Weekly Round-Up #2: What’s Down in the Dark will be Brought to the Light

We are back with another round of student blogs addressing the powers and various issues related to our federal government and our constitution. The students have chosen a variety of rich topics for this week, some of which can offer a moment of respite from current events.

Annelis offers us a good starting point as she takes a different approach in her blog post this week, highlighting a variety of recent political developments, many involving Congress and the White House, that are interrelated in interesting ways.

Hermina, Sung, and Tyena, like Annelis, wrote posts about current events. Hermina writes about the recent, and very brief, government shut down, the political fights over the budget resolution, and the constitutional implications of the ongoing immigration debate. Sung discusses the stock market, what drives its success, and the extent to which Trump (or any president) can claim success for the strength (or lack thereof) of the stock market, linking this to questions of presidential power. Tyena investigates U.S. immigration policies—including so-called chain migration and DACA—affect families.

Following with the topic of immigration, Ryan and Dan take very different approaches to discussing some of the national security concerns related to immigration. Ryan looks into the idea of what are commonly called sanctuary cities and sanctuary states, breaking down what these terms mean and the potential threats they pose to national security. Dan, in his post, writes about how immigration can be a national security issue, not just as the president insists from who comes in, but also from the global inequality that pushes people to come to the U.S. through documented means or otherwise.

Tim and Brad both write about U.S. drug policy, but focus on temporally different aspects of how we got to where we are now, and what this means for federalism. In his post, Tim discusses the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, explaining what this law did as the first national drug law and why it was introduced, as well as linking this to the rise of national drug laws. Brad discusses the Cole Memo, which was part of an Obama era policy to effectively ignore the enforcement of marijuana laws in states that went through a legalization process, and the current changes happening with this policy.

Kei, in her blog, explains more about the complex relationship between tribal self-governance in the U.S., and Congressional oversight of tribes in the U.S., also speaking to the scope of federal power.

Kelly F., Jordyn, and Chelsea look at the powers that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches have, respectively. Kelly F. this week writes about the Congressional power to investigate, explaining what this is and two of the important cases that help establish some protections for those who are being investigated by Congress. Jordyn looks at the president’s power and influence over the Department of Justice. Chelsea explains the sources of judicial review power, looking at theoretical, political, and legal claims as to the origins of this power for our federal judiciary.

Troy writes about the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment and how it has been used to allow for federal regulation of state action.

Kelly S. addresses the Supreme Court case, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, discussing the issues in this case and what it means for the opportunities for self-enrichment and inclusion being offered to people.


Weekly Round-Up #1: Beginning Once Again

Hello and welcome back for another semester of student blogs about American law. This is the first week of substantive posts, and let me tell you, we are already off to a great start. While there are some great historically-themed posts here, we also start off with a lot of current political topics. Unsurprisingly immigration and marijuana legalization—two current major questions of federal power and federalism more generally—show up in quite a few of the posts.

As is my normal practice, especially with a class this size, I’ll briefly touch on the main point of the posts and hopefully encourage you, dear reader, to go forth and check out the posts. I know the students appreciate it when they find out that people who aren’t just me (or their peers) are actually reading their work. Given the quality of these posts, there is more than enough to recommend them for some good informative reading. On to the posts (and digging ourselves out from under the over 7 inches of snow we got yesterday)!

Three students explicitly write about federal conflicts over marijuana legalization. But, before we get to these, I want to start with the one student who went even further back to look at earlier attempts to regulate drugs in the U.S. Tim approaches drug laws from a different perspective than his peers, looking at the U.S.’s first drug laws, San Francisco’s 1875 Opium Den Ordinance, describing this law and the purpose of it.

From here, Troy, Brad, and Kelly S. all touch on different aspects of federalism around the legalization of marijuana. Troy writes about our federal system in the context over the growing disputes over federal versus state power related to the creation and policing of marijuana laws. Brad discusses states’ efforts to legalize marijuana while suggesting that the current administration is likely to push back against these state efforts. Kelly S. rounds out this group by looking into the not-so-distant past for how the Court has already approached the issue. Kelly S. investigates the legality of marijuana by looking at the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2005 case Gonzales v. Raich.

