Where Is The Moral Justice In Crimea?

by I.S.

From a legal and political standpoint the decision to annex Crimea was simply outrageous, to quite literally the entire world.  However, what happens when we start to consider the desires of the people who actually live in Crimea.  The people, who voted, had a referendum and came out on the other side.  The ones who speak Russian, live their lives as ethnic Russians, but have not historically, since the separation, been part of the Russian Federation.  Is the world, purely from a legal and political standpoint allowed to say, no you cannot be part of the country you ethnically and culturally feel most at home.  You speak the same language, you share cultural traditions, but because the rest of the world says so, you cannot join the rest of your “tribe.”

Should it matter to us at all that the great majority of the people outraged by this event are those that are not actually impacted by it?  Is it fair that the countries that are putting forth their dislike for the annexation are not looking at the best interests of those in Crimea but rather the interests of themselves and others with which they are in alliance.  I recently had a conversation to this effect and the strongest argument I heard was what happens when Quebec decides it officially wants to be part of France and France accepts and annexes it.  Well, to this I respond two-fold.  Geographically such an annexation would make far less sense than what has occurred in Crimea but also Quebec has had referendum and the votes have not come out as those in Crimea.  By no means am I supporting Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine and invading, I simply am raising the moral questions about how the world is treating the decisions of the Crimean people and what may be considered “fair” to them.

While few will dispute Putin has an interest necessarily in the well-being of Crimea, maybe, to accomplish what many might consider what is morally fair to those in Crimea, we must employ Machiavelli and simply say the ends justify the means.  The fact that there is a group of people happier now to be part of the Russian Federation than they previously were as part of the Ukraine should be sufficient to make those expressing their outrage over the matter a little bit calmer.  Perhaps, with all of the political hoopla that has occurred since the annexation, the politicians have forgotten that their actual purpose is to work on behalf of people and their happiness.  If then, the people in Crimea are happy, should the world be doing anything?


Death of the Student Athlete: The NCAA and Northwestern University Football’s Union

by S.S.

On March 26, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) in Chicago granted Northwestern University football players the right to unionize (a monumental ruling that could drastically alter the institution of college athletics as we know them today.  In short, this decision grants the Northwestern football players the right to vote on whether they want to be represented by the College Athletes Players Association (“CAPA”), who initiated this action with support from the United Steelworkers Union.  The most profound part of this decision by NLRB Regional Director Peter Ohr is his conclusion that: “players receiving scholarships to perform football-related services for the Employer under a contract for hire in return for compensation are subject to the Employer’s control and are therefore employees [under NLRA § 2(3)]…”.  This characterization of NCAA athletes as employees has the potential to shatter the entire foundation of American college athletics—the idea (or myth) of the “student-athlete.”

While this NLRB ruling is groundbreaking, its immediate impact will be more limited than many believe.  First, the authority of this decision is limited to students attending private schools because state labor law still governs athletes at public institutions.  In fact, many of the best college football programs are located in the south and mid-west, where most of the states have right-to-work laws, which are not union-friendly and will make it more difficult for players at these schools to unionize.  Second, the CAPA has said that—at least immediately—it will not bargain for pay-for-play terms that are prohibited by the NCAA, and would make its member athletes ineligible.  Instead, the CAPA appears focused on bargaining for improved player safety, medical insurance to cover the long-term effects of injuries sustained while participating in college athletics, and scholarships that truly cover the full cost of attendance.

As expected, the NCAA is ardently opposed to the NLRB’s characterization of their “student-athletes” as “employees,” and filed an appeal with the NLRB main office in Washington, DC. The NCAA and its member schools continue to view athletics as activities that are used to enhance students’ overall college experience and are not the main purpose for the students’ attendance at the school.  In its request for appeal, Northwestern shamelessly claims that scholarship football players are not “initially sought out, recruited and ultimately granted scholarships” for their athletic ability, but rather for their academic prowess.

