Georgetown: No contraceptive coverage for students, employee coverage to remain unchanged

In an email sent this morning, April 26, 2012, President DeGioia communicated the University’s decision regarding contraceptive coverage for students in the upcoming year. The University will seek the one year deferral period allowed for in the recently promulgated Health and Human Services Department regulation. Last week, a petition signed by more than 780 law students was released asking the University to forgo the one year delay.

The current practice of providing employees with subsidized access to contraception will remain unchanged. The University has made no effort to explain this discrepancy despite a nearly month-old formal request for clarification from the Student Bar Association.

Continue reading for the full text of DeGioia’s message.

To the Members of the Georgetown University Community

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I write to you regarding Georgetown’s health insurance and contraceptive coverage in our plans. Many members of our community have expressed different perspectives on this issue. I am grateful for the respectful ways in which you have shared your opinions.

As you know, like most universities, Georgetown requires that students have health insurance. Students are not required to purchase their health insurance through Georgetown University and are free to acquire health insurance through a third party. The student plan offered by Georgetown is consistent with our Catholic and Jesuit identity and does not cover prescription contraceptives for birth control. It does provide coverage for these prescriptions for students who require them for health reasons unrelated to birth control, as determined by a physician.

After thoughtful and careful consideration, we will continue our current practice for contraceptive coverage in our student health insurance for the coming year, as allowed for under the current rules issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

There will also be no change to the University’s approach to contraceptive coverage for employees for 2013.

We will be monitoring further regulatory and judicial developments related to the Affordable Care Act. I hope this is helpful in clarifying a matter of concern to many of you.

You have my very best wishes as we conclude our academic year.

John J. DeGioia

Should historical grade distributions be available? Students say yes

The following is a summary of responses to last week’s survey. A total of 122 students responded to the following question: “All other things being equal, should historical grade distributions for courses be available to students?”

 As shown by the pie chart below, a significant majority favor making the information available.

Distribution of answers to the question, “All other things being equal, should historical grade distributions for courses be available to students?”A substantial majority of respondents offered thoughtful explanations for their choices. The major themes for both the “Yes” and “No” camps are summarized below.

Yes — Grade distributions should be available

On the yes side, student’s were concerned with fairness, paternalism, and academically rewarding un-academic effort.

On fairness, a 2L summarized the general feeling of the group:

It’s absolutely ridiculous that this isn’t just public knowledge, because certain groups on campus compile this information and keep it internally for its members (thus furthering the divide). Ironically, one of those groups is the SBA. By turning a blind eye to this issue, the administration is essentially condoning this inequity and this action. It’s just plain ridiculous.

While the SBA does not compile this information, there are at least four documents floating around that do attempt to do so. None are any way near complete, but they provide significant amounts of non-public information to those in the know.

Another student, a 1L, offered that the current system favored students on journal and from common “feeder schools” to Georgetown Law.

The lack of published information merely means that specific groups and privileged persons get an advantage; the students in journals that track information for each o[f] the students from top feeder schools that will know multiple upperclassmen can box out the students who don’t have access to these resources by choice or by unfortunate circumstance.

Student’s were also uncomfortable with perceived paternalistic impulses behind hiding the information. A passionate 3L argued:

A legal education—looking at total cost of attendance—is now over SEVENTY THOUSAND dollars a year. Some professors grade tough curves, some grade easy ones. And students should be respected enough to trust them to decide whether their grade matters enough that they will take a course with a lower curve… . [T]his law school should not be so paternalist that it thinks hiding information is the best way to deal with it.

We are a Jesuit institution. We should resolve “students use stupid metrics to determine what classes they should take” by using guilt and argument, not by hiding information.

Another student, a 2L assumed that faculty were concerned that student’s would choose courses for the “wrong” reasons. Based upon discussions with faculty members, this assumption is correct. The 2L then went on to criticize this way of thinking as paternalistic and divorced from reality.

