Weekly Round-Up #5: Defining Conditions and Considering Changes

We are cruising around the midpoint of the semester right now, and class is really on a roll. This week’s posts are indicative of this. The posts, with all of their various topics, break down into two basic categories this time around. There are posts that look at important terms, conditions, and statistics that help define a given policy area in an attempt to grapple with what is included and what is not. Then, there is another group of posts that looks at past, current, or proposed changes and evaluate what these changes have done or are likely to do to a policy area. These groupings demonstrate how the student bloggers are evaluating their policy areas, and making strides towards policy analysis and critique. I’ll briefly summarize these posts below, but as always, I encourage everyone to go read the originals as they are far richer than I capture here.

No, wait, context and terms matters! Oh, forget it.

Nick writes about Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964). This case was important for the Court’s attempts to define what constitutes obscenity. In this sense, he is quite literally (for the context of the categories I have set-up above for these posts) discussing the definition of a key term for law and policy purposes.

Alex, in his post, investigates immigration numbers. He looks at recent trends and discusses what the numbers could mean for changes to US immigration policies. By looking at how many people we are even talking about when addressing immigration policy, we can get a better sense at the scope of these policies and any changes involving them. On a related point, Kelly’s post addresses where we are actually detaining the undocumented migrants that ICE rounds up. She talks about the various practices, and the challenges that arise from the sheer number of detentions that are happening.

Sam, for her blog, read about some arguments against Title IX in college athletics. These arguments largely hinge on the context for various policies, and potentially questionable motives. She looks at arguments about whether Title IX limits chances for female athletes, as well as the NCAA’s role in many of the related issues.

Theressa addresses questions of viability and legal standards regarding when fetuses are alive. Given the law has latched on to the concept of viability as a key deciding point, figuring out when this is, and how technology keeps shifting our understanding of viability has become central to much of the debate around abortion restrictions.

Taylor looks both at terms and policies in her analysis of an important element of high school education. Taylor discusses comprehensive sex-ed in her post. She talks about the benefits of scientifically accurate information about sexual activity, as opposed to abstinence-only education.

John writes about the political balances between Congress and the Supreme Court that occasionally arise regarding religion in the law. John looks at two cases and explains what they show us about political will, legislation, and the Court’s role in interpreting the law. Both cases involved Congress responding with new legislation, showing how Court rulings can lead to different policy changes.

Ben expounds upon time off, leave policies, and mental health issues. He explains how mental health interacts with sick days or other time-off policies, and offers suggestions for how to better accommodate those with mental health issues in employment settings. Here Ben is making connections between his topic, existing policies, and what he sees as beneficial changes to these policies.

Finally, both Hermina and Sung examine very different recently proposed bills. Hermina writes about new legislation introduced by Democrats in Congress called the Title IX Protection Act. Hermina walks through what the proposed changes would entail, and how they respond to the recent actions of the Department of Education. Sung discusses a Democrat-sponsored bill recently introduced that aims to review and potentially dissolve major financial institutions that harm consumers. Sung evaluates this proposal and offers up some alternatives for what could, and perhaps should, be done.


Weekly Round-Up #4: Policy Failure and Challenges

Hello again! Welcome back for another round of student public policy posts. They are as good as ever, only more depressing than most weeks. I don’t think the students covertly all decided to write about various policy failures and challenges, but it certainly feels that way. Maybe that’s just 2017. Hard to say. What is easy to say, however, is that the posts are fantastic and every one of them is worth a read. Technically not all of them are depressing (for me, at least), but many are. At least the depressing one are also well written? Maybe that helps? Maybe?

Sam, Kelly, and Nick all respond to recent political developments, and not all (only 2 out of 3!) are in response to something the president has said or done. Sam’s post goes a little off topic, in her words, and addresses Cam Newton’s recent remarks making jokes at a female reporter’s knowledge of football. Given Sam’s focus on Title IX and female athletics, this connection makes a lot of sense. Kelly turns closer to home as she discusses the connections between Kent Syverud, the chancellor of Syracuse University, and the Trump administration. Kelly explains how Syverud has been working on government advisory board, but is potentially leaving this position over Trump’s decision to end DACA. Nick responds to one of Trump’s recent tweets calling for equal time after being ridiculed by late-night comedians. Nick explains the Fairness Doctrine, how it developed, and how the president is invoking this former policy to call for more air time to respond to the jokes made at his expense.

Taylor addresses funding for public schools in her post. She discusses how most schools are funded through property taxes, and how this disadvantages schools with smaller tax bases. She also goes into detail discussing some of the problems Colorado is facing based on legislation the state passed in 1992.

