Review: biography of the priest, congressman, & Law Center professor

Photo courtesy of Amazon.com. Father Drinan, the first Catholic priest elected to Congress, was a Georgetown Law professor.Father Robert F. Drinan, S.J., taught at Georgetown Law from 1981 until his death in 2007 at the age of 86. During those twenty-six years, Fr. Drinan taught courses in International Human Rights, Arms Control, Constitutional Law I & II, and Professional Responsibility, and published a number of books and articles on such subjects as human rights, politics, and religious freedom. 

He founded the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, and served as board member of several political and public-service organizations. Above all, as the many fond remembrances on the Georgetown Law website reveal, he was a beloved colleague and teacher to many of those he encountered at the Law Center.

To most of the public, however, Fr. Drinan is best known and remembered as the first Catholic priest ever to be elected to the U.S. Congress. From 1970 to 1980, Drinan served the people of his home state of Massachusetts, often taking a leadership role on many of the major moral issues of the day, particularly in the areas of international affairs and human rights.

It is this remarkable political career that is the focus of Fr. Raymond Schroth’s new biography of Fr. Drinan.

Fr. Schroth, an associate editor at the Jesuit weekly newsmagazine, “America,” begins his study of Drinan with an account of his childhood in the Boston area, his student days at Boston College, and his entry into the Jesuits after college.

After his initial years of training and education with the Jesuits, Drinan expressed a desire to serve as a missionary in Japan, but instead was sent to Georgetown Law, where he received a Bachelor of Law degree in 1949 and a masters of law in 1950. After further education and training in Boston and Italy, Drinan returned to Boston College as a member of the law faculty in 1955. One year later he became Dean at the age of 36. Drinan dramatically improved the law school, but after thirteen successful years as Dean, he was disappointed when he was passed over for the presidency of Boston College in 1969.

Drinan then turned his attentions to politics and in 1970 was elected to Congress as an anti-war candidate. The controversial nature of Drinan’s political career (referred to in the subtitle of Schroth’s book) was already evident, not only because of the strong stance Drinan took on the war question, but also because of the consternation his candidacy caused among some Jesuit leaders in Rome. Ultimately, however, they allowed the decision to rest with Drinan’s superiors in New England, who gave approval to Drinan’s political ambitions.

Drinan ended up serving five terms in Congress. He was the first member of Congress to call for Nixon’s impeachment—which Drinan believed was justified, most especially because of Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia. He also worked on civil liberties issues, gun control, immigration rights, prison reform, and international affairs, with particular interest in Latin America and Israel. Although he was not a natural politician—he was said to be rather gruff in his manner—he grew to love the work and gained great support among his constituents.

One particular source of controversy for Drinan throughout his political career, however, was the subject of abortion. Although Drinan believed abortion was immoral, for various reasons he believed that it should be legal and he supported pro-choice positions in Congress, including a vote against the Hyde Amendment in 1976—a vote to which many Catholics and pro-life groups strongly objected.

In early 1980, Drinan was preparing for his sixth term in Congress when word came from Rome that Pope John Paul II, who had assumed office two years prior, had ordered Drinan to withdraw his candidacy. It seems there were several factors at work, including the new pope’s dissatisfaction with the political activities of certain priests and an increasingly vocal opposition to Drinan from pro-life Catholics in the U.S.

Drinan was initially crushed by the news; he had always believed that his priestly vocation and his work as a politician were compatible, and indeed that it was through politics that he was best able to work as a moral and spiritual influence in the world. Georgetown Law offered Drinan a professorship soon after he left office, however, and Drinan quickly came to find satisfaction in his new life and in the many scholarly activities described in the first paragraph above.

Finally, this brief review cannot adequately summarize Fr. Schroth’s excellent book or the remarkable life Fr. Drinan. For those interested in learning more about this legendary professor at Georgetown Law and unique figure in twentieth-century American political and religious life, I sincerely recommend Fr. Schroth’s study. 

“Bob Drinan: the Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress”
By: Fr. Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.
Fordham University Press, 2011
$32.95, 300 pp.