I assume that those who oppose making grade distributions available do so because they don’t believe students should be choosing their courses based on the likelihood of getting a good grade, but rather on the material they will learn. However, such a rationale is sheer paternalism and overlooks the fact that students do choose courses on that basis (they just do so poorly under the current regime). Professors should stand behind the grades their students earn, and students should be allowed full information in making course selection decisions.

The final concern expressed by students related to rewarding students—and by implication punishing others—academically for non-academic factors. A 3L made the point very clearly.

This information is already out there in the form of previous students. However currently there is lot of time and effort made in getting this information. It seems odd to reward students academically for making non-academic effort.

No — Grade distributions should not be available

Students against the proposal were primarily concerned with pedagogy; they feared that students would choose courses solely on grades. This concern mirrors the distaste for paternalism among the yes group. A small proportion made the argument that releasing the information was unfair to those students that already have access because it would eliminate their advantage.

On pedagogical concerns, a 2L wrote:

I don’t like the idea that students should base their course selection on what the grade curve is. It undermines the educational mission of the university. 

Another student expanded upon this observation and argued for a different alternative: a mandatory curve for all courses.

Students should be motivated to enroll in classes because of their interest in the course material, not because of the grade they are likely to receive. With perfect information regarding historical grading information there will simply be a higher proportion of students attempting to enroll in courses in which the professors inflate grades… . Instead, the curve should be more standardized and enforced to a greater degree in seminar courses, so every class has the same curve.

The argument that releasing the information would be unfair to those that already have access is a bit more difficult to parse, but seems to rest on the assumption that the world works by connections and thus it is just for law school grading to also rest—at least partially—on connections. This group, which was small, contrasts with those concerned for pedagogical goals in that they admit that students attempt to enroll in courses with easier grading.

A 2L wrote:

Everything works this way: those “in the know” are just those who make extra effort to become aware of grading policies, etc. and they should not be penalized.

Breakdown of respondents by year and opinion.

Sandra Fluke, 780 law students to Georgetown: comply with contraception mandate in 2012

Sandra Fluke (3L) and Christina Postolowski (3L) at a panel on April 5. Fluke, Postolowski, and Kelly Percival (2L) sent the letter, which was joined by more than 780 Georgetown Law students.In an email sent today, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke (3L) and Georgetown Law Student’s for Reproductive Justice (GLSRJ) delivered a jointly-signed letter asking that the University provide for comprehensive contraceptive coverage in the student health plan for 2012. As of this writing, over 780 Law Center students have co-signed the letter—comprising a significant percentage of the student body.

The letter was delivered, via Fluke’s email, to the Offices of University President Dr. John DeGioia, Law Center Dean William Treanor, Associate Vice President for Student Health Dr. James Welsh, and Law Center Dean of Students Mitchell Bailin.

(Continue reading for the full text of the letter.)

Under a recently finalized Department of Health and Human Services regulation, student health plan’s must provide women’s preventive services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, at no cost by August 2012. Religiously affiliated institutions like Georgetown, however, may exercise an option to delay implementation for a full year, until August 2013. The letter urges that Georgetown forgo this option.

In her email accompanying the letter, Fluke questioned whether the University could qualify for the optional extension because “Georgetown already provides subsidized comprehensive contraception coverage to its faculty and staff.” Faculty and staff, whose healthcare is subsidized by the University, are offered coverage for contraception. The student health plan, in contrast, does not offer such coverage and is unsubsidized.

This discrepancy, which was not generally known to students until this academic year, was questioned in a February resolution of the Student Bar Association (SBA). In it, the SBA asked the University “to publicly clarify by both “faith and reason” the inconsistency and apparent discrimination in [the] institutional stances towards faculty and students.” Though nearly two months have passed, the University has made no public response.

Attempting to exercise the one year delay option, argues the letter, “would only delay inevitable coverage and increase health risks to the student body for another year.” The letter also chafes at the apparent paternalism in the University’s position, asking that law students be treated “as autonomous adults” capable of their own moral choices.

