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.
Blue Skies Emerging in China?
By Lindsey Li
Lindsey Li is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal.
With pollution levels exceeding those of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, China’s large cities have famously found themselves sacrificing the environment for economic growth over the past quarter century. In fact, the US nonprofit Berkeley Earth found that eight out of ten Chinese are regularly exposed to pollution levels that far surpass levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 
However, the skies may be blue once again.
By Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
A product of market economies, contracts are rudimentary legal documents that bind two parties to a mutual promise.  In the music industry, these contracts are valuable and highly sought after by voracious artists who dream of one day obtaining worldwide recognition. Distracted by the promise of fame and riches, however, many musicians hastily overlook the restrictive nature of recording contracts, and like, in the case of pop star Ke$ha, these restrictions can have detrimental consequences.
Once a rising star in the music business, Ke$ha now finds herself locked in an exclusive contract with Sony and forced to work with her alleged sexual abuser, Dr. Luke.  In an attempt to salvage her career, she has embarked upon a tenacious legal battle pleading the New York Supreme Court to permit her an injunction, which would effectively liberate her from her abusive contract and allow her to continue developing her musical career without risk of being held liable for breaching her contract.  A case that seems to have an apparent resolution is sure to be a subject to prolonged contestation. Legal battles between musicians and their recording companies shed light on the necessity of the legal system to adopt stringent provisions protecting artists from the damaging consequences of unfair contracts.
In Defense of Judicial Activism
By Rachel Pomerantz
Rachel Pomerantz is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Politicians slap the label of “judicial activism” on any court case that does not agree with their ideologies. Both recently and historically, conservatives have been quite vocal in criticizing the court for making decisions based on personal opinion over the law. Liberal rulings on issues ranging from abortion to criminal justice are swiftly followed by calls to curtail judges run amok who are legislating from the bench.  After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationally this past summer, instead of debating the virtues of the decision, those on the political right decried the political motivations of the “five unelected justices.”  Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz called for judicial retention elections as a “means for throwing off judicial tyrants.”  Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, stated that the court’s decision was based in the morals of the majority justices and not the Constitution. 
While it may be tempting to point to conservatives as the sole perpetrators of this political accusation, the pendulum swings both ways. After the Supreme Court virtually made the final decision that a Republican would occupy the White House in Bush v. Gore (2000), liberals began to find their own language to argue for judicial restraint. More recently, in 2012, while still reeling from their loss in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and facing the possibility of the court castrating the Affordable Care Act, liberal voices proposed the following reforms: packing the court (harkening back to FDR’s battle with the third branch of federal government), setting term limits, and requiring a “6-3 supermajority for overturning an act of Congress.” 
Freedom of speech is unrestrainable. Speech can be malicious, ignorant, or spiteful, but a society without the freedom of speech or expression marks the slow decline of that society into a bleak, illiberal future.
But how do we define “freedom of speech?” Although the term is incredibly vague and has yet to be fully defined, we recognize that, according to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law…abridging freedom of speech.”
Speaking from a legal standpoint, the freedom of speech includes the freedom to use certain offensive words and phrases to convey political messages under Cohen v. California, or the freedom to engage in symbolic speech, such as flag-burning, or participating in a boycott, under Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, respectively.  Of course, there are notable exceptions to this freedom. Specifically, we are unable to incite actions that would harm others, such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theater under Schenck v. United States. 
By Derek Willie
Derek Willie is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
On September 25th, 2013, Laporshia Massey, a student at West Philadelphia’s Bryant Elementary School, alerted school officials that she was having trouble breathing. The school called her father to inform him that his daughter was feeling sick but could remain in school. When he picked her up after school that day, he immediately rushed her to the hospital but it was too late: Laporshia died, and not from any obscure, incurable malady, but from an asthma attack. Her life could have been saved, but no one at the school was trained to recognize her symptoms and know the proper medical response. Why? The School District of Philadelphia couldn’t afford a full-time nurse. 
In Philadelphia public schools, shortages in critical school personnel are commonplace: few schools can afford guidance counselors, social workers, arts programs, or even paper. Earlier this year, Emma Brown of The Washington Post compared the resources of two high schools in the Philadelphia area: one, a school in the sprawling suburb of Lower Merion, which could afford to provide students with personal computers and fund comprehensive arts education; the other, a West Philadelphia high school, which could not even afford to provide the students with paper (unless the teachers bought it with money from their own pockets), let alone a social worker, and provided the students with almost no artistic instruction.  The educational disparity in Pennsylvania is irrefutable, as recent data show that “school districts with the highest poverty rates here receive one-third fewer state and local tax dollars, per pupil, than the most affluent districts.”  The reason behind this failure is rather simple: school funding is largely based on the amount of property tax collected in each school district. For districts with higher property values, and ipso facto high-income households, the property tax revenue is greater, and thus yields more school funding. Therefore, students in low-income districts are significantly disadvantaged in terms of their education. 
By Dan Spinelli
Dan Spinelli is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying English and Political Science.
Months before the much-anticipated July 2015 release of Go Set a Watchman, the misbegotten early draft of Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, publisher HarperCollins released a statement from the author, which stated, “I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to ‘Watchman.’”  Lee’s well-known repudiation of the possibility of publishing any follow-up novels to To Kill a Mockingbird makes her words, if not completely surprising, seem a bit forced. Go Set a Watchman would, as the New York Times wrote after the book’s publication, make “an abrupt turnaround for an author who had said she did not intend to publish another work and then, late in life, agreed to venture out with a book that had initially been dismissed as an ambitious but disjointed first draft.”  Could it be that her lawyer duped the literary stalwart in her old age?
