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 Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Amidst this summer’s series of momentous Supreme Court decisions, the most powerful judicial body in America dropped a bombshell: it will be revisiting the issue of affirmative action next term in the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas.  After a long chain of appeals, the case will come before the Supreme Court in 2016, giving the justices the opportunity to address the much-avoided topic that has inspired much fervor in the program’s supporters and dissenters alike.
The case revolves around Abigail Fisher, a Caucasian woman who sued The University of Texas after the admissions office rejected her undergraduate application in 2008. According to Fisher’s lawyers, a public university cannot legally use race as a factor in determining an applicant’s admission, claiming it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits preferential treatment on the basis of race.  The United States District Court first heard the case and ruled in favor of the University. Fisher appealed the case after this and subsequent rulings in favor of the university’s affirmative action program, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. It remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which once again ruled in favor of the University’s admissions policy. Once more, Fisher appealed the case; however, since Fisher had already graduated from college, the University requested that the case be dismissed entirely. The request was denied, as the Supreme Court announced this past June that it would add Fisher v. The University of Texas to their docket. 
By Rachel Pomerantz
Rachel Pomerantz is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate mogul and Penn alum currently leading in the Republican primary polls, has focused on immigration as a main issue of his campaign. Specifically, he has drawn his attention to ending the phenomenon of “anchor babies.”  Derided by immigration advocates as derogatory, this term usually refers to the American-born children of those immigrants in the United States who do not possess visas or green cards. Since these children are born on American soil, they receive citizenship automatically and, upon turning 21, can help their parents gain legal status. 
The legal heart of this situation is the concept of birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The so-called “citizenship clause” of Section 1 states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  Though not originally devised with immigration in mind, Section 1 contains a fascinating legislative history.
By Dan Spinelli
Dan Spinelli is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying English and Political Science.
Just weeks before his historic visit to the United States, Pope Francis declared that, beginning in December 2015, the “sin of abortion” could now be forgiven through the sacrament of confession during the Church’s Holy Year of Mercy.  Putting aside differences in opinion regarding both whether a priest—as an earthly representative of Jesus Christ—can wipe the human soul clean of sins sincerely confessed and the controversial nature of abortion, forgiveness extended to all is a comforting thought. Thus, following this line of logic, shouldn’t it be good news that abortion can now be forgiven? Wait a second — was it not forgivable in the past? Did women who previously chose the path of abortion and asked for Catholic absolution, just…not receive it?
So begins a deep dive into an obscure section of Catholic canon law: the forgiveness of “reserved sins.” The Church determined in 1179 that certain sins are simply too devastating in effect or import to be forgiven by a regular priest in Confession. Instead, they required the decision of a tribunal — the Apostolic Penitentiary — and usually the consultation of the pope himself before granting absolution.  These crimes are generally specific in nature, and lean toward religious crimes rather than worldly ones. Crimes ranging from attempting to assassinate the pope to defiling the Eucharist, the bread and wine that Catholics believe turns into Jesus’ body and blood during Mass, will all earn reviews by the tribunal. Similarly, abortion, of which many conservative Catholics have long disapproved, is another sin often determined to be too grave for regular absolution. These crimes earn the individual a latae sententiae penalty, which automatically excommunicates her from the Church, unless a bishop or the Apostolic Penitentiary absolves the sin.  The determination of which sins merit latae sententiae reveals a troubling moral dichotomy in which cold-blooded murder can be uniformly absolved by an everyday priest, but abortion, whose relationship with murder remains highly controversial, cannot. The distinction almost defies common sense.
By Tanner Bowen
Tanner Bowen is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying business.
In recent American politics, most citizens have experienced a heightened sense of uneasiness about the development of technology and the extent to which the government can obtain and retain their personal information. A prime example of this tension took place earlier this year, when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) decided to filibuster the soon-to-expire Patriot Act, a law first passed after 9/11 which extended the government’s ability to monitor citizens in its efforts to combat terrorism.  However, the public’s concern over invasions of its privacy isn’t just limited to the behavior of the government. With the growth of numerous technology-driven entertainment sectors, corporations are now coming under attack for the ways in which they handle personal data.
One particular effort to control companies’ actions is the Video Privacy Protection Act. This legislation arose following the 1987 Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Robert Bork, during which his personal movie rental data was released to the public.  The Act restricts video service providers’ retention and disclosure of a consumer’s personal information.  The retention component specifies that the corporation must destroy all of its information about a customer within one year after he or she stops using the company’s services. This last point in particular has yielded interesting rulings from a few of the Circuit Courts.
By Derek Willie
Derek Willie is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
On September 8th, 2015, while thousands of Christians in Iraq remain in perpetual persecution, poised to die at the hands of Islamic State extremists, American conservatives coronated Kim Davis as a martyr of the movement to stop, what they allege to be, the criminalization of Christianity in the United States. Mike Huckabee, quite obviously attempting to appear as Davis’s loyal spiritual guardian and worthy presidential candidate, romantically offered to go jail in her place, arguing that Davis was persecuted for her religious opposition to same-sex marriage. 
Davis was not forced to marry a woman, nor was she commanded to officiate a same-sex wedding or to attend a church where same-sex marriage is not condemned as an abomination; she was simply asked, by the Supreme Court, to obey the law of the land and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When she refused, she was held in contempt of court and sent to jail, the legal response to anyone defying a court order.  Regardless of the court’s order and the subsequent issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Rowan County, there lies a critical legal question in Ms. Davis’s claim that her religious beliefs forbid her from executing the law through her office as county clerk. Does the first amendment’s free exercise clause protect Kim Davis from incarceration or forced resignation if issuing licenses for same-sex marriage truly does violate her religious conscience?