Full text of the letter:

Complaining about Georgetown’s on-campus crime reports

Photo courtesy of mbiddulph’s flickr photostream. Chinyelu Lee, 2L

Aspects of the administration’s crime reports are troubling. Every time the administration receives a report of a violent crime against a law student, we all receive a brief description of the facts that the Department of Public Safety believes to be relevant. The question is: relevant to what end?

The most recent report from the administration includes, inter alia, the following facts: a fellow student was (1) walking on the sidewalk next to our school, (2) using a piece of expensive electronic equipment that is among the most frequently stolen items of personal property (3) in full view of the public (4) at 1:30a.m., and (5) being less than fully attentive of her surroundings. We also learned that (6) she was not physically hurt, (7) her assailants approached her from behind, and (8) her assailants were “young black juveniles.”

There are obvious benefits from much of this information. (1) We should not have a false sense of security on familiar geography. (2, 3, 4) We should employ heightened vigilance when publicly displaying items that are particularly susceptible to theft at night. (5, 7) We should always be reasonably attentive to our full surroundings. (6) These are property crimes. I am at a loss to explain the relevance of (8) the assailants’ race.

In a majority-black city, it is unclear what the assailants’ race adds to the administration’s stated purpose of enhanced “situational awareness.” Working under the assumption that heightened wariness should be given to all juveniles walking around the District after 11p.m. (except the ones who can afford NHL tickets) the relevance of the additional information that the assailants were black is unclear. Its questionable import as a prophylactic is further compounded by the fact that the student did not view her assailants until after she was attacked. Even had she seen her assailants, the color of her assailants’ skin, minus any other physical description, would have only protected her to the extent of her implicit and/or considered racial biases.

There is the argument that providing full information allows the recipient to make the choice about what is relevant and doing otherwise would be paternalistic. Even if full information was, in fact, provided, it is time to acknowledge that there are third-party costs to providing information in the name of anti-paternalism. Northern-Virginia-raised George Zimmerman was exercising situational awareness when he decided to follow Trayvon Martin, a young black juvenile that Zimmerman believed to be out of place in his gated community.

(Conflict of Interest: Chu is a large, (occasionally angry) black man whose antipathy to the administration’s use of race in crime reports is informed by a couple of late-night walks from D.C. to Virginia after being unable to hail a taxi, to name just one manifestation of racially informed situational awareness.)

Chinyelu Lee, 2L, can be reached at


Grades: What’s in a curve?

Over the past several months, a conversation has been going on amongst Law Center faculty, administration, and a few students. The central question is this: should historical grade curve information be available to students?

(Share your views by following the link at the bottom of this post. All responses are anonymous.)

To many first-years, this may seem like a pointless inquiry because the recommended curve is followed in 1L classes. Second and third-year students likely know that the recommended curve becomes more of a suggestion in upper-level courses. The latter assumption better reflects reality. What most upper-class students may not know, however, is the magnitude of variation.

Discussions in the Academic Standards Committee–a student-faculty committee that deals with, among other things, grading policies and new course approvals–began with a request from several students that average historical grading information be made available for clinics. After lengthy deliberations and research, the Committee found that variance went well beyond clinical programs. On March 22, the Committee sent a memorandum to the full faculty recommending that “historical grade information with respect to each course and instructor [and clinics] be made available” to students. It further recommended that the Registrar make available the three year aggregated curve for each of six categories of classes: “(1) exam courses, separately as to first-year and upper-level; (2) seminars; (3) clinics; (4) practicum classes; (5) trial advocacy classes; and (6) LRW fellow classes.”

Multiple faculty members reported that this recommendation was tabled at a subsequent meeting of the full faculty. In parliamentary procedure, a tabled item is removed from consideration for an indefinite time–often forever.

The Grades

As noted in the Academic Standards memorandum, one thing that students do not know is “variance– how consistently individual faculty members adhere to the recommended curve, or how they grade in courses to which the recommended curve does not apply.” An analysis of the data as a whole shows a significant variance from class to class and from professor to professor.

