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!

Welcome back!

We’ve arrived at a new semester, and with that I have a new cohort of students ready to begin their own blogging adventures (if I call them “adventures” they sound fun, rather than like another assignment, right?).

What is different this time around is the class context. Rather than having students in an upper-level undergraduate law class blogging about a legal topic, the students this semester are in an American public policy class. There is clear overlap between law and public policy, but some important differences as well.

Each student this semester has chosen an area of American public policy about which to blog. These students also have research papers in this course, and it is my hope that the blogs you’ll read from my students will ultimately inform their final papers.

The students begin blogging this week, which means I’ll be linking to and briefly summarizing their posts on this site. To find out about the student this semester, check out the student blogger section. To see their sites, head over to the student blogroll.

So, kick back, relax, and get ready for some thoughtful policy analysis from a phenomenal group of students. I’m excited! You should be too!

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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.


Weekly Round-Up #9: Changing Rules and a New Justice

With a year-long vacancy on the Supreme Court finally filled through a stunning display of “I’m not listening,” theft, obstruction, and rules changes it sure is an interesting time to be studying the Court. Also, with an executive branch that has only a passing understanding or appreciation of the US Constitution, it is an interesting time to be studying civil liberties in the United States. Many of these current developments come up in the students’ posts for this week.

Elise, Kaitlyn, and Paul all wrote posts about the new Supreme Court justice. Elise take a more general perspective, while Kaitlyn and Paul look specifically at the implications for religious rights of the newly sworn-in justice. Elise writes about the now-fully-staffed Supreme Court. With the confirmation and swearing in of Garland Gorsuch, the Court is back to nine. Elise briefly discusses the process by which Garland Gorsuch ended up on the Court. She also provides a look forward towards what we might expect with the new justice on the Court.

Kaitlyn also talks about Garland’s Gorsuch’s arrival at the Supreme Court. Kaitlyn puts this in terms of the theme of her blog: religious liberties. Kaitlyn discusses what Garland’s Gorsuch’s being on the court means for religious liberty. Paul, who also has been blogging about religion and the law, adds to the posts about Garland Gorsuch, also looking at religious liberties. Paul looks at how the new justice compares to his predecessor (Scalia), as well as his stances on religious freedom issues. Included in this analysis is a discussion of how Gorsuch previously ruled on Hobby Lobby while on the 10th Circuit, a case Paul has previously addressed in a different post.

Like Paul, Erin and Dan connect their new posts to previous posts they have written. Erin’s post this week picks up where she left off her previous post on privacy in a digital age. In this post Erin looks at the recent efforts to change rules to allow internet service providers to sell customer data. She explains how the bill reverses Obama-era policies, and what it means for all of us if Trump signs it. Dan decides to mix things up a bit in his post this week, and instead of criticizing the ban focuses on the arguments in favor of it. He looks at the arguments being used by the states that support the ban, as well as the president.

Adrian writes about recent developments at Gordon College pertaining to the College’s decision not to grant promotion to Professor DeWeese-Boyd, over the recommendation for promotion from the College’s faculty senate. It appears that the decision was made, at least in part, over DeWeese-Boyd’s criticism of Gordon College’s policy against homosexuality. Adrian explains the policy, what happened, and the response from faculty senate to the College’s decision. He also offers a thoughtful, balanced analysis of the law regarding these actions and questions of whether any illegal discrimination has occurred.

Efrain discusses State v. Loomis (2016), as Wisconsin state-level case questioning the use of COMPAS assessments in determining sentencing. As Efrain explains, COMPAS uses trade secrets to calculate recidivism rates that are used to influence sentences. However, as Efrain explains and as Loomis argued, the trade-secret nature of these assessments potentially violate due process. Read Efrain’s post for a more in-depth explanation and discussion of this topic.

Weekly Round-Up #8: Timely Posts Delivered Not-on-Time OR Still Catching Up, MPSA Edition

Hello again, dear reader. I was hoping to have this post up several days ago, but, alas, here we are. As was chronicled in the previous round-up, I was in Chicago for the Midwest Political Science Association’s annual conference (go ahead and ask me about Kennedy and dignity, I am ready to talk your ear off about it, or perhaps provide you with some light reading on the topic), which just means I have been scrambling to catch up on the work I missed while gone. Like writing this post. Which I’m doing now. Also, I have just made this round-up way more about me than it should be (whoops!). So, on with the show! The posts for this last week were, unsurprisingly, great. The student bloggers have all really found their voice, and many of them wrote this round of posts about contemporary issues regarding civil liberties in America.

