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.

Details, It’s All in the Details

by G.S.

In the movie Thesis on a Homicide, Roberto Bermudes is a criminal law professor who is convinced that Gonzalo, one of his students and the son of a close friend, murdered a young woman to defy Roberto. What ensues is an invisible chess game between Roberto and Gonzalo driven by their divergent theories of law and justice.

Roberto believes that a judge doesn’t deliver justice, he enforces the law. He thinks the judge has to decide the guilt or innocence of a defendant by reaching in the darkness thus the only valuable tool for the judge are details. He says, “Details, it is all in the details.” Gonzalo, on the other hand, has a different theory. He believes that the biggest scam in modern society is “making us believe that what’s legal is fair.” Gonzalo sees the problem arising from the fact that people who are only interested in holding their power establish the laws and the concept of justice. Thus, he says “I can crush a butterfly and wring it to death, and that’s not illegal. Now if the butterfly belongs to some billionaire’s collection, I can go to jail. It’s not the act itself what’s judged. The law does not protect us from an aberrant act. It only intervenes if the aberrant act threatens the will of the powerful…Everyday somebody wrings a butterfly to death and no law can prevent it.”

Gonzalo’s ultimate point is that “Man is a wolf to man, and no law can change that.” Roberto on the other hand believes that the point of the legal system is to enforce the law, regardless of whether that decision is “just.” Most people hope that the legal system will enforce the law in a way that delivers justice but that is not necessarily reflected in reality. After all, as Roberto says, the judge is reaching in the darkness. But at the same time, our society seem to be increasingly driven by the idea that, as Gonzalo puts it, “what’s legal is fair.” Which theory do you agree with? Does Roberto or Gonzalo’s reading of the legal system and the concepts of law and justice resonate most in today’s society?

Are International Treaties Worth The Paper They’re Written On?

by J.R.

It has been a rocky month for the international legal order.  In early March, Russian president Vladimir Putin decided that the 1994 Budapest Memorandum didn’t suit his fancy anymore and invaded the Ukrainian region of Crimea. In the memorandum Russia agreed not to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine relinquishing control of, what was at the time, the worlds third largest nuclear arsenal. Fast-forward twenty years and it sure looks like Ukraine got the short end of the diplomatic stick and, seemingly, there is nothing they can do about it.

After the horror of the Second World War, a new wave of NGOs and international governing bodies came into existence, the hope being that international law, international norms, and stable borders were at the cornerstone of this new world.  If we examine the years that have passed since the creation of the United Nation, the premier international organization, it would seem as if these noble goals failed to be reached. But were they ever realistic?

In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, the agreement that brought an end to the First World War, was supposed to cement the international order and usher in a new era of international stability; Nineteen years later, Hitler annexed Austria violating a key article of the treaty that guaranteed Austrian independence.  In 1963 the United States, along with a number of other countries signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations which guaranteed that any person arrested in a foreign nation have the right ot communicate with his or her own national authorities. In 2009 the United States executed a Mexican national without ever allowing him the opportunity of speaking to his consulate.

The list of violations and violators is long and seemingly with out end. International law it seems exists to the point of inconvenience, which begs the question are international laws even laws? Or are they, in the words of the infamous Pirate Jack Sparrow, “more like guidelines than actual rules.”

Pussy Riot and Vladimir Putin’s Russia

by G.M.

The 2013 documentary Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer (Maxim Pozdorovkin & Mike Lerner) is an expertly crafted primer into the world of the Russian, feminist, punk rock, balaclava-donning, protest group which formed initially in reaction to the controversial election of Vladimir Putin in 2011. Since then, Pussy Riot has achieved both international support and criticism for their riotous performances and demonstrations. The documentary focuses primarily on Pussy Riot’s several protests, including their performance in Moscow’s most sacred cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Savior. That performance, halted by security officers, led to the arrest of Nadya Tolokno, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich for “hooliganism” and the start of a much-publicized “show trial” which attracted the attention of the entire global community and further scrutinized the increasingly unsettling politics of Putin’s Russia.

