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 Connor Gallagher
Connor Gallagher is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Engineering.
In April 2015, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania denied a petition for review filed by the William Penn School District, five other Pennsylvania school districts, seven parents of Pennsylvania students, the Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. 
William Penn School District and its fellow petitioners claimed that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as represented by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the General Assembly, and the Governor, violated the Education and Equal Protection Clauses of the Pennsylvania Constitution by perpetuating the current public school funding scheme in the state.  In short, the petitioners contended that they had not been provided sufficient public resources to live up to state-enacted standards in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
By Owen Voutsinas-Klose
Owen Voutsinas-Klose is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania
In one of the most closely watched cases of the current Supreme Court term, Janus v. AFSCME, newly minted Justice Neil Gorsuch is expected to deliver a significant blow to public sector unions by ruling, along with the conservative wing of the court, that mandatory public union dues are unconstitutional.
The case, brought by Illinois state employee Mark Janus against his union, centers around “fair share fees”, also known as agency fees. The Supreme Court ruled in a 1977 decision known as Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public sector non-union members can be forced to pay agency fees in lieu of dues to cover the union’s cost of negotiating a contract that benefits all employees. While non-union members cannot be forced to subsidize political activity, the challengers in Janus contend that forcing a public sector employee to subsidize a contract negotiation as a condition for employment violates their right to free speech under the First Amendment. Unions and their allies meanwhile defend the unanimous 1977 Abood decision, and its contention that reasonable payments in lieu of dues to recuperate costs of negotiation, so long as the dues do not go to explicitly political purposes, are allowed.
By Justin Yang
Justin Yang is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics.
After President Trump announced he was planning to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, several states announced that they would defy the president and adhere to the accord themselves. In particular, California has tried to step up and fill the void the United States has left behind, meeting and striking climate deals with foreign governments like China.  In addition, a New York Times report revealed that governors are increasingly conducting the diplomacy they believe the Trump administration is neglecting: they are going abroad and meeting with foreign leaders, assuring them of America’s stance on climate change and trade.  All of these developments raise an interesting question: can a state conduct what appears to be foreign policy without the federal government?
The Constitution does not explicitly grant the power to conduct foreign policy in general to any particular institution, but it gives to the President power to negotiate treaties, to lead the armed forces, and to receive foreign ambassadors.  It also grants Congress the power to approve of treaties, the military budget, and the President’s nominee for the Secretary of State, as well as the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and to declare war.  All this seems to imply that the federal government has the exclusive right to conduct foreign policy, a view that the Supreme Court has long held. In 1840, the Court held in Holmes v. Jennison that “it was one of the main objects of the constitution to make us, so far as regarded our foreign relations, one people, and one nation; and to cut off all communications between foreign governments, and the several state authorities.” 
By Habib Olapade
Habib Olapade is a second-year law student at Yale University.
In January 2008, Hillary Clinton surprised most political commenters by winning the New Hampshire primary. Clinton’s chances were thought to be severely diminished after Barack Obama defeated her in the Iowa Caucus. Indeed, some pre-election polls in New Hampshire showed Clinton trailing Obama by as much as 13 points. Although political pundits attempted to explain this surprise by pointing to polling errors, groupthink among reporters, identity politics, and a critical, decisive mass of undecided voters, one explanation has been neglected: ballot order.
Before 2008, New Hampshire created a two-step process for primary ballots. First, state officials randomized the name order, and then they rotated name order on ballots precinct by precinct. This method ensured that each candidate appeared first on the ballot for approximately the same number of voters. The New Hampshire State Secretary refused, though, to rotate names during the 2008 primary. The result? Joe Biden was listed first, followed by Hillary Clinton in the fourth slot, and Barack Obama in the eighteenth position. This ordering triggered the ‘primary effect’ phenomenon whereby individuals are more likely to select one of the first choices on the ballot. Judging from historical data, this may have given Clinton as much as a three-point bump – her margin of victory – on Election Day.
By Bryce Klehm
Bryce Klehm is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying History.
After nearly fifteen years of detention, on January 17, 2017, Abd al-Rahim al-Nahsiri petitioned for a writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to hear his case. He was captured by the CIA in 2002 and sent to several black site prisons, including Guantanamo Bay.  He has been awaiting capital trial by a military commission since 2008 for his alleged involvement in planning the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
The legal question is whether al-Nashiri should be tried before a military commission or a federal court.  The 2009 Military Commissions Act states that an offense should be tried by a military commission “only if the offense is committed in the context of and associated with hostilities.”  Although this may seem like a clear definition, the MCA defines the term “hostilities” as “any conflict subject to the laws of war.” 
By Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying philosophy, politics, and economics.
We have all heard about the new iPhone X, which employs a new technology that allows the user to open their iPhone simply by looking into the camera. Apple is not the only one currently utilizing facial recognition; for example, Facebook stores biometric data for suggesting tags and Google applies a similar technology to organize photos into groups based on the faces in the pictures This facial recognition technology, however, should be put into question before being used so broadly and freely. If not used carefully, it could come into conflict with several laws.
The biggest concern is that authorities will be legally allowed to compel suspects or persons of interest to open their phones with facial recognition.  This problem could mirror the one encountered with previous iPhones that have a thumbprint lock. Because a fingerprint is a physical part of each individual, it doesn’t qualify as a “password” in the traditional sense. Thus, it’s uncertain whether it should fall under the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination in the same way that passwords and passcodes fall under it. 
By Jonathan Lahdo
Jonathan Lahdo is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying business and international studies.
These past two weeks have seen many firsts for the Gulf Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On September 23rd, the country celebrated the 87th year of its founding with many festivities and performances that were enjoyed for the first time by a mixed audience of both men and women.  The Kingdom’s residents also witnessed for the first time in 30 years a musical concert aired on national television; the country’s cultural channel, Al Thakafiyah TV, aired the concerts of the world-renowned Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, and has more such programming planned.  Neither of these events, however, compare to the country’s groundbreaking announcement on September 26th that women would be given the right to drive. 
Prior to this announcement, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that had a ban on women driving, making it unique even within the context of its neighbors in the Middle East, which are infamous for laws that discriminate against women.  The issue, however, is not one that was silently accepted in the period before this recent decision. Throughout the country’s history, numerous women have protested the archaic law by driving themselves. In a recent example, a woman named Loujain Hathloul was arrested and detained for 73 days in 2014 after attempting to drive from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia.  Of course, this was far from the first instance of protest seen in the nation. Fawziah al-Bakr, a Saudi university professor, was one of the 47 women to participate in the Kingdom’s first protest against the ban in 1990. Her reaction to the lifting of the ban was overwhelmingly positive: “It is amazing … Since that day, Saudi women have been asking for the right to drive, and finally it arrived … We have been waiting for a very long time.” 
By Cary Holley
Holley is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Political Science.
The practice of civil forfeiture practice has sparked controversy nationwide due to a series of documented abuses, and such policies have led to important legal battles and legislative changes here in Pennsylvania. This past summer, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for a reinstatement of an old civil asset forfeiture policy. Under the DOJ’s new agenda, the future of local civil forfeiture is anything but certain.
To thoroughly consider the local implications of such policy change, it is important to first examine the state of civil forfeiture rules today. Civil forfeiture is the practice of governments seizing the property and assets of individuals suspected of or associated with criminal activity. In such proceedings, the property is actually what is charged.  Theoretically, the concept of taking the spoils of illegal activity to inhibit lawbreakers from further operation makes perfect sense. Another rationale for civil forfeiture was the idea that the confiscated goods could then be used to obstruct other criminal enterprises.