Really Northwestern?  You recruit your major Division I football team because of their biology and trigonometry grades?  Let’s be real, scholarship athletes attend their respective schools to perform a service for the institution—to make them money through their performance on the playing field—and are compensated for their efforts through scholarships that include detailed conditions for realizing this payment for their services.  It is time that the myth of the “student-athlete” is put to rest.  Only time will tell whether this groundbreaking decision by the Chicago NLRB will have a lasting effect on college athletics.  But good for you, Northwestern football, for challenging the NCAA to be honest with itself; and congratulations to the NLRB for not succumbing to the outside pressure and characterizing the relationship between scholarship athletes and their schools as it is, a true employer-employee relationship.


Does Free Speech Apply to Sperm?

by K.S.

A custody battle in California over a child conceived through artificial insemination has become a controversial First Amendment debate.  Jason Patric, a Hollywood actor, and his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, are engaged in a custody fight over their four-year-old son, Gus.   California law dictates that the mother of the child will receive full custody unless parental rights are established in writing before conception through artificial insemination.

As part of his campaign to obtain custody of Gus, Patric created the organization Stand Up for Gus to raise awareness of parental alienation for fathers in similar situations.  Patric has used Gus’s name and likeness as part of the promotional campaign surrounding Stand Up for Gus.  Schreiber subsequently sued Patric, allegedly that Patric is exploiting Gus for his own fame and using the media to garner support for his case.  At stake in the lawsuit is an injunction that would bar Patric from even mentioning Gus’s name.

The outcome of the suit has the potential to set precedent not only for parental rights in cases of artificial insemination but also important First Amendment implications.  As reproductive technology changes rapidly, the law has been slow to keep up with the corresponding custody issues.  As this case highlights, the very right to speak about one’s child may be implicated in custody rights.  This becomes more complicated when sperm donors are involved, since many would argue that they gave up their right to custody before conception even began.

Perhaps the level of publicity involved in this case sets up a unique situation in which custody should be required to use a child’s image and name on such a large scale.  However, limiting a father’s right to speak his child’s name seems to step too far across First Amendment boundaries.  The custody suit itself seems to imply the need for Patric to articulate a relationship with Gus and to establish the necessary connection between himself and his son.  No doubt issues involving custody and technology will continue to evolve into unanticipated legal questions such as those that have arisen with the Patric case.


Outlawing Death

by C.K.

 

I have been unable to see anything in capital punishment but a penalty the imagination could not endure, and a lazy disorder that my reason condemned.

—Albert Camus, Reflections on the Guillotine

 

Due to the seemingly unwavering string of acts of extreme violence in America, there has been a resurgence in public debate about capital punishment. It’s always surprising to hear the alacrity of condemnation coming from the mounts of so many of my compatriots.  They make it seem like the death penalty is the only rational end to dealing with a mass murderer. Can that be so? After intently absorbing, in person, through the media, off the written page, the arguments of many pro-capital punishment claimants, I struggled to find anything convincing in the conclusions that they reached.

Let’s first tally the three most common arguments that repeatedly came from the mouths and the minds of death penalty advocates: (1) considering the feelings of retribution and need for closure by those close to the victims of crimes; (2) providing a proportional punishment to the severity of the crime; and (3) that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to society. I will now lay them out before you, demonstrating the immorality and illogicality in this style of thinking.

The first argument frequently heard from defendants of this particularly unsettling attitude is: what if one parented, or was married to, a victim of a murder? As if to say this natural human proclivity toward revenge justifies capital punishment. Entertaining this morose idea, I would have to agree that it’s very plausible that I would wish death onto my loved one’s slayer. But justice and human passion are not congruous. If human passion was the best arbiter of justice then why did we, as a society, go to all the trouble of creating law and order?