For example, in a three-credit practicum course offered at multiple times in both the Fall and Spring semesters, depending upon when and with whom that course is taken, the chances of receiving an A or A- vary widely; choose the correct semester and professor and your chance is 90%; choose wrong and it dwindles to 35%. The variations extend to common large-format classes as well. Consider course X, a 4-
credit course that is offered multiple times each semester and is considered foundational by most. In some sections, 40% of the students enrolled receive an A or A-, in others 30%. Course Y, another common 4-credit course, follows the same pattern.

Seminars are a whole different beast. To start, seminars are graded significantly higher on average than regular courses. But as they say, the devil is in the details. While the aggregate trend is higher, individual courses’ grade distributions are highly variable. Some could almost come with a guarantee of an A or A-. Others hew more or less to the recommended curve. As a general matter, seminars with exams will grade lower than seminars requiring papers.

Two issues of concern

The total number of issues raised by this information and its potential release are numerous, but two of the largest are inequity and arbitrariness.

First, the data point to real inequity in the current system. If you know whom to ask, if you have the right upper-class friends, you can get some information on some courses and professors. Those in the know are then positioned to exploit this information to the detriment of others. All students, at the end of the day, are in competition with one another. Two identical students, equally capable and hardworking, will have different outcomes–different GPAs–because they have disparate levels of access to historical grading information.

Second, the system as presently constituted increases the arbitrariness already inherent in law school. How will I do on the LSAT? Can I afford an expensive preparatory course? Does my personal statement touch some personal chord with the unknown admissions person reading it? Does the current clerk of a judge have a soft-spot for Georgetown, making them more likely to pull my application out of the mountain that they have received? What did the judge eat for breakfast? The variation in grade distribution, and its being hidden, adds to this arbitrariness. One student takes Professor X and the other takes Professor Y. One gets an A and the other a B+. Would you want to know that their respective chances of getting an A were set–one at 40% and the other at 25%–before they even purchased their books?

This is not a simple issue, and it is one that students deserve to know of and confront. Transparency is better than silence.

Please share your views on whether historical grade curves should be available to students by filling out this form. All responses will remain anonymous.

Disclosure: I am Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Law Weekly and have been involved in the SBA since 1L year, first as a representative and now as Chief of Staff. I became involved in the grade curve discussions through the SBA as a member of the Academic Standards Committee. The samples of historical grade curve information included in this article are not guesses or hypotheticals, but represent real data. This information did not come from my association with the SBA or the Academic Standards Committee, but was obtained independently by the Law Weekly.

Top Ten Ways to Take a Study Break During the Next Few Weeks

  1. Make flowcharts that have nothing to do with passing your finals (see bottom of page).
  2. Make a list of all the fun things you will do when finals are over. Oh wait, then you have a summer internship.  At least I hope you’re figuring that out. If not, head over to OCS or OPICS.
  3. Waste time pinning your favorite ‘net memes (see bottom of page).
  4. Go to the cafeteria.  Eat frozen yogurt. Think about working out because you juat ate frozen yogurt. Remember there’s no time to work out! Resume studying.
  5. Read the article in the Features section about how to proscratinate properly.
  6. Start a craft/home improvement project. Abandon it. Guilt yourself about how you never finish anything.
  7. Look at pets that are up for adoption on the internet. Remember you have no time to care for yourself and your human relationships, let alone an animal that would be totally dependent on you to stay alive.
  8. Nap. Take a shower to wake up from nap. Rinse and repeat.
  9. Drink hot tea while dipping pieces of chocolate in it. Best idea anyone ever gave me. SO GOOD.
  10. Marathon a show and see how far you can get between now and finals. I’ve already made it to the fourth season of “Supernatural.” Do a victory dance every time you polish off a season.

