By Irtaza Ali
Professor Michael Mann, a scholar at Penn State, is at the center of a case that concerns research he conducted on global warming while teaching at the University of Virginia. Professor Mann comes from the school of thought that believes humans are responsible for global warming. Many believe that zealous scientists, like Mann, have been distorting data to support their conclusions. These allegations have resulted in multiple requests to review Mann’s research in the Prince William County Circuit Court in Mannasas, Virginia.
The issue began in 2010 when, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli made a civil investigative demand requesting that the University of Virginia turn over research conducted by Mann during his employment at the institution. Cuccinelli believed that Mann had deceived taxpayers when requesting grants for his research by modifying his data to promote his theory. He is therefore at the forefront of an ongoing debate among global warming skeptics who believe scientists have been publishing skewed data to confirm the relationship between human activity and global warming.
By Sasha Bryski
As technology continues to advance, our expectation of privacy afforded by the Fourth Amendment regarding information on our cell phones is an unresolved issue for law enforcement, civil rights advocates and the ninety-one percent of the US population who use cell phones (1). Specifically at issue is whether the search of a cell phone, incident-to-an-arrest, falls within the recognized exception to the general rule that a warrant is required for a government search.
What has changed is that cell phones now carry our life’s story, from billing and tax information to emails and texts from colleagues, friends, foes and significant others. While the search incident to an arrest exception is applied when a person is outside of their home, a mobile device now carries, as described by Nicole Flatlaw of ThinkProgress, “as much information about a person as one might find from searching their home.” (2)
By Taryn MacKinney
In 2010, two middle school students of the Easton Area School District came to school wearing colorful bracelets displaying the phrase “I ♥ Boobies.” They weren’t the first kids to don them; the bracelets – created by the Keep a Breast foundation, a nonprofit breast-cancer-awareness organization – have boomed in popularity since their release in 2004.
Though the bracelets were intended to encourage open and comfortable communication among young people about breast cancer, they have also sparked controversy in school districts across the country. Many school districts, seeing the bracelets as blatantly vulgar, have banned them.
Easton Area School District in Philadelphia followed this trend, and the two students, Briana Hawk and Kayla Martinez, were suspended from school. Viewing this as an affront to their First Amendment rights for free speech, they fought back in court with parental aid. In April of 2011, a preliminary injunction temporarily struck down the district’s bracelet ban, and soon thereafter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in the students’ favor: schools were not allowed to ban the bracelets.
The justification for this decision? “Because the bracelets here are not plainly lewd and because they comment on a social issue,” contended Judge D. Brooks Smith in the official court case, “they may not be categorically banned under Fraser.”
The majority developed their reasoning from past Supreme Court cases on student free speech rights, particularly Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986), as Judge Smith references above. In this case, a high school student named Matthew Fraser – after being disciplined by the school for a vulgar speech delivered to classmates – sued the Bethel School District for violation of his free speech rights.
Though the U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Fraser’s favor, the Supreme Court supported the school, suggesting that the district had the right to limit vulgar or sexually explicit information on school grounds. The case offered a sharp response to the Supreme Court decision Tinker v. Des Moines, a 1969 case that upheld a student’s right to free speech in school. Fraser added parameters to this interpretation, disallowing expression in schools that is vulgar for vulgar’s sake.
So why weren’t the “I ♥ Boobies” bracelets considered vulgar? The majority claimed that the bracelets – unlike Fraser’s comparatively explicit high school speech – are backed by an important message: the public support of breast cancer awareness and research. This is the “social issue” that Judge Smith claims the bracelets address, thus legitimizing the girls’ right to wear them on school grounds. Additionally, the supporting judges claim the bracelets aren’t offensively crude.
The five dissenting judges were brusque in their disagreement. They objected to the seemingly arbitrary division of words into the categories of “lewd” and “acceptable” language, and they were concerned that the notion of “social issues,” used as justification by the majority, is too broad a category to build boundaries around. “What is at issue,” dissenter Judge John A. Greenaway Jr. reasoned in the official court case, “is the notion that we have established a test which effectively has no parameters.”
His arguments reflect a legitimate concern that teachers, in addition to future court cases, will be forced to deal with the implications of this decision’s vagueness. After all, teachers see first and foremost the tensions between legitimate and illegitimate student expression in school.
It’s no surprise, then, that the subject is sensitive for both courts and educators, as young people are notorious for relentless boundary testing. As Judge Greenaway remarks in the case report, sympathizing with the educators of Easton Area School District, the case decision has failed “to resolve the conundrum that school districts face every day.”
Photo Credit: Flickr user Dennis Vu
By Sean Foley
Las Vegas, Nevada, has been the titan of sports gambling in the United States, seemingly holding a monopoly on the industry. Throughout each year, eager sports fans, covetous speculators, and mere spectators alike anticipate the word from Las Vegas on sporting events, both big and small. This industry control is not simply naturally occurring—law, in fact, protects it. In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which banned sports gambling in all states except the four that had already allowed it, including Nevada.
Recently, however, New Jersey decided to challenge the act of Congress by planning to legalize sports gambling, following the 2011 passage of a state referendum on the issue. According to Reuters, New Jersey initially had the option of opting in to the law in 1992 within a year, but neglected to do so.
Not surprisingly, New Jersey found itself in court soon after introducing its plan to proceed with the legalization. In a multi-party suit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the leagues of the four major professional sports (baseball, basketball, hockey, and football), and the United States Government, challenged New Jersey’s law on the grounds that it violated PASPA.
Initially, New Jersey argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file the suit, asserting that the complainants could not prove that the law would cause the leagues tangible harm. In December of 2012, a United States District Court judge, Michael Shipp, rejected New Jersey’s claim, allowing the trial to proceed. In the spring of 2013, Shipp again ruled in favor of the sports organizations, this time upholding the PAPSA-imposed restrictions on sports betting.
New Jersey promptly appealed Judge Shipp’s decision, taking its case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. New Jersey argued that PAPSA is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s anti-commandeering clause, which reads that Congress does not have the power to “require the States in their sovereign capacity to regulate their own citizens.”
In its appeal, New Jersey also contested that the law contradicts the principle of equal sovereignty, which prohibits discrimination among the states lest there be a justification specific to the geographic differences. New Jersey stated that sports betting is not a local issue that warrants unequal treatment. The fact that some states had already permitted sports gambling did not earn them a special exemption and did not meet the geographic requirement the equal sovereignty doctrine mandates, the state insisted.
On June 26, 2013, the two sides made their arguments before the Third Circuit. Nearly two months later, on September 17, 2013, a three-judge panel released its decision. In a 2-1 decision, the Court ruled in favor of the sports organizations, marking yet another defeat for New Jersey. The Court upheld the constitutionality of PAPSA, and, therefore, declared that New Jersey’s law violated the federal statute.
Judge Thomas Vanaskie provided the dissenting vote. Siding with New Jersey, he posited that PAPSA was an illegitimate exercise of power. According to Judge Vanaskie, the law violated the principles of federalism by placing an undue burden on the states in contravention of the Constitution.
Despite the continued rulings in favor of the sports organizations, the matter is far from settled. The dissenting opinion of Judge Vanaskie has provided the state of New Jersey with hope. State Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat, insists that the state will carry on its fight, either directly to the Supreme Court or first to the full Third Circuit court in the form of an en banc hearing, a proceeding which occurs before all the circuit judges who are on active duty.
Given the implications this suit has for the doctrine of federalism, this case ought to become very interesting should the entire Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, or the Supreme Court for that matter, choose to hear it. While the courts sort out this issue, gamblers will continue to look to Las Vegas.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Barbara Walsh