How Much Will You Pay for Better Schools?

By David Postic

Oklahoma Education

 


Oklahoma does not value education. Our spending shows it. Our outcomes show it. The number of teachers flocking to other states for better pay and better schools (or, in Oklahoma, leaving the profession entirely) show it. Each year, it seems like the Legislature keeps cutting and cutting and cutting the education budget as our classroom size keeps growing and growing and growing. Each year, we complain that the Legislature needs to get their act together, that it needs to better fund our schools. And each year, we are absolutely right. But it’s also easy to complain; it’s tougher to conceptualize. What would better education look like in Oklahoma? What would it cost?

The Problem

First things first: let’s go ahead and admit that we are not funding our schools like we should. Because we aren’t. Over the past 10 years, Common Education funding in Oklahoma has increased a mere $78,680,179, not adjusted for inflation ($2,348,041,255 in FY 2007 compared with $2,426,721,434 in FY 2017). That might sound like a lot of money, but just wait. Adjusting for inflation (because we can), annual spending on Common Ed has actually decreased to the tune of $389,722,187 (or ~14%). To put that in comparison, the amount of money the Legislature has cut from Common Ed (let’s not even get into the amount it’s cut from Higher Ed) could pay the entire Thunder payroll (pre-salary cap increase) for 5 years. It could pay the Red Sox payroll for 2 years. Or it could buy 121,550 of these super nice toilets to symbolize where the Legislature is throwing our education funding. It’s that much money.

But to be fair, a decrease in funding, by itself, is not necessarily bad. If we have fewer students, then per-pupil funding stays the same, right? Theoretically, yes, dear reader, you would be right. Only that’s not the case. Because we don’t have fewer students. We have more students. We have many more students. To be precise, as of April 2016, Oklahoma is home to 692,670 students, which is a 50,999 student (or ~8%) increase from 2007. (We don’t have enrollment totals for FY 2017, so the comparison of enrollment to funding is a bit off, but it’s close enough.) Funding has gone down; enrollment has gone up. Uh oh.

What this means is that our per-pupil, inflation-adjusted state funding for Common Ed has decreased by $1,761 over the last 10 years ($5,264 in 2007 to $3,503 in 2017), or about 33%. Keep in mind that state funding is only about 45% of total funding for public education; another 45% is local funding from property taxes, bonds, etc.; and 10% comes from the federal government (these numbers are slightly different in Oklahoma, but you get the idea). So at first blush, a decrease in spending may seem like it has a silver lining, what with all the tax money we don’t have to pay and whatnot (more on this later). But because a decrease in state funding means that local funding has to pick up the slack, you will end up paying about the same amount in taxes—and some people will even have to pay more—if we are to maintain constant levels of funding.

Of course, that’s the problem: we aren’t maintaining constant levels of funding to Common Ed. We are siphoning it off to pay for tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. That’s a judgment call our state Legislature has made. And it’s wrong. Their judgment is wrong. They have decided that it is more politically expedient to sacrifice the potential of us students than to make the difficult call to halt tax breaks or—God forbid—raise taxes. They have decided that our students don’t deserve better. That our teachers don’t deserve better. That our state doesn’t deserve better. And they are absolutely 100% wrong.

The Solution

But I digress. I’m not just here to complain (although I’m definitely here to do that); I’m here to offer some solutions. Mostly, though, I want to quantify (in very brief and simple terms) what it will take to better our public schools. As a result, my focus is on revenue and does not cover qualitative improvements to Oklahoma education.

Let’s start with the obvious: Oklahoma hates taxes. Like, a lot. Like OU hates Texas. Like Donald Trump hates facts. Like everyone hates Ramsay Bolton. That much. As a result, we cut taxes a lot. How much do these tax breaks cost, you ask? Great question.

Exceedingly low tax rates for horizontal drilling will cost us in the neighborhood of $379 million in 2016 (and that’s just horizontal drilling tax breaks, not to mention other tax breaks for the oil and gas industry), while wind power credits are expected to cost another $133 million. I point out these two tax breaks for special treatment because—as every Oklahoma knows—oil and wind are two things that this state does not have in short supply. So it begs the question why we need such high tax breaks at all? Of course, a little incentive is fine. But our tax rate on horizontal drilling, for instance, is well below other states, and it’s not like oil companies are going to stop coming to Oklahoma—we have all the oils. As State Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger has said, a fiscally responsible policymaker “needs to seriously consider at what level government should incentivize something that is now standard practice.” Even walking back these two tax breaks a tiny bit could bring in tens of millions of dollars in new revenue. Phasing them out entirely (which, for horizontal drilling, would merely return to the ordinary 7% gross-production rate) would be half a billion dollars in the bank.

But these corporate tax breaks (and many more) pale in comparison to the lost revenue from cuts to the state income tax rate. Since the top rate (which applies to income above $7,200; the first $7,200 is taxed at rates between 1/2% to 4%) has been cut from 6.65% in 2004 to 5% in 2016, Oklahoma’s annual revenue loss is $1.022 billion. Annual. Billion. Is. What was that really big thing we had this year? A budget deficit? And how much was it? $1.3 billion? An extra billion dollars really would have helped with that. Too bad.

Now, tax cuts are nice. I like money. Money is good. Money buys me things like Netflix subscriptions and raisins and trips to Harry Potter World. But how much money did these tax cuts actually give us? And are they really even worth the cost? As of 2016, about 72% of the benefit from these cuts (about $735 million in 2016) goes to the wealthiest 20% of households (those making $246,000 a year). The wealthiest 5% of households ($568,000 a year) get 43% of the benefits. And the wealthiest 1% receive about the same benefit as the bottom 80%. The Oklahoma Policy Institute put this disparity in dollar terms:

The median Oklahoma household with annual income of $49,800 has seen its taxes reduced by $228, compared to a $15,519 cut for the average household in the top 1 percent (income of $476,600 and above). Households making less than $21,700 — the bottom 20 percent of households — have received an average of just $4 per year from cutting the top rate, since little or none of their income is taxed at the top tax brackets.

But wait, the inequity gets even bigger. When looking at the share of income paid in taxes, the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy has calculated that, in 2015, the poorest 20% of Oklahomans paid 10.5% of their income in state and local taxes compared to just 4.3% paid by the wealthiest 1%, or about 2.4 times as much. The middle 60% paid, on average, 9.3% of their income in taxes, 2.2 times as much as the top 1 percent. In policy terms, this is called a regressive tax system, as it places a larger burden on low-income households than on high-income households.

A billion dollars of lost revenue. Very little money in my pocket. And I pay more of my income than do wealthy people (who, coincidentally, benefit much more than I do from these tax breaks). Remind me why these tax cuts are good again? Oh yeah, because they foster growth and improve the economy. Only there is no evidence to support this. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looked at 40 years of data and studies on state taxes and economic performance:

The large majority of these studies find that interstate differences in tax levels, including differences in personal income taxes, have little if any effect on relative rates of state economic growth. Of the 15 major studies published in academic journals since 2000 that examined the broad economic effect of state personal income tax levels, 11 found no significant effects and one of the others produced internally inconsistent results.

