Tag Archives: Law

The War on Poverty at 50: How Far Have We Come, and Where Are We Going? (A Conference Report)

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One goal of studying the past is not to be trapped by history but to transcend it.

— Historian Michael B. Katz (1939-2014)

ToM regularly covers disciplinary conferences. Last week, the University of Pennsylvania hosted “The War on Poverty at 50: Its History and Legacy.” Your ToM correspondent spoke at the event while furiously taking notes during all the panels to produce the write-up you have before you. Videos of the event will be up shortly and embedded below. (Panelists, if you’re reading this, let me know if something’s missing or distorted, and I’ll modify this account immediately. I tried to keep these as brief as possible while conveying the major thrusts of the papers.)

The past few years have seen a resurgence of scholarly interest in the War on Poverty: LBJ’s signature polices and programs that addressed a number of spheres, including education, nutritional, health care, and job training…

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Dog Days Classics: Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song

gary gilmore

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I just wanted to say thanks to all who have supported me over the years: Reverend Campbell, for my spiritual guidance; Aaron, the father of Darrian, my son; and Maurie, my attorney. Thank you everybody. This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love y’all. Thank you, Chaplain.

These were the last words uttered by Kimberly McCarthy, Texas inmate number 999287. She was born in May of 1961 and was thirty-six years old when she committed the crime that would eventually take her to death row. Although she proclaimed her innocence up to her execution, she was convicted of stabbing to death a seventy-year-old woman during a robbery in 1997. She had brown eyes and at the time of her execution measured five feet, three inches and weighed 188 pounds. She…

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No Apology: A Letter

india kid

Mehreen Kasana

On my way to class, I take the Q train to Manhattan and sit down next to an old white man who recoils a noticeable bit. I assume it’s because I smell odd to him, which doesn’t make sense because I took a shower in the morning. Maybe I’m sitting too liberally the way men do on public transit with their legs a mile apart, I think to myself. That also doesn’t apply since I have my legs crossed. After a few seconds of inspecting any potential offence caused, I realize that it has nothing to do with an imaginary odor or physical space but with the keffiyeh around my neck that my friend gifted me (the Palestinian scarf – an apparently controversial piece of cloth). It is an increasingly cold October in NYC. Sam Harris may not have told you but we Muslims need our homeostasis at a healthy…

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What Robocop Tells Us About the Neoliberal City, Then & Now:

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Robocop 1987 vs 2014

The recent release of Jose Padilha’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise offers ToM another opportunity to indulge in extreme historian geekiness. As an unabashed lover of the original 1987 RoboCop, I jumped at the opportunity to write a dual review of both films, reflecting on their contrasting messages and cultural commentaries.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 version was a masterpiece. No, seriously. Taking place in an unspecified, but not too distant future, the film is set in a dystopic, post-industrial Detroit. The film’s Motor City is riddled with crime and drugs, where police are killed with shocking regularity. The thinly veiled illusion to urban blight during the Reagan years is hard to miss.        RoboCop ’87 is a biting indictment of neoliberal urbanism. The central villain of the film is the Omni Consumer Products (OCP) corporation, whose maniacal plan is to bulldoze the slums (which seems to be most of the city)…

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Structured Unrest: The Rumford Act, Proposition 14, and the Systematic Inequality that Created the Watts Riots

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fairhousing

 

If “you keep telling people that they are unfairly treated and teach them disrespect for the law,” Chief William Parker told reporters in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, then violence is inevitable. Parker’s commentary, an attempt to deflect his own department’s culpability for the civil unrest veered into increasingly racist territory. In Parker’s worldview, trouble only started “when one person threw a rock, and like monkeys in a zoo, others started throwing rocks.” Calls by assemblyman Mervyn Dymally for a civilian police review board were little more than a “vicious canard,” argued the imperious police chief.[1]

The legacy of the riots, fifty years old next year, has reverberated throughout Los Angeles and Southern California history and its echoes can still be heard today. Undoubtedly, the riots accelerated white flight from communities like Compton, where ironically, black, white, and Latino residents had repelled looters. While discrimination persisted in…

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“A singularly intricate situation has developed in Washington” / Some Historical Background on Hobby Lobby

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If Progressive Era birth control reformer Mary Ware Dennett hadn’t been cremated in 1947 immediately following her death, she’d be rolling over in her grave today. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (or Burwell as the decision was handed down) has abruptly called forward again the long legal story of the fight for reproductive rights. Other landmark cases along this path have included Griswold v. Connecticut (1965); Roe v. Wade (1973); Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989); Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and somewhat more recently, Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). What’s Dennett got to do with all of this and why does it matter? We have to go back eighty-five years ago to examine Dennett’s activism and her legal case, to understand the political background for Hobby Lobby.