Three other students wrote about different aspects of the current immigration debate. Tyena writes about the conflicts that can arise between state and federal laws pertaining to immigration, as well as provides some history on immigration law in the U.S. more generally. Ryan discusses President Trump’s immigration plans, and the various actions that he and his administration have taken to achieve these plans. Rounding out this group, Annelis explains the current state of discussions around DACA, touching on the program itself, some of the proposed alternatives, and how this relates to the recent government shutdown.

In their blogs, Hermina, Dan, and Sung all focus on other areas of contemporary Constitutional law questions rooted in the current political climate. Hermina discusses the potential for another government shutdown, and the Constitutional and statutory reasons for the shutdown, if a compromise on a spending bill is not reached by February 8. Dan also looks at the impending shutdown, focusing on Trump’s seeming provocation for another shutdown and the Congressional efforts to avoid this. Sung, meanwhile, elaborates on Trump’s power to (indirectly) fire Special Counsel Mueller, as well as the norms around such actions.

Finally, I am ending this round-up with the three posts that touch on the history and structure of the Supreme Court, and importantly the Constitution. Kei importantly highlights some of the ways in which the Framers of the U.S. Constitution where influenced by the governing principles of the Seven Iroquois Nations, showing how these influences are reflected in the Constitution. Chelsea touches on the Constitutional structure (and lack thereof) of the federal judiciary, and briefly discusses a bit about the Court’s jurisdiction, too. Lastly (by virtue of being the last one I am talking about and nothing else), Kelly F.’s first post takes on Marbury v. Madison, discussing the case as it relates to judicial review and about the Court’s role in our political system more generally.

Collectively these blogs represent a range of topics, legal issues, and political views. They are all fascinating, and you’ll be better off if you take the time to read them (and if you don’t believe me, go read them and see if I’m right!).

Welcome Back!

Hi there! It is that time again: blog time! This semester (Spring 2018) we are back with a new round of Constitutional Law blogs. The students blogging this semester are doing so for the Constitutional Law in the Governmental Process class that I teach. This is largely questions of institutional powers and constraints, otherwise known as: what can the various parts of the government actually do, and who can stop them. I’m excited, and hopefully you are too! The students will begin making their posts next week, and as in the past, I’ll be offering round-up posts that give brief overviews of the students’ posts. Check back soon, and tell your friends.

Weekly Round-Up #9, 10, and 11: Super Post Edition!

Well, it is now finals week, and after a jam packed November, I find myself very far a wee bit behind on these wrap-up posts. While I’ve been buried under grading and my own projects, my students have continued to produce top-notch blogs about various issues of American public policy. To make sure their work is duly honored, I’m addressing the three rounds of posts here in this SUPER POST! (If I call it a super post it sounds better than just saying a bunch of posts talked about all at once, right?)

Despite my tardiness, I am incredibly proud of the work that these students have put into their blogs, and the course more generally. I hope that they are as well. If you agree with me, feel free to drop by their blogs and leave them comments. Moving forward, the blogs are their own, so some may choose to continue to post while others may not. Regardless of their choice, they have already all done superb work.

In her last three posts, Sam looks at how Title IX functions, and potential ways it could do more to ensure equality in collegiate athletics. Sam writes about how the ERA would have interacted with Title IX had the ERA been ratified. Sam also describes how Title IX relates to pregnant student athletes regarding participation, scholarships, and their position on their team. Sam ends her blog by reflecting on a semester’s worth of blogging, how it relates to her final paper for our course, and the future of Title IX.

Ben’s final posts focus in on the importance of reliable, accurate information, especially in the contexts of public education and mental health issues. Ben shares more of his personal struggles, while also arguing for better education and information for health care professionals to share with parents and their children regarding mental health issues. Ben also addresses much of the controversy surrounding Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, including her decision to remove 72 different guidelines pertaining to protections for students with disabilities. In his final post, Ben wrestles with the utility, and problems, with genetic testing regarding what they can offer, but also what you are giving up to the companies that administer these tests.