Spring break service trips

by Terri Taylor

Students take a break between volunteering for the New Orleans Public Defenders Office and Juvenile Regional Services. (Photo courtesy of Terri Taylor) Over spring break, 46 students participated in pro bono or community service trips. Students had the opportunity to travel to one of three places: Durham, NC; New Orleans, LA; or Montgomery, AL.  Students from all class levels and degree programs participated and many met people they never would have encountered otherwise — building the GULC community and its ties to legal services providers around the country. Trips were made possible through the Office of the Dean of Students’ Student Travel Committee, whose generous support helps fund students’ travel and lodging costs.

Pro Bono Trip to New Orleans

Twenty-six students went to New Orleans: Kelsy Bennett, Elana Baurer, Shanna Bayer, Matthew Bergjans, Ashley Binetti, Jeffers Boggs, Alyssa Campbell, Diana Cohn, Mark Doss, Kathryn Dunne, LiJia Gong, Eleanor Hagan, Corinne Henneberg, Stephanie King, Lorraine Misquith, Jack Muse, AJ Pearlman, Emily Poor, Devin Prater, Sylvia Pronk, Lauren Refinetti, Rohini Singh, Daniel Smith, Elizabeth Watson, and Edward Williams.

This marked the sixth year that Georgetown Law sent a group to New Orleans. What grew out of an emergency-based trip after Hurricane Katrina hit has become a longstanding relationship between GULC and several leading legal services providers in the city, including New Orleans Public Defenders and Juvenile Regional Services.  Students observed court proceedings, visited the jail on behalf of attorneys, and did a variety of research and writing assignments for their host organizations.   For many students, this was the first time they’d gotten a real look into America’s criminal justice system and the pressing demands on public defenders. 

Students’ favorite assignments included:

  • Compiling a list of charges against a client and what their impact on a client’s case. 
  • Writing a memo on what states have abolished the valid court order exception to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s ban on secure detention for status offenders. 
  • Observing an interview between a suspect and the police as a check against Miranda violations. 
  • Performing interviews at the jail to develop sentencing arguments.
  • Transcribing a recording of a drug buy that was orchestrated by the police.
  • Doing a comparative study of the time period allowed by various states to keep a juvenile in police custody.
  • Developing a case theory for an attorney from the facts presented.

Testimonial by Lauren Refinetti, 1L

I worked at Juvenile Regional Services of Louisiana (JRS), which represents juveniles 12-18 in criminal cases. It was a great experience! I got to go to court one day and observe an armed robbery trial and a probation hearing. For the rest of the week, I did research on issues of detention for status offenders (juveniles charged with things that wouldn’t be a crime if they were adults, like truancy or being out past curfew). I compiled my research into two memos that the Executive Director will use to help support a bill currently before the Louisiana Legislature to eliminate secure detention for status offenders. I’m definitely looking forward to next year!

Pro Bono Trip to Montgomery

by Stephanie Madison, 1L

Student volunteers prepare for a five-mile march to the State Capitol building in Montgomery, AL to advocate for civil and immigrant rights in the state. (Photo courtesy of Terri Taylor)

Seven students traveled with Georgetown Law’s first spring break trip to Montgomery, AL, to take part in a week of civil rights work.  These students included Stephanie Madison, Elizabeth Buehler, Peter Klym, Lauren Esterle, Kelly Wade, Tiffiney Carney, and Amanda Shelton.

The week was especially exciting because it marked the first time that Alabama’s long history of civil rights work met Alabama’s current struggle to protect immigrants’ rights.  

The group worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, leading civil rights organizations in Montgomery.  Students paired with the Southern Poverty Law Center worked on its campaign to repeal the Hammon-Beason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, also known as the anti-immigrant HB 56 bill (one of the harshest immigration bills in the country). Mónica Ramirez, founder and director of SPLC’s Immigrant Women’s Initiative, was our guide to Montgomery and HB56 for the week. On our first day, we toured the Civil Rights Memorial and spoke at length with the National Lawyers Guild President David Gespass about his activism and his law school experience at D.C.’s American University.

During the week, five students in the group worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center on its campaign to reach out to Republican members of the Alabama State Legislature through community organizations. Two students in the group worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama.

