Exploring New Approaches to Unsettled Legal Questions

Tag: Constitutional Law Page 2 of 4

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.

The Right Against Self-Incrimination in the Digital Age

by Diego Wright*

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly seeking to compel the disclosure of passwords from the owners of password-protected encrypted devices, such as cell phones. Does the government have the right to compel this disclosure? In this Contribution, Diego Wright (‘22) argues that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination protects an individual from being forced to disclose their passcode when analyzed under the “foregone conclusion” doctrine unless the government can demonstrate they already know the testimonial communications tacit in the act of providing the passcode.

The Fifth Amendment: No Safe Harbor for First Amendment Retaliation

by Hannah Beattie*

This Contribution examines whether compliance with the Fifth Amendment should shield a federal condemnation action from a First Amendment retaliation claim. Hannah Beattie (’21) argues that the rationales for carving out safe harbors for government action to be free from First Amendment scrutiny if in compliance with the Fourth Amendment do not extend to the Fifth Amendment context. Ultimately, this Contribution concludes that an individual should be able to raise a First Amendment retaliation defense to a condemnation action, even if the government complied with the Fifth Amendment.

Inverting the Scope-of-the-Project Rule: Determining When Government Pre-Condemnation Announcements Should Change the Default Rule for Just Compensation

By Timothy Lyons*

The Fifth Amendment prohibits the taking of private property “without just compensation,” but the optimal method of determining the precise amount of money that will justly compensate the property owner is not always clear. The general rule has been to set compensation at the fair market value of the property at the time the government takes it, with certain exceptions. In this Contribution, Timothy Lyons (’21) argues that when the government makes a well-publicized pre-condemnation announcement, it may be appropriate to compensate the owner based on the property’s value at the time of the announcement rather than its value at the time of the taking.

A Call for Sensible Gun Reform Outside of the Home

by Michael Treves*

Does the Second Amendment protect an absolute right to carry a firearm in public places for self-defense? In this Contribution, Michael Treves (’19) reviews the text and history of the Second Amendment and Supreme Court precedent, and assesses the application of the Second Amendment outside of the home. Ultimately, this Contribution argues that the “core” of the Second Amendment does not extend outside of the home, and thus public carry laws do not regulate conduct within the scope of the Second Amendment.

State Action Analysis in the Age of Social Media: When Facebook and Twitter Become Tools of the State

by Leah Rosenberg*

When does a public official’s private social media account become a tool of governance subject to constitutional analysis? In this Contribution, Leah Rosenberg (’19) argues that public officials who use their personal social media pages to interact with the public and announce policy should be required to protect constituents’ constitutional rights and may not engage in viewpoint discrimination. This Contribution recommends that courts apply a context-specific approach to censorship claims against state officials and that court consider the specific activities challenged by assessing whether state resources and employees were used to take those actions, if the content pertained to government activities or policy, and whether the official was acting as an agent of the state at the time the censorship occurred.

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