Iron & Wine’s lastest album points toward new possibilities

“Kiss Each Other Clean,” Sam Beam’s fourth sudio album as Iron& Wine, is a strong pop album featuring bold melodies and instrumentation. Photo courtesy of parttimemusic’s photostream on flickr.com.By Colin Finnegan, 1L

“I was walking far from home/Where the names were not burned along the wall.” In “Kiss Each Other Clean,” Sam Beam’s fourth studio album as Iron & Wine, he elaborates the sound of “The Shepherd’s Dog” and shifts further away from his earlier acoustic folk. Beam continues to expand his sound, and the meaning of indie folk with it.

Far from merely relying on a guitar and his voice, “Kiss Each Other Clean” features horns, synthesizers, background harmonies, and digitally overlaid singing. The increased boldness of Beam’s melodies and instrumentation creates a strong pop album that mostly pays off, but also tends to muddle the coherence of mood and tone that characterized “The Creek Drank the Cradle” and “Our Endless Numbered Days.”

Beam’s lyrics on “Kiss Each Other Clean” are generally plaintive, but also subtle, and typically rely on the melody line and backing instrumentation to evoke mood. The lines: “Radio and the bones we found frozen/All the thorns and the roses” from “Tree by the River” is accompanied by a piano in major key, lively guitar chords, and sung background “aahs,” which tends to stress the sweetness in sweet melancholy. The shift to more intricate songwriting sometimes has the unfortunate consequence of diminishing the effect of Beam’s poetry, rather than illuminating it.

While “Kiss Each Other Clean” sometimes loses track of Iron & Wine’s traditional virtues, it does not lack new pleasures. The standout and album closer “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me” combines a jazzy horn section, electric guitar chords, and vocal layering with lines like “Bet you’re watching all the happy kids/Kiss each other clean.”

 But about two and a half minutes in, it moves down tempo and finds a sadder beauty: “Become sinner and the saint/We will become, become/Become bandage and the blade/We will become, become.” The song builds intensity by repeating the same basic couplet while ratcheting up the background instruments.

At the very end, Beam ceases singing and pulls the elements away, without quite ever reaching a catharsis. In “Your Fake Name is Good Enough for Me” Beam points toward possibilities for Iron & Wine’s future work: a combination of the instrumentation and experimental qualities of jazz with the indie genre’s focused songcraft.



Tina Talks: Advice for Law Students

Tina suggests you turn chores like scrubbing the bathroom into romantic dates. Photo courtesy of Melissa Ann Barrett’s photostream on Flickr.com.Dear Tina,

I fell in love with a great guy last year.  The only problem: I started law school last year, too.  Is there room for Constitutional Law and a little love in my life?

Sincerely,
In Love and In Law School

Dear In Love,

Sometimes you just have to make room where there isn’t any, like cramming that last book in my locker on Wednesdays or squeezing another doctrine into your brain before finals. 

Try multi-tasking.  Combine the chores you have to do anyway with dates.  Dinner and laundry, my sweet?  Scrub the bathroom and dessert, my love?
Your non-law school time should remain at least 75% non-law school.  It’s important to share about each other’s days, but then find things to talk about other than the course material.  He’s only listening to you explain canons of construction again because he loves you and would do anything for you.  That glazed over look in his eyes?  He’s secretly dying of boredom. 

Keep your head in the game to ensure your quality time is really quality.  Learn from Katrina’s confessions.  Pondering fondue pot burn liability on a date congeals both the Gouda and your heart.

Last but not least, for those times when you can’t give him your undivided, buy him a PlayStation or an Xbox to keep him distracted while you study.  “God of War II,” a pizza, and a six-pack of beer can buy you an unbelievable amount of “together” time that consists of him leaving you alone.  He’ll think you’re the best girlfriend ever.  Trust me.  Don’t forget to buy some earplugs for yourself, though.

I’m sure he understands how hard this is for you and would love to help in any way he can.  If not, he probably doesn’t deserve you.   

Until next week!  — Tina


Spring Cleaning – Horoscopes

Pisces – You will be cold-called in class.  I hope you did the reading.

Aries – I would tell you what’s going to happen this week, but the stars are telling me that you like surprises.

Taurus – You will be riding the metro in your own little mental world, when you realize a classmate was sitting close to you and is just getting off at their stop.  Be embarrassed.

Gemini – You will receive praise from the person from whom you least expect it.  GLOAT!!!

Cancer –
Your astrological sign is a crab.  This week you will either go to Red Lobster for crab fest, and/or be crabby.