During the week’s evenings, students helped staff speaker events (featuring prominent figures including Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis), enjoyed barbecue, and even squeezed in a few hours studying at a local Starbucks.

Friday morning, four students in the group attended an NAACP event to speak with 21 Fulbright scholars and the General Counsel for AT&T to high school students to encourage them to pursue higher education. The remaining three worked with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice on the last leg of the weeklong march. They walked five miles to the State Capitol building where they listened to featured speakers Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Tyrese Gibson, Martin Luther King III, UAW’s President Bob King, and Alabama Senator Hank Sanders.

Habitat Trip to North Carolina

by Kate Kelly, 2L

Thirteen students spent their spring break volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in Durham, NC. (Photo courtesy of Terri Taylor)

GULC’s Habitat for Humanity organization sent a group of 13 students (who were joined for a few days by Holly Eaton from Georgetown Law’s Office of Public Interest and Community Service) to work with the Durham, NC Habitat chapter. The group consisted of Kukui Claydon, Bruce Strong, Elena Sytcheva, Dan Curry, Neil Diskin, Yi Shi, John Weinstein, Nan Pan, Erin Hammers, Michelle Poncetta, Tyler Hale and Trevor Yan and was led by Kate Kelly.

Georgetown has participated in spring break builds in Chatham, NC, for more than ten years, but this was the first time working in the neighboring county of Durham.

This year’s projects included various stages of building, as there were three neighboring work sites. Students spent their days painting and putting up siding on houses that were mostly complete and assisting with building the framework for houses that were just getting started. In addition to working at the build sites during the day, participants explored nearby Chapel Hill at night and spent the week building campfires, and forming friendships.

Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives hosts panel on race disparities in health care access

by Neil Diskin

Panelists discuss limitations in healthcare access to minority populations at a March 19 event hosted by the Georgetown Journal of Law & Critical Race Perspectives. (Photo courtesy of Sam Marrero from Capitol Correspondent)In late March, the Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives hosted a Healthcare and Race Panel Discussion.  The panel—made up of Professors Sheryll Cashin and Gregg Bloche from Georgetown University Law Center, as well as Professor Darrell J. Gaskin, the Deputy Director of the John Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, and Professor Marsha Regenstein, Professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University—discussed the issue of racial disparities in healthcare.

While the Supreme Court’s consideration of the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has taken up headlines, racial disparities in accessing health care has remained an under-scrutinized topic. Professor Cashin, the first panelist to speak, opened the panel by talking about housing segregation.  She highlighted that someone’s community makes an enormous difference on their health, and that people who moved from a high poverty neighborhood to a suburban community had improved health.  She then went on to discuss the importance of access to healthcare in reducing health disparities, and about protecting the ACA from repeal.  Although both whites and minorities acknowledge a disparity in healthcare, they have different perceptions of it.  White people compare today with the Jim Crow era, while minorities compare today with an ideal racially equal future.  According to Professor Cashin, “Time is on the side of progressives.”  She spoke about the changing electorate and how the Latino population has grown 40 times more quickly than the White population in the past decade.   She concluded that the systemic inequalities in healthcare harms people of all colors.

Next to speak was Professor Bloche, who began by letting the audience in on a secret that he claims many doctors don’t want the public to know—healthcare plays a rather small role in determining the health status of populations.  He went on to talk about how a person’s income and wealth are the biggest determinants of someone’s health and life expectancy. Bloche stated, “disparities in both wealth and income are increasing, and this will only lead to a widening in health disparities as well.”

Professor Bloche claimed the ACA will help short-term access to healthcare, while warning that the cost of healthcare is rising faster than the consumer price index. 

Professor Gaskin started with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “Of all the forms of inequality and injustice, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhuman.”  He then went on to talk about how most people, regardless of race or ethnicity, die of the same ailments—heart disease, cancer, strokes, etc.  He agreed that the main factors of health disparity were environment, wealth, and race in the social context.  He referred to the documentary “Unnatural Causes,” which states that your zip code is more important to your health than your genetic code. 

