November 10, 2015
Today, a national debate rages about the functioning of our criminal justice system. Is it fair? Does it serve the ends of justice and public safety? Does it apply equally to all? Prosecutors, endowed with both autonomy and immunity, hold immense power within this system. They control secret grand jury proceedings, who will be prosecuted, and the specifics of charges. Moreover, those charges are often based on complex laws -- and enforced by long mandatory minimum prison sentences -- creating strong incentives for defendants to capitulate to lesser charges, perhaps even to crimes they did not commit. Indeed, more than 90% of both federal and state court cases never go trial, but instead are resolved through plea bargaining. Autonomy and secrecy, complex criminal code and mandatory minimums -- in combination, these factors have given prosecutors enormous leverage, and the opportunity to wield it relentlessly and selectively. The results, critics charge, are the undermining of the right to jury trial, mass incarceration, public skepticism regarding equal justice, and immense pressure on every defendant.
September 16, 2015
High-profile cases have recently put campus sexual assault in the spotlight. One question that has repeatedly come up: why are these cases being handled by campuses at all? Title IX requires that every school receiving federal aid must take concrete steps to deal with hostile environments and sexual assault. This leaves colleges and universities with the task of figuring out what policies and procedures to enforce. Proponents say that campus investigations serve a real need, forcing schools to respond to violence and protecting the interests of victims in ways that the criminal justice system may fail. Can schools provide due process for defendants and adequate justice for victims, or do these cases belong in the courts?
June 02, 2015
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that all states are required to license same-sex marriage. This debate, held just before the ruling, has been updated to note the outcome, and gives many insights into the issues the Supreme Court considered while making their decision.
April 15, 2015
A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are still largely supportive of the death penalty, with 6 in 10 in favor as punishment for murder. Legal in 32 states, it has come under renewed scrutiny in light of several botched executions in 2014. At the heart of the debate are many complicated questions. Within a flawed criminal justice system, is it possible to know every person’s guilt with a sufficient degree of certainty? Does the fear of death reduce crime? Are there race and class biases in sentencing? Are some crimes so heinous in nature that punishment by death is the only appropriate measure, or is capital punishment always immoral? Should we abolish the death penalty?
March 31, 2015
The President has launched a sustained, long-term military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. But did he have constitutional power to do so? The Constitution carefully divides the war powers of the United States between Congress and the President. Article II provides that “The President shall be Commander in Chief.” But Article I provides that “The Congress shall have Power … To Declare War.” In this case, Congress has not declared war; the President ordered the attacks unilaterally. Did he exceed his authority and violate the Constitution?
March 11, 2015
In 2014, the European Union’s Court of Justice determined that individuals have a right to be forgotten, “the right—under certain conditions—to ask search engines to remove links with personal information about them.” It is not absolute, but meant to be balanced against other fundamental rights, like freedom of expression. In a half year following the Court’s decision, Google received over 180,000 removal requests. Of those reviewed and processed, 40.5% were granted. Largely seen as a victory in Europe, in the U.S., the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Was this ruling a blow to free speech and public information, or a win for privacy and human dignity?
November 13, 2014
In 1994, Oregon voters passed the Death with Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Since then, it has become legal in 4 more states, including New Mexico, where the state court ruling that it is constitutional is under appeal. Is it, in the words of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer”? Will these laws lead to a slippery slope, where the vulnerable are pressured to choose death and human life is devalued? Or do we need to recognize everyone’s basic right to autonomy, the right to end pain and suffering, and the right to choose to die with dignity?
October 07, 2014
Some say that the mass collection of U.S. phone records is a gross invasion of privacy. Others say that it is necessary to keep us safe. But what does the U.S. Constitution say? "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Is collection of phone records a “search” or “seizure"? If so, is it “unreasonable”? Does it require a particularized warrant and probable cause? These are among the most consequential—and controversial—constitutional questions of our time.
June 26, 2014
Is independent political speech the linchpin of our democracy or its Achilles' heel? For democracy to work, some say, citizens (and corporations, and unions, and media outlets, and other voluntary organizations) must be allowed to express their views on the issues, candidates, and elections of the day. This proposition, they say, is exactly why the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and of the press. On this view, restrictions on independent political speech undermine and subvert our constitutional structure. But others take a different view: If everyone can spend as much money as they like to express their political views, then some voices will be amplified, magnified and enhanced — while others will be all but drowned out. On this view, it is this inequality of influence that subverts our constitutional structure — and restrictions that level the playing field actually enhance rather than abridge the freedom of speech.
March 05, 2014
With the drone strike on accused terrorist and New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, President Obama has tested the limits of the executive branch’s powers. Does the president have constitutional authority under the due process clause to kill U.S. citizens abroad, or is it a violation of this clause to unilaterally decide to target and kill Americans?
February 27, 2014
Affirmative action, when used as a factor in college admissions, is meant to foster diversity and provide equal opportunities in education for underrepresented minorities. But is it achieving its stated goals and helping the population it was created to support? Its critics point to students struggling to keep up in schools mismatched to their abilities and to the fact that the policy can be manipulated to benefit affluent and middle class students who already possess many educational advantages. Is it time to overhaul or abolish affirmative action?
November 14, 2013
“A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” –2nd Amendment
November 14, 2012
It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs." $2.5 trillion dollars later, drug use is half of what it was 30 years ago, and thousands of offenders are successfully diverted to treatment instead of jail. And yet, 22 million Americans-9% of the population-still uses illegal drugs, and with the highest incarceration rate in the world, we continue to fill our prisons with drug offenders. Decimated families and communities are left in the wake. Is it time to legalize drugs or is this a war that we're winning?
September 13, 2012
The product of two court decisions, Citizens United and SpeechNow.org v. FEC, Super PAC spending is on course to make 2012 the most expensive presidential election in history. These supercharged political action committees may spend and receive unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions to advocate for political candidates, as long as they are independent of the candidates' campaigns. How have Super PACs changed the political landscape? Are they good for democracy?
June 08, 2011
Description: The First Amendment protects freedom of the press, but how do we reconcile the conflict between national security and accountability? Do we err on the side of secrecy or transparency? From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks, join the debate between the need for government secrecy and the public’s right to know. PLUS: Attend the debate and see the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times for FREE! Present your June 8 debate ticket stub at the Film Society of Lincoln Center box office to see the film free of charge. Opens June 17, 2011. *Please note that seating is not guaranteed if sold out.