Mary Coffin Ware Dennett was Margaret Sanger’s greatest rival, but she is little known today…

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Marriage Equality & The Supreme Court

this article comes courtesy of the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Late in the oral argument over same-sex marriage in California, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a startling comment, given the months of buildup and mountain of legal briefs that have descended on the justices.

“You might address why you think we should take and decide this case,” Kennedy said to lawyer Charles Cooper, representing opponents of same-sex marriage.

One might have thought the court had already crossed that bridge.

But now the justices were openly discussing essentially walking away from the case over California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on gay marriage, without deciding anything at all about such unions.

Indeed, this case offers a rare glimpse at the court’s opaque internal workings, in which justices make cold political calculations about what to do and Kennedy’s often-decisive vote can never be far from his colleagues’ minds.

The court on Wednesday concluded two days of arguments involving gay marriage. In the second case, a constitutional challenge to a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of the court appeared likely to rule that legally married gay couples should be able to receive a range of benefits that the law currently reserves for straight married couples.

The decision to hear the DOMA case was easy. The Supreme Court almost always has the final word when lower courts strike down a federal law, as they did in this case.

Proposition 8’s route to the Supreme Court was not as obvious. The appeals court ruling under review by the justices seems to have been written to discourage the high court from ever taking up the case because it applies only to California and limited a much broader opinion that had emerged earlier from the trial court.

And yet in December, the court decided it would hear the case. It takes a majority of five to decide a case a particular way, but just four justices can vote to add a case to the calendar. And the court does not disclose how the justices vote at this stage.

It seems apparent after the argument, though, that it was the conservative justices who opted to hear Proposition 8. It also seems that one factor in their decision was that this could be their last, best opportunity to slow the nation’s march toward recognition of gay marriage at a time when only nine states and the District of Columbia allow gays and lesbians to marry – despite a rapid swing in public opinion in favor of gay marriage.

From their comments and questions Tuesday, Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia indicated they preferred what they called the cautious approach: allowing the debate over gay marriage to play out in the states and not overturning by judicial fiat the will of California voters who approved Proposition 8 in 2008. Justice Clarence Thomas, as is his custom, said nothing during the argument, but he and Scalia were dissenters in the court’s earlier two gay rights cases in 1996 and 2003.

Chief Justice John Roberts also had tough questions for lawyers for the same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry, and for the Obama administration.

Scalia sought to counter Kennedy’s comment, and a similar one from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that maybe the court should get rid of the case.

“It’s too late for that, too late for that now, isn’t it? I mean, we granted cert,” Scalia said, using the legal shorthand for the court’s decision to hear a case. “We have crossed that river, I think.”

Once or twice a term, occasionally more often, the justices do dismiss cases after they have been argued, without rendering opinions and establishing a rule for the whole nation. The language they use is the wonderfully vague “dismissed as improvidently granted.” Roughly translated, it means “sorry for wasting everyone’s time.”

That is one potential outcome, discussed publicly by Kennedy and Sotomayor.

Another possibility would be a decision limited to the technical legal question of whether the Proposition 8 supporters have the right to defend the measure in court. If they don’t, the court can’t reach the broader issues in the case.

On this point, Roberts’ view seemed more in line with questions from some of the liberal justices.

So why would a justice who appeared favorably inclined to California’s ban on gay marriage want to rule that the case should not even be in front of the court?

The answer is that Roberts might want to dispose of the case in this narrow way if he saw a decision in support of gay marriage emerging and wanted to block it. Or, he might choose this route if the justices appeared unable to reach a decisive ruling of any kind.

Narrowly based decisions sometimes seem more attractive to the justices than fractured rulings.

One example is the court’s 2009 decision in a voting rights case in which eight of the justices agreed to sidestep the looming and major constitutional issue in the case after an argument in which the court appeared sharply split along ideological lines.

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Jackson Williams.