Speaking of funding and taxes, Sung also gets into elements of tax policy and the U.S. economy. Sung’s post this week focuses on the American debt. He discusses where it is owed, its size, and what this means for average Americans. He also explains the potential ramifications of the push for more tax cuts, as well as ways in which the government could start to try to address the debt.

Hermina writes about Title IX compliance, or more accurately the basic lack of Title IX compliance in K-12 schools. Not only is compliance sorely lacking in these institutions, but often time victims of sexual assault can be punished in what are clearly non-complaint actions by schools.

John address the Johnson Amendment and recent efforts to repeal the amendment to make it easier for faith-based groups to engage in overt political campaign activities. He explains the amendment, its origins, the current efforts against it (and how some faith groups actually support the amendment), and what its repeal might mean.

Finally, Ben and Theressa both, in their own ways, start to pull things around to slightly more positive looks at their respective policy areas. Ben argues for why there is a moral obligation to provide healthcare for those with mental health issues. He engages the philosophical concepts of brute luck vs option luck to help explain his argument. Theressa writes about the connections between state laws and federal laws regarding abortion policy and funding. She gives a specific example of policies in Delaware and how they relate to trends at the federal level.

Weekly Round-Up #3: Free Falling

Once again this semester’s bloggers are back with superb posts. It seems with every new day the topics covered by these students become ever more relevant. I remain impressed by the work of these students, and the level of personal narrative that helps to inform how so many of these topics really do hit home for these bloggers, and so many others. Additionally, many of the posts for this week take complex policy issues and explain them in clear, accessible terms, which is no small feat.

In his post this week Ben connects the topic of his blog, mental health issues, to his own experiences. He relates events from his own life, tying them into broader themes surrounding mental health policy and how individuals with mental health issues are treated.

Taylor writes about the issue of disparity in education while looking locally at the schools in the greater Utica area. She provides data on racial diversity while also discussing funding and test scores to paint a picture of how not just large cities are suffering from many of the commonly discussed challenges in education today.

Kelly discusses the impact of Trump’s various immigration decisions. She presents stats on how many lives are being affected, and in what ways, by the various decisions being made by the current administration. These numbers help bring perspective to exactly what we are talking about when we discuss the impacts of changes to immigration policies.

Theressa addresses many common stereotypes and misconceptions around multiple issues related to abortion. She talks about what these stereotypes are, and provides evidence to push back against these mistaken beliefs.

John expands on his previous post, discussing recent Supreme Court cases involving religion, and how Satanists are using many of these principles to push for their own religious displays and acknowledgment. The Satanists’ goals seem to be to either publicly undercut Christian symbols and messages in public by also having Satanists symbols, or require governments to forgo Christian symbols to avoid having to also include Satanist-approved displays and messages.

Hermina discusses ways in which activism has risen to address various policy silences or failures surrounding gender equality issues. Specifically, Hermina discusses Raise the Bar and Safe Bar, two programs that aim to train others on how to identify, and then intervene, in issues around sexual harassment or other unwanted sexual attention. If you are unfamiliar with these programs, you should definitely check out Hermina’s post.

Sam does a great job of breaking down exactly what Title IX means in the context of collegiate sports. She looks at the language in the law, and explains what some of the key provisions mean.

Nick writes about the origins and development of the FCC. He explains some of the changes this agency has undergone over time, and indicates he will be using this post to inform future posts on the FCC’s connections to free speech issues.

Sung investigates the world of cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin being one of the more common examples. He explains what they are, how they work, and the advantages and disadvantages of these forms of currency compared to state-issued currency.

As always, if anything grabs your interest, please go check out the students’ full posts. Also, feel free to leave them a comment to let them know you are reading and also appreciate the quality of the posts they are producing. Given all the negativity and waves of mass tragedies right now it is helpful to see so many bright people engaging with important topics in a public forum.

And, while I’m at it, I’ll just leave this here:

Weekly Round-Up #2: Breaking News, Changing Policy

I’m back with the second round of brief summaries of fantastic student posts. As we slide into October the semester is taking off and class has really come alive. Much of this lively engagement in the classroom is also reflected in the lively investment of time, energy, and ideas into these blog posts. As usual, the summaries I offer here are merely cursory, and I encourage everyone to get the full depth of the posts by following the links to the students’ original posts. Now for me to get out of the way and feature these terrific students.

Ben starts us off by making explicit connections between his blog topic and material from our course. Ben, making connections to our current course reading, Rights of Inclusion, articulates in his post outlines for a policy regarding primary education. Specifically, Ben explains what can be done to introduce grade-school aged children to the concept of various mental health and learning disabilities.

