Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Alicia Kysar
Alicia Kysar is a senior at Columbia University studying English and Political Science with a concentration in Pre-Law.
During Justice Antonin Scalia’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he authored many contentious and heavily conservative opinions. Thus, when he passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, many liberals celebrated his death, or at least his future absence on the Court.  As a political liberal, I am fascinated by the political implications of the absence of one of the most polarizing justices on the Supreme Court just months before the most polarizing presidential election in decades; moreover, I am excited for upcoming cases in which the political bend of the Court will be swayed. However, while I cannot name a single one of his decisions that I agree without major reservations, I mourn the passing of Antonin Scalia as a scholar of the Constitution.
Scalia’s constitutional theory was old-fashioned, but his titanic personality and intellect brought it back into style—and public debate—during his tenure as an associate justice. Constitutional originalism, the idea that judges should interpret the Constitution solely based on its meaning at the time it was written, had been popular during the mid-twentieth century; by the time President Reagan nominated Scalia to the Court, however, the theory had fallen out of favor with most legal theorists.  Scalia came into the public eye with his variation on originalism: rather than scouring it for intent, constitutional scholars and judges should instead base their decisions on the original meaning of the words in the text. 
The Penn Undergraduate Law Journal had the opportunity to sit down with Mitchell Berman, a regarded legal scholar and professor at Penn Law. We discussed his work on the philosophy of law and his research into the jurisprudence of sports.
Penn Undergraduate Law Journal: What attracted you to the philosophy of law, and what is your particular area of interest in the field?
Mitchell Berman: Philosophy of law is pretty broad. Traditionally, the central concern in legal philosophy has been, “What is law?” or “What is the nature of law?” Another major topic is sometimes called the problem of political obligation. It asks whether we have a moral obligation to obey the laws. I have written very little on these fundamental topics.
My first interests in law and legal theory were in constitutional law and criminal law. I’m interested in both of these areas because of the normative problems that they raise. Of course, criminal law implicates in obvious and straightforward ways questions regarding the relationship between the individual and the state. It concerns the application of the state’s overwhelming physical force against the individual. Criminal law therefore invites us to ask a host of questions about the moral justifiability of state practices.
By Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying sociology.
Whether it be through an article circulating in your Facebook newsfeed or an interest story on the evening news, every so often there will be a report of antiquated, absurd, and outrageous laws still present and active in cities across the country. Admittedly, some of these laws are rather humorous. In the small town of Quitman, Georgia, for example, chickens are not allowed to cross the road (oh, the irony!). Similarly, other laws are just plain bizarre, like in Mohave County, Arizona where individuals caught stealing soap must utilize the soap until it is completely gone.  But however amusing these laws may be, there are a multitude of other obscure and antiquated laws that can be, and have been, adversely enforced. These dormant laws, hidden deep within local and state legal codes, can be the difference between a violent criminal being sentenced or acquitted.
Such was the case in California, where the court of appeals reluctantly released a rapist citing an obscure state law from 1872. In February 2009, Julio Morales snuck into an 18-year-old woman’s bedroom after a night of heavy drinking, pretended to be the woman’s boyfriend, and proceeded to rape her while she slept.  Though this strikes most people as a heinous and certainly punishable offense, Morales’s defense team presented an old law to the court that restricts rape to married women. In other words, had the woman been married and Morales pretended to be her husband, it would have constituted as rape. In 2013, a panel of judges sitting in California’s appeal court had no choice but to release him and drop all charges, citing legal incongruities. In 2010, a similar Iowan law allowed for the acquittal of another convict in a comparable case. Since 2012, this law has been revised to extend the definition of rape so that all women, regardless of their relationship status, are protected under the law.
By Omar Khoury
Omar Khoury is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
The erroneous assumption that some lives matter more and other lives matter less than others is the root of wrongdoing in this world. Societally speaking, our worth is defined by the color of our skin and our area code rather than our attempts to rise above the circumstances in which we were born. Despite the criminalization of racial discrimination, it is overwhelmingly evident that there exists a culture of de facto racial and economic discrimination within our country and within the world.
Our age-old worship of financial worth and toxic hatred of different skin colors manifests itself in the undervaluing of human life. The current water crisis in Flint, Michigan demonstrates environmental racism, or the placement of low-income or minority communities in proximity of environmentally hazardous or degraded environments. 
By Edna Simbi
Edna Simbi is a student at Columbia University studying receiving degrees in international relations, affairs, and security policy.
On December 30, 2007, the Electoral Commission of Kenya, an independent body whose members are appointed by the president, announced the results of a highly contested election. During the election, two major tribes, the Kikuyu and Luo, led by their respective tribal leaders, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, accused each other of electoral fraud with each camp claiming to have won the elections. Immediately after announcement of the results, Kibaki was hastily sworn into office in a secret ceremony. Soon after, violent protests, lootings and killings, rocked the country.
Since independence, Kenya had been largely peaceful, so what caused the 2007 post-election violence? The violence is significant because it is representative of broader groups, and increasing instances of dissension after 2007 seem to have the potential to foment future violence. My thesis is that Kenya’s new democracy after only 44 years of independence was too fragile and was still an anocracy—a political system that is half democratic and half authoritarian—and the violence was facilitated by identity politics and elite instrumentalization, all of which were legacies of colonialism.