“In order to combat healthcare disparities,” Professor Gaskin argued, “neighborhood resources need to be better allocated.  In the District of Columbia, for example, all hospital campuses are located in one area of D.C., while the greatest need for healthcare is on the opposite side of the Anacostia River. Healthcare disparity cannot be fixed without dealing with the real issues in the way—race, wealth, and environment.”

Professor Regenstein took the conversation in a different direction.  She explained that merely having access to healthcare is not the equivalent of having equal healthcare.  She discussed a 1999 report entitled “The Effect of Race and Sex on Physicians’ Recommendations for Cardiac Catheterization,” in which actors played the roles of patients with the same background and health factors. Professor Regenstein stated, “the study determined that physicians were less likely to refer women and African Americans to see a specialist.  There have not been any universal responses to the problem, but the greater coverage offered by the Affordable Care Act will help.”

Avy Mallik, the Editor-in-Chief of The Georgetown Journal of Law & Modern Critical Race Perspectives, asked whether healthcare disparities were really a question of socioeconomic statutes along with race, and whether there was anything distinctive about the disparities in accessing healthcare that is not explained by socioeconomic stratification. 

In response, Professor Regenstein noted that, “access is not the only issue we should be focused on, but rather that quality of healthcare and communication between physicians, other healthcare providers, and patients are also important matters.”  She then briefly described two healthcare facilities in Mississippi as an example in which access was not the issue.  One facility was a nice building at the university where insured patients went, while barbed wire fences and guards with guns surrounded the facility for the uninsured.  “Patients in both of these facilities had access to healthcare,” Regenstein noted, “but the environment in which they received that care was vastly different.”

Professor Bloche described how socioeconomic status is the most important determinant of healthcare; not only access to healthcare, but with the kind of care people with insurance receive.  He then distinguished the socioeconomic disparities  from the racial ones by explaining that geographic differences in quality of healthcare reflect the historical patterns of de jure racial discrimination.  He seemed hopeful that the ACA would, at least in the short term, make up for these historical disparities.

Professor Gaskin answered this question with a question of his own,  “What do you mean by race? Race is a social context,” Gaskin observed, adding, “It was created in our culture by the practices of past generations.  Economic inequality, along with education inequality and housing inequality, all stem from the historical practice of keeping nonwhites out of opportunities in which they could excel, and the results of these practices are lingering long after the Supreme Court held that separate but equal was unconstitutional.”

As the panelists discussed the current status of the Affordable Care Act, Professor Gaskin made a prescient observation, stating that it would be ironic if the Supreme Court’s conservative-minded justices overruled the ACA, as “it is essentially based of Republican ideas from the 1990s.” He added that the only options left if the ACA is invalidated would be either Medicare for all, or keeping the current state of the healthcare industry.

The panelists brought up how subjective judgments by health care providers can severely affect quality-of-care for minority patients.  Professor Bloche stated, that “the ways in which physicians individualize subjective judgments about patients influences, both for better and worse, the care the patient gets. One person’s empathy is another person’s discrimination — the line between cultural competence and cultural prejudice is rather thin.” 

Professor Regenstein stated, “physicians already bring their own judgments about race, ethnicity and culture with them when they see patients. There is an assumption that if a patient and physician are of the same race, ethnicity or background, that they will automatically have a better connection.  This is not entirely true because being a doctor, in itself, generally removes the physician from the same experiences as a low-income patient.”

With that last question the panelist ran out of time, and the crowd left while Miles Davis’ Generique played in the background.

Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders

In a contentious 5-4 decision, the Court held in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington that the search procedures employed by the county jail did not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, which began by reciting the responsibilities correctional officials have to ensure the safety of themselves and the inmates. He framed the question as whether the Constitution prohibits jail personnel from requiring “a close visual inspection [of new prisoners] while undressed.”