The documentary itself follows the trial fully from arrest to sentencing (Samutsevich was later released on appeal but Nadya and Maria were sentenced to two years imprisonment). The film is hardly an exercise in journalistic neutrality as it details their plight against an increasingly cozy relationship between Putin’s administration and the Russian church. The film detours into the realm of hagiography rather than documentary at times. The directors make no restraint to paint Putin as the icy dictator and Pussy Riot as the hip, passionate revolutionaries kicking and screaming inside a regime that is slowly tightening its grip on its citizens. Yet biases aside, with the current news of Russia’s international (mis)behavior as well as the various scandals surrounding the Sochi Olympics, Pussy Riot may have been ahead of the curve in their response to Putin and the Russia he is promulgating.

During the closing remarks of their trial, the three members offer their personal statements and in turn reveal sentiments that not only reflect the current status of the judiciary in modern Russia but echo historical opinions of the judicial system at-large. Samutsevich proclaims, “We expect a guilty verdict. Compared to the judicial machine we are nobodies who lost.” Alyokhina adds, “This trial is typical and speaks volumes. The government will feel embarrassment because of it for a long time to come. Each stage has embodied a travesty of justice. For me this trial is a “so-called” trial. I am not afraid of falsehood, or poorly disguised deception or of the verdict of this “so-called” court.”

Nevertheless, their message is buttressed by signals of hopes and idealism characteristic of revolutionaries. While Alyokhina decries the “so-called” trial, she also proclaims that they can only take her “so-called” freedom. “Nobody can take my inner freedom. It lives in the word. It will go on living because of Glasnost and when this is heard by thousands. The freedom lives in every person who is not indifferent and inside those who hear us in this country. For every person who recognizes a piece of themselves on trial as in the works of Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that honesty and openness, the thirst for truth, will make us all a bit more free. We will see this.”

While the remaining jailed members were release in late 2013, they remained defiant by denouncing their release as a publicity response in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics. Their release has not deterred their efforts either. Members of the group staged a demonstration during February 2014 in Sochi during the Olympics and were brutally whipped by Cossack guards and sprayed repeatedly with pepper spray. Moreover, in March 2014, various members were accosted physically and verbally by Russian citizens who disagree with their radical displays. The international community should therefore not expect these activists to quiet down especially as their platforms grow. However, given Putin’s mounting unpredictability and policy of aggression, perhaps they should not only remain vocal but raise their volume.

Tracking Your Tips: Restaurants Skimming Off The Top

by A.E.

I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that I rely on delivery for very large portion of my meals; but let’s be honest, delivery in the city is great. I can go any one of a variety of websites like Seamless or Grubhub, browse through what feels like an unlimited amount of food options and then just point, click, and order whatever I want with no extra delivery charge. I only have to add my tip to the deliveryman on the site and then I have no need to keep cash around for them. Twenty minutes later, the buzzer rings and my vegetable samosas and lamb biryani are here. Perfect, right?

That’s how I felt about it until recently this winter during one of our many (many) snowstorms in New York. On that cold and snowy night I didn’t want to brave the harrowing two blocks to my grocery store to pick up some food, so instead I ordered from somewhere fifteen blocks away. Recognizing the bad weather, I added a couple extra bucks onto the tip for the deliveryman. Thirty minutes go by and the buzzer rings. “My sushi has finally arrived!” I open the door and find the deliveryman covered in snow, freezing, and probably reliving the near death experience he just had with a crazy driver going too fast down Broadway in a nor’easter with worn out tires lacking any semblance of traction whatsoever. But my five-dollar tip given over the internet certainly made up for that.

Not really. Earlier this month Gothamist and the New York Times reported that – shockingly – restaurant owners illegally skim up to fifteen percent of those lavish snowstorm tips. Now, restaurant owners are permitted to keep a small amount of the tip to offset the price of accepting credit cards in the first place, but fifteen percent is certainly too much. So what is the customer to do? Does this mean we need to tip more? Obviously we’re not required to, but think about the working conditions delivery workers go through just to make sure you get that veal parmesan to your door while it’s still hot. In bad weather at night it is a dangerous job; if it were any other job but food service there may even be laws against hazardous working conditions – but New Yorkers, myself included, are not going to stop ordering delivery. When the weather is bad to the point that you don’t even want to think about going outside, maybe think about giving the delivery many that tip in cash and throwing in a couple extra bucks. That way at the very least they get a reward for facing off with a road-raging Corolla driver to get you your food.