Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Thoughts on the News 5/23/17

It is write-on week at the law school. Classes are over, grades are starting to roll in, and it's still a couple weeks until my summer internship starts. Sure, I'm spending hours each day reading cases and writing and perfecting my case note to ensure I get into Law Review next semester,* but I just don't feel I have quite enough work to do. To take a break from all the reading and writing, I'm - well, I'm doing more reading and writing. But it's on a different topic, so you know I'm not crazy or anything.
I just wanted to share some quick thoughts on some First Amendment-related stuff that's happened over the past week.
  1. Tuesday, May 16: Turkish leader/thin-skinned Gollum Erdogan orders his thugs to beat up protesters outside the Turkish ambassador's home in Washington, DC. So far as I know, the White House still has said nothing about this ally of ours violently attacking people on U.S. soil for exercising one of our most basic and cherished rights. Naturally, Trump is much more content to lick the boots of leaders whom he wishes to emulate than to criticize them for even the most blatant acts of violence.
  2. Monday, May 22: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross praises the lack of protesters in Saudi Arabia during Trump's visit, dismissing as a "theory" that perhaps no one was protesting because such acts are punishable by beheading in our oh-so-enlightened ally's country. He stated, after the interviewer suggested that maybe no one was protesting because protesting is illegal in Saudi Arabia, "In theory, that could be true. But, boy, there was certainly no sign of it. . . . The mood was a genuinely good mood." Yes, it's very similar to the omnipresent "good mood" in North Korea. I swear those people are always so happy and smiling!
  3. Tuesday, May 23: Arizona Governor Douglas Ducey vetoes a bill that would have extended First Amendment protections for student journalists, stating that, while he is "a strong supporter of free speech and a free press," "this bill could create unintended consequences." Lord knows what those consequences might be other than, y'know, some kids exercising their right to free speech. Sounds like Ducey is one of those people who supports only theoretical free speech.
The vast amounts of praise that Trump and those under him heap on the authoritarian leaders of the world is disturbing, to say the least. I sympathize with the fact that the President faces harsh criticism, including some that's undeserved, but that is no excuse for fantasizing about tossing out the First Amendment. It astounds me that this country has gotten to a point where we are consistently electing people who not only have a history of undermining our rights (the past... several administrations) but now aren't even pretending to like the principles our country was founded on. 

The Enlightenment is almost completely dead. Postmodernism has taken over, and we all just need to hang on and keep talking until the pendulum swings back.

UPDATE: Ah, fuck. See? What did I just say? Trump was outright praising Duterte for murdering over 7,000 of his own citizens. The man is nothing more than a wannabe despot.

* Considering my GPA and generally pretty good writing skills, I doubt this will be a problem, but there is an added incentive to write an excellent case note because the best one will be published. Needless to say, I want to be published.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Guilty Pleas

Short post, inspired by Ken White's "The Elaborate Pantomime of the Federal Guilty Plea" over at Popehat. Read that first, because this is kind of an extended comment on that.

This past semester, the entire 1L class has been working with a fictional case involving a woman named Brandi Williams who, when she was 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree assault for causing an accident after she and some friends threw rocks off an overpass. Now (14 years later) she can't get a promotion because of her conviction. She sought a writ of coram nobis (yes, Maryland still does that), lost, and appealed.

At the beginning of the semester, half the class was assigned to represent Brandi and the other half represented the State for the petition, then we switched sides for the end-of-semester appeal. I was on the State's side for appeal.

On the one hand, the appellate memo was easier for me being on the State's side because I had a lot of legal advantages for my argument. There were some glaring weak spots, of course, otherwise it wouldn't have been a good project, but most of the work was pretty easy. Much bellyaching was heard echoing throughout the glass and concrete maze of walkways* from the unfortunate souls who had to argue on behalf of Brandi. The rest of us mostly just made sympathetic-sounding noises. We knew how hard their arguments were to make because we had just made them a few weeks prior, except fewer points were riding on it then.

On the other hand, part of me really wants to pretend I was shocked and appalled at some of the things that had to come out of my mouth to make the argument for the State. But I've been reading blogs like Popehat long enough to know better.

The relevant argument to Ken's post was that Brandi, at 17, understood what she was pleading guilty to and understood the consequences of that plea. In truth, it's hard to believe she did. She was scared. Charged as an adult. Parents urging her to take the plea. Initially charged with a handful of things that added up to a potential sentence longer than she had been alive at that point. She was partially deaf and left her hearing aid at home accidentally the morning of the plea hearing and could only half understand what anyone was saying to her. And to top it off, her plea was on Monday - she had only just hired her attorney on Friday and he spent the weekend playing golf with the judge. It's a safe bet to say she was confused. I mean, yeah, sure, she's a fictional character, but dammit, I have an English degree. I can get into character motivations and psychology and all that shit.

Who in their right mind honestly could think that she would understand what the State had to prove to show she was guilty of assault?

But that's what I had to argue. Basically, I just had to pick a definition of assault out of a hat and insist with a straight face that it's obvious that that's what the State meant by "assault."

Easy enough.


*I would have said "corridors," but Lego Law doesn't have too many of those.