Alexander Wohl

Alexander Wohl is an adjunct professor at American University in the Department of Justice, Law and Society.

Recent Articles

Why Those "Other" Federal Courts Are So Important In This Election

There is considerable opportunity for the next president to shape the legal landscape through appointments to the 13 federal appellate courts.

With the possibility -- and what some commentators say is the probability -- that between one and three Supreme Court justices will retire during the next four years, the next president could have an enormous and lasting impact on the nation's highest Court and its legal and social policy. But often neglected in the hype surrounding the future makeup of the Supreme Court and the hot-button issues that frequent its docket, is the considerable opportunity for the next president to shape the legal landscape through appointments to the 13 federal appellate courts. The Supreme Court hears arguments in only about 75 cases a year, while the geographically representative federal appeals courts provide the final decision in more than 60,000 cases annually. For most Americans therefore, it is the so-called lower federal appellate court, rather than the justices in their fabled marble temple in Washington, that will truly be the "court of last resort." This year, the potential impact of the next...

Fuzzy Math

Lost amidst all the punditeering about the potential Democratic resurgence today is the possibility that an ill-advised education scheme touted by a conservative group could also find new life, as the result of a pending Colorado ballot initiative. The education funding proposal known as the “65 percent solution” is misleading at best, and seriously (perhaps deliberately) harmful to public education at worst. On its face, the 65 percent proposal seems benign enough. Its supporters, led by a small but well financed group called First Class Education (FCE), claim it is an effort to spend more -- a minimum of 65 percent -- of public education dollars on classroom instruction. Amendment 39 in Colorado would stipulate that each school district spend that minimum percentage of operational expenditures on specified classroom expenses, to be confirmed by audit at the end of the school year. As FCE suggests, “classroom education is the only activity that can possibly increase test scores and...

Replicating Rehnquist

With Chief Justice William Rehnquist's resignation seemingly imminent, George W. Bush's first chance to reshape the Supreme Court looks to be at hand. Bush's record of nominations to federal appeals courts is clear; if at all possible, he will seek to appoint an uncompromising conservative to the Supreme Court. This shouldn't be all that surprising, given that, as a presidential candidate, Bush held out Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his judicial models. Although Rehnquist is a reliable conservative vote, his replacement will be of some significance. “This court has had more 5-4 decisions on key issues than any in recent memory,” says Richard Lazarus, a Georgetown University law professor. “One change in the Court's makeup … is likely to tip the balance.” But, as Susan Jacoby recently wrote in the Prospect , Rehnquist's conservatism is of a different cloth than some potential replacements -- he is “a legal conservative, not a religious fundamentalist.” Rehnquist shares...

Judge on the Stump

T he conclusion of the Supreme Court's term usually brings a spate of opinions in the most contentious and closely divided cases of the year, and this year's session did not disappoint. On its final day, the Court issued four 5-to-4 rulings, among them its controversial decisions on school vouchers and student drug testing. All but lost in the ensuing hubbub was an important holding that struck down a limitation on the speech of candidates for state judicial office. In finding that the First Amendment rights of judicial candidates outweigh a state's efforts to curtail abuses of the process, the Court threw into question similar regulations in 38 other states. Judicial races increasingly resemble political ones, as massive amounts of money buy advertisements that distort, misrepresent and politicize judicial opinions. Two years ago in Michigan, for instance, with three Republican justices up for re-election, a record $15 million was spent in a battle to control the state Supreme Court...

Justice for Rent

D uring a recent campaign for a seat on a local Ohio Domestic Relations Court, a lawyer from a small firm ran up against a political, ethical, and financial dilemma. His predicament began innocently enough when he was solicited for a campaign contribution by supporters of the Democratic incumbent. The lawyer, a longtime Democrat, willingly put his signature on a $250 check to the judge's campaign. Soon, however, he was contacted by the campaign of the Republican opponent. Would the lawyer be willing to contribute to their candidate's campaign as well? The lawyer, who almost never gave to Republican candidates, nonetheless wrote out a matching check. His rationale was simple: His legal practice involved frequent appearances in family court, and he simply could not afford to risk offending whichever judge was eventually elected. The Ohio lawyer's story highlights an increasingly common and troublesome phenomenon: the dramatic rise in...

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