Exploring New Approaches to Unsettled Legal Questions

Tag: Constitutional Law Page 1 of 3

Federal Abortion Legislation: Looking to Dobbs, State Legislation, and the Commerce Clause to Chart a Path Forward

by Soleil Ball Van Zee *

The Supreme Court’s deci­sion in Dobbs v. Jack­son Women’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion opened the door to states indi­vid­u­al­ly reg­u­lat­ing, con­trol­ling, and crim­i­nal­iz­ing abor­tion and abor­tion-relat­ed care. In the emerg­ing state leg­isla­tive patch­work, con­flicts between state laws demon­strate the increas­ing need for fed­er­al abor­tion leg­is­la­tion to ensure uni­for­mi­ty and halt inter­state con­sti­tu­tion­al lit­i­ga­tion before it begins. This Con­tri­bu­tion pro­pos­es a frame­work for fed­er­al abor­tion leg­is­la­tion that can pro­tect long-stand­ing prin­ci­ples of fed­er­al­ism in this new age.

The Inadequacy of Brandenburg’s Imminence: Incitement Regulation in the Internet Era

by Matthew Uvas*

Cer­tain class­es of speech are deemed to be so dan­ger­ous that they fall out­side of the pro­tec­tions of the First Amend­ment. Reg­u­la­tion of one such class, incite­ment, seeks to pre­vent speech which would encour­age law­less and vio­lent action. The mod­ern test for whether speech qual­i­fies as incite­ment hinges upon whether the speech is like­ly to pro­duce immi­nent law­less action. How­ev­er, when hate­ful or vio­lent speech is spread online, there may be a delay from when a post is made to when some­one sees it and responds vio­lent­ly. There­fore, in these cas­es, immi­nence may not be an appro­pri­ate mea­sure for iden­ti­fy­ing incite­ment lan­guage online. This Con­tri­bu­tion argues that his­to­ry, case law, and oth­er First Amend­ment jurispru­dence sug­gests shift­ing focus to con­text rather than immi­nence when reg­u­lat­ing online incitement.

You Vote What You Eat? Assessing the Constitutionality of Prohibitions on Food Distribution to Voters

by Shara Safer*

A con­tro­ver­sial Geor­gia law, the Elec­tion Integri­ty Act of 2021, pro­hibits non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions from hand­ing out food or water to indi­vid­u­als wait­ing in line to vote. This Con­tri­bu­tion argues that the law con­sti­tutes an uncon­sti­tu­tion­al restric­tion on free speech in a pub­lic forum.

Barred from Birthright: The Constitutional Case for American Samoan Citizenship

by Tess Saper­stein*

Unlike those born in any oth­er Unit­ed States ter­ri­to­ry, Amer­i­can Samoans are sad­dled with the ambigu­ous legal sta­tus of “nation­als, but not cit­i­zens, of the Unit­ed States.” Amer­i­can Samoans have repeat­ed­ly sued, argu­ing that they are enti­tled to birthright cit­i­zen­ship. How­ev­er, the Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and the Tenth Cir­cuit have denied their claims, rely­ing on the Insu­lar Cas­es, a series of ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry Supreme Court deci­sions deal­ing with ter­ri­to­ries acquired as a result of the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. Nonethe­less, the mod­ern Court has repeat­ed­ly expressed its reluc­tance to extend the log­ic of the Insu­lar Cas­es because of their racist under­pin­nings. This Con­tri­bu­tion argues for the Court to over­turn the Insu­lar Cas­es and grant Amer­i­can Samoans birthright citizenship.

Preserving the Bivens Doctrine in the Fourth Amendment Context

by Tina LaRitz*

The Bivens doc­trine allows plain­tiffs who suf­fer con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tions at the hands of fed­er­al offi­cers to claim mon­e­tary dam­ages from fed­er­al courts, absent the statu­to­ry recog­ni­tion of such a right. Recent jurispru­dence has increas­ing­ly sought to lim­it this right in a show of judi­cial con­ser­vatism at the expense of deserv­ing plain­tiffs. This Con­tri­bu­tion argues that the Bivens doc­trine must be pre­served broad­ly with­in the Fourth Amend­ment unrea­son­able search context.

Undo Deference: Reversing the Erosion of Public Employees’ Free Speech Rights

by Bex Rothen­berg-Montz*

Although mem­bers of the gen­er­al pub­lic enjoy a right to free speech under the First Amend­ment, gov­ern­ment employ­ees’ speech is more con­strained. Courts deter­mine whether a gov­ern­ment employee’s speech is pro­tect­ed by bal­anc­ing the inter­ests of the gov­ern­ment and the employ­ee. How­ev­er, in prac­tice, the def­er­ence afford­ed to the gov­ern­ment typ­i­cal­ly tips the scales. Because courts defer to the government’s inter­ests with­out requir­ing sub­stan­ti­at­ing evi­dence, the gov­ern­ment is able to sti­fle employ­ee speech and erode First Amend­ment pro­tec­tions for its employ­ees. Con­se­quent­ly, this def­er­ence con­di­tions free speech pro­tec­tions upon pub­lic employ­ment sta­tus. Aban­don­ing this def­er­ence will bring First Amend­ment jurispru­dence in line with the prin­ci­ples that ani­mat­ed its enactment. 