Both Nick and John write about First Amendment issues in their blogs this week. Nick posts about freedom of speech and the First Amendment. In particular he discusses the boundaries of free speech, including obscenity. John writes about how atheists and Satanists have been using law and religious rights claims to push back against what they see as Christian cultural dominance in the U.S. He discusses some of the various legal challenges that have emerged in recent years, and how these seek to use the former victories for religious rights to push back against the expansion of these same rights.

Both Michelle and Kelly focus in their posts on Trump’s new travel ban, and other actions touching on immigration issues. Michelle provides an overview of some of the various policies the Trump administration has begun regarding immigration and current undocumented migrants. In her post Kelly discusses President Trump’s newest travel ban. She provides some history on the evolution of the ban, and talks about the ban more generally.

Much like the immigration posts centering on developing news, Sung discusses economics related developing stories. This week Sung writes about the recent data breach at Equifax. He discusses how the conjunction of the reliance on social security numbers and private credit reporting agencies creates vulnerabilities for many Americans to fraud and identity theft.

The last grouping of posts focus on issues of gender, law, and policy, with most of these explicitly about Title IX and recent changes to Title IX practices. Theressa addresses the problems with rape culture, and how rape culture intertwines with questions of bodily autonomy and access to abortion. Sam expands on her first post about some of the early struggles over, and related to the creation of, Title IX by discussing men who also have helped with the push for equality through Title IX.

The other two posts addressing Title IX bore down into the changes Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is bringing to college-based Title IX proceedings. Hermina writes about DeVos’s recent decision to rescind the Obama era “Dear Colleague” letter pertaining to campus sexual assault procedures under Title IX. Hermina talks about what is changing and what this means for Title IX enforcement on campuses nationwide. Taylor also critiques DeVos’s changes regarding how Title IX sexual assault investigations are supposed to be handled. She goes through, step by step, the proposed new procedures and provides analysis of the changes.

Weekly Round-Up #1: Back to Blogging

Welcome (back?) to another semester of student blogs. This is the first of the weekly round-up posts for the students blogging for my American Public Policy class. In these round-up posts I will briefly offer summary statements about the students post to highlight all of their great work in one place. I offer some brief comments, but do not fully capture the nuances of the original posts. As always, I highly encourage readers here to go check out the students’ blogs and full posts (linked to in this post). Also, if you feel so inclined, leave a comment on the students’ posts!

I am incredibly excited for these blogs this semester. The students are taking on a range of policy issues. This first round of posts shows how engaged these students are, and how insightful their analysis will be. With that, on to the posts!

This week we have three posts about policy aspects of Title IX, two in the context of students blogging about Title IX, and one in the context of a student blogging about education policy. Sam’s first post discusses some of the history around women’s rights movements in the US, with a special focus on Title IX and women’s athletics, which is the main focus of her blog this semester.

Like Sam, Hermina is also addressing issues of Title IX. But, where Sam focuses more on the implications for college sport, Hermina will focus more on Title IX and sexual violence. Hermina’s first post provides some background on Title IX, but primarily focuses on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s recent calls for changing how various Title IX procedures are handled on college campuses.

Taylor will be blogging about education policy this semester. Her first post looks at DeVos’s plans to change Obama-era Title IX guidance for colleges regarding sexual assault allegations. Taylor looks at data regarding reported offenses to argue that the policy changes under the Obama administration has led to a more conducive environment for victims of sexual assault to actually report incidents. She argues that changing these policies is the wrong thing to do.

Several students in the class will also be blogging about different aspect of immigration policy this semester. Kelly’s first post looks at the effects of the current immigration ban on the lives of immigrants currently in the US. Alex’s first post takes a bit of an overview approach to the current administration’s actions regarding immigration. He focuses primarily on the ban pertaining to seven Muslim-majority countries and the decision to end DACA.

The rest of the blogs all take on different policy issues, including abortion, drugs, and economics, oh my! Theressa will be blogging about abortion policy this semester. In her first post she lays out her autonomy-based approach to the topic. She looks at some of the major questions and debates regarding abortion policy and puts these in context of her preferred approach. Nick’s focus for his blog this semester is drug policy in the US. His first post chronicles the history of US and drugs, including a wide variety of policies regarding, and tolerance for, drugs.

Sung discusses the Financial Choice Act, a bill that has passed the House this year, and is aimed at repealing Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed in 2010. Sung breaks down what the Financial Choice Act would change, and who the “winners” and “losers” as a result of these proposed changes.