Leo – Brave lion, in the back of your closet you will find the way home to Narnia you have so long been searching for.  There lurk no briefs, nor crusty cases in old English.  Also, behind the refrigerator lies Oz.

Virgo – Trusty Virgo, liking things just the way they are is no excuse for not cleaning out the fridge.  Milk is not supposed to smell like that.

Libra – That which you have lost will be found in the last place you look.  Or in front of your nose.

Scorpio – You will finally get that free coffee or chicken from your punch card.  Savor what you have earned.

Sagittarius – You are a delight.

Capricorn – Send that email you’ve been putting off already!  Then reward yourself with newer and more interesting forms of procrastination.

Aquarius – Get out and have a little fun this week!  Better yet, throw a big bash for your fellow Aquarii (Aquarians?).  Invites to read: “Be there, or be a-square-ius.”

Horoscopes this week by Tina Sigurdson, 1L.


Top Ten Things I Love about Large-scale Warehouse Stores

1.  Free samples.  I know someone who will promise to treat a friend to lunch, and then takes him or her out to hit the free bulk food samples.  And yes, that 20-pound box of beef jerky is essential to your existence.  

2.  Dirt-cheap bargains on things I never knew I wanted/needed.  I go in to stock up on paper towels, and I come out with a beach umbrella, lawn furniture, five books, laundry detergent to supply an army platoon, and enough pasta sauce to fill a kiddie pool.  Awesome.

3.  People-watching.  Warehouse stores attract people from all walks of life.  If I want to see how my Evidence professor would interact with a cast member of Jersey Shore, I just need to park myself by the free sample station and wait. 

4.  Chasing future clients.  Shopping carts are dangerous, especially when weighed down by huge bags of bulk food items.  Sounds like a prime opportunity to try out the tort doctrines I learned in 1L.

5.  Instant friends.  It takes a certain type of hearty, diligent, and cheap person to schlep out to a warehouse store and brave the elements to scope out the bargains.  These people have great friend potential.  If you love low prices, you will be on a first name basis with all of the sales clerks.

6.  Getting my workout while I shop.  Lifting forty-pound bags of chicken takes a lot of upper-body strength.  I already feel more toned as I walk out to the parking lot.  Wait…I’m a vegetarian.

7.  Feeling like you’re in-the-know.  Remember the time before you were aware of the existence of warehouse stores and you were jealous that your friend seemed to be able to find all of the great deals?  Envy no more, because there is no way you’re getting the short end of the stick.  Didn’t you already feel a little victorious just walking in?

8.  Expanding your appreciation of fine cuisine.  If something new catches your eye, you much more willing to buy it because the price is just too good to pass up.  If you don’t like it, that’s why you have a roommate.

9.  Increasing my willingness to take risks.  I am much more willing to buy something unfamiliar, even 50 units of it, if I get a great price.  Warehouse stores have opened my eyes to new experiences.

10.  My day always just gets better.  When I walk into a warehouse store, I know it’s going to be a great day.  Just make sure to stop by your neighborhood bookstore, grocer, or boutique on your way home.



Nat’l South Asian Law Students conference brings 120+ to Law Center

Photo by Brad Kehr, 2Lby Carmen Russell, 3L

The North American South Asian Law Students Association (NASALSA) held their annual conference at the Law Center on February 18 and 19, marking its second year in Washington, DC. The conference, entitled “South Asians and the Law: Finding Our Voice in the Nation’s Capital,” brought over 120 law students from over 30 law schools to the Georgetown Law campus.

The students came  to hear speakers and panelists discuss a range of topics including careers, human rights, politics and corporate law as well as recent changes in health care and securities law.

NASALSA represents law students of South Asian origin around the country, and works with local SALSA chapters to raise issues relevant to the community. Shiva Bodhireddy, a Georgetown 3L, served as president this year and Avy Mallik, Georgetown 2L, served as conference president.

“It meant a lot of sleepless nights for everyone on the NASALSA Board,” said Avy Mallik, who was charged with organizing the event. “But, it was amazing to get so many leading lawyers and policymakers in domestic and international law. As a small community, finding our voice in the current legal climate is particularly important for South Asian Americans – that is why we had such a successful turnout.”

