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 Derek Willie
Derek Willie is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.
If you ask an ordinary American, he/she might tell you that slavery is illegal in the United States-- and has been for quite a while. But the reality is that’s not entirely true.
Interestingly enough, the Thirteenth Amendment, historically recognized as the formal end to slavery, actually permits involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime. It states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  The qualifier to the slavery ban is thus the ultimate legal authorization of forced, unpaid prison labor. Furthermore, courts have ruled that national labor standards, most significantly the Fair Labor Standards Act, do not protect prison inmates because they do not constitute “employees” as the legislation defines them. 
Unsurprisingly, the unprotected labor of prison workers is rewarded with wages far below $7.25 per hour, which is the current national minimum wage. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, federal prisoners who work-- by mandate-- for UNICOR, a government-owned corporation that sells goods made by prisoners, make from $0.23 to $1.15 per hour of labor.  UNICOR doesn’t seem to dispute the low wages it pays prisoners;in a FAQ concerning the corporation’s alleged unfair market advantage, the website casually admits that its workers “are paid considerably less than minimum wage.” 
By Rachel Pomerantz
Rachel Pomerantz is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania
Louis XIV once said, “Laws are the sovereigns of sovereigns.” No matter who you are, the law applies to you. But that is not an automatic process: Judges and justices oversee the judicial process along and are crucial stewards of the impartiality of that process.
Over the past few months, the court of public opinion considered two cases that pondered the judgement of the judges making decisions. On the one hand, politicians began the familiar dance of distancing themselves from presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s recent spat of word vomit: In relation to the class-action lawsuit against Trump University, a for-profit company that defrauded thousands of customers, Donald Trump accused the judge presiding over the case, Gonzalo Curiel, of biasing his decisions (or, in Trump vernacular, of being “a hater of Donald Trump”) because he is Mexican. 
By Thomas Cribbins
Thomas Cribbins is a junior at the University of Michigan studying political science.
The terms “national forest” and “national park,” usually evoke pleasant summer memories or, at the very least, a postcard-worthy image. That’s how the overwhelming majority of us think about public lands. For a select few, however, they provide an impenetrable haven from law enforcement in which to perpetrate crime. That is why the federal government employs specialized law enforcement officers to protect these unique lands. However, the U.S. House’s Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act of 2016 jeopardizes all federal policing of Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. This is a terrible, terrible idea.
The bill, if passed, would completely eliminate the law enforcement divisions of the USFS and BLM agencies. The gap in spending would then be allocated to the states or directly to the local government specifically for law enforcement of federal lands. The money would be allocated based on the percentage of all federal land contained in that state or locality, with an exception for highly visited areas. I at least applaud that small, plastic policy exception. The federal government also retains the right to investigate crimes on its own lands. Other than that, there must be reporting of how the grant money was spent. 
By Steven Jacobson
Steven Jacobson is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying business and history.
China, with its famously smog-choked cities, jumps to mind as among the world's top coal consumers. Indeed, even with the steps the government has taken in recent years to cut consumption, nearly half of the world’s coal is burned in China. As China decreases its dependence on coal, however, its eastern neighbor continues to heavily rely on the polluting substance. Japan is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of coal, behind only China, the United States, and India, according to mining-technology.com. Despite agreeing to plans drawn up by the UN and the OECD to scale back coal consumption and investment, Japan has 27 gigawatts of new coal capacity planned and continues to be a leading financier of coal projects around the world.
Resource-starved began to rely more on imported fossil fuels after it closed down most of its nuclear reactors following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Before the accident, the reactors had supplied about a fifth of the nations energy, according to McKinsey, a consultancy. Japan had already diversified from oil and gas in the 1970s to keep itself insulated from price fluctuations and geopolitical risks. This caused it to turn, in part, to coal, which is cheaper and less politically fraught. To save money, Japanese utilities have continued to increase their dependence on coal after the reactors switched off in the wake of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Thus, Japan recently gave approval to build three more coal fired plants and has forty-two more planned. Japan, unsurprisingly, scored the lowest in environmental group E3G’s May 2016 scorecard that rated G7 members on their efforts to phase out domestic consumption of coal.
By Christine Mitchell
Christine Mitchell is a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying nursing.
The Supreme Court's recent ruling in the case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt may prove to be one of the biggest wins for pro-choice groups since Roe v. Wade. The 5-3 ruling found that laws passed in the state of Texas posed an undue burden to women seeking an abortion, and were therefore unconstitutional.  An “undue burden,” with regards to reproductive rights, emerges when a substantial obstacle is placed in the way of a woman seeking an abortion during the period when a fetus is unviable. [2 ] The undue burden test was established in the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the court found that restrictions on abortion rights violate the Due Process Clause if they establish an undue burden on those seeking an abortion. 
The laws brought into question required that physicians performing abortions in clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals, and held abortion clinics to the same structural standards as surgical centers. Those supporting the Texas provisions claimed the laws improved the safety of women seeking an abortion by ensuring that facilities met high standards, and had the ability to admit a patient to the hospital in case of an emergency. 
By Gabriel Maliha
Gabriel Maliha is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying criminology.
The vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia touched off a fierce battle between President Obama and the Republican-controlled Senate. The President asserted that he has the responsibility, and indeed the obligation, to nominate a replacement. The Senate leadership has maintained that the chamber is under no obligation to hold hearings or vote on the President’s nominee. A close reading of the Constitution reveals that both the President and the Senate leadership have support for their assertions and the two positions are not incompatible.