Obligatory Palmer House photo; it would not be MPSA without one

Erin’s post for this round is an incredibly thoughtful, well-articulated exploration of the right to privacy in a digital age. She discusses various privacy concerns that arise from living at a time where so much of our personal information is online and susceptible to unwanted access from anywhere in the world. This is a great post, and should be read by all. This issue, in light of recent congressional developments, is only going to get more important.

Efrain also looks at privacy concerns when he writes his post about United States v. Jones (2012) a case questioning the use of GPS tracking devices, warrants, and expectations of privacy. Efrain explains Scalia’s majority opinion as well as Alito’s concurrence regarding how these opinions treat privacy and technology.

Laura writes her post about Christian cost-sharing groups for medical expenses. I found her post to be incredibly informative because I had never actually heard of these groups. If you, like me, are unfamiliar, than hopefully you will find her post as informative as I did. These groups are ACA complaint while working both with and partially outside of the standard healthcare system, all while imposing fairly strict restrictions on beneficiaries.

I still don’t think I’m fancy enough for this place

From here we move into posts that, like so much right now, relate to President Trump. In fact, we have a trio of posts that look at different topics related to Trump, politics, and civil liberties. Dan returns to the issue of President Trump’s travel ban. Having examining the legal challenges to the ban, Dan now turns to the question of the offered explanation for the ban: security. Dan discusses the way the ban is, and is not, related to notions of security. Selma J. puts some of President Trump’s attacks on the media in context of free speech and some of our founders’ ideals around speech and the press. She talks about libel, the president’s assault on the media, and protections for the media. Jordyn addresses Trump’s lack of experience in politics as it relates to his recent attempts at governing. She compares Obama and Trump, and indicates how a lack of awareness of how the government functions and how politics work are hampering Trump’s attempts to achieve his agenda.

To avoid Trump having all the fun, Taylor and Elise wrote their posts about the vice president and the secretary of education, respectively. Taylor reacts to Mike Pence’s recent comments about his refusal to ever eat alone with a woman that is not his wife. Taylor explains the many ways in which this is problematic, not least of which is the discrimination inherent in this decision. She also explains the ways in which this kind of thinking perpetuate discrimination against women and leads to fewer promotions or other career opportunities. Elise returns to discussing Betsy DeVos and school choice. Elise discusses the problems with school choice as it relates to constitutional rights to equality. She also puts the conversation in the broader context of the goals and purpose of education, especially public education.

Following from the interjection of faith into politics (OK, I might have been stretching a bit with that transition), Kaitlyn and Paul both address contemporary, ongoing issues surrounding religion and the law. Kaitlyn writes about Kentucky’s new “religious freedom bill,” which was passed in response to a public school’s choice to remove a Bible verse from a production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Kaitlyn discusses the bill, its aims, and how it relates to current understanding and practices around religious freedom in the United States. Paul’s review of religion in American law and society has reached Hobby Lobby. Paul explains the issues that gave rise to the case, as well as the ruling in the case. He puts these developments in context of shifts in American politics and our understanding of religious freedom.

This leaves us with two incredibly important, timely reflections on broader issues of rights and social practice. Both Selma O. and Grace address what happens when we embrace free speech, especially speech that is in some way discriminatory towards other groups. Selma writes about hate speech in her post this round. She explains why hate speech is a problematic issue, legally and politically speaking, to address. Selma addresses the damage that hate speech can do, even as it is hard to specifically indicate the damage done in many cases. She also addresses the principles underlying attempts to regulate hate speech. Grace addresses how “freedom of speech” is not equal for all in a meaningful way in the United States. She addresses the harmful effects of protecting discriminatory ideas and speech, all the way up to the Court’s acceptance of hate speech as forms of protected speech (or at least striking down attempts to regulate hate speech as constitutionally problematic).