The conference included distinguished speakers including Maryland delegate and GULC alumnus Sam Arora, Kansas politician and community activist Raj Goyle, United Nations Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement Ramu Damodaran and Acting United States Solicitor General Neal Katyal.

In pre-recorded opening remarks, Katyal expressed how important events like the NASALSA conference are for such a community.

After Katyal’s opening remarks, Bodhireddy told the audience they had a lot to be proud of in terms of where the community is headed.

“The fact that you are sitting in this room is a testament to the advancements we have made in the field of law,” Bodhireddy said. “The current solicitor general himself is another example, and we hope to continue to make progress as positive members of the legal community.”

Like most such conferences, the event presented an opportunity to network. Mallik noted that they “hoped to foster strong bonds between law students and practicing attorneys,” adding that the economy disproportionately affects groups represented by NASALSA.

“During a recession, minorities will find it especially difficult to find jobs as our networks within the legal community are oftentimes more limited,” he said.

However, the panels inspired a number of discussions, and some directly addressed concerns South Asian Americans face. For example a panel titled “Human Rights, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” included a dialogue about discrimination in post-9/11 United States.

Rajdeep Singh, Director of Law and Policy at the Sikh Coalition, a policy advocacy organization, explained on the panel that “the Supreme Court has emasculated both the Free Exercise Clause and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act” and that they now “offer inadequate protection to religious minorities in the United States.”
“If you’re a Sikh, or an observant Muslim or Jew, it is now easier than ever for state governments or private employers in the United States to give short shrift to your civil rights,” Singh said. “In terms of religious freedom, America could very soon turn into France.”

Georgetown 3L Rasika Chakravarthy, who also attended the year before, said she gained a lot from the speeches and discussions.

“I especially enjoyed the special lecture on global diplomacy and international governance by the United Nations official,” she explained. “It is important to remember that we can do a lot more with our law degree than practice black-letter law – and his statement that it is really lawyers and not diplomats who broker binding agreements between countries was very interesting.”

However, the networking opportunity was not lost on her.

“Most of the panelists and keynote speakers were very open and about approaching them with employment questions and advice,” she concluded.

Mallik expressed the importance of such networking as a way for members of the community to support each other.

“We need to see this conference as the beginning rather than a finish line and recognize the work that still lies ahead of us as Americans in this nation,” Mallik said. “We should be proud of how far we have come in such a short time, but look forward with energy and dedication.”

The future of the conference is in the hands of the new board which was elected at the end of the weekend and includes 2L Vik Kapoor and 2L Hiral Zalavadia as well as graduate students in law school and business school from Cornell, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.


