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Friday, September 2, 2011


To our Fellows, and all other interested journalists, I suggest that you do what I did a few hours ago. I examined the news from the past week or so and came up with dozens of stories that have constitutional implications. Take a look at five of them...

1) "This is all about safety, not about religion." That is a quote from Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County (New York) Parks Department, reacting to an incident at the Playland amusement park where a group of Muslims objected when told that women would have to remove their hajibs, the traditional Muslim head scarves, or they would not be allowed on certain rides. A brawl broke out leading to the arrest of fifteen people. You can read about this here.

2) “This was a very dark chapter in the history of medical research sponsored by the U.S. government.” So said Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania and the chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She was referring to the Commission’s investigation of a 1940s era experiment run by the Public Health Service in which more than 5000 Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers and mental patients were purposely infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, and other venereal diseases in order to explore whether pencillin could be effective after exposure. The study was in response to the high number of American GIs who contracted venereal diseases during World War II. Read about it here.

3) “Harassment, intimidation or bullying means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication…that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory [handicap] disability…” So reads New Jersey’s new Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, signed into law this past week by Governor Chris Christie. The bill, which requires each school to designate an anti-bullying official to examine perceived instances of bullying, has received criticism from those who worry that it will further tax the resources of the state’s schools. There are also concerns that this will elevate the ordinary dispute to the level of administrative review when it might otherwise be worked out in a discussion between parties. Learn more here.

4) “It’s not about us wanting money, money, money...It’s really about getting [sexual abuse victims] the help they deserve.” The words of Rick Gipprich, a spokesman for Texas Association Against Sexual Abuse, on the news that the Texas Supreme Court had ruled the state’s Sexually Oriented Business Fee Act of 2007 constitutional. The bill, which requires the payment of a “pole tax” – as it has been amusingly called – of each and every patron of any nude dancing establishment that also serves alcohol, would mandate those funds to be spent on aiding sexual abuse victims. The bill had been challenged as an infringement on free speech. Read about it here.

5) “It [is] shocking just how unreliable your eyes can be.” A reflection from a writer with the New Prospect reflecting on a decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court that called into question the effectiveness of police lineups. The decision created more rigorous criteria for such identifications, looking to avoid the impact of stress on the viewer and a tendency to “recall” racial characteristics improperly. The decision relied on a study that demonstrated that those viewing lineups were as often wrong as they were right. Read about it here.

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