Category Archives: Constitutional

After a brief (Spring) break, the SLACE Archive has returned. The most recent episode of the BBC’s Moral Maze radio programme, lived up to its name–tackling the vexing issue of physician assisted suicide.

Here is a description of the show from the Moral Maze website:

There are few more emotive subjects than assisted dying. It captures both the hopes and the fears of the age in which we live. Advances in medical technology have been a triumph, extending our life expectancy almost exponentially. 33% of babies born today can expect to live to 100. 80 years ago the figure would have been less than 4%. But along with the undreamt of levels of longevity have come the nightmares of a lingering death; robbed of our humanity by the indignity and pain of diseases. The government has just announced that it will give MP’s a free vote on the latest legislative attempt to allow people to get help to die and campaigners believe that decision will give the bill a strong chance of becoming law. It will allow adults to ask a doctor to help them die if they’ve been given no more than six months to live. But it won’t go as far as some campaigners would like. Why is it morally acceptable to help someone to kill themselves if they’re already close to death, but not to help someone who might have many years of pain and suffering ahead of them? And if it’s right to allow adults assisted suicide, why not children? After all is it moral to expect them to endure the suffering we would not? At the heart of this issue is personal choice and moral agency – it’s my life and my death. But is the brutal truth that in almost every circumstance we already have that choice, it’s just that we want someone else to administer the coup de gras? Or is that point? Assisted dying – a very compassionate and humane answer to help people when they are at their most desperate or a law that will in reality help only a small number, but put many more vulnerable people at risk? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser.

Witnesses are Graham Winyard, Colin Harte, Gerlant van Berlaer and Ruth Dudley Edwards.

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March 18, 2014 · 5:46 pm

Grammy’s, Gay Marriage, “Same Love”

During the Grammy Awards last night, hip-hop artist and marriage equality advocate Macklemore performed the hit song “Same Love” with Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert. During the performance, Queen Latifah legally presided over the marriages of thirty-three couples, gay and straight alike. The song then resumed with Madonna transitioning to her song “Open Your Heart.”

As someone who cares deeply and has written academically about marriage equality, I found the performance to be quite moving. It reminded how art can capture dimensions of ongoing public policy debates in ways politicians, lawyers and even advocates often cannot. What struck me is just how apt “Same Love” is in encapsulating the essence of the marriage equality movement. Despite all of the legal arguments and political propaganda surrounding gay marriage, the debate, at bottom, boils down to a simple proposition:

  1. The reason the state, not only permits but, promotes marriage is to encourage love and loving relationships.
  2. Gay couples and straight couples share the “same love” and can enter into the same types of loving relationship.
  3. Therefore, the state should permit and promote same-sex marriage just as it does opposite sex ones.

Although the performance was a strong message of marriage equality, I question whether it was the best medium by which to purvey it. Initially, I was inspired by the performance, but my second thought was “And, the entire state of Kansas just changed the channel.” Making matters worse, the entire first verse of the song calls out “right wing conservatives” being naïve, fear mongering and “paraphrasing” the Bible. However, the marriage equality movement is currently turning its attention to more conservative populations. In the coming months and years, the movement will be attempting to overturn state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in more conservative party of the country (than say Los Angeles, where the Grammy’s were held).

If the marriage equality movement is to continue to be successful, it must adapt its message in such a way as to appeal to a potentially skeptical audience. Once way in which the music community could assist in this re-branding there was a country version of “Same Love.” In past years, songs such as Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” have been successfully remixed by adding a hip hop element for broader consumption. In this case, the reverse would be appropriate. “Same Love” could be adapted by a country artist (excluding the first verse) for a more targeted audience.

In sum, while this year’s performance of “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards made an important statement (one that could not have been made just a few years ago); what will matter next year, and the years to come, is whether a pro-gay rights song can gain traction in the Country Music Awards. For it will be those who listen to country music and live in more conservative areas that will decide the future marriage equality movement.

This post was originally published on the SLACE Archive. For more public policy related video/audio, be sure to check out the SLACE Archive for daily podcast recommendations.

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January 27, 2014 · 5:59 pm

NC Voter ID Law Revives Fears of Racial Disenfranchisement

Recently, NPR’s All Things Considered discussed a new North Carolina voter ID law that some critics fear will make if harder for minorities and the poor to access poling places. 

Here is a description of the story: 

North Carolina’s governor signed a new law requiring a state-approved photo ID to cast a vote in a polling place and shortening the period for early voting. The move comes just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had required large parts of the state to get federal approval before changing voting laws.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, says the new law will protect the state from voter fraud.Critics say it reverses crucial reforms designed to help protect the rights of African-Americans, young people and the poor.

NPR’s Ailsa Chang visited rural areas of North Carolina to report on how the changes could affect poor minority voters who live there.

