Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Partial Birth Heads Back to the Supreme Court

The justices have granted cert in Gonzales v. Carhart which challenges the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress a few years ago. It was widely believed the law would not pass judicial review because the law is nearly identical to a Nebraska law struck down in 2000. That case had a 5-4 split with Justice O'Connor casting the majority vote on the grounds that the ban provided no exception for the health of the mother.

Of course, the court doesn't look like it did in 2000. Chief Justice Roberts has replaced Rehnquist (one conservative for another) and Justice Alito has replaced O'Connor (one conservative for a moderate). Strikes me as though many social conservatives are looking towards this case as a great indicator of whether they finally achieved the judicial majority they've been fighting for the past thirty years. Maybe they are right...

...but maybe they are wrong. This act does not strike me as the ideal legislation to test their new majority because it includes the sticky issue of federalism. The Act is an exercise of federal power, which means it must fit within one of the enumerated powers granted to Congress by Article I § 8 of the Constitution. The more liberal judges have taken a rather expansive reading of those grants of power leading to expansive federal power. Conservative justices, the ones who find a limited right to privacy in the Constitution, take a rather narrow reading of those same powers. So a conundrum presents itself to our newly minted highest court in the land: yes, they can uphold the the act and strike a blow to the right to privacy, but in so doing they will expand the federal power to areas traditionally left to the states.

I'm not a judicial conservative, so I don't know how they might want the case to come out. Seems like a real double edge sword. I'm told that this kind of Supreme Court litigation is planned years out with long term strategies and top political operatives. If so, why did they go with a federal statute? A state law would have presented far fewer prickly federalism issues and provided a much cleaner holding for the Right to hold up as a victory trophy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Filling the Void

Last week the ASUW Student Senate considered a rather unremarkable resolution entitled R-12-18: A Resolution to Calling for a Tribute for Col. Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, USMC. Col. Boyington is Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and a University of Washington graduate. The resolution's sponsor was seeking student support for a statute/monument to the man. After rather lengthy procedural wrangling the resolution came to a final vote before the Senate which split evenly prompting the Senate Chair, who only votes in the case of a tie, to vote against.

Rational people might think the story stops there, but no. The campus College Republicans took this vote as an anti-military vote and promptly informed the conservative press. Since that fateful Tuesday evening the ASUW has been besieged by press inquiries, radio talking heads, and the conservative blogosphere. Their conclusion: the University is under the control of radical anti-American liberals!

I'm not going to disagree with conservative's final conclusion... might very well prove to be true, but this resolution is not Exhibit A in that case. Col. Boyington is certainly a remarkable figure and is deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor. That's why the President and Congress bestowed the honor. But that alone does not warrant a University honor. The University produces many admirable people who go on to do incredible things. How are we to decide who should commemorated in monument form? If the Colonel is deserving of a monument on campus ought the City declare his domicile a historical building... perhaps rename his high school? What is the intelligible principle by which we honor members of society?

I suggest that the University ought not honor every remarkable person who caries a degree. It is not the us who should honor them, it is they who honor us by going out and doing increadable things. The military, and the entire nation, should think higher of the UW because of our five Medal of Honor winners. Who the University should honor is those who come back and contribute to the community from which they took so much. This is why the University has five buildings named after Microsoft founders and their parents. They had ties to the University before they became famous, became famous, and then returned here with their fame and fortune to make the UW a better place.

This isn't to say we've always followed this policy. We have a monument dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who fought against the fascists in Spain. The College Republicans like to make fun of the monument... "supporting those who fought with the communists," they say. I wouldn't have supported that monument either. But I don't think that poor choices about monuments in the past is justification for continued poor decisions. Students should hold their demands for monuments on both sides of the isle and develop criteria that we can all agree on instead of pushing for monuments whose connection to campus is remote.

Resolution supporters respond saying we should hold up Col. Boyington as the ideal product of the University. A self-sacrificing member of the community. I know little of the Colonel's demeanor or self-sacrificing nature, but I'm willing to grant the point. However, their arguments lead me to believe that he was a model citizen and a model soldier, not necessarily a model member of the University community. In fact, we know he was a model soldier because the Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor this country can bestow. But that does not imply he was a great member of the academy. After he left the University he never returned to contribute, did not go on to further his field of study with research and teaching, none of the things the University holds in the highest regards. He may have been a great man, but that does not de facto imply he was a great scholar.