Secondly, many believe it is morally sound to take from one that which they took from another; in other words, “an eye for an eye, a tooth from a tooth.” Many legal systems throughout history are predicated on that very tenet—none more famous than the Code of Hammurabi. But let’s apply Hammurabi’s code to all crimes. If someone is convicted of theft, do authorities rob the robber? If someone else is convicted of battery, it is righteous to bludgeon the wrongdoer? There’s not much that can be said in defense of the claim that the Code of Hammurabi is an archaic system created by a barbarous mind. But, somehow, it remains copacetic to murder a murderer. The ordering of the American punitive system, systemically, kicks the stilts out from underneath the ‘criminal’s comeuppance’ pro-capital punishment argument.

A third pro-capital-punishment argument, and one that seems to surface the most (especially in the public forum) is that capital punishment is an ironclad deterrent, forcing members of society to genuflect in fear.  Jeffery Toobin of the New Yorker recently published an article about the decline of capital punishment in America, which said that 315 death sentences were handed down in 1994, compared to only 78 in 2012. It went on to say that during that same period, the murder rate also plunged, “rendering especially hollow the traditional argument that the death penalty serves as a deterrent.” The article concludes that the death penalty “now exists in a kind of twilight, a fading but still significant presence in America life.”

For a punishment to be a deterrent—an exemplary undertaking—it must merit fear inside the people. Yet, as the passage above points out, the drop in court-ordered death sentences didn’t result in a greater murder-rate. Yet, in fact, the opposite occurred. Even more significant, the murder rates remain stagnant in the 100 or so nations that have wiped the death penalty from their judicial system. Knowing this, is it possible to deduce that capital punishment is an effective intimidator?

Of all the methods of capital punishment, lethal injection runs counter to the claim that the death penalty keeps the public in line. For most, there’s nothing intimidating about a needle; nothing that strikes the fear of God into the frenzied killer seconds before an attack (expect in cases where it fails). Throughout history there’ve been plenty of methods that could very easily deter one away from bloodlust, from the guillotine and the gallows, to dismemberment and a fiery stake. Compared against these petrifying methods, lethal injection seems like a ride on a rowboat. But these historical methods are something, I assert, that modernity has outgrown. Hence, the exemplary argument has no business being voiced in a country that administers its justice through a vein. In fact, if the point of capital punishment is to be an example, then making it a public spectacle should not only be advisable but mandatory; complete with the stark macabre that chills the public’s blood.

Capital punishment, above all things, deems a person unfit for living, and this should never be the concern of “a jury of one’s peers”—putting it a different way: society. Society created itself by unification, so it can, if it so chooses, deem a member unworthy of being a part of the whole. Its concern, concordantly, ought to never extend beyond this question: can we (society) grant one of our own the title of lifelong outcast? By virtue of what society is and how it came about, no graver punishment can be dispensed without the label of injustice.


Examining The Effects Of Michigan’s Insurance Laws On Abortions

by R.S.

In March 2014, the State of Michigan passed a law prohibiting insurance companies from covering abortion services unless customers purchase “riders” to their plans ahead of time.  Effectively, this law (termed the “Rape Insurance Law” by local Democrats) will make it illegal for insurance companies to provide coverage for abortion procedures on regular medical coverage plans.  To get coverage, women will have to sign a separate rider, and pay extra for the added insurance.  And these rules will apply even in the event that the woman is seeking to abort a pregnancy caused by rape or incest (hence the nickname), or out of a threat to her life or health.  But perhaps most alarmingly, coverage will only be available through employer-based insurance plans.  Meaning, women who buy their own individual policies cannot purchase the abortion rider, and must bear the full financial burden of any abortion procedures on their own.