In fact, four of the five states that have enacted the largest personal income tax cuts in the last five years — Maine, Kansas, Ohio and Wisconsin — have experienced total job growth and personal income growth below the national average since the tax cuts took effect. A recent study by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution found “neither tax revenues nor top marginal income tax rates bear any stable relation to economic growth rates across states and over time.” Yet Oklahoma continues to cut its tax rates despite the fact that we cannot afford to do so. And education has suffered because of it.

So how are we to proceed? What could we do with the money even if we had it? This is where qualitative analysis comes in, and to a certain extent a mere increase in funding won’t necessarily improve outcomes. And outcomes are, to a large degree, what are most important. But money helps. And it’s easy to imagine what would be possible with an extra billion or two in funds available for education.

With an extra billion dollars, we could give our 46,571 (FTE) teachers a $21,000 raise (or at least give them the $3,338 raise they need to meet the regional average). We could roll back the 30% cut to school lunch matching programs. We could replace the $38 million cut from support for public school activities. Or we could actually buy textbooks for students. We could do so much to address the problems we have and to make Oklahoma a better place for both students and teachers. With an extra billion dollars, we could spend $1,443 more per student than we currently do, which would move us from 47th in the nation for per-pupil spending all the way up to 33rd. Those are good things. Those are things we could do. If only we had the money…

Conclusion

And we do have the money, at least in theory. There was a time when we weren’t losing a billion dollars a year in income tax cuts; there was a time we weren’t giving half a billion dollars away to energy companies. And guess what? We survived. Not cutting taxes did not kill us. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like paying taxes. And if the Legislature eliminated all of the tax cuts mentioned above, my taxes would go up. Yours would to. But the Legislature can craft policies that minimize the impact on Oklahoma citizens while still providing the revenue we as a state need to function properly. It’s possible.

The politics of crafting those solutions is what seems impossible. Oklahoma is not a place that believes in things raising taxes or making tough political decisions. Politicians need votes to stay in office, and it will be much more difficult to get those votes if they tell their constituents that taxes are going to go up. You might feel less inclined to vote for someone who tells you that. Hell, that would give me pause. But consider this: is there anything we do as a state that is more valuable than education? Is there anything that gives our state’s future more promise? Is there anything that you would say to a child to justify taking away their free or reduced lunch, their textbooks, their teachers, their classrooms, or the educational opportunities?

It will cost us all to make education better in Oklahoma. It will cost us a lot. But our schools will be better for it; our students will be better for it; our future will be better for it. How much am I willing to pay for better schools? As much as it takes.

—–

See this original post on Medium.

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Dear Oklahomans Who Want to Leave…

By David Postic

Young Oklahomans Want to Leave


I love Oklahoma.

There is something about this state that holds a special place in my heart, aside from it being my home. Anyone who has looked out across the endless plains knows what I mean. The flatness of it all is intoxicating. But even more than the geography, it is the people that makes this place special. Oklahomans themselves are incredibly caring individuals, true salt-of-the-earth, born and bred on an ethic of hard work and on a faith so pervasive that it guides every part of their lives. Ours is a state with an enormous potential for diversity, prosperity, and opportunity.

But we have not lived up to that potential.

The actions of some of our governmental officers and representatives have shown that we, as a state, have either misplaced or misprioritized our values. And it’s something we need to fix. Rather than open our arms to diversity and tolerance, we have passed laws to discourage it. Rather than create opportunity, we have stolen it away from the most vulnerable in our society. Rather than look to the future — both in terms of our budget and our children — we have chosen instead to repeat the mistakes of the past. Whatever a properly functioning government looks like, this isn’t it.

This goes beyond the (embarrassing, in my opinion) events of the past few days (e.g., the continued assault on transgender rights, the admittedly unconstitutional abortion bill, the dishonest and inhumane decisions of the governor’s office vis-à-vis execution drugs). It goes to the heart of who we are as a people. Because although it is our elected officials who have caused these events to pass, it is we who elected them and continue to re-elect them. (I note here that there are more than a few courageous officials who have taken a stand against the rising tide of hatred and irresponsible government, and as a result they are not the subject of this complaint.) That’s on us. Authority without accountability breeds tyranny, and that is precisely what we are beginning to see.

But it is not only the particular representatives of our government that we need to hold accountable; we must hold accountable our system of government itself. Our system is based on politics and politicking, and as entertaining as it is to watch (and as necessary as it may be to some extent), it has become destructive. Politics — in my ideal vision of the concept — is simply a dream of (and a means to) establishing good government. At its heart, and what it most seeks to promote, is the body politic: the people. That is the basis of our democratic republic.

Today, however, politics has become divorced from the good of the people. Politics is no longer concerned with the body politic; it no longer cares. Not about you, not about me. It no longer cares about anything except winning and legacy and airtime and money. I am even convinced that politics writ large does not actually care about making the world a better place. Politics is no longer a solution; it is not a cure. It is a virus that spreads and infects everything and everyone it comes into contact with. Politics is no longer synonymous with statecraft or diplomacy or improvement. It is about maneuvering and brinkmanship and ultimatums. Politics today is more about grandstanding and fearmongering and fundraising and celebritizing than fixing and building and moving forward and helping people.

Why has this “new politics” become the mainstay? How did we get here? More than a little of the blame falls on us, the people. By and large, we do not want politicians to compromise — not on gun control, abortion, immigration, climate change, the budget, or anything else. All we want is for our guy to win, our side to win. Because for some reason, we have created a binary world where there is only right and wrong, winning and losing. There is no room for shades of gray, no room for discussion. And so it is that we as a society have come to view compromise as the antithesis of winning, something we wish to avoid at all costs. The media (and we, the consumers of media) have perpetuated this culture by buying into the hateful rhetoric and by accepting at face value the “facts” we are given. We do not verify, we do not seek the truth. We do not listen to people anymore. We hear them, and we speak to them, but we do not listen to them. There is no dialogue, and consequently there is no understanding. And that is a serious problem. Because if we ever want to work out our differences, we need to listen to each other. We need to understand. We need to care.

I am of the perhaps hopelessly optimistic opinion that our differences are not so great, political or otherwise, that we cannot overcome them. I do not believe that we are forever condemned to this destructive breed of “new politics.” I believe that Oklahoma — and the nation — can do better, and it starts with us. It starts with informed, passionate, caring people taking notice of the injustices and prejudices and wrongs that exist in our society and committing themselves to doing better, and electing representatives that are committed to doing better. We cannot fall victim to apathy, that old friend of oppression. We must do something.

It is no secret that making a better future will not be easy, and I am not going to try to make it seem easier than it is. Balancing budgets and funding schools and fixing bridges and providing health care and helping the poor and reducing violence will not be easy. It will be hard. It will be very, very, very, frustratingly, miserably hard. It will require sacrifice. It will demand our money, our comfort, our passions, our pride, our attention, our differences, and our egos. It will take everything we have.

Facing these large problems, and seeing discrimination and injustice perpetrated by the very government sworn to protect the liberties of its citizens, many young Oklahomans have given up. Oklahoma is beyond repair, they say. It’s a backwards state. They are embarrassed to be from here. They no longer see a future for this state and decide instead to leave it. The politics and politicians of Oklahoma are inspiring a mass exodus of young, talented individuals. This is more than just brain drain. It is passion drainand potential drain. And it is entirely unnecessary. This state has lost many of my friends, exasperated at the seemingly fixed order of things and the insurmountable obstacles ingrained into the very fabric of our government. I try to convince them to stay, to help fix things, but the politics and prejudices of Oklahoma are making my argument increasingly difficult.

