2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Young voters were an important factor in the 2008 election outcome.  Official results are forthcoming, but Rock the Vote reports that an estimated 54.5 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds turned out last Tuesday.  This was an increase of nearly six percent from 2004 and almost 15 percent from 2000.  A record 24 million young people cast votes, comprising 18 percent of the overall electorate.  Consistent with polling figures, 66 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds nationwide voted for president-elect Barack Obama.  Young voters’ strong preference for Obama had a significant impact on close races in several battleground states, including Virginia.

Here in Williamsburg, students contributed heavily to increased voter turnout.  In the Stryker Precinct – where the majority of W&M students vote – turnout increased more than 1,600 votes, from 2,144 in 2004 to 3,803 in 2008.  Overall voter turnout in Stryker was just over 80* percent.

Why the significant increase in Williamsburg voter turnout?  Following an extensive three-year voters’ rights campaign, William & Mary students were permitted to register at their campus addresses for the first time beginning last fall.  In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three W&M students who had been denied the right to register to vote in Williamsburg because the local registrar considered them “temporary” residents.  The registrar eventually allowed the students to register, and the case was dismissed.  Students living in campus dormitories still faced the challenge of establishing physical addresses.  In response, William & Mary student Matt Beato created a web program that enabled students to register by converting campus addresses into physical addresses.


Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 7:31 pm Comments Off on 2008: The Year of the Young Voter (Revisited)

Why Torture Does Not Work

On Monday evening, the Human Rights and National Security Law program, in conjunction with Human Rights First, sponsored a roundtable discussion of why torture does not work, and why the next administration should work to end the ambiguity regarding its use by Americans.  Speaking at the discussion were Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.), Major General Fred Hayes, USMC (Ret.), and Brigadier General James Cullen, USA (Ret.).  Over an hour of question and answer, the three revealed several key pillars to their belief that torture does not work and should not be practiced by Americans.

They began with emphatic statements that torture does not work.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told a story about his time on Iwo Jima during World War II.  A Lieutenant Johnson took a Japanese prisoner.  While they stood looking at each other a bullet struck Lt. Johnson’s helmet and brushed the top of his head as it went through the helmet.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told us that Lt. Johson could easily have shot the prisoner in the assumption that it had been a set up.  Instead, Lt. Johnson brought over another Marine.  After a few more silent moments the prisoner asked if either of the Americans spoke French.  The young Marine did, and the Japanese soldier began giving him information.  It turned out that prisoner was the chief code clerk for the commanding general at Iwo Jima and was one of the most valuable prisoners the Americans took on the island.  Maj. Gen. Hayes told us that the prisoner was very cooperative with the Americans because he knew he would be treated well.  The prisoner offered up information that helped them fend off immediate attacks and was later sent to Washington for further interrogation.  Maj. Gen. Hayes offered this as a prime example of how good treatment of prisoners can and does result in actionable intelligence.

Brig. Gen. Cullen reminded us that the goal of any interrogation is actionable intelligence.  When we engage in torture, he said, the population from which we draw that intelligence is no longer willing to give it.  Often the population is made up not necessarily of combatants, but mothers, sisters, grocers, and every day citizens who find themselves fed up with the brutality of their situation.  If they know American soldiers to be perpetrating that same brutality and denigration in their own actions, then we “become a recruiting office for the enemy,” said Brig. Gen. Cullen.  Humane practices not only lend us the moral high ground, but also draw informants who may be tired of violence and willing to help end it.


Published in: on October 7, 2008 at 12:08 pm Comments Off on Why Torture Does Not Work

Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election

Judge Charleston, Waller County Justice of the Peace, was able to inject a surprising amount of humor and no shortage of passion into the telling of his personal experiences of struggling against appalling practices in Texas designed to keep black students from exercising their right to vote.Judge DeWayne Charleston

Judge Charleston’s speech today, co-sponsored by ACS, Black Law Students Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union centered on students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in the majority white Waller County, Texas. Judge Charleston personally oversaw the registration of over 1100 black student voters. However, when the judge went to survey the polls on election day, checking to make sure that his constituents and potential voters weren’t having problems, he found that these black student voters whose registration he had personally overseen were being denied their right to vote at the polls. With a little help from unlikely allies Scarface and the crew at Rap-a-lot Records, Judge Charleston was able to convince the crowds of students to stay and vote provisionally, but was nonetheless appalled at the discriminatory practices at the polls.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 8:25 pm Comments Off on Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election
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Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

As the 2008 presidential election rapidly approaches many Americans are focused on deciding which candidate to vote for. The right to vote is one that many of us take for granted, but there are about 5.3 million Americans who are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. There is a high degree of disenfranchisement on the national level, but the disenfranchisement statistics and practices in Virginia are especially disturbing.