Article II, Section II, Clause II of the United States Constitution states that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court.”  The clause makes abundantly clear that the powers to nominate and to appoint are separate. The former is vested exclusively with the president, while the latter is conditional on senate approval (at least for the specified high offices.) Further, the use of “shall” in the eighteenth century conveyed a sense of obligation or command on the president’s part to nominate. On the other hand, the text is silent on the urgency or obligation of the senate to provide its advice and consent. More than two centuries of constitutional practice seem to confirm a plenary power for the president to nominate and a “complete and final discretion” for the senate to confirm. 
By Derek Willie
Derek Willie is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania.
The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution is undoubtedly a critical safeguard of personal liberty against governmental overreach. It states that citizens have rights to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Together with the Fifth and Sixth amendments, it plays a crucial role in establishing the exclusionary rule, which bars unconstitutionally obtained evidence from being introduced in court.  Recently, however, the Supreme Court dealt a consequential blow to both the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule in Utah v. Schrieff.
In 2006, Salt Lake City police arrested Edward Strieff for possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia. What distinguishes Mr. Strieff’s arrest is that the police officer who searched him for the drugs did not have probable cause to conduct the search. Rather, the officer observed Strieff leave a house where an anonymous tip reported drug activity. When Strieff identified himself for the police, they found an outstanding warrant for a traffic violation, performed a search and found the drugs.  Strieff sued, alleging that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures”; thus, the evidence produced from the search would be inadmissible. 
By Alicia Kysar
Alicia Kysar is a graduate of Columbia University who studied political science and Pre-Law.
In a decision that received very little media attention, June 13, the Supreme Court dramatically changed the way in which patent infringement cases will work in the future.  The case responsible for the decision, Halo Electronics, Inc v Pulse Electronics, Inc. fundamentally changed how enhanced damages in intellectual property law will be determined and granted.
The facts of the case depict a relatively standard dispute between two electronics companies on the usage of a new technology: Halo alleged that Pulse had infringed on the former’s patents for electronic packages that included transformers that could be mounted onto circuit boards. Instead of confronting Pulse outright about his alleged violation, Halo instead sent Pulse two letters in 2002, offering to provide them with licenses for the usage of the technology, thus legitimizing it and righting the infringement. An engineer working for Pulse, however, decided that Halo’s claim to the relevant patent was invalid, and Pulse continued selling the transformers in question. Eventually, Halo took legal action against Pulse, and the case reached the Supreme Court in 2015, with a decision handed down in 2016. 
By Edgar Palomino
Edgar Palomino is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science.
Many states require DNA collection from those convicted of felonies, and some states also collect for various misdemeanors.  This collection builds a genetic database that can be used to verify a convict’s identity should future crimes occur. However, DNA is also being collected from arrestees that are still presumed innocent. Additionally, there is a trend among states to use the DNA collected from arrestees to search existing databanks for DNA matches with other crimes. While the crime resolving benefits of this method are obvious, the seizure of DNA from arrestees and subsequent matching (and conviction) can be argued to be self- incrimination and thus a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
In 2009, Alonzo King was arrested on assault charges and had his inner cheek swabbed for DNA. The DNA was entered into a database and matched with that of a rape kit from years earlier, and King was subsequently convicted for the rape and sentenced to life in prison. King appealed, arguing that at the time of arrest he was presumed innocent of the rape and that the DNA swab thus constituted an unreasonable search and seizure, which violated his Fourth Amendment rights. In 2013, the Maryland Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of King and overturned the previous ruling. This set a precedent for barring the state from collecting DNA when booking arrestees.
By Habib Olapade
Habib Olapade is a rising senior at Stanford University studying political science.
The framers designed the Senate so that it would provide a check on the House of Representatives by engaging in careful deliberation over measures passed by the lower chamber. The six year terms, equal state representation, and per capita voting scheme set out in Article I, Section 3 of the constitution ensured that senators would take a more far sighted perspective on national issues and protect state’s rights while preventing senators from becoming too beholden to the legislative bodies that elected them. Today, however, none of these institutional characteristics are the primary means by which a disgruntled senator prolongs debate on a pending measure. Instead, Senate Rule XXII, a parliamentary procedure whereby the consent of 60 senators is necessary to end debate on a piece of legislation, has taken center stage. Several constitutional law scholars have argued that Rule XXII is repugnant to the fundamental charter because it is not specifically authorized in the document, violates the norm of majority rule, impedes the president’s nominating authority, and impermissibly binds future Senates. A close inspection of each of these arguments, though, reveals serious flaws.
The first argument that detractors of Rule XXII regularly propound is that the procedure is unconstitutional because the document specifically sets forth seven situations where the Senate can act only with a supermajority: impeachment, expulsion of a Senator, overriding vetoed legislation, ratification of treaties, constitutional amendments, declarations of presidential disability, and removal of individual disability to serve in Congress. In other words, the expression of one thing, is the exclusion of the other. For instance, if I asked someone to purchase fruits for me, a necessary implication of my request would be that I was not asking the same person to purchase vegetables because those articles were not included in the request. If the framers wanted to authorize the Senate to adopt more supermajority requirements such as Rule XXII, the argument runs, they would have explicitly provided such a mechanism instead of painstaking enumerating seven scenarios where a supermajority vote was required.