Kelly’s last few posts this semester get into the overall costs, defined broadly, of current American immigration politics, with a special focus on the ending of DACA. Kelly takes a break from writing about the human cost of immigration policies and ending DACA to discuss the incredibly high economic cost of ending DACA.  Kelly also explores the dehumanization in how we talk about and treat “immigrants” as a class in the United States. Kelly’s final post involves both a story from one of her classes, and her reflection on her own position regarding the current state of American politics around questions of immigration.

Hermina’s final posts continue to zero in on the effects of current changes being made to Title IX, as well as various activist efforts to push back against the harm being done to victims under the changes to the implementation of Title IX. Hermina writes about the differences between criminal and civil law, including burden of proof, and how this relates to the changes the Department of Education is pursuing regarding Title IX. Hermina also explains that a group, Equal Means Equal, is suing the Department of Education over its recension of the Dear Colleague Letter put in place by the Obama administration regarding the handling of Title IX incidents on campus. Hermina’s final post examines the accomplishments that Title IX has brought about, but more importantly she writes about all the work left to be done, and how it can be accomplished.

As has been the case with his blog this semester, Sung continues to explore various areas of the American economy and American economic policy. Sung explores the role of U.S. currency in international markets and what this means for the U.S. economy. Also, Sung evaluates the House of Representatives’ version of the tax bill, looking at what it means for various segments of the economy and the American public. Sung’s final post addresses the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the recent power struggle taking place at the head of the Bureau.

Nick wraps up his blog for this semester by looking at comedy and music, and what these intersections tell us about free speech and policies pertaining to obscenity and otherwise offensive speech. Nick takes a little bit of a deviation to talk about the comedian Lenny Bruce, and how his comedy challenged some of the policies around obscenity and free speech. Nick also writes about the Supreme Court case ruled on last term pertaining to trademarks and offensive language involving The Slants’ efforts to trademark their band name. Nick, in his final post, talks about George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” monologue, and how a broadcast of it sparked an important free speech case involving the FCC.

Alex’s final posts all pertain to what is happening with DACA now as various actors scramble to try to come up with a replacement after Trump has begun to end the program. Alex explains that there is increasing support among some Republicans in the House of Representatives to pass legislation creating a permanent fix for DACA. Alex also addresses some of the changes happening to DACA, including who may still renew their applications, and what is required to actually do so. Alex, in his last post, discusses the two major pieces of legislation currently being developed to replace DACA, the Dream Act and the BRIDGE Act.

In her final posts, Taylor explore what is wrong with current education policy, as well as offers up some potential solutions to address the large-scale problems she has blogged about all semester. Taylor explains how changes at the Department of Education are further impacting those who have been advantage of by for-profit schools. Taylor also provides a clear overview and explanation of what charter schools are and involve, given the Department of Education’s push to embrace charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools. Taylor’s final post involves her pitch for more centralized control over public education as a means to cut down on inequality and inconsistencies in the current system.

In his last few posts, John discusses various aspects of current American law and policy that further challenge the idea of a separation of church and state. John writes about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIP), what it does, and some of the controversy around how it has been used in a few situations.  John also addresses, and critiques, three different arguments put forth on behalf of maintaining tax exempt status for churches and religions. John’s final post looks at the tax exemption for housing allowances for various religious officials and discusses this in the context of contemporary American politics.


These students have demonstrated a remarkable grasp on the policy areas they have been studying, and often how these policies intersect with various areas of contemporary politics. As a professor, I could not ask for more regarding the level of engagement, learning, and professionalism on display in these blogs.

I’m not crying…you’re crying!

Weekly Round-Up #8: A Day Late and a Blog Short

We I am perpetually still a bit behind on this blog as I try to catch up from NPSA and taking students to Philadelphia. Also, we have hit the point of the semester where it is almost, but not quite, Thanksgiving, and everyone is super exhausted and a bit loopy (not that this post has any evidence of this, “carefully” “hidden” in the lines. Nope, none at all). But, onward, upward, and closer to being on time, and closer to Thanksgiving!

Sam and Hermina both address Title IX in their posts, with Sam discussing its (past) expansion, and Hermina writing about its (current) contraction. In her post, Sam discusses The Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which expanded Title IX coverage. Sam explains what changed, and how these changes interact with Title IX and other laws and benefits. Hermina addresses what the rescinding of the “Dear Colleague” letter by the Department of Education means for survivors of sexual abuse who also have disabilities. She explains the ways in which these problems compound, and how students with disabilities are a particularly vulnerable, often victimized group.