Ben addresses public perceptions, and importantly misperceptions, around issues of mental health in the US. He discusses these misperceptions in light of a need for better public education around issues of mental health, which is the area of public policy upon which Ben’s blog will focus this semester.

John’s posts this semester will address various policy aspects around the separation of church and state. His first post is a reflection on some of the social aspects pertaining to ways in which American culture and society entwine, rather than separate, church and state.

Thank for reading, and please, support the work of these fantastic students!

Weekly Round-Up #11: Wrap Up Round-Up, I Wrote a Thing Edition

We have once again reached the end of another semester, and another academic year. I don’t know if it has been the state of American politics, or the rush of getting adjusted to a new institution, but, for me at least, it feels like this academic year has gone by pretty quickly. As I’m writing this, the students in this class are preparing for their moot court, which is their final exam in our course. As they prepare, let’s have a look at their final blog posts of the semester. As is always the case with my classes, the students have complete control over their blogs, so some of them might choose to continue posting, and others might not. I encourage all to check in on the blogs to see if the students keep posting.

Taylor writes about the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood and other women’s health organizations. Attacks on women’s healthcare providers have been increasing recently. Taylor’s post serves as a depressingly-necessary reminder that these policy decisions do not exist in a vacuum and do have real world consequences for real, living, breathing human beings. Taylor also has a bonus post on the not-quite-Trump-whisperer Ivanka.

Laura, in her post, addresses the growing battle over the budget and healthcare. She discusses Trump’s various threats to limit any spending on the ACA if he does not get funding for his border wall idea. She looks at Trump’s various claims (from Twitter, of course), and addresses the factual accuracy of these claims. It seems if the goal is safety and preserving lives, funding healthcare is the easy choice, but not one that this administration is making.

For her final post, Selma returns to the topic of free speech and radical anarchist or communist groups. She looks at an often overlooked case from 1974, Communist Party of Indiana v. Whitcomb. The case involved election laws that required loyalty oaths from candidates. Selma explains how the challenge arouse, and what the Court ultimately ruled. Selma also has a bonus post on commercial speech and advertisements for prescription drugs.

Erin again addresses the right to privacy. She puts this right into the context of its alleged place within the Bill of Rights and asks a question: does the right to privacy actually exist? She approaches this quandary through recent political developments. To see where she ends, you’ll have to read her post.

Paul continues his examination of the extent of the Establishment Clause by looking at religious practices in public schools. There is a long history of both acceptable and unacceptable (both as deemed by the Court) religious practices in public schools. In trying to describe where the line is Paul discusses Zorach v. Clauson (1952). He explains the case, as well as discusses what this means more broadly for our understanding of the Establishment Clause.

Kaitlyn’s final post provides an excellent overview for her previous posts, and for the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. She talks about the purpose of these clauses, and how they often exist in a tense relationship. She explains the conflicts that arise, and relates these back to previous discussions she has had on her blog pertaining to these issues.


Finally, I want to leave off this final round-up post with two thoughts. First, it has been interesting teaching civil liberties this semester. The students have been great and we have had wonderful discussions (more than once putting us behind schedule, but for all the best reasons). While I have taught this class numerous times, this is the first time I have done so with a great sense of uncertainty. I have written about this elsewhere, but I cannot remember a time that I have taught this class and felt like much of what I am teaching while hyper-relevant, might no longer be relevant or accurate in the very near future. With the changes and uncertainty within the current administration, and the assault on the rights of various minorities, the press, and our freedoms of speech and privacy, it is easy to get discouraged. The arc of civil rights and civil liberties is not linear or inherently progressive, but I like to believe that Dr. King was correct when he said “…the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” In the meantime, it falls to all of us to defend the rights and liberties of all, and to embrace the uncertainty as teachable moments regarding how politics and rights are not inherently progressive, and neither is time.

Secondly, and on a lighter note, I have been sharing student blog posts all semester. Sure, I write these round-ups, but I have not subjected myself to the same highlights and attention as I have the student bloggers. Thus, I will point out—without trying to take away from the quality of the student blogs—that I recently wrote a post for the Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research. In my post, I discuss Trinity Lutheran, which several of the student bloggers have also covered. I discuss the central dispute in the case, why the case is likely to be important for religious freedoms, but mostly, I talk about how this case, as do most civil rights and liberties cases, is about who we are as a nation. Who we grant rights to, whose speech we protect, whose religion we tolerate, and most importantly who we exclude from such protections, speaks volumes about who we are as a nation. We define ourselves through our contrived boarders and protections, and the decision of whether to provide state funds directly to churches for any reason—the central question in Trinity Lutheran—has wide-ranging implications for these stated considerations. After Town of Greece and Hobby Lobby, we have seen major shifts away from religious liberty for all and towards religious liberty for some, at the cost of rights (and inclusion) of others. The Court has a chance to once again address this important topic.