In a state where 23,230 abortions were performed in 2012, and only 4 percent were paid for by insurers, lawmakers should pause and consider the effect of this new rule.  According to a study in the Women’s Health Issues medical journal, fourteen percent of women who have undergone an abortion procedure have delayed or failed to pay rent as a result of the costs of the procedure.  Sixteen percent couldn’t afford food, and thirty percent couldn’t pay other utilities and bills.  In the first trimester, an abortion procedure alone can cost upwards of $500, and that’s without the added expenses of lost work, additional childcare, and travel costs.  In the second or third trimester, those costs can climb to over $10,000, especially when the procedure involves a hospital (as many recent anti-abortion laws require).  For low-income families, that may be tantamount to financial ruin.

So perhaps, supporters of this ‘Abortion Opt-Out Plan’ might say, women should be more careful about finding themselves carrying unwanted pregnancies.  Well, maybe.  But what about victims of rape?  In the view of Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a rape survivor who voted against the law, forcing victims to bear the financial costs of abortion procedures is downright unimaginable.  Even Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who vetoed a similar bill last year, argued it is inappropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape that she should have planned for the costs of being sexually assaulted.  And what about women who are forced to terminate wanted pregnancies out of medical necessity?  The law isn’t restricted to covering only “elective abortions.”  It will also limit coverage for medically necessary abortions, forcing some women to face financial ruin for “doing nothing more than trying to start a family.”  So you might be wondering, what is the purpose of this law?  According to Right to Life Michigan spokeswoman Genevieve Marnon, it’s because Right to Lifers shouldn’t have to pay for the costs of other women’s abortions.  But I wonder, Michigan lawmakers, has it occurred to you who will bear the burden of paying for these procedures?  In light of the fact that Marnon has outright stated that the organization does not anticipate that abortion rates will decrease as a result of the new law, it’s quite alarming to think about who this law will be punishing.  That is, families facing the trauma of losing a wanted pregnancy, victims of rape, and the poorest citizens of the State of Michigan.  So in the sentiment of State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright, chairwoman of the Women’s Democratic Caucus, doesn’t this law actually seem like a tremendous embarrassment to the State of Michigan?


The Legal Claims From MH Flight 370

by T.S.

After the tragic disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, many have wondered if the families of the victims have any legal recourse.  Under the Montreal Convention, an agreement governing international air carriers, airlines must pay the relatives of each victim $150,000 to $175,000 in the event of a fatal accident.   According to Article 21(2) of the Convention, an airline is liable for a plaintiff’s damages unless the airline can prove that it was without fault or the accident was caused solely by a third party. It is likely that the victims’ families will prevail under the Convention as Malaysia Airlines will have difficulty proving that the airline was not negligent considering that two of the passengers used stolen passports to board the plane.  Additionally, many experts have suspected that a catastrophic mechanical failure or fire caused the plane to fail.  Thus, Boeing Co., the manufacturer of Flight 370’s aircraft, may also be held liable for negligence.

However, legal claims have yet to be filed, and the victims’ families have not received compensation.  With the plane still missing, the passengers’ health is considered unknown so relatives cannot collect damages for fatalities, especially without the known cause of the accident.  Though not a lawsuit, Ribbeck Law recently filed petition for discovery in Chicago’s Cook County Circuit Court, but the suit was dismissed for “exceed[ing] the allowable scope.” However, if the plane is not discovered after a period of a few months, judges may rule that the passengers are presumed dead which would allow relatives to move forward with claims against Malaysia Airlines and/or Boeing Co.  Aviation attorneys and other analysts predict that once this occurs, or once the plane is discovered, families could recover anywhere from $3 million to $6 million. Though this sum will not replace the victims’ families’ loss, legal claims may allow the families to move forward from this tragedy.

 


Rediscovery Of Stolen Art Raises Legal, Moral Questions

by G.S.

Even when we don’t repeat history, we live in its wake.  Recently, the discovery of over 500 pieces of artwork in the home of an heir of a Nazi-era art dealer has incited discussion of not only ownership, but on a visceral level, guilt.  Cornelius Gurlitt, the owner of the pieces, has captured the media’s attention under suspicions that the artwork was obtained by theft or through sale under duress during Mr. Gurlitt’s father’s tenure as a buyer of artwork for Hitler and ultimately the Führermuseum.