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August 25, 2013 · 11:06 pm

The Daily Show on Stop-and-Frisk Decision

Last night, the Daily Show discussed the recent federal court case finding NYPD’s stop-and-frisk tactics unconstitutional and NYC’s response to the decision.  As we covered on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin held that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. 

Here is how The Daily Show describes its “coverage” of the story:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks New York’s stop-and-frisk program is being unfairly stopped and scrutinized even though it’s done nothing wrong. 

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August 14, 2013 · 10:15 am

Eric Holder Announces Support of Sentencing Reform

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder made a speech at  American Bar Association’s annual meeting announcing his support for sentencing reform measures that would mitigate the harsh effects of drug laws and mandatory minimums. 

Here is an introduction to a New York Times article and video about the speech: 

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech said. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

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August 13, 2013 · 3:15 pm

Today, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin held that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. 

Below is the beginning of a WNYC story about the case: 

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin issued her long-awaited opinion finding that the New York City Police Department had violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in the way they have conducted stop-and-frisks. 

“Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality,” she wrote in her strongly-worded ruling.

In her opinion, which can be read in full below, Judge Scheindlin writes:

“To be very clear: I am not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk. The purpose of the remedies addressed in this Opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much-needed police protection.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reacting Monday afternoon at a press conference, was visibly angered by the judge’s decision. “The judge ignored the realities of crime,” he said, “like the fact that our police officers on patrol make an average of less than one stop a week.”

More on Bloomberg’s reaction.

The judge specified a number of steps the NYPD must take to reform stop-and-frisk. It must revise its policies and training procedures, especially its “over-broad definition of ‘furtive behavior.’ It must change the written documentation police must produce after stops. and it must institute a one-year body camera pilot program involving one precinct in each borough. . . . 



Judge outlines what NYPD needs to do next.



Ruling: Judge finds NYC stop-and-frisk policy violated rights.


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August 12, 2013 · 8:41 pm

The House I Live In

I recently watched “The House I Live In” a documentary about the cost of the War on Drugs. “The House I Live In” won the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary is available from multiple outlets, including Netflix.

Here is a description of the documentary:

Why We Fight director Eugene Jarecki shifts his focus from the military industrial complex to the War on Drugs in this documentary exploring the risks that prohibition poses to freedom, and the tragedy of addicts being treated as criminals. In the four decades since the War on Drugs commenced, more than 45 millions of addicts have been arrested — and for each one jailed, another family is destroyed. Meanwhile, the prisons in America are growing overcrowded with non-violent criminals, and illegal drugs are still being sold in schoolyards. By examining just where it all went wrong, Jarecki reveals that a solution is possible if we can just find it in ourselves to be compassionate, and see past the decades of paranoia and propaganda.

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August 10, 2013 · 11:17 am

So Weed It Is: Why Dr. Sanjay Gupta Changed His Mind on Marijuana

This Sunday, August 11 at 8PM, CNN will feature a documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, titled, “WEED”. In promoting the documentary, Dr. Gupta wrote a commentary explaining why he changed his mind on weed. 

Here is how it begins: 

Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” The title “Weed” may sound cavalier, but the content is not. I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.

Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”

Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”

They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

Special thanks to Professor Douglas A. Berman’s insightful blog, Sentencing Law and Policy,” for bringing this story and documentary to my attention. 


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August 8, 2013 · 4:17 pm

Recently, the New Yorker‘s “Political Scene,”  hosted by Dorothy Wickenden, discussed the “culture of rape” from rape in the U.S. military to the Steubenville High School case.

Here is a description of the podcast: 

“The easiest way to talk about” rape culture, Ariel Levy says on this week’s Political Scene podcast, “is in action as opposed to in abstract definition. Rape culture in action simply means taking a situation where a woman—by virtue of the progress that our society has made over the last hundred years—where a woman is in a situation where something has nothing to do with sex and where sex is forced upon her.” In the latest issue of the magazine, Levy writes about the presence and role of rape culture in the Steubenville High School case, but, as she and Ryan Lizza discuss with host Dorothy Wickenden, it’s not restricted to such places—in fact, sexual violence has retained a stubborn hold on the U.S. military that is only now finally being addressed as a political matter.

“What’s different now about what could happen in the wake of this Pentagon report about the huge increase in sexual assaults is you now have twenty women in the U.S. Senate, and you actually have five women on the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Lizza notes, saying that the increased presence of women has prompted “a pretty robust debate about what to do about this.” That debate, Levy says, ought to extend beyond the military: “Some of it has to start … with comprehensive sexual education for boys and girls.”

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August 4, 2013 · 9:09 pm

Inmate and Corrections Officer: Bridging the Gap

Recently, this American Life recorded an conversation between an inmate and a corrections officer. The conversation covered many issue that are central to prison reform and provides a glimpse into prison dynamics

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July 29, 2013 · 8:40 pm