But still, I must make it. Because the only hope for a brighter future in this state is a new generation of Oklahomans standing up for what is right and responsible when it comes to government. So to all young Oklahomans considering leaving this state: stay. The problems are big, but so are the possibilities. The path is not easy, but the reward will be worthwhile. Stay, and we can fight to bring this state back from the brink of self-destruction. Stay, and we can find solutions, make progress, and create a better Oklahoma, a better home for us all. We cannot do it without you. The people of this state deserve better. They don’t deserve irresponsible government and bigotry and the kind of politics that doesn’t care about them. Stay, and help give the people of this state the government they deserve. Isn’t that worth something?

Oklahoma is a special place, but it is in dire need of help. Its people are in dire need of help. So what can you do? You can stay. You can care about Oklahomans and about what happens to them. It will take time and patience — ungodly amounts of patience — but a better future is possible. We can make it happen if we work together.

Oklahoma is my home, and I plan to stay here and make it better. I hope you do too.

—–

See this original post on Medium.

How You Should Remember Antonin Scalia

By David Postic, Jacob Daniel, and Lester Asamoah

Justice Antonin Scalia death

 


The Supreme Court holds an interesting place in American pop culture: At once, it is one of the most highly visible and highly misunderstood parts of our government. And it is not only the Court that is misunderstood, but its members as well. By now, the entire world likely knows of the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia—the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court and, perhaps, its most controversial member. In his thirty years on the bench, Justice Scalia emerged as the intellectual power behind conservative jurisprudence and became (in)famous for the stinging and colorful language of his opinions, particularly his dissents. His death has an immediate impact on the Court. For instance, any cases currently before the Court with votes that have not yet been made public are now void, and the justices must re-vote. And with only eight justices on the Court—four conservative and four liberal—ties are now a strong possibility, meaning that some of the more politically charged cases—including affirmative action, the President’s executive action on immigration, and voting rights—may not be completely resolved by the Court, for any tied opinion is not binding Supreme Court precedent, and the Circuit Court opinion stands as precedent for that Circuit.

As such a controversial (and political) figure, the news surrounding Justice Scalia’s death has focused almost exclusively on these quasi-political issues, as well as who will take his place on the Court. So that you will be an informed citizen in the following (what will surely be politically crazy) months, here is how the nomination process works:

  1. The United States Senate is charged with confirming the President’s nomination for filling Scalia’s seat, but the Senate conducts that process in several steps. First, the Senate Judiciary committee holds a hearing for the nominee.
  2. After the hearing, the committee votes to give a positive/negative recommendation or no recommendation for the nominee.
  3. After the Judiciary committee votes, the full Senate then conducts a hearing chaired again by the Senate Judiciary chairman.
  4. Once debate ends, the full Senate conducts a vote. If the nominee commands a simple majority, he/she is confirmed.

There are, however, ways that the Senate can hold up these proceedings before the final vote. Individual senators (or a group of senators) can filibuster endlessly the cloture rule, which requires 60 Senators to invoke, limits the debate to 30 hours. Typically the opposing party is reluctant to confirm a lifetime appointment during the last year of a lame-duck presidency. In fact, there is a name for this type of stonewalling: the Thurmond Rule, named for the late Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), who decreed that no judicial appointments would move in the last six months of a lame-duck presidency. While Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) has made headlines for saying he will not allow a confirmation for Scalia’s replacement, Senator Harry Reid (D-N.V.) made similar statements in 2008. So despite Republican senators making headlines for their “no confirmation” decrees, holding up a judicial nominee in this situation is not solely a Republican tactic.

Nevertheless, these issues will be covered heavily in the coming months (it could even stretch into next year), and hopefully you take time to understand all the political issues at play. It really is fascinating. But while these issues are interesting and, indeed, of great importance to our country, it seems that there has been far too little focus on the man that provoked these issues—Justice Scalia himself. As a result, and in honor of one of the most powerful men in the country, we would like to take a step back and examine the legacy that Scalia left behind.

Justice Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986 after spending most of his legal career working in the public sector. Amazingly, Scalia was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 98-0—a result perhaps unthinkable in the current political climate. But such was the charm and intellectual prowess of Antonin Scalia.

Almost immediately he established himself as a unique voice on the Court, not afraid to go against the rest of the justices on any opinion that provoked his ire. In 1988, for example, he drafted a thirty-page dissent in Morrison v. Olson, writing so emotionally that Justice Harry Blackmun felt obliged to note, “[I]t could be cut down to ten pages if Scalia omitted the screaming.” But that passion was Scalia’s calling card, and his reputation for emotional dissents calls to mind the similarly stubborn Oliver Wendell Holmes: a man held by many to be one of the greatest justices to ever sit on the Court. And for all of their legal and philosophical differences, Oliver Wendell Holmes serves as perhaps the best modern comparison for what Justice Scalia meant to the Supreme Court.

Scalia was never afraid to make his opinions known—both in and out of the courtroom. He famously concurred in Bush v. Gore, the case that essentially decided the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Years later, when Scalia was asked about the effect of that case on the American democracy, his reply was brief: “Get over it.” As Conor Clarke of Slate commented, “His writing style is best described as equal parts anger, confidence, and pageantry. Scalia has a taste for garish analogies and offbeat allusions—often very funny ones—and he speaks in no uncertain terms. He is highly accessible and tries not to get bogged down in abstruse legal jargon. But most of all, Scalia’s opinions read like they’re about to catch fire for pure outrage. He does not, in short, write like a happy man.”

But by all accounts, Justice Scalia was a happy man. His close friend (and near-ideological opposite) on the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, once said that Scalia was “an absolutely charming man, and he can make even the most sober judge laugh.” Indeed, a 2005 study showed that he brought the Court to laughter more than any of his colleagues. He brought a witty dynamism to the Court’s oral arguments, which he often used to spice up otherwise bland legal issues in his written opinions. For all you might disagree with how he voted on cases, I dare you to read one of Justice Scalia’s arguments and not feel a tug of doubt on your own convictions. That is the keen legal mind that was Antonin Scalia.

Justice Scalia was an originalist, a judicial philosophy that believes the Constitution should be interpreted accordingly to what the text meant at the time the document was ratified over two centuries ago. This view runs counter to the popular legal view of the Constitution as a “living document” that evolves as society evolves. But in Scalia’s originalism, the Constitution was not supposed to facilitate change: it was designed to prevent changes in the fundamental rights that the Founders fought so hard to secure. Scalia hated so-called “judicial activism” and believed that the legislature—as the representatives of the People—should be the true engine of legal change. It was these views that often prompted critics to accuse Scalia of letting his conservative political leanings compromise his legal judgment. But Justice Scalia was far from a rigid conservative, at least politically: He voted to uphold free speech in the Texas flag-burning case, and also struck down a prohibition on hate speech—liberal legal decisions by any measure. Disagree with him all you want, Scalia was his own man to the very end.