Q&A on labor unions and the EFCA

Q. It may be the case that corporate America is waging a campaign against labor unions and the Employee Free Choice Act — what an Orwellian name, by the way — but if you ask me, the secret ballot is an essential ingredient to democracy, and any bill that makes it non-essential smacks of totalitarianism.
A. I would agree that the secret ballot is essential to democracy. And the EFCA doesn’t take that option away. If the majority of employees in a workplace want a secret ballot, they can still elect to unionize in that manner.
A continued: The process currently goes like this: if at least thirty percent of the employees of a firm sign cards requesting representation in a union, then the employer may hold a secret ballot on election on the question of unionization. However, in practice, such an election almost never takes place until a majority of employees have signed cards; and the employer stalls off holding an election until the latest possible moment. Even if an election is held and the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results, employers often stall on reaching a collective bargaining agreement, which, under current law, means that the union will be decertified if a year passes without such an agreement.
All the EFCA would do is streamline the process. If a majority of employees in a company sign cards demanding a union, then the National Labor Relations Board would certify the union as the legal bargaining representative for that group of workers. Presently, the decision as to whether to use card check only or to hold a secret ballot election is left to the employer. The EFCA shifts that decision to the employees. If less than a majority of employees sign cards requesting a union, then the secret ballot is still required. Only if a majority signs cards is the secret ballot process obviated. The EFCA would also impose stricter penalties on employers who violate the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act in an attempt to coerce workers into not forming a union.
Q. How does that make any sense at all? Should national elections be subject to a referendum to “choose” between secret ballots and ballot check? How on Earth could employers coerce workers with a secret ballot? It’s nonsense. All the EFCA does is open the door to more union thuggery.
A. The process, as it plays out in reality, already requires that a majority of employees sign cards requesting a union before an election can be held. The EFCA just means that the employer can’t demand a secret ballot after this card check. Card-check union voting would allow the workers to unionize quickly and prevent the long process that allows the rampant intimidation by the owners of firms that usually accompanies the secret ballots. Even Human Rights Watch, who usually busy themselves with documenting cases of torture, children in the military, and political repression, felt that the plutocratic intimidation of employees was getting so bad that they had to begin a campaign against it.
There is a long history of this intimidation. The current system gives the company a period in which to exert every effort into breaking the morale of employees and their will to resist. By not demanding that workers vote twice, and by increasing the penalties against employers that engage in illegal behavior, the EFCA absolutely protects worker’s rights. Recent polls indicate that as many as sixty million US workers want a union but do not have one. How can that be possible if the system isn’t broken?
Q. I don’t look at polls. Americans these days understand that unions are a thing of the past, and in today’s globalized economy, they’re simply a drag on our productivity. It may be that unions can sometimes truly be protectors of worker’s rights, but even then, they’re only a necessary evil.
A. I’m always amazed to hear conservatives such as you trot out the argument that unions will be the end of American industry. After all, in China, it is legally required that workers at every business enterprise have a union to represent them. Even Chinese Wal Mart workers have a union. Whether this union is effective or not, at least they have something of an institutional voice. Moreover, many studies have shown that unions have little to no effect on national income. The most they are shown to do is to soften disparities in wealth — which is exactly what would be expected.
The importance you attach to voluntary exchange as a precondition for a just economic system doesn’t square with your opposition to unions, either. Unions are simply corporations that sell labor to employers under exclusive contracts. If you oppose unions, that you oppose capitalism. There’s nothing truer to the conception of the free market that workers forming their own companies to sell their labor to consumer businesses. The rights which private business enjoys under the law to organize as corporations must at least be extended to employees, who are invariably in a weaker position of power — or else they are as much a commodity and as little a legally agential human being as beasts of burden.

Q. It may be the case that corporate America is waging a campaign against labor unions and the Employee Free Choice Act — what an Orwellian name, by the way — but if you ask me, the secret ballot is an essential ingredient to democracy, and any bill that makes it non-essential smacks of totalitarianism.

A. I would agree that the secret ballot is essential to democracy. And the EFCA doesn’t take that option away. If the majority of employees in a workplace want a secret ballot, they can still elect to unionize in that manner. The process currently goes like this: if at least thirty percent of the employees of a firm sign cards requesting representation in a union, then the employer may hold a secret ballot on election on the question of unionization. However, in practice, such an election almost never takes place until a majority of employees have signed cards; and the employer stalls off holding an election until the latest possible moment. Even if an election is held and the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results, employers often stall on reaching a collective bargaining agreement, which, under current law, means that the union will be decertified if a year passes without such an agreement.

All the EFCA would do is streamline the process. If a majority of employees in a company sign cards demanding a union, then the National Labor Relations Board would certify the union as the legal bargaining representative for that group of workers. Presently, the decision as to whether to use card check only or to hold a secret ballot election is left to the employer. The EFCA shifts that decision to the employees. If less than a majority of employees sign cards requesting a union, then the secret ballot is still required. Only if a majority signs cards is the secret ballot process obviated. The EFCA would also impose stricter penalties on employers who violate the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act in an attempt to coerce workers into not forming a union.
Q. How does that make any sense at all? Should national elections be subject to a referendum to “choose” between secret ballots and ballot check? How on Earth could employers coerce workers with a secret ballot? It’s nonsense. All the EFCA does is open the door to more union thuggery.

A. The process, as it plays out in reality, already requires that a majority of employees sign cards requesting a union before an election can be held. The EFCA just means that the employer can’t demand a secret ballot after this card check. Card-check union voting would allow the workers to unionize quickly and prevent the long process that allows the rampant intimidation by the owners of firms that usually accompanies the secret ballots. Even Human Rights Watch, who usually busy themselves with documenting cases of torture, children in the military, and political repression, felt that the plutocratic intimidation of employees was getting so bad that they had to begin a campaign against it.