Lee had originally written Watchman, which features beloved characters like Scout and Atticus Finch and is set decades after the storyline of Mockingbird, as an early draft of Mockingbird in 1957. The original manuscript caught the eye of Therese von Hohoff Torrey, an agent at the now-defunct publishing company, J.B. Lippincott.  Torrey urged Lee to revise the novel, ultimately giving rise to the seminal 1960 tale of racism in a small Southern town. Nothing in the years since Mockingbird’s runaway success suggested that Lee wanted to revisit the book’s earlier iteration. It doesn’t take more than a shade of skepticism to wonder… why publish Watchman now, when, according to her sister, Lee “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence,”? 
By Tanner Bowen
Tanner Bowen is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying business.
Within the last few years, the topic of immigration has come to the forefront of American politics. From the recent shooting this summer by an undocumented immigrant of a woman in San Francisco to the different plans set forth by presidential hopefuls about how to fix the “immigration problem,” the topic is unfortunately as difficult to discuss as it is complicated.  One of the agencies at the forefront of this debate is the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In particular, there are numerous allegations that the USCIS is purposefully delaying the Freedom of Information Act requests that immigrants need for their citizenship hearings.
To provide some context, the Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967 to provide residents within the United States with the ability to request significant amounts of information from any federal governmental agency.  Throughout the naturalization process to become citizens, immigrants applying for citizenship need various items of documentation from the U.S. government whenever they appear before an immigration judge. In addition, if their petition for citizenship is denied, people often submit FOIA requests to obtain additional evidence to appeal the ruling.
By Sanjay Dureseti
Sanjay Dureseti is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal.
On October 26, the University of Mississippi lowered the state flag, which includes f the notorious Confederate “Stars and Bars” insignia, from a visible spot on campus. This followed a heated debate amongst the members of the student body, reflecting a larger dialogue that has gripped much of the South.
The use of the Confederate flag is a thorny issue, one rooted in centuries-old racial and cultural strife. For a large portion of Americans, the flag epitomizes slavery, segregation, and is a painful and unnecessary reminder of a dark chapter in national history. For many others still, the flag is a point of pride and a patriotic symbol of Southern unity. While it is clear that the question of the Confederate image provokes unambiguous emotional reactions, the legal implications of its use are not so obvious.
By Nayeon Kim
Nayeon Kim is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
One of U.S. legal system’s central issues is that it is not sufficiently accessible to people or entities who cannot afford the high legal fees needed to advance their position in the courtroom. Lawyers are generally out of reach from ordinary people, and more wealth can result in a strategic advantage even in legal disputes between corporations. In fact, some corporations drag along the trial process in order to dry up their opponents’ resources while a significant number of large corporations often do not pursue meritorious and potentially winnable cases due to financial considerations.
As a result, investors have started to delve into the field of litigation finance. Litigation finance, or legal financing, is a relatively new way of funding legal proceedings. Investors unrelated to the case provide funding to litigants--usually the plaintiff--in exchange for a portion of any financial recovery resulting from the lawsuit. However, litigation finance is different from a loan in that the plaintiff does not have to pay the investors back if he or she loses the case. Litigation finance was originally used to fund personal injury cases, but the practice is expanding to commercial lawsuits as well.
By Frank Geng
Frank Geng is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an associate editor of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal.
On October 10th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that allows Californian Department of Motor Vehicles offices to automatically register voters.  The legislation received strong support from the Democrat-controlled state legislature and Democratic Governor.  Supporters of the California New Motor Voter Act see this as an opportunity to boost voter participation in a state that experienced a record low turnout for last November’s general election that saw only 42 percent of voters participate.  Opponents argue that the bill will increase the risk of voter fraud, and will effectively coerce citizens to participate in a voluntary process that some prefer to stay out of.  The argument that the law will constitute voter coercion is extraneous, because the law does not mandate voter registration; those registering for a driver’s license or state ID will automatically be enrolled unless they choose to opt out. The issue with this legislation is not its mechanics or implantation; it is its lateness. Low voter turnout has plagued the US polls for years, so the fact that it is only now, in 2015, that we have started a major movement towards mandatory voting speaks to the inefficiencies of our legislative processes, and more broadly to the failure of our government to instill a sense of accountability in our citizens. The lack of proactivity in our government’s response to an increasingly apathetic people has injured our democracy, so the effectiveness of this bill will be of great import to the nation.
Granted, California is not the only state to have passed an automatic registration system—Oregon did so this past March, and 17 other states have introduced similar bills in their state legislatures.  New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled legislature would have implemented a similar law had Governor Chris Christie not vetoed the bill.  Governor Christie claims that low turnout is not necessarily the result of obstacles to voter registration and to voting itself, but rather that “there’s nothing on the ballot [the people] want to vote for,” which is a somewhat reasonable claim given the public’s current disillusionment with our political system.  Christie continues, “there’s no question in my mind that there are some advocates of this [bill] who are looking to increase the opportunity for voter fraud…I think there’s much more politics behind this than there is democracy.” The fear of increased voter fraud is unfounded, but what is even more irrational is the belief that increased voter registration is primarily fueled by political machinations, as though voting were not the foundation of the democratic process. Christie’s concerns resonate with the historical, and current, Republican policies that encourage voting restrictions. Outside of the realm of New Jersey politics, leaders including Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out in favor of mandated voter registration. Thus, the result of the 2016 Presidential Race will have great consequences for our nation’s democratic process. The issue, however, is more deeply rooted in red states where increased voter participation has historically hurt their political success.