Col. Boyington has been welled honored by this country. The Medal of Honor, biographies, and numerous admirers. That is his legacy and they are the ones who will remember him.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Digital Wrongheadedness

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a great organization. They are essentially the ACLU for the internet. There has been criticism in the past in regards to how successful they have been (they tend to go after businesses, not government... courts seem less sympathetic to the former). On balance, even considering their faults, I like 'em... donate to them... and would gladly accept a job from them.

All that being said, this I cannot abide
EFF urges consumers not to use this feature, because it will make their personal data more vulnerable to subpoenas from the government and possibly private litigants, while providing a convenient one-stop-shop for hackers who've obtained a user's Google password.
The quote is in reference to a new feature of Google Desktop (which I admit I've never used... doesn't work with Linux). If I'm reading their indignation correctly, I shouldn't use this new feature because the government will illegally seize the information? Let's be clear, when we are talking subpoenas, your house is no more protected then Google's servers. If it's a criminal matter, then the government can seize the servers without observing 4th amendment protections (the 4th doesn't extend to non-traditional spaces like banks). So, yes, that's a concern... but that doesn't seem to be the focus here.

And then there's the hackers and their one-stop-shopping! Give me a break. If I'm stupid enough to have given away my Google password then I've sort of asked for trouble. That password is also the key to my email... also known as my digital identity. I think I've got scarier issues than a hacker rifeling through my class notes.

EFF it's time you toned the rhetoric down. Yes, it's true that I would be more private if I just used cash (used to be one of their privacy recommendations) but let's get serious. What are realistic things I can do in today's society? And if you're going to go after companies like Google, just tell people about the feature and it's potential risks... the people listening to you are smart enough to figure it out from there.

Science, Public Affairs, and the Bush Administration

I've recently learned that my blog has a much higher readership than I originally thought. I really thought this thing was read by a couple of my friends and that was that. But no, it turns out my posts are showing up in google searches, friends of friends (who I've never met) and maybe even future employers. YIKES. This news gives me pause to consider what I want out of this blog and how I hope others view it (and, as a result, me). I've decided to keep all the current kinds of content, but dial up the discussions of public matters. This approach has two positive attributes: one, it gives me a chance to develop thoughts on complicated matters using my education and viewpoint (which is, arguably, unique... what with the law and the politics and the computers); two, it greatly increases my chances of saying something stupid that will come to haunt me years from now. Two birds... one stone.

To that end, I present for consideration the following Washington Post editorial. The Post requires free registration, and I know many people avoid such things like the plague, so let me quickly describe the contents. The Bush Administration has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar... the cookie jar of science. The editorial documents several instances, but the most egregious offense comes from NASA. Seems President Bush appointed (yes, it's an appointed position) a 24 year old fellow named George Deutsch to the position of NASA Public Affairs Officer. Also seems Mr. Deutsch claimed he had been awarded an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M... but apparently not. During his brief time at A&M he wrote several very conservative articles for the school's paper. But worse than that, Mr. Deutsch has been preventing senior NASA scientist from presenting their views (views supported by their NASA funded research) and demanding that all mentions of the Big Bang also mention the word "theory" because he didn't want to forclose rival intelligent design "theories".

Now you know the facts... here's the analysis. First, a twenty four year old political appointee? That's actually brilliant, in my opinion. Sure, it's an awful idea for the agency. An appointee with so little actual experience is surely not competent for such a complex job. But, if a President is willing to sacrifice the agency's wellbeing he has just planted the seeds for an incredibly powerful political operative. Think what this kid could have accomplished by the time he turned 50... assuming he wasn't forced to resign in disgrace. It's a real indication of the Republican investment in the future of the party. Not only did they find this kid fresh out of college (sort of), they gave him a big job. If the Democrats had done this years ago when they ran the country, we might not be facing this massive lack of young talent (my observation... may be untrue... certainly not untrue here at the UW).

Second, in regards to the censorship aspect, I don't view this as a clear cut issue. At first glance it sounds horrible, and it is, but long term consequences loom large. Consider for a moment the world where government scientists are allow to say whatever they want to the public. I suggest to you that if those comments were contrary to the opinion of the current administration the research budget would be slashed. Don't like the research of your own government... shut-it-down. With the current system where public affairs official spin things properly the science is at least being done. It's all public record and will eventually work it's way out into the larger research community where non-government scientists can comment until they are blue in the face.

