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Monday, November 29, 2010

Of Prisons and Safety, Courts and Legislatures, and the Meaning of “Cruel and Inhuman”

This Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hold a hearing on a case that will be watched closely by state legislatures and prison officials across the country. It involves a decision by a three-judge federal panel in California to force that state to release thousands of inmates in state prisons in an effort to relieve overcrowding (they are now operating at twice the facilities’ design capabilities) as well as the prisons’ inability to address health issues in a timely and humane manner. In issuing its ruling, the three-judge panel, unusual in that it included two district court judges and a circuit court judge, declared that “a significant number of inmates have died as a result of the state's failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care. As of mid-2005, a California inmate was dying needlessly every six or seven days.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Featured Guest Blogger Witold J. Walczak

Two Cases Before the Third Circuit Raise the Question: Just How Far Can Public Schools go in Policing “off-campus” Speech?

As we react to the (merciful) end to one of the nastiest campaign seasons in memory, no one is suggesting that we should resort to censorship of political candidates. People are rightfully debating whether allowing corporate money is a good thing – a door opened by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United v. F.C.C. case last year – and whether disclosure requirements for donors should be imposed as a check on undue influence, but no one is suggesting that the government pass laws to limit candidates’ speech in order to promote civility and truthfulness, both of which seem in short supply.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Featured Guest Blogger Sarah Hinchliff Pearson

When Speech Can Get You in Trouble, Despite the First Amendment: The Shirvell Case

When an employer restricts an employee’s right to speak, by banning employee blogs or limiting what employees can say on social media sites, it is common for people to say it is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. This is not true. The First Amendment only protects people from government restrictions on speech. Private employers have no First Amendment limitations. They can fire employees for their speech without any constitutional consequences. (Employees are protected from being fired for some speech – like whistleblowing or union involvement – but these are statutory and unrelated to the First Amendment.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Constitution in "Quotes"

"I wish I didn't get nervous seeing black men behind me on the street. I wish there was no correlation between race and crime. I wish 100 percent of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 had not been members of one religion. I wish we didn't hear diatribes on a daily basis threatening our children and us in the name of Allah. I wish I didn't get nervous seeing Muslims on a plane. But firing Juan Williams won't make it so"

Former PJP Faculty Member Susan Estrich opining the firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams for comments he made on Fox News. Williams was canned for saying that he gets nervous when he gets on a plane and "sees people in Muslim garb." Estrich's entire piece can be read here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Can the use of the word "boy" by a white supervisor addressing a black employee in a work situation be deemed an act of discrimination?

The 11th circuit says no.

2006 PJP Fellow Bill Rankin, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution examines an interesting case that was recently heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The suit was brought by John Hithon, a worker at the Tyson's chicken processing plant in Gadsden, Alabama, who claimed that his supervisor had addressed him as "boy," a term with historical racial overtones recalling the relationship between master and slave. Indeed, the trial court twice awarded Hithon damages on his claim that such slurs represented the racism that led to his being passed over for promotion. But in both cases, the circuit court overturned the decision, most recently when a three judge panel heard the case and dismissed it in Tyson's favor. As Rankin reports, now a distinguished group of civil rights pioneers -- including former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (co-founder of the Southern Christian leadership Council) and former SCLC president Rev, Joseph Lowery -- is asking the 11th Circuit to reconsider the case en banc; that is, as a twelve-judge panel including all of the judges of the 11th circuit.