence causes. Yesterday, by a 12-2 vote, the council approved a $5 million settlement in the civil rights case that followed the 2013 shooting death of Brian Newt Beiard. As The Los Angeles Times reports

The incident began around 9:30 p.m. [on Dec. 13] as a suspected drunk- or reckless-driver pursuit in Cudahy by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies. The LAPD took over the chase when it reached city limits.


Beaird was driving erratically and at high speeds on freeways and surface streets. With several LAPD cars following him, he slammed his Corvette into a Nissan crossing the intersection at Olympic Boulevard and Los Angeles Street, sending the Nissan into a fire hydrant.


After initially trying to drive his mangled car, Beaird stepped out of the Corvette and staggered to the back of the car, with his hands up at one point and his back to the officers. Within moments, TV footage showed objects — possibly nonlethal rounds — bouncing off Beaird almost in concert with crackling gunfire.


Beaird fell to the ground, where he flailed from side to side before lying still as officers approached.

The question, of course, is not whether police were pursuing a criminal--even a potentially violent one. Rather, the question is whether the use of force by police was excessive under the circumstances. The belief that a jury may well have found that the officers' use of force under the above circumstances was excessive compelled the council to agree to the settlement amount.

Councilman Bernard Parks, a former LAPD chief, said that the case was serious enough to warrant such a large payout and that a jury could have awarded far more had the case gone to trial.


"This is a case that clearly had significant potential liability far beyond what the settlement offer was," he said. "It was a good business decision when you have a loss of life and you have evidence that could be viewed as overwhelming against the city of L.A."


The settlement was approved by a 12-2 vote. Two council members who have served with the LAPD voted against the payout, saying the shooting appeared justified. Councilman Mitchell Englander said the officers could not see the driver's hands when he fell so could not be sure whether he had a weapon.

Beaird's father originally had requested $20 million in damages. 

The $5 million settlement is the largest for a fatal shooting by L.A. police in the last ten years.

August 21, 2014 in Excessive Force | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"Do Constitutional Rights Make a Difference?"

The title of this post comes from this recent paper, the abstract of which states:

Although the question of whether constitutional rights matter is of great theoretical and practical importance, we know little about whether any constitutional rights actually improve rights in practice. We test the effectiveness of six political rights. We hypothesize that “organizational” rights increase de facto rights protection, because they create organizations with the incentives and means to protect the underlying right. By contrast, individual rights are unlikely to make a difference. To test our theory, we use a recently developed identification strategy that mitigates selection bias by incorporating previously unobserved information on countries’ preferences for constitutional rights into the research design. Specifically, we use data on constitutional rights adoption since 1946 to calculate countries’ yearly constitutional ideal point, and then match on the probability that a country will protect a specific right in its constitution. Our results suggest that only organizational rights are associated with increased de facto rights protection.

August 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"On Law, Organizations and Social Movements"

The title of this post comes from this recent paper, the abstract of which states:

This review examines the complex interplay among social movements, organizations, and law. Although the sociological literature has recently been attentive to each pair of two of these social arenas"that is, to social movements and organizations, to organizations and law, and to law and social movements"there has been no effort to theorize the relationship among all three of them. We review the literature on each pair of institutions and then suggest ways in which insights about the omitted institution might inform extant work. Finally, we offer a new framework for examining social movements, organizations, and law together. Envisioning the three social arenas as overlapping and mutually constitutive social fields, we suggest that institutional change may occur when exogenous shocks produce contention and settlement in adjacent fields or when endogenous motion occurs as ideas within one field gradually influence practices in adjacent fields.

August 16, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Heavily armed police confront protesters of Michael Brown's shooting death by Ferguson police officer

The violence in Ferguson, MO continued last night after a third day of protests of the shooting death by a police officer of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American. 

Witness accounts of the shooting differ from those of police. Witnesses of the shooting claim the teenager was shot multiple times by the officer while he held his hands in the air. Another witness claims Brown was shot while on the ground. However, police claim the teenager assaulted the officer and attempted to grab the officer's gun.

Differing accounts notwithstanding, the officer shot at least once from inside the vehicle and then fired multiple rounds once outside. Brown's bullet-ridden body was found 35 feet from the police car

On Sunday, a vigil held in remembrance of the slain teen reportedly led some to riot and loot several local business. Protests commenced the following day. Armed policed eventually confronted the protesters and ordered them to disperse. When the protesters remained, police reportedly used tear gas, flash granades, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd

The Department of Justice and the FBI have announced investigations into the shooting, while local authorities plan to conduct their own investigations.

Mother Jones has compiled images from Ferguson here, and the LATimes has more here. Below are several photos from various AP sources.






August 14, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Eliminating Mental Disability as a Legal Criterion in Deprivation of Liberty Cases: The Impact of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability on the Insanity Defense, Civil Commitment, and Competency Law"

The title of this post comes from this recent paper by Professor Christopher Slobogin, the abstract of which states:

A number of laws that are associated with deprivations of liberty, including the insanity defense, civil commitment, guardianship of the person and numerous competency doctrines in the criminal context, require proof of mental disability as a predicate. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability commands signatory states to eliminate that predicate. Summarizing principles set out in my book Minding Justice: Laws that Deprive People with Mental Disability of Life and Liberty, I explain how this seemingly radical stance can be implemented. Specifically, this article proposes adoption of an "integrationist defense" in the criminal context, an "undeterrability requirement" when the state seeks preventive detention outside of the criminal process, and a "basic rationality and self-regard test" for incompetency determinations. None of these proposals requires proof of mental disability.

August 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1)