Taylor brings things around with a very different topic within higher education: the price tag. Taylor speaks to the rising cost of four-year colleges in her post. She discusses student loans, employment, and other concerns related to the overall cost, and value, of a college education. And speaking of price and monetary concerns, in his post, Sung writes about the often-discussed, but little-understood, “offshore bank account.” He describes what these are, the laws around them, and why attempts to address foreign tax shelters are inherently problematic.

Given how obscenely expensive college can be, and the inappropriate amounts of money that can be involved in offshore accounts (okay, yes, I know, I’m stretching here), and how gauche it is, based on some community standards to talk about money, it makes sense to talk about pornography! Or, well, read a blog about a Supreme Court case about pornography. Nick’s focus in his blog is the Supreme Court case, Miller v. California, which is an incredibly important precedent for free speech and obscenity concerns. Nick provides the history of the case, details what the Court held, and highlights the test that emerged from this case.

Moving on, we come to two blog posts that address rights and autonomy. Theressa writes about how debates over abortion address questions of viability and government’s interests regarding fetuses. Theressa explains what the debate is, how viability is a shifting target, and what this means for women’s autonomy. In his post, Ben shares his experiences and what these experiences reveal about the need for rights education. Ben explains how knowing your rights, even if no claims are made, can be useful in employment situations.

While on a different topic, Kelly touches on some of the same themes present in Theressa’s and Ben’s posts. Kelly’s post is about the lawyers getting involved to help those who are affected by the Trump administration’s various immigration policies. Kelly shares her experience about hearing a commercial from these attorneys while she was at work.

Wrapping up the blogs for this week, John’s post touches on the Constitutional prohibition of religious tests for office holders. He discusses the origin of this provision, its use over time, and how it has arisen recently.


Photo: The White Rabbit from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

Weekly Round-Up #7: Professors Are People, Too, Edition

Hello everyone and welcome back to this now quite late round-up post. As those familiar with academia know, October tends to be the month where, somehow, everything is due and because we are all professional procrastinators super busy with all of our work, sometimes we fall very far behind. With a conference paper deadline—and then the actual conference (hi from Philadelphia, btw)—well, I did not get to the post for the blogs the students wrote for October 30 until now. So, without putting myself even further behind with more inane ramblings deep thoughts about academia, on with the show!

The room where it happened!

Sam looks at the public comment process and the final interpretation offered by the Carter administration to help put Title IX into practice at universities. She explains how this approach created the three-pronged approach, and what this means.

Theressa writes about victim blaming around rape, and how it relates to questions over abortions. She discusses what victim blaming is, why it is a problem, and how it unnecessarily complicates needed policy discussions.

Ben discusses the war on drugs and what it has to do with mental health. Specifically, he looks at how policies to end the war on drugs could interact with policies surrounding better treatment of those with mental health issues.

Kelly blogs about two recent immigration stories to reach the news. She explains who these two people are, and the very different experiences they have regarding their immigration status.

In her post, Hermina talks about some of the challenge and conflicts inherent in Title IX procedures on college campuses. She relates these to questions of due process, as well as the adversarial nature of U.S. law.

Sung writes about recent stats on the U.S. economy and its overall health. He discusses what the figures mean, and why we should be cautious in celebrating growth in consumer spending.

Nick’s post is about Trump’s recent attacks on various news organizations, and the role of the FCC. Given that some of these tweets implicate the FCC, Nick explains what the FCC does and how it relates to Trump’s threats on the mainstream news media.

Taylor, in her post, talks about who the Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is. Taylor talks about who DeVos was before her nomination, the controversy surrounding her nomination, and some of the controversy arising already during her tenure as Secretary of Education.

Michelle writes about a resource through the Southern Poverty Law Center pertaining to immigration. She discusses what information the resources has, as well as the importance of this given past and recent immigration decisions.

John discusses Sharia Law within the context of the U.S., and the various concerns about Sharia that have arisen in the U.S. He talks about courts, spurious claims, as well as the various legislative attempts to pass anti-Sharia bills.

