Law

Copyright Fight Hits the Lab

The Research Works Act keeps the battle started by SOPA and PIPA in the headlines.

(AP Photo/ailatan)

This week, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier, which produces thousands of academic journals, and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Darrell Issa, a California Republican, withdrew their support for the Research Works Act after public outcry from public-access advocates. Currently, some federal agencies require that researchers who rely on government funding make their resulting journal publications freely accessible online.

The Decline of Guns

(Flickr/CyJen)

A while back I started a four-part series for Think Progress on the National Rifle Association and the state of the gun debate in America, which finishes up today. In the first three installments (here's Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), I detailed how the NRA's electoral power is largely a myth. Contrary to popular belief, their money doesn't get candidates elected, their endorsements almost never matter, and the stories they tell about their history—that they won the House for Republicans in 1994 and the White House for George W. Bush in 2000—are almost certainly false. In today's final installment, I discuss gun ownership and public opinion, and there are some data that might be surprising. The one that grabbed me was this: gun ownership has been falling for years, and shows no signs of abating. Here's a chart I made using General Social Survey data:

And this decline is occurring among all age groups, and across all birth cohorts. Furthermore, the people who are most likely to own guns are white males in rural areas, and in a country that's becoming more urban/suburban and less white, that decline is likely to continue. The fastest growing demographic group—Latinos—has among the lowest rates of gun ownership.

In the face of those changes, it's no wonder that the NRA perennially warns its members that if Republicans lose the next election, jackbooted government thugs will come to take everyone's guns away. They need to keep their constituency riled up and fearful. But perhaps elected officials don't need to be so afraid of the gun issue.

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement.

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)

Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record.

A Supreme Court Prediction

You'll drag me outta here when hell freezes over. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)

Barack Obama has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, both of which involved replacing reliably liberal justices (Souter and Stevens) with presumably liberal justices (Sotomayor and Kagan). If Obama is re-elected, there's a fair chance he'll get at least one one more appointment. Four of the justices are in their 70s, and you never know when one might get ill or just decide that enough is enough.

So here's my prediction: If Obama wins a second term, and one of the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court retires, Republicans will, for the first time, insist publicly that the president absolutely, positively must appoint a justice who reflects the ideology of the person s/he is replacing.

That no one has argued this before will be irrelevant, as will Republicans' own satisfaction with appointments like Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative justices in history, replacing Thurgood Marshall, one of the most liberal. Republican senators, legal eagles, and commentators will thunder that appointing someone who reflects Obama's own views is an unconscionable power grab on the part of this socialist big-government usurper, and the only way to avoid tearing this country asunder and making a mockery of the rule of law is appoint a conservative. Mark my words.

How will Obama respond? The easy answer is that he'll meet them in the middle by appointing a moderate, leaving Democrats steaming and Republicans unappeased. But who knows?

Pirates of the Corporation

Let’s play make-believe (sorry, lawyers call it “counterfactual”) with Justice Stephen J. Breyer. Imagine that Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, had incorporated his buccaneering business as Pirates, Inc. Now Blackbeard is captured.

And sued. “Do you think in the 18th century if they'd brought Pirates, Incorporated [to court], and we get all their gold, and Blackbeard gets up and he says, oh, it isn't me; it's the corporation—do you think that they would have then said: Oh, I see, it's a corporation. Good-bye. Go home[?]”

Our Anti-Government Hypocrisy

(Flickr/Iguanasan)

Americans, the political scientists (and common sense) tell us, are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. On the level of ideology, they’re opposed to government’s intervention in the economy. On the level of daily life, they support such universal government programs as Social Security and Medicare.

Taking Anti-LGBT Discrimination Seriously

(Flickr/Zolk)

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White's recent opinion holding a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional presents an interesting contrast to Judge Stephen Reinhardt's recent opinion on California's Proposition 8. Reinhardt, trying to maximize the chances that his opinion would not be overruled and therefore create a bad Supreme Court precedent, wrote a cautious and narrow opinion closely tailored to the unique facts of the case at hand. Judge White, conversely, wrote a broad (though clearly argued) opinion that would have much wider implications. Whether White's opinion can survive further appellate review remains to be seen.

The Court That Walks Off Cliffs

(Flickr/peachygreen)

Affirmative Action: Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Rehnquist Court was a certain last-minute reticence. On issue after issue—the Commerce Power, abortion, even the long-standing conservative desire to do away with Miranda v. Arizona—the Court would walk up to the edge of the abyss, dangle its toes over the side, and then step (slightly) back. While moving the law far to the right, the Court seldom engaged in the kind of radical overruling that would have perhaps called its legitimacy into question.

Ho-Hum, Another Day, Another DOMA Defeat

Earlier this week I wrote about how quickly gay people are winning, just at the same time that women are losing. Speak of the devil! Yesterday, ho-hum, yet another federal district court judge ruled that a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management. Karen Golinski is a lawyer who works for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco (nice touch, yes?).

Trying to Win Beyond Virginia

I wrote earlier this week that Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law was proving to be highly unpopular. But though many its Republican supporters were clearly spooked by the level of opposition, I didn't think it very likely that Governor Bob McDonnell would withdraw his support. Happily, I was wrong. McDonnell came out against the provision, and it will presumably be deleted from the final legislation.  

The Right to Tell Lies

(Flickr/cliff1066a,,c)

Most Supreme Court arguments last one hour—30 minutes for each side.  At unpredictable intervals, however, the Court grants one party several extra millennia of agony as a once-solid case disintegrates in full view of the entire courtroom.

The End of Affirmative Action in College

(Flickr/Kodamakitty)

As my colleague Jamelle Bouie noted yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher v. UT Austin, a challenge to the use of affirmative action for undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas. I wish I could make a case for more optimism, but I have to agree with the conventional wisdom that Grutter v.

Luck Not Be a Lady

You know those odd moments in animated cartoons when a character's head seems to be boiling and popping, one eye getting bigger, then smaller, and so on? As a journalist who focuses on gender and sexuality, that's how I feel lately: happy, sad, shocked, celebratory—all at the same time.  

Bare Minimum Wage

Big business lobbyists work to prevent any rise in workers' paychecks.

(Flickr/wbeem)

The federal minimum for an hourly wage was $3.35 in 1982 and now it’s $7.25, up 120 percent. Inflation, meanwhile, has climbed during that period by 135 percent. Eight states, including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are considering legislation to boost the base wage. Advocates say that such state measures are fair and make good economic sense: Putting more money in the hands of workers means more demand—good news for small businesses struggling to overcome poor sales. Then there’s politics. More than two-thirds of Americans favor raising the hourly wage to at least $10.

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