The Cruel and Unusual Nature of Denying Self-Identity: The Eighth Amendment and Gender Confirmation Surgery

by Vir­ginia Su*

This Con­tri­bu­tion exam­ines whether the denial of Gen­der Con­fir­ma­tion Surgery to a trans­gen­der inmate suf­fer­ing from severe gen­der dys­pho­ria con­sti­tutes cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ment under the Eighth Amend­ment. Vir­ginia Su (’22) argues that, under Eighth Amend­ment prece­dent, the denial of med­ical­ly nec­es­sary gen­der con­fir­ma­tion surgery con­sti­tutes delib­er­ate­ly indif­fer­ent con­duct by prison officials.

COVID Era Regulations in the Absence of Federal Coordination: How the Dormant Commerce Clause Can Co-Exist with Effective State Contact Tracing Regulations

by Ken­neth R. Brown*

Con­tact trac­ing emerged dur­ing the begin­ning of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic as an impor­tant tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The use of cell phone appli­ca­tions pro­vides a method to effec­tive­ly trace poten­tial expo­sures since most indi­vid­u­als car­ry cell phones that can eas­i­ly gath­er the nec­es­sary data. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has thus far failed to intro­duce its own reg­u­la­tions regard­ing the large vol­ume of data that can be col­lect­ed dur­ing con­tact trac­ing efforts or attempt to help coor­di­nate the reg­u­la­tions of the indi­vid­ual states to ensure con­sis­ten­cy; paving the way for a patch­work sys­tem of rules to gov­ern, as each state is left to for­mu­late its own method to pro­tect the health and pri­va­cy of its res­i­dents. How­ev­er, due to the vol­ume of inter­state trav­el and dif­fi­cul­ty of restrict­ing appli­ca­tion usage based on state bor­ders, states must be care­ful not to run afoul of the so-called “Dor­mant Com­merce Clause” of the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion. In this Con­tri­bu­tion, Ken­neth Brown (’22) argues that it is pos­si­ble for a state to effec­tive­ly reg­u­late con-tact trac­ing appli­ca­tions with­out vio­lat­ing the Constitution.

Evolving Standards of Decency: Solitary Confinement and the Eighth Amendment

by Jane M. Mahan* 

The Eighth Amend­ment pro­hibits cru­el and unusu­al pun­ish­ments. But prov­ing an Eighth Amend­ment vio­la­tion based on dan­ger­ous or unfit prison con­di­tions is dif­fi­cult because it requires a show­ing of sub­jec­tive cul­pa­bil­i­ty on the part of prison offi­cials. Fed­er­al courts have grown increas­ing­ly aware of the harm­ful nature of soli­tary con­fine­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly for juve­niles, the men­tal­ly ill, and inmates with spe­cial med­ical needs. In this Con­tri­bu­tion, Jane M. Mahan (’22) argues that the place­ment of vul­ner­a­ble inmates in soli­tary con­fine­ment for a peri­od exceed­ing fif­teen con­sec­u­tive days should be per se uncon­sti­tu­tion­al under the Eighth Amendment.

Religious Accommodation or Unlawful Favoritism? Examining the Constitutionality of the Parsonage Exemption

by Alec Soghomon­ian*

The First Amendment’s Reli­gion Claus­es pro­vide that “Con­gress shall make no law respect­ing the estab­lish­ment of reli­gion, or pro­hibit­ing the free exer­cise there­of .…” The Reli­gion Claus­es clear­ly pro­hib­it both the Fed­er­al and state gov­ern­ments from estab­lish­ing an offi­cial state reli­gion or hin­der­ing reli­gious prac­tice to such an extent that it results in a con­sti­tu­tion­al infringe­ment. How­ev­er, the Supreme Court has long acknowl­edged that absent those two clear com­mands “there is room for play in the joints” when address­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of gov­ern­ment action that impli­cates reli­gious belief. Does a tax ben­e­fit that pro­vides a finan­cial ben­e­fit to a lim­it­ed class of reli­gious employ­ees and their employ­ers vio­late the Estab­lish­ment Clause? In this Con­tri­bu­tion, Alec Soghomon­ian (‘22) argues that the Par­son­age Exemp­tion, found in 26 U.S.C. § 107(2) of the Unit­ed States tax code, unlaw­ful­ly pro­vides a ben­e­fit to reli­gious employ­ees and employ­ers because it does not extend to sim­i­lar­ly sit­u­at­ed non-reli­gious institutions.

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