Paralegal Student Article about 1st Amendment

Impressed with this letter to the editor by a paralegal student about a new Indiana license plate (published in The Journal Gazette):

"The pending lawsuit regarding the 'In God We Trust' license plates has a few attention-catching flaws. As a paralegal student with a special interest in constitutional law, I found the suit to be a serious mistake.

"The first reason comes from the popular misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Instead of reading, 'there shall be a wall of separation between church and state,' or 'no law that even so much as allows religious liberties can be made,' the amendment reads: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.'

"The claim brought to court is based on the assumption that the state of Indiana (or any other government agency) cannot be religion-friendly in any way. This, however, is false. If you were to go back to the discussion surrounding the formation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, you would find that many of the Founding Fathers were Christians and that all of them, Christian or not, were not concerned with the state or federal governments being religion-friendly, but rather that the governments would enforce a specific denomination (i.e. Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, etc.)."

Read the complete letter & tell me if you're also impressed with Abigail Snyder's reasoning.


Website: Famous Trials

This admittedly bare-bones website was created & is maintained by professor Douglas O. Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas Law School. Linder says:

"My vision was to create the Web’s largest collection of primary documents, images, essays, and other materials relating to famous trials from Salem to Simpson. Trials have long struck me as wonderful vehicles for exploring history and human nature. What better way to understand the 20s than reading about the Scopes, Sacco-Vanzetti, and Leopold and Loeb trials? What provides better insights into the nature of evil than reading the transcripts of the William Calley court-martial or the Nuremberg trials? Would not the Amistad, Shipp, Scottsboro Boys, Sweet, and “Mississippi Burning” trials provide an excellent launching point for a discussion of racism in America?  I wanted these materials to be made readily available, in an easily digestible form, for everyone from junior high students to law professors."

Professor Linder told The New York Times that "...the most important trial of our age occurred in a small courtroom in Dayton, Tenn., in the summer of 1925, when a jury was asked to decide whether a high-school biology teacher violated a new state law that banned the teaching of evolution." The Scopes "Monkey" Trial took place in 1925.

Being a baseball fan, my favorite event described (& richly annotated) is the Chicago Black Sox Trial (1921).

If you like history, you will definitely enjoy this site...


"Still Guilty After All These Years"

Very interesting op-ed in the NY Times from author & lawyer Scott Turow, all about how advances in forensic technology may also impact statutes of limitations. He raises some intriguing questions about changes in law & the passage of time:

"THIS Friday a 33-year-old man named Juan Luna will go on trial here for the murder of seven people in a Brown’s Chicken restaurant in Palatine, Ill., on Jan. 8, 1993. The investigation of the murders, in which the victims’ bloody corpses were discovered in the restaurant freezer, languished for more than a decade until Mr. Luna’s DNA was identified in the saliva found on a chicken bone at the crime scene.

[snip]

"Greater accuracy in the truth-finding process is a laudable development. But I worry that the growing capacity of today’s forensics to reach farther and farther into the past seems likely to undermine the law’s time-ingrained notions, embodied in statutes of limitations, about how long people should be liable to criminal prosecution. As the Brown’s Chicken case illustrates, DNA analysts [PDF] can now examine scant decades-old specimens and produce results of near-certainty in identifying suspects. Nor are the innovations in forensic science limited to the testing of human DNA. Forensic botany can often establish whether plant fragments found on a victim or defendant have a unique origin. Fire-scene investigation has advanced because of new extraction techniques and instrumentation. Fingerprint identification has been revolutionized both by cryogenic processes for lifting latent prints and computer imaging that allows faster and more reliable identification of partial prints. Forensic pathology, ballistics and forensic anthropology have also moved ahead rapidly.

[snip]

"The law is a fluid thing, and there is an inherent unfairness in initiating a prosecution decades later when legal rules and community expectations have changed. If a jury — or the police and prosecutors — now strongly disapprove of conduct to which they would have once turned a blind eye, it’s natural to wonder whether the defendant would have acted the same way in today’s ethical climate.

"Statutes of limitations have also traditionally embodied a moral judgment that if a person has lived blamelessly for a significant time, he should not have the anxiety of potential prosecution hanging over him forever. Violent crimes are usually the province of young men, and it is often the case that one of the principal purposes of the criminal justice system — keeping the criminally inclined off the streets — vanishes with time."


DOJ Official Brings Storm by Taking the Fifth

Fired US Attorneys, revealing emails, testimony before Congress, & pleading the 5th, oh my! This Law.com article has key details:

"Taking the Fifth Amendment is everybody's right. But it's a choice that can send up a red flag, often invoked by people who have something to hide. Think of Enron's Andrew Fastow and Iran-Contra's Oliver North.

"So when Monica Goodling said last week that she would refuse to talk to Congress about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys, it was hard not to wonder what this 33-year-old party loyalist may have done wrong.

"Her pre-emptive move (Congress has yet to issue a subpoena) immediately raised questions, innuendo and gossip: Was she trying to avoid incriminating herself in a crime (and if so, what crime?), or, as her attorneys claimed, was she merely afraid that in the 'perilous' partisan environment, even an innocent witness could end up in trouble?

"Some D.C. defense lawyers remain puzzled by Goodling's strategy. Few would publicly criticize her, but some said that the decision ultimately draws more attention to Goodling instead of her superiors, who are ultimately Congress' target."

What do you think about this whole situation?