The response to these allegations has been one of judgment and for many a call to action.  The intuitive response is that the artwork no more belongs in Mr. Gurlitt’s hands than it did in the hands of the man who commissioned the acquisition.  However, even as I write these words, the question remains, where do right, wrong, and legal intersect?

As experts determine the provenance of Mr. Gurlitt’s art collection, nowhere in America is there credible discussion of restitution for Native Americans or African Americans.  While some might distinguish that the art was stolen, the tangible harm is not meaningfully different.  If we examine carefully the concept of restitution, it is as much a remedy as it is a penance.  To the extent that the transgressions I’ve illustrated cannot be made right through any means, we must acknowledge that restitution is merely symbolic.  If that is correct, there is a significance both in whom we hold accountable, and when we choose not to.

The choice to pursue Mr. Gurlitt’s artwork is not a merit-based assessment in which some arbiter of fact has established that the artwork is somehow more meaningful than restitution to African Americans or Native Americans.  Instead, it reflects a societal value assessment that attribute a greater evil to the acts of men such as Mr. Gurlitt’s father rather than our American ancestors.  While we are ready to hold modern Germans accountable for the acts of their ancestors, and perhaps we should, we have not recognized our own culture’s injustices as being significant in the same light.  Although we may not be equipped to objectively assess our values, we should contemplate whether our interpretation of evil resonates true because the atrocities of the Holocaust are different, or whether the distinctions we’ve draw are merely a product of convenience.

 

 


The Diamond Parting Gift

by A.S.

This weeks’ Internet lesson: Texting can be expensive! In July 2012, Louis J. Billittier Jr. broke up with his fiancé over text message. The jilted bride-to-be, Christa M. Clark, responded: “Your doing this through a text message????” to which Billittier replied: “Plus you get a $50,000 parting ring. Enough for a down payment on a house.”

Those words proved decisive once Billittier sued his former fiancé for refusing return the nearly three carat, four-prong diamond engagement ring. In fact, those fateful words were enough to convince New York State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia that Billittier had relinquished his right to reclaim the ring, which was considered a “parting gift” that was not contingent on marriage.

According to The Buffalo News, “[t]he state’s established law normally sides with would-be grooms. They have a legal right to claim the ring back if there is no marriage, even if the groom calls off the wedding.” However, the judge ruled that Billittier’s description of the engagement ring as a “parting ring” indicated his intent to give Clark the ring as an outright gift that did not involve a contract for marriage.

Nonetheless, Billittier sent subsequent texts demanding the ring back, including one that stated: “You by law have to give it back. You’re nowhere near the person I thought you were. You don’t deserve it.” However, gift law does not easily permit a donor to revoke or recover a gift. Accordingly, Justice Buscaglia ruled that “[c]hanging his mind was ‘giver’s remorse.’ Many gifts are given for reasons that sour with the passage of time… Once a gift is given, it is irrevocable.”

Justice Buscaglia then awarded Clark the 2.97 carat diamond ring or its fair market value, which is worth $53,000.


I Got 99 Problems And Student Debt Is One

by J.R.

A recent report shows that Americans owe more than $1 trillion dollars in student loans.  A big chunk of that change surprisingly comes from…you guessed it, graduate school students.  During the 2012-2013 school year, despite only making up around 17.5% of all students in higher ed., graduate school students such as the JDs, the MDs, the PhDs, the MBAs were accountable for 41% of all federal borrowing!  That is more than double their share of the pie. This percentage reflects the stark realities that not only are graduate school tuitions staggeringly expensive but schools also do not provide sufficient scholarships and grants for graduate programs. Add to that cost of living and textbooks and you are easily left with a six-figure range deep in the red (for reference, I can provide that Fordham Law school’s estimated cost of attendance is $77,722 per each of the three years, which totals $233,166).

