Weekly Round-Up #4: Function and Dysfunction

Coming off of our “October Break” at UC, and some needed recovery after the second presidential debate, I find myself playing a bit of catch up on this blog. Here are the recaps from the posts from last weekend, October 9th. The task is made easier, not just because the posts are all great, but also because they all, in their own ways, address issues of function and dysfunction within our governmental (and social) structure. These range from discussing the functioning of different approaches to constitutional interpretation to the dysfunction of systemic advantages in society privileging some and greatly disadvantaging others.

In her post, Selma O. compares Sotomayor and Thomas on their approaches to constitutional interpretation. She fairly characterizes how both of these justices approach the constitution, and what this looks like in their opinions. She explains why pick these two, as well as describe which she prefers, and the shortcomings of her preferred approach. To find out what this is and to read a good justification of this (and a great summary of both Sotomayor’s and Thomas’s jurisprudence), go check out her post.

Grace, in her post, looks at a fairly recent example of the separation of powers in action. She looks at the 2012 case US v. Alvarez, and questions of the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Grace discusses the specifics of the case, but more importantly, she highlights how the passage of the law, the Court’s striking it down (on First Amendment grounds), and Congress’s eventual passage of an amended version of the law all show the separation of powers at work within the government.

looking-at-a-broken-coffee-machine-royalty-free-clipart-picture-qvz4yn-clipartBoth Selma and Grace present the functioning of the system by explaining how different elements work, and how the functioning of the system comes together through these different elements. Ben offers a quasi-transitional case regarding function and dysfunction.

Ben discusses the 2008 case Kennedy v. Louisiana. This was a capital case involving the rape of a child, where the ultimate legal question at the Supreme Court came down to whether states were allowed to use their discretion in imposing the death penalty for a crime where the victim did not die. As Ben explains, the case involves 8th and 10th Amendment concerns, with the Court siding with the 8th in that case. He provides more details on the Court’s reasoning, as well as his own analysis in his post. His post serves as a transition as he focuses on how the system functions, while discussing how this functioning can often look like (and perhaps is) dysfunction.

Erin uses this week’s post to connect her previous post about the still eight-member Court with the current presidential election and her blog’s overall focus on affirmative action. She ponders, in her post, what a Trump presidency would likely mean for affirmative action, and equality more generally. The prospects are not good, to say the least, as she points out in her analysis. Between the election and the potential reversal of gains made on the affirmative action front, dysfunction seems like an appropriate word to use.

Sticking with the theme of a system that is seemingly failing the pursuit on equality on the basis of race, Elise’s post addresses another area of dysfunction, also pertaining to the Court’s new term. Elise addresses the opening of the Court’s new term by discussing one of their first cases. This case involves questions of racism in sentencing when a licensed psychologist is testifying that someone’s race makes it more likely that this person will commit future crimes. For a breakdown of this case, and of Elise’s response, I recommend you read her post. I’m willing to bet dysfunction will come to your mind if you go read about this case in Elise’s post.

Finally, Taylor offers the most explicit embrace of the idea of dysfunction within various social systems in the US. Taylor’s post this week takes on the issue of broken systems and persistent, compounding advantages (and privilege). She looks specifically at education, and hockey for that matter, but relates her overall point quite a bit broader. There is a lot here, especially in terms of looking at how intentional and unintentional factors work together to produce entrenched inequalities.


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