Weekly Round-Up #6: Reflections and Pedagogy

It is that time of the (blogging) year (or, well, semester) again: blog audit week! This is the week, about halfway through the time students spend blogging in the class where the students stop and reflect on their blogs. They look back at the old posts, as well as think about what is coming up ahead. It is an important part of the process where students are encouraged to engage in wide-ranging reflection. Given that they are also writing research papers for this course, it is a chance to pull together what has been written, and think about what still needs to be said.

Also, as I say every time we hit this week (because it is true), it is also hard to write a summary post about the students’ reflective posts. It is not that the reflections are not good (they are incredibly thoughtful), but summarizing people’s personal reflections is a bit difficult. I will try to keep it brief and fair.

Sam looks back at her past posts, reflecting on how she has occasionally veered into current events instead of sticking strictly on topic. But, she thinks this has been informative, and is aiming her future posts towards the final paper assignment.

Theressa discusses how she has set up her posts to address her final paper, but has largely skirted her central claim regarding an approach to abortion policy that centers the autonomy of the pregnant woman.

Ben examines his posts and detects patterns in the set-up of his posts and the topics that he covers. He talks about how his overall blog has been structured and how he will maintain his approach in the future.

Kelly reflects on her posts and notices that she still is affected by the data that she presents regarding immigration in the U.S. She talks about what unites her posts, and how there is an intent in each post to be respectful of those who are affected by these real policies.

Hermina discusses the tone and content of her previous posts. She talks about what she has done and why, and how this will relate to future posts.

Sung talks about how the more he learns as he writes his posts, the more he is guarded in his language and claims as he realizes how much information is out there. He also reflects on what some of his posts say about his own politics, as well as the standard left-right breakdown.

In his audit Nick chronicles his eventual change from discussing drug policy to looking at free speech, especially around the FCC and questions of censorship. He explains what led to this change, and how his posts have shaped up since changing topics.

Taylor looks back at her previous posts and notices that she, largely, has been angry about the many ways in which various disadvantaged groups are treated within educational policy. Taylor sums up what has united her posts this semester (and in previous semesters for previous classes).

John remarks on the changes to the tone and presentation of his posts. He discusses what unites these posts, how his tone has shifted, and possible topics for moving forward.


In the spirit of this post, I am going to reflect a bit on the class itself. Specifically, I am going to talk a bit about the pedagogy I am using in this class. The course is an upper-level government and politics course about American public policy. While the blogging component is not new for courses I have taught, this is the first time that I have used it in a class not explicitly about the American legal system. Most past classes have been about a specific area of constitutional law. While the material has been different, the blogs have been of an equally high caliber as past semesters. It is too early to say if the blogs will aid in the final papers, but the blog audits suggest some students think the blog is a helpful way to move towards the paper.

Beyond the blog, however, I would like to discuss another aspect of the course design. In addition to the blogging assignment, the students have been preparing reading memos and leading class discussions. They are each responsible for doing this twice across the semester, having signed up for specific classes. I provided a sample memo for one of our classes, providing a template for them to follow. The memo is supposed to summarize the main points in a reading, provide some analysis, and offer up a few discussion questions for the class to talk about. The students get the memos to me the day before class where they are leading discussion, and I distribute the memos to the entire class. So far this approach has been incredibly effective. As an educator it is hard to turn over control of the class. There is always the concern that the students might not cover the “important” points or will miss connections I want them to make. So far that has not happened. The discussions have been incredibly productive, and often involve more student participation than a standard faculty-led class.

The discussions do not always focus on all of the points I would have, but they also bring up important points I probably would not have. This has been a rewarding experience. It not only has been a success as far as pedagogy, but it has been rewarding to see students take charge of their own education and succeed without much intervention on my behalf. I will add, however, that I sometimes worry that too much of the focus on the course’s main topic—public policy—is sometimes lost in these (still very productive) discussions. I have found that online discussions at the end of a unit, in particular, can be useful for addressing any lingering points I would like the students to consider from material that we have covered. Even with this lingering concern, I believe the benefits have exceeded potential concerns, and I will likely continue this approach in future courses.