The current student loan lending policies are not the problem themselves.  However, they are adding fuel to an easily combustible building.  Students are essentially allowed to borrow unlimited amounts under the Grad Plus lending program. The Bush administration’s loan forgiveness plan for public service workers after a certain number of years isn’t helping either.  Unlimited federal lending and unlimited loan forgiveness are not forcing students, especially those going into poorly rated graduate programs with little to no prospects of finding a job afterwards, to address the hard questions such as “how will I pay off my loans?” or “can I manage this amount of loans?” The current lending policies do not discriminate between Jane, the Harvard law graduate with the Skadden job, and John, the tier 4 law school graduate with no job prospects.  The policies are allowing students around the age of 21 to take on six-figure debts without a blink of an eye.  The loan website’s entrance counseling, speaking from personal experience, is a breeze and does not require much soul searching and internal meditation before clicking yes and signing away the next 10-20 years of your working life to pay off your debt.

The problem isn’t limited to the individual.  It affects the national economy because it affects consumer spending.  A person with a $2000 a month payment for student debt is not going to be spending freely in the market.  High student loans equal high student loan payments, which equals difficulties qualifying for a home mortgage, which in turn lowers home purchasing as well as homeownership levels. For the under 35 group, homeownership levels have dropped to just 36.8% from the 42% in 2007.

So how can we address this issue that is plaguing individual bank accounts as well as the nation? President Obama has mentioned student forgiveness plans in the past, which would essentially extend loan forgiveness to qualified people in any practice and not just those working in public service. However, after almost 6 years in office, this still seems to be a pipe dream with no results in sight. Lawmakers all over the nation are considering proposals to deal with the education inflation problem, specifically targeting colleges, by sending in-state students to community colleges for free or replacing tuition with agreements by graduates to give up portions of their income to the state to fund public education.

The good news is that the problem is being recognized, albeit on an extremely slow timeline, and it is gaining more traction as a national crisis.  The bad news? It seems to be spreading globally.  Just a quick Google news search shows students protesting against rising tuitions and increasing debt in MontrealSpain, and the UK.  Hopefully the global trend will light a fire under Washington’s behind and force Congress to come up with a solution to the ever mounting and expensive problem that we are facing as soon-to-be graduates.


NFL Offseason Puts Players And Gang Activites in Spotlight

by B.N.

Recently star football player, DeSean Jackson, was released by his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, for having alleged “gang ties.” In a sport where contracts are not guaranteed, (meaning a team can cut a player at any time and not pay the remainder of his contract) commentators around the sport have voiced concern that the Eagles used this reasoning as an excuse to cut DeSean and to rid the team of a salary and player they no longer wanted. While this seems to be the team’s rightful decision to make at first glance, it may also have a negative impact on the sports’ large African American population and other minorities throughout the sport.

In the 2011 the NFL included an anti-discrimination policy to their latest collective bargaining agreement, in order to protect players from possible discrimination issues in addition to them having to follow federal and New York State employment laws. Yet, while this policy has recently been viewed as a way to protect gay players, such as recent pro prospect Michael Sam, one must take a strong look as to whether this policy has further reach. The policy states that, “there will be no discrimination in any form against any player by the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA”

Several players have spoken out on behalf of DeSean and stated that as many of the players in the sport grew up in poor urban areas many of them grew up knowing or were friends with people in gangs. Star cornerback Richard Sherman wrote an editorial and stated he believed that the Eagles beliefs about Desean’s gang ties directly reflect the fact he is an African American. While it is unclear whether DeSean Jackson actually had gang ties, it seems as though a baseless claim of gang-ties could be the basis for a grievance filed against a team by the player’s association for race discrimination. As the NFL already has several issues regarding discrimination to deal with (Redskin’s logo and prospect Michael Sam), they likely don’t want another on their plate. Team’s will likely no longer cut players because of “gang-ties” and will more likely claim contractual or performance issues.