He was, as most great and controversial figures are, an extremely dynamic and likable individual. This is the Scalia that people should remember. Sure, remember his controversial philosophies, remember all his opinions that you disagreed with, remember his passion and his emotion and his anger. But also remember Justice Scalia for what he was: an intellectual powerhouse, a deeply thoughtful and philosophical legal mind, a man who adhered to his values and principles, and a legal titan of the twenty-first century.

—–

David Postic is a law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Jacob Daniel is a law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Lester Asamoah is a graduate student at American University.

Why Love Won

#LoveWins

Not every day do the worlds of law and pop culture collide so tremendously as they did today. Then again, not every day do you have Supreme Court decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges. Undoubtedly you have read close to 525,600 Facebook statuses, tweets, and news clippings about this landmark victory for gay rights. You may be rejoicing. You may be livid. Let’s put those emotions aside for a moment to assess the Obergefell opinion and figure out why love won.

First, a brief history…

Obergefell is certainly a revolutionary decision. But for those following the Court (and political trends) over the past fifteen years, it is hardly a surprise. Prior to the 2000s, a number of states had passed laws criminalizing certain homosexual acts. In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, held that such laws discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and thus violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

This was a huge step forward for gay rights, but there still remained the matter of gay marriage. In 1996, Congress had passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for all federal law purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” However, in the ten years after Lawrence v. Texas, several states granted marriage rights to same-sex couples, either through judicial or legislative processes. Still, DOMA remained alive-and-well.

Then, in 2013, the Court held in United States v. Windsor (2013) that DOMA was invalid to the extent that it barred the federal government from treating same-sex marriages as valid even when they were lawful in the state where they were licensed. Again, a massive victory for gay rights. (And again, Justice Kennedy authored the opinion.) But what did this mean? It meant that, for example (and as was the case in Windsor), the surviving spouse of a same-sex couple could claim a spousal deduction from the federal estate tax. While this was another huge leap forward, it still did not legalize gay marriage. But by overturning DOMA, it did clear the way for other courts to do so.

Now to today’s opinion…

In the two years since Windsor, many same-sex marriage cases have reached federal courts of appeals, and gay marriage has been legalized in many jurisdictions. But there was still a major problem: A same-sex couple married in one state (where gay marriage was legal) could travel to another state (where gay marriage was not legal) and be denied the benefits of marriage. This meant gay couples could not take advantage of certain spousal tax benefits; evidentiary privileges; adoption rights; medical decision making authority; and so on.

Finally, however, some of these cases reached the Supreme Court in the form of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which is actually a combination of several similarly situated cases. In this case, the Court was confronted with the question of whether or not gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right. The issue could be avoided no longer.

As you now know, the Court’s opinion (once again authored by, you guessed it: Justice Kennedy) held that a “fundamental right to marry” can no longer be denied because the partners are of the same sex. Gay marriage–nationwide–is now not only legal, but constitutionally protected. The Court interpreted the two central provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment (the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause) to mean that same-sex and opposite-sex marriages are equal under the law.

The opinion itself is beautiful in its simplicity. Much of it is devoted to the judicial history summarized above (although to get a full view of that history, you should definitely read the opinion) as well as cultural and political developments spanning the entirety of human civilization. But the meat of the opinion, the real holding (a legal term meaning the binding law of the case), was this: The right to marriage is a right enjoyed equally by all people, gay or straight. This, the Court explained, is firmly rooted in our nation’s history: From past Supreme Court decisions affirming the equality of interracial marriage, to decisions affirming the autonomy of individuals to make of their lives what they will. The issue is not, as some people have framed it, whether there is a constitutional right to gay marriage, but instead whether there is a constitutional right to marriage period. The Highest Court of the Land has now firmly stated that there is such a right.

The majority encountered staunch opposition from the other justices. In fact, each of the justices in the minority (Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, Justice Clarence Thomas, and Justice Samuel Alito) wrote a separate dissenting opinion. These dissents are of varying degrees of ire and outrage. Yet the one argument that you will most likely hear disparaging Obergefell is that the Court today engaged in “judicial activism.” Chief Justice Roberts encapsulated this argument when he criticized the majority, reciting the ages-old aphorism that, under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is–not what it should be.

As with all age-old sayings, I encourage you to take this one with a grain of salt. (But certainly I am not saying you are wrong if you agree with Chief Justice Roberts). Because the line between what the law is and what it should be is a very thin one and is entirely a matter of perspective. The Court’s opinion today affirms a strong heritage of individual autonomy when it comes to the most private and intimate decisions in life. In a separate string of cases (see Loving v. Virginia and Turner v. Safley), the Supreme Court has consistently held that the right to marriage is a right enjoyed by all. The Court’s decision today simply affirmed that sentiment, regardless of sexual orientation. That is what the majority believed the law is. This is what they believed Court precedent compelled them to do. You may agree or disagree (you would be in good company with 4 of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court), but the law is what it is.

So what does this mean for me?

You now have permission to unpack those emotions we put aside at the beginning of this article. This is an opinion that invites a lot of passion from both sides, and rightly so. Even the Supreme Court itself was sharply divided in this close 5-4 decision. You will hear people rejoicing in the spirit of equality. You will hear people decrying the opinion as an affront to Christianity or other religious and moral beliefs. The vehemence of these opinions will not fade quickly. But I am sure that, eventually, it will fade.

From a legal perspective, I loved the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges. In my opinion it got the law exactly right. People may disagree because gay marriage does not fit into their religion; yet the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing or favoring a religion, so it cannot prohibit gay marriage on those grounds. People may say that gay marriage is not supported by the history and tradition of our country (echoing, in some ways, that same religious argument); yet there is a dearth of case law proving otherwise; and moreover, just because we have always done something does not mean we should continue to do it (e.g., slavery, subjugation of women). People may say that they hate this opinion because, honestly, they just hate gay people. I wish those people did not exist in our society, but they do. And unfortunately, there is no logical or constitutional argument that can persuade people out of their hatred.

Apart from the legality of it all, though, I think it is quite definitely the most beautifully written opinion I have ever read (and as a law student I have, regrettably, read thousands of opinions). It is simple, artful, and bold in ways that causes one to pause and realize that you are indeed witnessing history unfolding before you. There are not many 28-page opinions I enjoy reading, but Justice Kennedy wrote so wonderfully that it sang. It was in many ways a masterpiece. You should really take time to read it (and form your own opinions).

Personally, I am so incredibly happy today for all my gay friends, that you have had your love recognized as a constitutional right that is now the law of the land. Today must feel like a dream come true, and I am truly, truly glad for you. And to all those who are disappointed with today’s ruling, I want to remind you of this: You can disapprove of the Court’s decision but still be happy for the millions of people who are today reveling in love. You can oppose the law without opposing the people affected by the law. You can fight for change without fighting one another. That is the difference between opposition and prejudice. And that is how we can make sure that love really does win.

*****

An Assortment of Favorite Passages From the Opinion

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a character protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning.

*****

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. The idea of the Constitution was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts.

*****

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation.

*****

From their beginning to their most recent page, the annals of human history reveal the transcendent importance of marriage. The lifelong union of a man and a woman always has promised nobility and dignity to all persons, without regard to their station in life. Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.