I'm a big believer that the Truth (yes, capital T) will set us free. Government should not be in the business of manufacturing truth for political reasons. It's bad and it leads to societies based on a faulty review of reality. Which means that an Administration who openly holds opinions that are counter to scientific understanding should be thrown out of office. But, when the American people vote in such an Administration, fully aware of their tragic view of science, then we are faced with the real possibility that science will be skewed. But I think that is a preferred outcome then having the science shutdown altogether.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Solid B+

I received my last grade for Autumn Quarter today. Those with a calendar handy may notice that it's been nearly two months since I finished exams from Autumn. I've had three of four grades for the past several weeks, but one of the professors turned in grades way late and sort of threw the whole process off kilter.

Anyway, with the final grade recorded I can now proudly announce the first quarter in my life when I got the same grade for every single class. The proud, the plentiful, the B+. It's considered the average grade for the UW, so I'm not disappointed. Given the limited reading time I had last quarter I think the grades came out reasonable well. No B's, which are to avoided whenever possible. It sure would have been nice to get an A- in Trademarks or First Amendment, but apparently I just didn't quite make the cut.

I have much higher hopes for this quarter. I've been able to allocate quite a bit more time to reading and feel far more on top of the material. Not to mention the subject matters are strong areas for me. Although Basic Tax might give me a run for my money. It's not the math so much as it is all the tiny rule gotchas. I'm going to need to develop a rock-solid outline if I plan to survive the final.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Somebody Had to Lose

For all the legal brilliance the Seahawks demonstrated in court earlier this week, they apparently couldn't keep it together on the field. After an initial strong showing, the Seahawks' defensive line couldn't keep up against the Steeler onslaught. Oh, and the referees clearly had money on the Steelers... the only time an initial flag was ruled in our favor was on appeal. We lost several touchdowns to overly aggressive penalties and the Steelers picked up seven points on a very arguable call.

On the plus side, Seattle didn't get burnt down in a post-Super Bowl induced frenzy.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

12th Man Case Removed

As predicted, the Seahawks have motioned to remove the Texas A&M trademark claim from state court to the Federal District Court located in Houston. Now it falls to the Federal judge to determine if s/he will take the case or remand it back to state court. You can take it to the bank that the federal judiciary will keep the case.

The most interesting aspect of the development is that the motion was filed just two hours before the hearing scheduled for today. Remember that Texas A&M is seeking a temporary restraining order (a kind of "emergency motion"!!!) and would probably like a ruling on the TRO before the Superl Bowl this Sunday. By removing to Federal Court at the very last moment the Seahawks denied Texas even the slightest possibility of getting a TRO ruling until Monday of next week.

Go Hawks!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Nearing Success

Last night, after months of effort on my part, the ASUW took another important step in changing the culture of student fees. As I blogged last month, the GPSS and seemingly the Campus Affairs Committee of the ASUW Student Senate endorsed the Student Technology Fee (STF) Committee's request to increase the STF by $3 per student per quarter. That's a roughly $400,000 increase in funds available for allocation. As an interesting comparison, it is exactly the amount the Services & Activities Fee (SAF) Committee was able to cut from it's budget last year by asking questions and demanding straight answers.

As it would turn out, Campus Affairs reconsidered the resolution and after a change in tactics on my part (switching from demanding zero growth to supporting slow growth of a $1) recommended only a dollar increase to the full Senate. Last night that proposal was given its proper deliberation complete with a battle royal between myself and the current STF Chair. We spared on issues of longterm budgeting, I-601 spending limitations, and how proud democrats can avoid being labeled "tax and spend" democrats by asking a few simple questions and holding to a few basic principles.

The amendment to restore the full $3 increase was defeated overwhelmingly and $41 was approved. Unfortunately, this puts us into a strange position. The GPSS has formally endorsed a $3 increase while the ASUW has endorsed a $1 increase. How do we rectify these two positions? In the past the two governments have just split the difference... so we end up with a two dollar increase. This is not okay with me.

The STF Chair says the University Attorney General's office informed the UW's Planning & Budgeting Office that the STF is not under the restrictions of I-601, the State's citizen approved spending initiative. Having reviewed the legal materials available to me and the administrative policy statement on which I assume the AG's office rests, I don't have a lot of faith in this fun game of legal phone tag. I spoke with a couple other law students (most of whom comprise the GPSS officer corp) who all agree that this kind of novel legal opinion should only be accepted if accompanied by a legal brief. Until I see the brief, I remain skeptical.

Now we'll see if the AG can produce the brief or if it's just bogus grandstanding. Based on previous legal opinions from the AG on student fee issues, I doubt I'm going to have a lot of faith in the brief even if it does exist. But now the only person's opinion who really matters is the GPSS President.