There is a long history of this intimidation. The current system gives the company a period in which to exert every effort into breaking the morale of employees and their will to resist. By not demanding that workers vote twice, and by increasing the penalties against employers that engage in illegal behavior, the EFCA absolutely protects worker’s rights. Recent polls indicate that as many as sixty million US workers want a union but do not have one. How can that be possible if the system isn’t broken?

Q. I don’t look at polls. Americans these days understand that unions are a thing of the past, and in today’s globalized economy, they’re simply a drag on our productivity. It may be that unions can sometimes truly be protectors of worker’s rights, but even then, they’re only a necessary evil.

A. I’m always amazed to hear conservatives such as you trot out the argument that unions will be the end of American industry. After all, in China, it is legally required that workers at every business enterprise have a union to represent them. Even Chinese Wal Mart workers have a union. Whether this union is effective or not, at least they have something of an institutional voice. Moreover, many studies have shown that unions have little to no effect on national income. The most they are shown to do is to soften disparities in wealth — which is exactly what would be expected.

The importance you attach to voluntary exchange as a precondition for a just economic system doesn’t square with your opposition to unions, either. Unions are simply corporations that sell labor to employers under exclusive contracts. If you oppose unions, that you oppose capitalism. There’s nothing truer to the conception of the free market that workers forming their own companies to sell their labor to consumer businesses. The rights which private business enjoys under the law to organize as corporations must at least be extended to employees, who are invariably in a weaker position of power — or else they are as much a commodity and as little a legally agential human being as beasts of burden.

Medical Marijuana Is Progress, but Not Enough

Bob Nichols, 1L, is a guest writer for the Law Weekly and can be reached at rmn9@law.georgetown.edu. He is also president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at GULC.

The District of Columbia legalized medical marijuana in 2010, and final regulations governing its use, sale, and production have just been published.  The law and regulations are a step forward but are woefully inadequate if our goal is minimizing the harm caused by drugs and our policy reaction to them.

The DC Council passed the bill authorizing medical marijuana in May 2010, and it became law in late July after Congress did not take action to block it.  The city released draft regulations governing the production and use of medical marijuana in August 2010 and November 2010, and the final regulations were published in January 2011.  The regulations limit the number of dispensaries in the city to five, and they strictly limit the conditions that are eligible for medical marijuana to AIDS, HIV, cancer, MS, and glaucoma.

Authorization of medical marijuana will reduce some of the financial and social costs borne by DC families and taxpayers.  We will spend less on police, courts, and prisons because fewer people are being arrested, processed through the legal system, and jailed.  Fewer children will grow up with parents in jail, and fewer lives and communities will be wrecked.  District coffers will benefit from fees paid to the program and additional sales tax revenue.  More medical options will mean people get better medicine.  And if the production of medical marijuana were truly legal, the resulting reduction in black market demand would weaken criminal organizations that sell illegal marijuana.

But the narrow scope of the medical marijuana bill in DC undermines many of these benefits.  We, as fellow citizens, benefit when patients with the most serious illnesses are allowed to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it, but we would benefit more if patients with any illness were allowed the same.  Some might abuse the system, but the same is true with any drug.  There are already penalties for diversion of prescription drugs, false prescriptions, and things like that.  And it is far easier to overdose on opiates, erectile dysfunction medication, or even Tylenol than it is to overdose on marijuana.

It’s not just prescription drugs that are more dangerous than marijuana.  Alcohol, cigarettes, and even Twinkies are probably worse for long-term health than marijuana (at least, without question, the first two are responsible for far more healthcare spending and death), and alcohol leads to more violence and other social harm than marijuana.  These remain legal, in large part because we have recognized that the cost of banning them outweighs the benefits of any reduced use that would result.

And how much do we really benefit by reducing marijuana use?  The last three presidents of the United States have admitted to smoking marijuana.  One Supreme Court justice (Thomas) has admitted to smoking marijuana.  Countless scientists (including Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Gould), governors (including Mitch Daniels (IN), Arnold Schwarzenegger (ex-CA), Sarah Palin (ex-AK), and George Pataki (ex-NY)) senators (including John Kerry and John Edwards), mayors (Bloomberg, etc.), and entrepreneurs (including Richard Branson and Peter Lewis) have had very successful careers despite admitting to smoking marijuana.  And that list doesn’t even include those who were successful in the arts and athletics, or those who smoked marijuana but did not admit it publicly.