*****

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

—–

David Postic is a third-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

The Problem with the ‘Black on Black Crime’ Argument

By Ernest Ezeugo

Photo by Scott Olsen/Getty Images


In recent months, several tragic instances of police practicing excessive (sometimes fatal) force against black men and women have awakened a nationwide discussion about police brutality and how the justice system impacts the black community. This discussion has made a lot of people angry and defensive, and those emotions have led to some virulent responses and justifications.

Of all the empathy-void, compassion-less rebuttals to higher rates of police brutality against black men and women I’ve seen, “oh yeah? well what about black-on-black crime” is my favorite perhaps the most egregious. I have a few ideas on why people who can’t/don’t want to understand the plight of communities concerned by recent events turn to this defense, but below are my thoughts on why citing black-on-black crime is not an acceptable counterargument for police brutality.

Black on black crime and police brutality against black people are not mutually exclusive.
It is entirely reasonable to care about black on black crime and talk about how police brutality and the black community are related. It’s similar to how you can be a fan of waffles and still want pizza for dinner: black-on-black crime and police brutality are two entirely different conversations that don’t need to happen at the same time.

It’s a practice in the politics of changing the subject.
Ta-Nehisi Coates does a lot of writing about the politics of changing the subject that is very much worth taking a look at. Simply put, the black on black crime defense–kin to the “don’t wear seductive clothing” defense and the “don’t dress like a thug” defense–is a form of respectability politics that irrationally turns the blame for the death and mistreatment of black men and women at the hands of the law back onto the community. At its most general, it transforms a necessary conversation about race and justice into a condescending, often blithering discourse on the state of the black community. This is a problem for many reasons that I’ll get into, but essentially at the top of those: it’s a scapegoat that prevents us from taking part in the tough but restorative conversations about race that America has needed to engage in since the Civil War.

It’s a false equivalency.
As this interview with David Rudovsky explains, an inherent conflict of interest arises when an officer takes a life while on duty, immediately disqualifying the notion that police brutality can even be considered in the same league as any level of citizen crime, black-on-black crime in particular. Police officers serve as defenders of the people, so when a police officer is responsible for the death of any civilian, several cogs move into place to assure that trust is maintained between law enforcement and the community. This phenomenon is the reason why we know how many officers were killed in the line of duty this year, but have no accurate measurement of how many civilians were killed at the hands of police. And, begrudgingly, I understand the intent behind it. It isn’t so much shadiness as it is a means of securing trust, and therefore peace, in a society. …But at the end of the day, it doesn’t make it right. And it means that black-on-black crime and police brutality against black people, by their very definitions, are an equivalency that has no merit.

Put succinctly: Black people who kill black people go to jail. Policemen that kill people often do not.

It implicitly suggests that black people are not a part of the State.
In perhaps the most atrocious attempt to relate black on black crime to police brutality of the year, former mayor Rudy Giuliani made some disparaging comments about the state of the black community in an interview with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson. Chief among them was this thoughtless epitaph: “White police officers wouldn’t be (in your community) if you weren’t killing each other.”

Of the several things wrong with this comment, the most concerning is its implication. We know that police officers are meant to serve and protect all citizens. But when Giuliani asks Dyson what he is doing to heal his community, he proposes two dangerous and incorrect assumptions that many who conjure up the black-on-black crime defense similarly imply: that crime as it occurs in black communities occurs at the fault of the community rather than at the fault of the individual, and that black communities can do more to stop crime than they currently are, and for some reason choosing not to.

In the same way that crime in any other form of community is born, crime involving members of the black community is the product of an individual’s thoughts and desires. It’s for that reason that Giuliani’s assertion is so absurd. There is no superhuman connectivity between black people or paranormal mental Facebook that black people can log onto that allows us to control how often other black people commit crimes. And it’s not like black communities like crime, or aren’t working hard to stop it. We can only expect communities to do what they’ve already been doing.

All of this to say, it is not solely the black community’s responsibility to control crime among its people, just like it is not solely any other communities’ responsibility, because there is nothing that makes the black community different. Remember the police? It’s their responsibility. And consequently, it is their policies and procedures that have to be the first to called to question when the black community is jailed, sentenced, and killed at exponentially higher rates than any other community in the nation.

Talking about race is not easy. If it were, the discussion about race, justice, and law enforcement would have happened after Emmett Till, not at the end of 2014. If we’re going to get to the bottom of what it means to talk about and eventually resolve these issues, we have to be honest with ourselves about what a proper conversation looks like. It’s time to stop pretending that black-on-black crime has a place in the conversation.

—–

Ernest is  the founder of Thirty Eight Minutes.

Fixing the Ladder: You, Me, and Inequality

By Lester Asamoah

Income Equality, Changing Inequality, Political Systems, Inequality in the US


The United States is undoubtedly richer and more prosperous than it was twenty years ago. Technology is quickly advancing, and Americans have access to knowledge like never before. It’s a great picture to paint, right? The Americans with access to capital are prospering, and even the middle class citizens are experiencing microcosms of great prosperity. The sunny skies of happiness and growth, however, are deluded by clouds of concern for those with no access to capital. Aka, those that are in the lowest socio-economic classes.

Setting the Gini Free

One would think post World War II innovations would mean a decreasing gap in inequality. While many have prospered, few have suffered. The Gini Coefficient is a measure of income inequality where 0.00 represents complete equality (everyone making the exact same wages, etc) and 1.00 represents complete inequality (one person earning 99.9% of all wages, etc). Basically, the closer the Gini coefficient gets to 1, the more stratified the inequality. A study from the US Department of Commerce illustrates how the United States’ Gini has risen since the 1940s:

Gini

(taken from CBS’ News Article, How Do We Know Income Inequality is Getting Worse?)

Why do we care about this Gini that won’t grant our wishes? Because it means that the poorest Americans are increasingly reeling – income inequality is far beyond the simplicity of working hard and not working hard. It is the difference between access to capital, opportunity, education, and safety. The people at the very top are accumulating more and more access to these things, while the people at the very bottom are simultaneously losing access to these things.

A Broken Ladder

We know that inequality exists and is highly persistent in United States. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are ways Americans express frustration at the growing Gini. Now, this isn’t the point where I scream “socialism” and demand that the government purge the accounts of the 0.01%. In fact, I agree with The Economist’s article Inequality and the American Dream when they say “Inequality is not inherently wrong—as long as three conditions are met: first, society as a whole is getting richer; second, there is a safety net for the very poor; and third, everybody, regardless of class, race, creed or sex, has an opportunity to climb up through the system.” America actually seems to be doing well until we reach the third condition. But not meeting that third condition is grave for many opportunity-seeking Americans. In a previous post, The Mirage of Opportunity, I write about inequality on a racial level. Beyond that, however, we still have heated debate over opportunities for women (Equal Pay Bill in the US Senate) and impoverished Americans (Colleges perpetuating class divides) to climb the ladder. There’s no need to cry Socialism, but there is a need to scream equality of opportunity. If the American dream means climbing the ladder, we first must fix the ladder – it’s missing almost all of its rungs near the bottom.