The introductory paragraph also heavily emphasized that this involved a question of whether the Constitution mandated a rule, as well as the deference to be accorded correctional officers in determining what is required for jail security.

The underlying case involved Albert Florence, who was required to pay a fine in monthly installments as part of his sentence after a plea of guilty to charges for obstruction of justice and use of a deadly weapon. He lapsed in his payment and a bench warrant was issued. He then paid the fine less than a week later, but the warrant was not cleared from a statewide database.

Two years later, he was stopped by a state trooper who arrested him based on the outstanding warrant. After arrest, he was required to shower with a delousing agent while correctional officers checked him for scars, tattoos, and contraband.

Petitioner Freeman was released the next day. He later brought suit alleging a violation of his fourth and fourteenth amendment rights. His contention, as stated by the majority, was that the Constitution prohibited these correctional officers from requiring a strip search without reasonable suspicion that a particular inmate was concealing weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

After certification of a class of like plaintiffs and discovery, the district court granted petitioner’s motion for summary judgment. A divided panel of the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the jail’s procedure was not unconstitutional.

The majority noted the difficulty in safely administering a detention center – the particular jail Freeman was placed in admits more than 25 thousand inmates yearly. It also noted the extensive deference the Court’s past precedent accorded correctional officers. In Block v. Rutherford, for instance, the court had stated that, “in the absence of substantial evidence … that the officials have exaggerated their response to [safety] considerations[,] courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment.”

In a concurrence, joined by all of the majority except Justice Thomas, Justice Kennedy noted that there may be circumstances where a strip search would be unreasonable, particularly where the detainee is to be held outside of the general jail population without substantial contact with other detainees.

In a separate and brief concurrences, Justice Alito emphasized that their holding in this case was on the narrow factual pattern in which the arrestee is committed to the general population. And, quoting to Justice Frankfurter, Justice Roberts stated that “the Court is nonetheless wise to leave open the possibility of exceptions, to ensure that we ‘not embarrass the future.’”

Justice Breyer, who wrote the dissent and was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, framed the issue differently from the majority: “The case is limited to strip searches of those arrestees entering a jail’s general population … the searches here involves close observation of the private areas of a person’s body and for that reason constitute a far more serious invasion of the person’s privacy.”

“In my view,” continued Breyer, “such a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence – say a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor – is an ‘unreasonable search’ forbidden by the Fourth Amendment.”

Tina Talks (a bit succinctly, because she’s really swamped at the moment)

Dear Tina,

I was walking to school the other day when I noticed that I live in Washington, D.C. I had previously thought I lived in the library because I spend most of my time there. How do I take advantage of our school’s great location and try to have some semblance of a life outside law school?

Wolff Williams

Dear Wolff,

Your naivete warms the cockles of my heart.  Thanks for the laughs.


P.S. The answer is wait until May 16th and then go crazy.

Dear Tina,

There’s a guy in my class who I think is pretty cute. We talk sometimes, but I can’t tell if he’s not interested, or just shy. Tina, what’s the statute of limitations for someone being interested but not making a move? Also, please justify my decision to not make the first move on account of me being the woman.

Former Seventeen Magazine Subscriber

Dear Subscriber,

There is no statute of limitations.  Grow some ovaries and make a move.  Nice job attempting to seek out an enabler.

Yours truly,

Dear Tina,

Class is extremely boring. I’ve tried reading news articles, playing cell phone games, and g-chatting every single person I know who’s online. What are some creative and new uses for my time in class? Bonus question: How can I maximize the enjoyment of people sitting behind me, who can see my screen? I am a team player.


Dear ADHD,

You deserve to fail all of your exams, but you won’t.  You’ll get better grades than I do, even though I pay attention, which is why I hate you.  May those jeans you just ordered make your butt look enormous, but not in a shapely way.  Also, I bet when you play cell phone games it makes you look like you’re touching yourself.  I hope the professor is laughing inside.  That said, I’m a big “New Girl” fan, but I’m not interested in your fantasy sports leagues.

From the heart,