What could explain the difference in the severity of punishment?

Recently some teachers and administrators in the Atlanta school district were harshly punished (caution: autoplay) for changing the results of their students’ answers on the high-stakes tests that are the bane of the US educational system. They did this in order to improve the district’s scores because poor performance could result in pretty drastic consequences for them and their schools.
[Read more…]

The consequences of the Greece v. Galloway prayer case

The US Supreme Court, in a very confused ruling, decided in the case Greece v Galloway that ceremonial opening prayers were acceptable at the beginning of government sessions provided the prayers were not sectarian in their delivery or in the selection of prayer givers. Even some of the so-called liberal members of the court like Elena Kagan, while dissenting from the verdict approving the Greece prayers, said that “such a forum need not become a religion-free zone.”
[Read more…]

How times have changed

Bob Jones University is an extremely fundamentalist Christian institution that not only denounces homosexuality but also even prohibited inter-racial dating and marriage. When that policy was challenged by the IRS that denied its tax-exempt status because of its discriminatory policies, the university took its case against the IRS all the way to the US Supreme Court, where they lost.
[Read more…]

More undermining of the judicial system by the Obama administration

Glenn Greenwald writes about a troubling legal case in which the US government intervened in a private civil suit and persuaded the judge that the case should be dismissed because having a trial would compromise national security. What made it unusual was that this was on the surface a run-of-the-mill case between two parties that ostensibly had no connection to the government
[Read more…]

Same-sex marriage denouement coming soon

The US Supreme court has scheduled April 28, 2015 for the oral arguments on the cases it agreed to hear where the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans on same-sex marriage. The ruling is likely to come in June. While it ponders this issue, the attitudes of the public are changing rapidly. A new poll finds that now 56% of the public favors it, up from 48% just three years ago and from a mere 11% in 1988. This is an astonishing rate of change. Even more than 300 Republican lawmakers, some high-profile ones, have signed a brief for the Supreme Court supporting same-sex marriage. It seems like even if the court rules that states can ban same-sex marriages, it is only a matter of time before those bans too will be reversed, except in the most bigoted of states. Yes, Alabama, I am looking at you.
[Read more…]

On electing judges

One of the things that shocked me when I first came to the US was the practice of electing judges. While I can understand that appointing judges can lead to insider cronyism, it should be possible to find a way to ensure that competent and reasonably impartial people can be found to serve as judges without putting them through the inherently corrupting process of raising money for elections and then pandering to low-information voters.
[Read more…]

Update on same-sex marriage in Alabama

Confusion continues in Alabama as most judges refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following yesterday’s ruling by the US Supreme Court denying a stay of US District Court judge Callie Granade’s ruling on January 23, 2015 that the state’s ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional and that marriage licenses must be issued starting yesterday. About a dozen of the 67 county probate judges issued licenses, another dozen denied licenses to just same-sex couples, while about 40 stopped issuing all licenses.
[Read more…]

A clash of state and federal judicial systems on same-sex marriage

A US District Judge Callie Granade ruled on January 23rd that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages violated the US constitution and ordered that marriage licenses be issued beginning today. That verdict was appealed by Alabama and last week a federal appeals court declined to issue a stay of the lower court judge’s ruling. In response Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama’s state supreme court and a vehement opponent of same-sex marriage, issued his own order late last night that said that until the US Supreme Court ruled on the issue, probate court judges were not obliged to issue licenses and he was ordering them not to do so.
[Read more…]

Why innocent people plead guilty

Jed S. Rakoff is a United States District Judge for the ­Southern District of New York and in a recent article in the New York Review of Books he discusses why so many innocent people plead guilty. He puts it down to the system that is peculiar to the US, that of plea bargains where, instead of going to trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree to have the defendant plead guilty to a lesser charge. So even though the defendant might be innocent, the prospect of being found guilty of very serious charges and facing very heavy punishment can persuade them that it is not worth the risk. This is why so few cases go to trial.
[Read more…]

Are these cases legally equivalent?

There were three recent court cases that tested the extent to which commercial establishments could refuse to serve certain customers because of their religious beliefs. The cases involved florists, bakers, and photographers who declined to provide their services to the weddings of same-sex couples because they disapproved of such marriages on religious grounds. All these cases are at various stages of litigation, though so far the rulings have tended to go against the businesses.
[Read more…]