Virginia and Kentucky are the only states in which restoration of rights for felons is completely contingent upon the governor’s approval of the felon’s restoration application. Prior to Governor Warner, all felons in Virginia had to wait seven years before applying to have their rights restored. Warner changed the law, creating two separate criteria based on whether the felony conviction was violent or non- violent. Governor Warner restored the rights of 4,000 people while he was in office, in contrast, his successor governor Kaine, according to a lecture by Sandra Brandt, has granted restoration rights to very few people. (more…)

Published in: on September 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm Comments Off on Restoration of Voting Rights for Felons

Lawless Judges Protecting Lawless Police Officers

Tasers were marketed to the public as an alternative to deadly force, but it seems every week there is another case where the police use them for passive non-compliance.

Excessive force claims under section 1983 are governed by an objective reasonableness standard. Factors to consider include “(1) the need for the application of force, (2) the relationship between the need and amount of force used, and (3) the extent of the injury inflicted” (Draper factors). The nature and degree of appropriate force is weighed against “[a] the severity of the crime at issue, [b] whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others, and [c] whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight” (Graham factors). Other than that, the reasonableness assessment has been acknowledged to be very loose and fact determinative. (more…)

Published in: on September 17, 2008 at 7:15 pm Comments Off on Lawless Judges Protecting Lawless Police Officers

Black in America

CNN’s Black in America aka “Black People are Reason for their Own Misfortune in America”

Cross-Posted and published with http://www.thecollegianur.com/

“You think you know what it’s like to be Black in America… You have no idea.”

This was how CNN advertised its self-proclaimed groundbreaking documentary series Black in America.  CNN’s own multiculti poster child, Soledad O’Brien, was the host of what she said would give the rest of America “a good picture of what it means to be Black in America.”  Unfortunately O’Brien, who identified herself as Black for the series in many promotions on Black radio stations, failed at fulfilling this lofty goal.

Originally a skeptic, I wondered who gave CNN the right to present the story of Black people to the rest of the country.  I was, however, slightly relieved that FOX News was not offering its authoritative take on Black America.  Still doubtful, I sat down to watch with low expectations.  Right away, one of my friends mentioned that O’Brien said “Black” like it was a disease or some other negative characteristic.  At first, I thought she was thinking too far into things but soon came to agree with her.


Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 9:06 pm Comments Off on Black in America

Telecom Spying– You Are Still Not Safe

You’re still not safe because there’s still no terrorism exception to the rule of law. That was the message from the Attorney General this week in his address to the Commonwealth Club of California. After his initial remarks (which were on the ongoing effort to fight public corruption) he solicited a question on the debate over retroactive immunity for the telcoms violations of the statutes protecting the privacy of their customers at the behest of the President.

I don’t write this because I expect to change anyone’s mind, this isn’t that kind of issue. I am writing this because I am tired of being talked down to by people who exude a sense of entitlement to conduct themselves as they see fit, the rule of law notwithstanding. We may see legal protection for the telcoms fairly soon – Congress will reconvene on April 14th – but it will be all the more tragic because we won’t be able to hide behind a claim of ignorance like we did with the Patriot Act.

The Attorney General began by explaining, from his perspective, why the telcoms are being sued:

“[The telcoms] are being sued … because they are believed to have responded to the direct assurance by those in authority that the President had asked them to help collect foreign intelligence against foreign targets – we’re not talking about domestic surveilliance … of targets located abroad, and that it was legal”

Wrong. The telcoms are being sued because they broke the law. This is one of the most offensive aspects of the rhetoric being used. What the Attorney General is trying to describe is a legal justification for what the telcoms did. If he is right, there is a good chance that they in fact did not break the law. Fantastic right? So why do we need to immunize them, just let them win in open court. In fact, if the claims are half as frivolous as the Attorney General suggests, the plaintiffs would have been thrown out a long time ago. Later on, he comes back to this, saying “we need and get court permission … to [conduct surveillance on Americans here in the United States],” again saying this is about foreign intelligence and foreign targets. Whatever planet the Attorney General is living on, the lawsuits here in the United States are brought by Americans who claim that THEIR rights have been violated.


Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 11:48 pm Comments Off on Telecom Spying– You Are Still Not Safe

Senate Immunizes Warrantless Wiretapping

Jim Webb, John Warner, and a supermajority of the Senate (68-29), just sold you out. The Senate just passed a bill which would excuse the telecommunications companies for violating the rights that same Senate conferred upon you. Make no mistake, there hasn’t been the slightest suggestion that what they did was legal. Rather, those supporting retroactive immunity for the telcoms suggest that they are entitled to break the law when they do so for the sake of national security. Specifically, when the government asks them to provide your private communications without even trying to get a warrant from a secret court, or complying with the already expansive powers conferred upon it following 9/11.


But the whole national security angle is a farce — the President vowed to veto the very legislation very that would give him access to FISA warrants unless it contained retroactive immunity for his cronies. It is, sadly, understandable, since the power to act outside the law is more valuable than the authority to act within its constraints, but the fact that every Republican senator was willing to wager (See “Update III”) the ability to obtain legal FISA warrants against the prospect of obtaining retroactive immunity for those who broke FISA should be inexcusable in a country that believe it is governed by laws, not men.


Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 2:45 pm Comments Off on Senate Immunizes Warrantless Wiretapping

DOJ: Bureaucracy Goes from Bad to Lethal

Few of us spend our days in law school contemplating those whom justice has evaded or ignored, preferring out of necessity to keep our heads low and survive this tiny journey, looking forward to the day when we can take out our shiny new degrees and battle the best of them for positive and systemic social change. Fewer of us still have an opportunity to hold the hand of a man who has spent time on death row, share a drink with him, or stand outside and contemplate whether the placement of the moon in the night sky will affect this last day of hunting season. It still gives me pause when I think of last weekend, and how many of us did just that.

If you have ever heard Kirk Noble Bloodsworth speak, you understand what it means when I say that he is a hero of sorts to those of us who attended the death penalty symposium co-hosted by the Black Law Students Association and Students for the Innocence Project last Saturday.

Kirk spent 9 years in prison, including 2 on death row, for a crime he did not commit. When his death sentence was read aloud, the courtroom erupted in applause. Though his conviction was later overturned due to Brady violations, a jury found Kirk guilty a second time, sentencing him to two consecutive life terms.


Published in: on February 3, 2008 at 10:06 am Comments Off on DOJ: Bureaucracy Goes from Bad to Lethal

Alien vs. (Human Rights) Predator

The Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) of 1789 grants jurisdiction to United States federal courts over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. 1350 (2006).

Though perhaps seemingly bland in its one-sentence text, the significant effect of the ATCA is to provide an American legal venue to victims of human rights abuses who could not otherwise bring their abusers to justice in local courts due to bureaucratic reasons, domestic intimidation, or otherwise. The ATCA does so even if neither party has any connection to the United States.

This dated piece of legislation was adopted in a time very different from the present, given that the ATCA was passed as part of the original Judiciary Act of 1789 that established the “inferior courts” that we recognize today as our federal district courts and courts of appeals. Clearly the American court system and laws have evolved over time, but though the ATCA dates from our nation’s constitutional founding and fell out of regular use long ago, the pithy statute has taken on an increased salience in recent years.

As noted above, the effect of the ATCA is to provide a venue in a U.S. federal court for human rights violations. Importantly, the ACTA allows for alien plaintiffs to sue non-national individuals, rather than countries. But as Corporations and Business Associations class indoctrinates us, an “individual” need not be a human being, it can be a corporate entity in the legal sense.

Although intended to apply to a limited number of tort actions, such as piracy, violations of safe-conducts, and interference with the rights of ambassadors, the ACTA’s limits were tested in 1980 when a Paraguayan man successfully used the ATCA to sue a police official who kidnapped and tortured his son to death in Paraguay. Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980).

More recently, in July 2007 a federal jury delivered its verdict in the first corporate ATCA case to make it through trial, finding that Drummond Coal Company was not guilty of the 2001 murder of three union leaders at one of its mines in Colombia. Rodriquez v. Drummond, 256 F. Supp. 2d 1250 (N.D. Ala. 2002). It should be noted that the case is being appealed, however, as the trial judge excluded eyewitness testimony linking the company’s operations to Colombian paramilitaries.

Why is the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789 important? Because it represents a new (or, more aptly, a rediscovered) arrow (more…)

Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 5:10 pm Comments Off on Alien vs. (Human Rights) Predator