With a drug as safe as marijuana, the most sensible policy is legalization.  Obviously, marijuana use can be harmful, just as alcohol, cigarettes, and Twinkies can be harmful.  Undeniably, the government could help some people by banning these products.  But we as a society have decided that the decision to use booze, smokes, or fatty food is up to the individual (once they reach adulthood), and not the United States of America.

So why does the government make this decision for us, even though doing so leads to the harms described above and fuels massive criminal enterprise in the U.S. and around the world?  The original prohibition or marijuana, passed in the 1930s, was largely driven by racism and fear of Mexicans, but that is generally not accepted as a sound basis for policy today (I think).  Today, a more common worry is that more people will get intoxicated if marijuana is legal, and that intoxication is bad because it leads to irresponsibility and unhealthiness.

Sure.  Irresponsibility is bad.  Unhealthiness is bad.  We should all try to dissuade our friends and neighbors from being irresponsible and unhealthy.  Education, social pressure, and tax incentives are all effective tools of public policy (consider the recent reduction in nicotine use despite the continued legality of cigarettes).

But when dissuasion takes the form of making our neighbors criminals, of locking them up and tearing apart their communities merely because they engaged in the moderately irresponsible, moderately unhealthy activity of smoking marijuana (or helped another who sought to do so) – and if the dissuasion also funnels massive profits to violent criminal groups while draining what is left of our national and state treasuries – is that not worse?

Recent polls show that nearly half of all Americans agree that marijuana should be legalized, and that number is significantly higher among younger Americans, who tend to be more familiar with the drug and its effects on people.  Medical marijuana is now legal in DC and in 15 states.  Hopefully, the trend toward liberalization of marijuana laws will continue as more people recognize that the harms of prohibition far outweigh the harms caused by the drug itself.

In the meantime, some people will benefit from DC’s limited medical marijuana law, and for that reason it represents progress.  But it is slow, slow progress, and the city and country would benefit substantially from a more expansive medical law or full legalization of marijuana for adults.

Reproductive Rights Opponents Dominate the House of Representatives

Lucy Panza, 3L, is a guest writer for the Law Weekly and can be reached at lp267@law.georgetown.edu. Christina Postolowski, 2L, is a guest writer for the Law Weekly and can be reached at cdp36@law.georgetown.edu

The November 2010 elections caused many abortion rights advocates to fear that the 112th Congress, which went into session last month, would pose new threats to women’s rights to choose whether, when, and how to have children. As it turns out, they were right.  Since the beginning of this Congress, Republican members of the House of Representatives have introduced two bills to further restrict abortion access in the new health insurance exchanges (while at the same time working to dismantle the health care reform law), H.R. 3 and H.R. 358. 

Furthermore, just this past Friday, Republican House members (and 11 anti-choice Democrats) passed an amendment to their proposed federal spending bill that eliminates all funding for Planned Parenthood in the wake of a coordinated sting in five separate states.  Make no mistake – the outlook for reproductive rights at the federal level over the next two years is bleak, thanks to a Republican leadership in the House that has chosen to focus on punishing women for exercising their legal rights instead of focusing on creating jobs and getting our economy back on track.

Tellingly, the third priority in the House of Representatives was to introduce H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  This bill, which is currently being debated and has not yet been voted out of committee, would make permanent and expand the Hyde amendment restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions.  It would deny federal subsidies in the new health insurance exchanges to anyone who chose a plan that included abortion coverage – even if the abortion care were paid for entirely with personal, private funds.  The bill would allow states to refuse coverage for abortion in all cases, even when a woman’s life is in danger.  Perhaps most notoriously, H.R. 3 would narrow the already severely limited rape and incest exceptions in the Hyde Amendment to “forcible rape” and incest with minors only.  That means that women who become pregnant through, for example, being raped while they were drugged or surviving incest at age 18 or above, would not be able to access federally funded abortion care. 