Repairing a Ladder, Breaking Oppressive Systems

Repairing the ladder means fighting for equality of opportunity. Women must be paid the same wages, public education must make a strong comeback, and minorities must be given equal opportunity in the workplace, classroom, and society. Returning to the heart of Thirty-Eight Minutes and my previous posts, we must fight the corrupt and unequal systems in place now. Demanding equal rights for women, minorities, and the impoverished is critical. And doing so not just to be trendy, but because people’s lives are on the line. As the famous economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz points out in his New York Times opinion article, Inequality is not Inevitable, Americans do not have to idly stand by and watch inequality grow. First and foremost, we must get the money out of politics. A daunting, but necessary task. Large farming receives subsidies while the impoverished suffer nutritionally, and big pharma is raking in billions but not everyone can get access to health care. These are only two of many instances where lobbying efforts are steering politics. I don’t have the precise knowledge on how to suck the money out of politics, but I do know awareness and speaking out is the first step in the journey. Next, we must fight for justice. The stratification of wealth also means the price tag for justice is rising – the wealthy can afford lawyers and steep bails, while the lower-income Americans have little judicial resources and no recourse against injustices. White-collar crime continues (and the victims are often blamed), while increasingly privatized jails fill up with lower-income, often minority, people.

We have to repair the American Dream and pursue a reasonable level of equality of opportunity. The American Dream is certainly not dead, but it is unreachable for many. Our nation’s mantra is “justice and liberty for all”. When will we stop pretending justice and liberty exists for all, and start securing justice and liberty for those that do not have it?

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma.

Don’t Sip the “Securing the Border” Kool-Aid

By Lester Asamoah

 

Border Susnet


Crises make people drink a lot of questionable Kool-aid, and none more so right now than the “secure the border” Kool-aid. That is why I have come up with a quick guide as to why you should just say no to this particular beverage. Seriously. It’s not worth it.

1. It suggests that all undocumented immigrants are Mexican.

Statistically speaking, most of the undocumented immigrants originate from Mexico. I don’t want to run from the truth. However, recent controversy surrounding the spike in undocumented children is buttressing a myth that undocumented persons are all from Mexico (or around Mexico). Dept. of Homeland Security data shows that China, Philippines, India, and Vietnam are all represented as origins of undocumented people. Surprise, not every undocumented person is from Mexico!

Why does this point matter? Well, the undocumented children are not all Mexican. So no, we cannot “send them back to Mexico.”

2. People think “securing the border” actually works.

I could literally write a kids story with the fabrications that politicians and ill-informed people say about “securing the border.” Granted, it is true that if there were more walls and drones, fewer people would enter the country. But that is like putting ice on a torn ACL. Walls, guns, and drones won’t stop everyone. It won’t even stop half of the people coming in – people will find ways like riding boats, creating fake identities, climbing mountains, or using a portkey.

People want to have a better life. But it’s not all sunshine and roses in America. Some immigrants  don’t know English, have no identity, and are leaving a home where they sincerely believe they will suffer and die. I have no idea what it’s like to be on the other side of that fence, but I believe I would be making a similar decision if I were in their shoes. As would you, most likely.  Just because I am privileged with being a citizen of the United States does not make me inherently better than another human being.

3. Guns and drones aren’t the answer to everything.

Governor Rick Perry and Fox News’ Sean Hannity recently took a tour of the Texas/Mexico border. Mr. Hannity wanted to highlight on his show that President Obama was not empathetic enough for the woes of Border Security. As I conceded earlier, increasing the amount of personnel and drones on the border would probably help. But I think Mr. Hannity and others are missing a major point – are more troops feasible? There is a pervasive myth that if we (a) build giant walls and (b) arm a bunch of troops, then (c) undocumented immigration will somehow end. Not likely.

Take a peek a Google Earth and scope out the US/Mexico border. First and foremost, building a wall “to keep the illegals out” is basically impossible. How about deploying the National Guard? Again, that’s hard to do. The terrain is rough, the environment unforgiving. Also, it’s not like we don’t have, oh, 21,000+ troops on the borders already. Drones are great for surveillance, but we can’t aim hellfire missiles at undocumented kids.

Let’s say that we add troops to the border and extend the wall and deploy more drones. They stop more people. Great. How about the millions of people already in the country? How about people that come in via Canada? Hell, if the Department of Homeland Security can genuinely afford to station more troops on the US/Mexico border, they should have at it. But we as Americans need to understand the gargantuan scope of this undocumented immigration issue. This is not something that walls and guns can solve. This is a humanitarian crisis, and America should address it accordingly.

4. The “Securing the Border Kool-Aid” is dehumanizing.

Have a little empathy. If I were impoverished outside of America and my son or daughter had a glimmer of hope in the U.S., I would send them there without a second thought. Let’s not pretend that you, dear reader, wouldn’t do the same thing. One of the highest goals of every generation is to make life better than their predecessors. I’ve never met a parent that would say they don’t want their child to have a better life.

“Well then, Lester, they should apply legally and get work visas!” Okay. Getting citizenship, or even a permanent resident status isn’t anywhere near as simple as it sounds. The citizenship test is one that American college graduates could easily struggle with. Work visas are not easy to get, and many people end up being exploited for work because they have nothing else.

“We get you, Lester, they’re people. But they’re not paying taxes, so…” Okay. Okay. Well, first, they do pay sales tax. Also, people can’t just be on welfare or other government services without any identification. I promise you the government is wasting your money on a lot of other things not pertaining to people at all. (Senator Coburn tells us all about it in his Wastebook series.) The narrative has focused on law and money, when it’s people we have to deal with. People trying to escape desperate circumstances. That’s what I want to get across. I think people want this to be a quickly cleaned up situation after all the other messy things we’ve dealt with as a nation (see Iraq, Wall Street, BP, etc.). I hate to break it to you, but the hardest problems are usually also the messiest ones.

5. Immigration is an issue that requires long-term, calculated solutions.

Our politicians need to come together and figure out long-term, rational, and humane solutions. Let’s start by taking better care of our Homeland Security employees. They are asked to do way too much.

Then, let’s figure out how we can work with the struggling nations from which these immigrants travel. For those of you that whine about foreign aid (it’s literally only one percent of our budget)  – we need to invest in making the world better outside of our borders. I don’t know what exactly that will look like, but obviously we are making significant strides. But until everyone debunks the myth and understands the real problems that are beyond fortifying the border, I am worried that we will not formulate real, effective solutions.

Next, let’s look at reform within our own country. People are here now and they will keep coming. Let’s learn how to engage them and treat them like people while they are here. Perhaps not every law is perfect. If every law were immutable and unable to be reviewed, America would be a scary and tragic place indeed. But that is not the case. So let us work to make the law better, improve our circumstances, and look toward a brighter future.

Let’s put down the soap boxes and put on our thinking caps. This will not be easy. There will be pain. But for our fellow human beings and our great nation, let’s stop pretending this will be easy and take the hard path to resolution. Don’t drink the Kool-aid.

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies Senior at the University of Oklahoma.

10 Most Important SCOTUS Decisions of 2014

By Lester Asamoah and David Postic

U.S. Supreme Court


 

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores set the social media world (and the regular world, for that matter) on fire. Suddenly, people who usually couldn’t care less what those nine crazy old people say got all excited and started tweeting about it. In other words, Hobby Lobby was essentially the World Cup of Supreme Court rulings.

However, Hobby Lobby was not the only case the Supreme Court (or SCOTUS, for those who like acronyms) covered this term. In our opinion it wasn’t even the most important. Considering that the Court hears between 80 and 90 cases each year–on a wide range of issues–it is important to know what they decide outside of this one little case. Below we have ranked and summarized the ten most important cases from this term.

1. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

Background: If you don’t know anything about the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision from 2010, stop now and go learn about it. Essentially, this case (like Citizens United) is about how much an individual can contribute to a political candidate, political party, or political action committee (PAC). McCutcheon was not arguing for the right to donate more money to a single candidate; rather, he wanted to be able to donate money to more candidates/parties/PACs. However, limitations on aggregate contributions constrained his giving, supposedly violating his First Amendment right to free speech.

Holding: The Court ruled in favor of McCutcheon 5-4. The practical effect of McCutcheon is that individuals will still be subject to a limit (currently $2600) on contributions to any one candidate and higher limits on contributions to any PAC or party committee.  Now, however, donors will no longer be limited in the number of candidates or committees they may support in any given election cycle. Viewed together, Citizens United and McCutcheon strike a major blow to proponents of campaign finance reform.

2. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

Background: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requires employers to provide their female employees with health insurance that includes no-cost access to twenty different kinds of contraceptives. Hobby Lobby, a craft store owned by a Christian family, objected to the requirement, specifically claiming that four types of contraceptives (two kinds of “morning after” pills and two kinds of IUDs–interuterine devices) are abortifacients and therefore burdensome to the free practice of their Christian religion.

Holding: The Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby. The first important thing to note here is that this ruling was not one centered strictly on the Constitution. Rather it was mainly a statutory issue concerning the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The decision here did not destroy Obamacare’s individual mandate; it also did not grant all businesses religious exceptions to Obamacare. The majority claims that this ruling is a narrow one that applies only to closely-held corporations and only on an issue such as contraceptives and only when it places a significant burden on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the dissenters (led by Justice Ginsburgh in what may be one of her most fiery dissents in recent years) claimed the majority established dangerous precedent that could have ramifications in racial discrimination, same-sex discrimination, and other issues.

3. Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Background: If you are unfamiliar with affirmative action, take 5 minutes to orient yourself. In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, which prevented the state’s public colleges and universities from granting preferential treatment in the admissions process on the basis of race.

Holding: In a 6-2 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself), the Court ruled that voters can end state affirmative action programs. The opinion will not prevent universities from using race as a plus-factor in admissions processes; it merely stated that voters have the power to ban the use of racial preferences. Nevertheless, the dissent and proponents of affirmative action believe that this is a major setback for racial equality. While the decision focused on race-based admissions factors in universities, it would presumably also permit voters to end race-based policies in the hiring of state and local employees and in awarding public contracts.

4. American Broadcasting Companies v. Aereo

Background: Aereo invented a technology that allows subscribers to view and record television broadcasts over the Internet by swiping the broadcasts from the airwaves with thousands of tiny antennas. Because the startup did not receive permission to stream these broadcasts, broadcasting companies sued Aereo, claiming copyright infringement. However, Aereo claimed that they were not infringing on any copyrights–they were simply renting antennas to consumers and they were doing the rest.

Opposing Aereo were the broadcasting companies, as well as corporations such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, which earn hundreds of millions of dollars selling their broadcasting rights. On Aereo’s side was the cable industry. If Aereo won, cable companies would be able to sell their own Aereo-esque technology and provide broadcast content without paying broadcasters a penny. Interesting to note here: When Aereo won its case on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last year, CBS and Fox threatened to go off the air.

Holding: The Supreme Court ruled against Aereo in a 6-3 decision. The justices seemed anxious to avoid a ruling that would imperil the legal foundation of cloud computing services such as Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Music. Instead, the majority said the decision pertained only to Aereo’s system so far as it enabled its viewers to view copyrighted TV programs “live,” or after only a brief delay. In the increasingly dramatic fight between cable companies and broadcasters, Aereo affirmed in part the power of the broadcasting industry.

5. Riley v. California

Background: A California police officer stopped the petitioner, Riley, for a traffic violation that eventually led to his arrest on weapons charges. When Riley was arrested, his cellphone was taken and searched. The police officer found photo and video content suggesting that he was involved a particular gang shooting. Riley moved to suppress the evidence from his phone connecting him to the gang, but the trial court denied the motion and he was convicted.

Holding: In a 9-0 decision, the Court held that the police may not search the cellphone of an individual who is arrested. All nine justices maintained that such digital content may only be searched with a warrant. Riley does not have a direct impact on allegations of government monitoring personal information, but it is a big win for personal privacy and the Fourth Amendment by reaffirming constitutional protections in an increasingly digital world.

6. Town of Greece v. Galloway

Background: Town board meetings in Greece, NY open with roll call, recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer and have done so since 1999. The town’s prayer program is open to all creeds, but all of the local congregations are Christian. Thus, nearly all of the prayers are Christian prayers. Respondents Galloway and Stephens argued that the prayers go against their personal religious and philosophical beliefs – they arguethe town should have “inclusive and ecumenical” prayers that would not associate the government with one belief system.

Holding: In a tight 5-4 decision, the Court held that the town of Greece was not violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The prayers have Christian elements, but they also invoke a sense of spiritual and civil principles. Additionally, the majority believed that reasonable attempts were made to include clergy of different faiths. Regardless, this case is big for religious freedom. The “traditional” protections that Congress and state legislatures have for prayer are now extended to local civil entities. City of Greece 1 – Laicism 0.

7. Hall v. Florida

Background: A man (Hall) kidnapped, beat, raped, and murdered Karol Hurst, a 21 year old newlywed. After killing her, Hall and his accomplice planned to rob a convenience store but were stopped by in the parking lot by a sheriff’s deputy. The two men then killed the deputy. The State of Florida recommended the death penalty for both counts of murder. Hall argued he cannot be executed on account of his intellectual disability. Hall’s IQ score is 71, but Florida laws state that an IQ score of 70 or below is required to present additional evidence of an intellectual disability to vacate the sentence.

(Note: Highly recommend reading the opinion brief, Hall was tortured by his mother and faced other troubling circumstances. The Florida jury and appellate court opinions are also worth the read.)

Holding: The Court ruled 5-4 that the state IQ threshold was unconstitutional because it put intellectually disabled individuals at unreasonable risk for being executed. Prior case law has established that any execution of intellectually disabled individuals clearly violates the Eighth Amendment. Florida’s hard and fast IQ threshold was a problem because the law did not account for standard error.

8. NLRB v. Noel Canning

Background: Several members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were appointed by President Obama via the Recess Appointment Clause, which states that the President has the power to temporarily appoint officers without the consent of the Senate if the Senate is in recess. The NLRB members in question were appointed during a three day recess.

Holding: In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Court ruled Obama’s appointments invalid. Basically, the Justices felt that a three day recess is far too short to make appointments without Senate approval. There is no concrete definition on what is “too short” of a recess. However, it is generally regarded as a “significant interruption of legislative business” (e.g. Summer Recess). The ruling blocks the president from sneaking appointees past the Senate. Yet in a highly partisan Senate, it also slows down the appointment process of key political officials.