Weekly Round-Up #10: Nearing the End, Searching for Answers

Hello again. As I sit writing this, we here at Utica College have entered our final week of classes. As we get closer to the end of the semester, and for some of our bloggers, the end of their time in college, we see from these posts (written for last week) that we are still looking for answers to many of the topics we have been exploring all semester. In large part, as the student bloggers acknowledge, that is because constitutional law is an ever on-going process of argumentation and interpretation. This is something they will get to experience firsthand next week when they engage in a moot court during their final exam period. But, before we can get there, we need to cover last week’s posts, and eventually the posts written for this week. So, on with the posts!

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Someone is bound to get this one, right? Too esoteric? I mean, what’s the point of teaching at a liberal arts school if you cannot make incredibly niche, bizarre references? 

Let’s start our review of the posts by looking of a pair of posts on the right to privacy as it applies to access to abortion, which Erin and Grace both address in their posts. Erin writes about the right to privacy in the context of abortion rights. She discusses what it means for abortion to be considered a matter of privacy, rather than equal protection. From here, she articles an argument for why abortion should be considered an issue of equal protection, and thus covered under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, rather than an issue of the right to privacy. Similarly, Grace writes in her blog about a woman’s right to choose to obtain an abortion. She discusses the importance of this right for women’s rights more generally. She also discusses the precarious position this right is in given that it is linked to the right to privacy, which is not clearly articulated in the U.S. Constitution.

While looking more broadly than just the right to a safe, legal abortion, Taylor also addresses women’s rights, including their reproductive rights, in her post. Taylor criticizes the Trump-led efforts to take funding away from Planned Parenthood. She talks about how the stated goals are not related to the actions that are being taken, as well as addresses the costs of removing funding for Planned Parenthood. As Taylor explains, there is much more at stake than merely “defunding” abortions (which, thanks to the Hyde Amendment, have not been federally funded since 1976.

While Erin, Grace, and Taylor all discuss areas where women’s rights appear to be shrinking, Adrian looks at attempts (thus far unsuccessful) to expand rights for LGBT individuals. Adrian’s post addresses recent attempts in Hawaii to extend insurance coverage for in vitro fertilization and surrogacy to LGBT individuals. Hawaii currently requires insurance carriers to cover in vitro fertilization for married heterosexual couples. Adrian explains how efforts have been made in Hawaii to include LGBT individuals as well, and the challenges these changes face.

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Maybe this one? Better?

Moving on from here into a different direction, Efrain and Selma O. offer two very different looks at places where free speech rights (potentially) are weighed against security concerns. Efrain’s blog for last week was about the case Defense Distributed v. United States Department of State (2016). This case addresses whether the files for 3D printing handguns are protected as free speech, or subject to federal regulations on the basis of foreign policy and national security interests. Efrain walks through the issues in this case, discusses the court’s ruling, and explains why he thinks the federal district court ultimately made the right decision. Selma takes a more historical look as she discusses the Pentagon Papers in relation to free speech in the United States. She discusses the Pentagon Papers, and the related case of New York Times v. United States, in light of both freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Dan takes a bigger picture look at Trump’s travel ban as he steps back and examines his position on the ban. He discusses his opinion now and how blogging about this topic has shaped that opinion. He also looks at levels of support for the ban in the United States.

Finally, I wrap up this round-up with a look at two posts on religion that, arguably, ask different versions of the same question: what is covered by the religion clauses? Paul asks this question fairly directly, while Kaitlyn gets to the question through a current Supreme Court case. Paul, in his post, addresses one of the questions central to religion clause jurisprudence: what exactly is covered by the Establishment Clause. Paul steps back from specific cases and controversies to address, more broadly, the Establishment Clause and the Court’s mixed jurisprudence around this issue. He does look briefly at Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. (2007), but largely as a missed opportunity as the Court decided FFRF did not have standing, and thus did not rule on the merits—and thus the Establishment Clause—in the case. Kaitlyn’s post for last week was written in anticipation of Justice Gorsuch’s first oral arguments, which also includes a case about religious liberty. Kaitlyn discusses the now-argued Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley. She sets up the case, and offers her own analysis on the conflict in the case. Also, while not a part of her post, I will add that this case is one of two that the students will be arguing for a moot court simulation in our class (the other case being Packingham v. North Carolina).

One more week of classes (and a moot court simulation), and one more blog post.