While H.R. 3’s cosponsors promised to revisit this language as a result of a nation-wide backlash, the language is still in the bill.  Lastly, H.R. 3 would raise taxes on small businesses and other employers if the health insurance they provide to their employees includes abortion care coverage.  Currently, about 87% of employer-based health insurance plans cover abortion care.  So, this bill would punish the vast majority of employers for providing mainstream insurance coverage to their workers – in an economy where roughly 14 million Americans are unemployed and politicians, Republican and Democrat, have repeatedly said that the solution lies with job creation in the private sector.  H.R. 3 is clearly intended to eliminate the demand for abortion coverage in insurance and dissuade insurance companies from ever offering it again, and Republicans are eager to put employers’ livelihoods, not to mention women’s lives, at risk in the name of this ideology.

H.R. 358, the Protect Life Act, is similar to H.R. 3 but different in key ways.  Rather than including tax penalties for employers that provide abortion care, this bill targets hospitals that provide emergency abortion care to women whose lives are in danger.  The bill would override EMTALA, the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act, by allowing hospitals to refuse to provide life-saving, emergency abortion care to women.  It therefore undermines a key provision of federal law that ensures all people access to emergency services, regardless of their ability to pay.  This bill was recently voted out of committee on a party-line vote and awaits placement on the House calendar for a vote on the floor. 

Last, House Republicans (and 11 of their anti-choice Democratic allies) just passed an amendment to the proposed continuing appropriations bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood, a network of clinics that are most famous for providing abortion care at little or no cost to women and girls, even though that represents only 3% of their activities.  97% of Planned Parenthood services are pap smears, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and family wellness check ups.  First of all, the Democratic majority in the Senate will not approve of this or any other measure because of the harm it would cause to women’s health and rights.  Second of all, there is a serious argument to be made that this amendment violates the Article I, Section 9 Constitutional prohibition on bills of attainder – that is, laws that punish a person or group who have not undergone trial.  As reporters have noted, Republicans passed a bill of attainder last year against ACORN, which has resulted in a lawsuit against the federal government.  Finally, it is important to realize that Planned Parenthood’s funding is already restricted from going toward abortion care because of the Hyde Amendment.  Therefore, this bill could not stop abortions from being performed at Planned Parenthood because those procedures are already funded exclusively with the clinics’ privately raised income.  The true intention of this bill is to de-fund the other 97% of the clinics’ activities, so that they have no choice but to shut down. 

One small consolation is that it is unlikely that any of these bills will become law because the Democrats control the Senate and the Presidency.  The Senate will strike them down, and if not, the President will veto them – and the Republicans do not have a veto-proof majority.  Nevertheless, these debates represent a frightening change in the discourse around women’s reproductive health services.  It should be clear to anyone reading this op-ed that these three latest actions by the Republican House majority represent an attempted manipulation of the law to serve partisan purposes.  These initiatives are not about saving babies’ lives (indeed, no programs to improve the adoption system or early childhood education have come from these legislators) – they are about punishing women and girls who exercise their rights to undergo a procedure that is legal in this country.  They target people along gendered lines, and they disproportionately disadvantage communities of color and the poor who rely on federal assistance programs.  We as future lawyers have an ethical obligation to think hard about the kinds of legislative activities we support or oppose – and the ones we do absolutely nothing about.

BLSA serves up “Hot Chocolate” talent show

This past Friday, Feb. 25, the Black Law Students Association hosted the event “Hot Chocolate” in the Sport & Fitness Lounge. A talent show of sorts, “Hot Chocolate” displayed some impressive poetic and musical performances.

The Courtside tables were decorated with candles, and of course, chocolate; there were free drinks and food. The food included chicken wings and fingers – a welcome departure from the standard pita chips and hummus. Interspersed between performances was a bit of Black History Month trivia, which featured some questions commonly known (Who were the first African American military aviators?) and others that were a bit more difficult (Who were the founders of the Black Panther Party?). On a particulary difficult question, a fellow 1L was caught enlisting the support of google – all in good fun though.

1L Kelly NicholsIn addition to humorous and saucy performances, some rang more serious notes. One peformer, delivering a self-authored spoken-word piece entitled “Educated Negro,” provided some powerful social commentary. The piece was directed towards African American’s of privilege, noting a disconnection – and sometime derision – of those less educated and economically mobile. Though narrowly tareted, the insightful commentary struck deep common chords among all in attendance, ringing true regardless of ethnic background.

After an evening of great performances (and great food), 1L Kelly Nichols drew a standing ovation to end the night with a stunning rendition of a selection from the musical “The Color Purple.”

More photos from the event.