By Brónach Rafferty
Brónach Rafferty is a third-year law student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
The advent of the unenumerated rights doctrine in Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s could be said to align with a more modern version of Ireland, as envisioned by the Taoiseach from 1959 – 1965, Seán Lemass, who was seen as a progressive figure in Irish politics. Lemass “hoped that the court would become more like the US Supreme Court.”  As with the American system of law, the Irish Legal System was based upon its own Constitution. The ninth amendment of the American Constitution, however, acknowledged the existence of unenumerated rights
The most than can thus be said is that the framers of the ninth amendment intended it as a declaration, should the need for it arise, that the people had other rights than those enumerated in the first eight amendments, and the federal Judiciary and the State legislatures could so use it if they had to do so. 
By Suaida Firoze
Suaida Firoze is a senior at Clark University studying Economics and Business Management.
Dzhokar Tsarnaev was found guilty by the Federal District Court of Boston for having planned and executed the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. He and his brother, the deceased Tamerlan Tsarnaev, planted two pressure-cooker bombs in the 2013 Boston Marathon, which took the lives of three and injured over two hundred individuals.
Last year Tsarnaev finally received his decision from the court. However, even though Judge George O’Toole is the federal district court of Massachusetts sentenced Tsarnaev on to six death sentences, twenty sentences of life in prison and four more sentences of seven to twenty-five years, there is still more legal work to be done, as the case could take years or decades more to make its way through the courts.  Tsarnaev’s lawyers have officially appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Initially Tsarnaev’s lawyers had asked Judge O’Toole for a new trial. However, the motion was denied and Tsarnaev was asked to pay over $101 Million in restitution to the victims.
Nayeon Kim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
When you shops at Amazon, you would probably assume that the price of the same product from the same seller would be the same for everyone. Of course, certain groups of customers, such as Amazon Prime members may be able to buy things at discounted prices, but if there is no clear reason for being offered a discount, it seems natural that everyone should pay the same price for the same product. This is, at least, how pricing works in most stores we know.
However, since companies are now able to gather more and more data on customers, each buyer may be charged a different price for the same product based on his or her browsing history or the number of items in his or her cart. Amazon conducted a price experiment in 2000 by offering random prices for the same product and suffered from bad publicity because some customers discovered that they were being charged different prices for the same product. Although Amazon claimed to have not used demographic information to determine the amount of discounts, a study in 2013 about Netflix by Benjamin Shiller showed that factoring in demographic information and web browsing data may be an extremely attractive option for companies looking for ways to increase profit.  He found that using demographic information to approximate a buyer’s willingness to pay and offering a price based on that calculation raised profits by about 0.14% and using web browsing data increased profits by as much as 1.4% relative to the profit generated from offering discounts to customers who buy a large quantity of items, which is already a standard practice in almost all industries. His research also demonstrated that using many kinds of data about a customer can accurately predict his or her behavior. For example, he noted that the probability of a generic customer subscribing to Netflix is 16%, but when he used variables related to detailed web behavior such as whether a user previously visited Wikipedia or IMDb, he could predict a user’s probability of subscribing from nearly zero to 91%.
By Alice Giannini
Alice Giannini is a fourth-year law student at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy.
Freedom of speech, and therefore of the press, is recognized and protected as a fundamental right by every democratic state. But what is considered to be “truth” by the media has to coexist with the constant search for a substantial truth as determined by judicial courts. Both truths are essential components of democracy but must stay distinct in their roles and in their functions: information cannot forget its social function and start serving justice.  This is a problem that, in Italy and abroad, concerns mostly criminal cases. The so-called “cirque médiatico-judiciaire” (media-judicial circus), as identified by Daniel Soulez Larivière in 1992, is nowadays part of our cultural background, a fact that has never been as evident as in the case of the murder of Meredith Kercher. 
On the night of November 1, 2007, Meredith Kercher (a student from England) was found dead in her house in Perugia, Italy. Amanda Knox (Meredith’s housemate), her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, and Rudy Guede were quickly named as suspects and then arrested for her murder. In 2009, a chaotic sequence of events consisting of contradictory judgments that ended up lasting for eight years began: Guede was condemned in a “fast-track” trial to 30 years for participating in the murder, while Raffaele and Amanda were also condemned for the murder but by a first instance court. They all appealed and Guede was condemned with a definitive sentence to 16 years, but things went differently for Amanda and Raffaele: in 2011 they were acquitted. In 2013, the Italian Court of Cassation (which represents the last instance of appeal in the Italian judicial system) annulled the 2011 sentence and ordered a retrial to the Court of Appeal for the decision. In January 2014, another twist appeared when Amanda and Raffaele were condemned respectively to 28 and 25 years of jail time. The last piece of the puzzle arrived in June 2014, when the Court of Cassation found that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Amanda and Raffaele’s guilt beyond any reasonable doubt and acquitted them permanently.
By Habib Olapade
Habib Olapade is a junior at Stanford University studying political science.
2015 has been marked by scenes of students rallying against various forms of institutionalized racism at colleges across the nation.  In particular, some students of color have insisted, with good reason, that fraternity parties restricted to “white girls only,” and university presidents who deliberately avoid responding to complaints about racially motivated public belittling do little to make minority students feel welcome on campus.  In the midst of this tense environment, it is only fitting that the Supreme Court is getting ready to decide Fisher v. University of Texas, a case whose results will determine whether colleges across the U.S. will be able to keep the race-based affirmative action programs that allow admissions offices to use a student’s race as a factor in the admissions process. 
The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, is a white, twenty-five year old female who hails from Sugarland, Texas, an extremely affluent Houston suburb that is well-connected to Texas’ largest oil and healthcare firms.  Fisher attended Stephen F. Austin High School, one of the best public secondary schools in the state, and ranked in the top twelve percent of her class.  However because the University of Texas at Austin only provides guaranteed acceptance to students who rank in the top eight percent of their high school class, Fisher had to apply for admission under the regular admissions process in 2008.