9. EPA v. EME Homer City Generation

Background: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through the Clean Air Act, established national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for pollutants at levels that will protect public health. Once the EPA determines NAAQS, they determine the “non-attainment areas” where a regulated pollutant exceeds the NAAQS. A state with a non-attainment area must submit a solution to the EPA within three years. If the EPA thinks an the solution is inadequate, the EPA develops a Federal Implementation Plan where the EPA takes control. A solution can be ruled inadequate if it is in violation of the Good Neighbor Provision, meaning that the plan must include provisions to prevent regulated pollutants from one state from adversely affecting another [downwind] state.

In 2005, the EPA Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) sought to regulate nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide in 27 upwind states. However, the D.C. Circuit Court found fault with CAIR, so the EPA came up with a complex cost-based formula for determining how states should compensate one another. If this case sounds complicated, that’s because it is.

Holding: In a 6-2 decision, the Court reversed the D.C. Circuit’s decision. The decision is significant because President Obama announced an EPA plan last month to combat climate change. The aforementioned Clean Air Act is the source of the EPA’s authority–instead of creating a new law, the EPA regulations are interpretations of the Clean Air Act. Environmental politics are dicey, but the Court gave the EPA a victory.

10. McCullen v. Coakley

Background: The Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act made it a crime to knowingly stand within 35 feet of a public way or sidewalk of an entrance or driveway to a reproductive health care facility. Petitioner McCullen argued that he and others engaged in “sidewalk counseling” by giving women walking toward abortion clinics information about alternatives to abortion. McCullen claimed that the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act significantly hampered his efforts of “sidewalk counseling”, and thus was a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Holding: In a 9-0 decision, the Court ruled the Act unconstitutional. Quite simply, the Justices believed that the State of Massachusetts did not do enough to address clashes between abortion opponents and advocates before passing the Act. In so deciding, the Court continued a strong trend of protecting free speech, even when it is perceived as hateful.

—–

Lester Asamoah is an International Security Studies senior at the University of  Oklahoma.

&

David Postic is a second-year law student at the University of Oklahoma.

7 Things You Need to Know About Charter Schools

By David Postic

7 things you should know about charter schools


If you find yourself talking about education policy, you’re probably going to end up talking about charter schools. At its core, the charter school movement is a relatively simple concept, but it has become complicated in practice and politics. Luckily for you, we have put together a short primer to unravel these complications so you can fully understand the context of the charter school debate.

1. Charter schools haven’t been around all that long.

The first charter school was founded in Minnesota in 1991. Since that time, the number of charter schools has increased dramatically, with 5% of public school students in the United States now attending a charter school.

2. Charters are, in some ways, similar to traditional public schools.

Both traditional public schools (TPS) and charter schools are technically “public” schools: They are funded with taxpayer money, don’t charge tuition, and are required to accept any student who wants to enroll. But while public schools are governed by local school boards and school districts, charter schools are operated by independent groups.

There are other important differences as well. Some charter schools can hire teachers who are not certified by the state. Many charter school teachers are also paid based on performance. In general, charter schools have greater flexibility than TPS in setting curriculum, school hours, teaching method, and hiring/firing teachers.

3. Charter schools do not have admissions policies.

Rather, charter schools are not supposed to have admissions policies. A Reuters investigation in 2013 found that some schools get around this requirement through a variety of different screening methods. As a result, those schools can pick the students they want and avoid those they don’t. However, charter schools backed by state law (such as KIPP, Success Academy, etc.) generally ask for little more than name, grade, and contact information in their applications. It is the stand-alone charters, which account for more than half of all charter schools in the U.S., that make up their own admissions policies. These schools are the ones who skirt the “open” and “inclusive” rules of charter schools. Many charter schools are located in high poverty areas and actively target disadvantaged students.

4. Many charter schools spend less on the classroom.

Unlike TPS, some charter schools are run for a profit. Nationally just under 13% of charters are run by for-profit entities. However, that number varies from state to state. For example, an estimated 85 percent of Michigan’s charter school students attend schools run by for-profit companies. These for-profit charters typically spend about 50 percent of their budget on instruction compared to close to 60 percent for traditional public schools. These for-profit charter schools typically obtain their profits by spending less in four areas: Teacher compensation, special education, transportation, and concentrating on K-8 schools rather than high schools. Opponents of charter schools focus in on this fact: From a taxpayer standpoint, would we rather see dollars go to teachers or corporate profit?

5. You don’t actually pay more for charter schools.

Taxpayers are not obligated to pay any more simply because a new charter school opens in their area. Charter schools are public schools, and tax money that is allocated to education goes to charter schools as well as TPS. Professor Paul Hill of the University of Washington simplified the issue: “Basically, there is money that used to be in the hands of the public school system that now goes to charter schools. But it’s not more money, it’s the same, and in some cases actually less… So it isn’t that the public is paying more for charter schools. In fact, sometimes they’re paying less.”

6. However, charter schools do take money away from TPS.

Charters and TPS get money for every student that enrolls. So technically, each student that enrolls in a charter school results in less money for TPS. On one hand, public schools no longer have to spend money on those lost students, but on the other hand they may have trouble reducing their costs to the same degree. Nevertheless, charter school enrollment does mean less total funding for TPS. The important question to ask: Is it worth it?

7. The results of charter schools are mixed.

One of the leading studies on charter school performance, organized by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), has been used to suggest that charter schools are outperforming TPS. Like similar studies, the CREDO research has been repeatedly distorted and mischaracterized by parties on both sides of the charter school debate.

The central result of the study is that approximately one hundredth of one percent (0.01 percent) in the variation in test performance can be attributed to charter school enrollment. Charter advocates took that statistic and ran headlines around the nation that “charter schools improve test performance.” Obviously that implication is misguided.

Part of the reason for all this mischaracterization is the promotional effort of education reformers. This statistical research burst onto the scene in 2009 when it was referenced in the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” The ‘Superman’ narrator tells the audience that “one in five” charter schools is excellent. The actual finding from the CREDO study (which was a precursor to the updated 2013 study referenced above) is that of the charters researched, 17% (which is really one in six) had better results than the comparison student results attributed to conventional public schools, while 37% did worse.

Bottom line: Performance results of charter schools are mixed. The underlying issues are far too complex and understudied to determine that charters are all-around better than TPS.

So those are the charter schools basics.

At their core, studies show that charter schools perform about as well as TPS on average. However, the same factors that contribute to success in traditional schools–good teachers, good administrators, high levels of family support–also make good charter schools. The movement is still relatively young, so the results are only beginning to be evaluated. Nevertheless, as charters grow to become a larger part of the national education debate, it is important to understand what they are and how they may affect your community.

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David Postic is a law student at the University of Oklahoma.

Education Links We Love (July 4th, 2014)

Education Reads

Each Friday, we here at Thirty-Eight Minutes post our five favorite education-themed articles from around the web this week. Alas, we are but five guys with limited time to surf the furthest reaches of the Internet. So, as always, we would love any additional articles worth reading. If you find any, please post them below and share your discoveries with us.

Why We Still Need Affirmative Action (Washington Post)

What’s Missing From the Merit-Aid Debate (Chronicle)

College Debt and Home Buying (NY Times)

5 Powerful Videos on Global Education (Edudemic)

To Close the Achievement Gap We Need to Close the Teaching Gap (HuffPost)

… And for the most obvious headline of the week…

Bonus: Education is Key to Making Oklahoma Competitive (NewsOK)