On Innocence, Factual and Moral

One of the first lessons taught in the year-long Boston College Innocence Clinic concerns the concept of “factual innocence.” It is closely related to the concept of “actual innocence,” though different jurisdictions may refer to one or the other, and the substance and application of those terms can vary. Regardless of which term is deployed, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher when clinic students learn that the legal concept of “actual innocence” entails its own discrete body of thought and doctrine within criminal law. Doesn’t the determination of actual innocence suffuse the entire criminal-legal process?

It turns out it does not, and factual innocence is largely a claim raised in the post-conviction setting to overturn a wrongful conviction. That claim often finds little legal purchase. In Herrera v. Collins, for instance, the Supreme Court held that a claim of actual innocence does not entitle a person to federal habeas corpus relief under the 8th Amendment’s proscription of cruel and unusual punishment. Constitutionally and procedurally intact convictions can remain undisturbed by the truth. In Herrera’s case, a capital case, the Court ruled it was not cruel and unusual to execute an innocent man. That kind of antiseptic, procedural logic is one striking example of how the banality of evil manifests itself within the criminal legal system.

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Students Respond to Dobbs V. Jackson: Part Two

Student organizations have issued two joint letters in response to the recent leaked SCOTUS draft opinion. BC Law Impact has agreed to publish these letters in the interest of continuing a respectful dialogue within our community on this important issue. The following letter was issued by the organizations listed below.


By now you have probably seen the student statement regarding the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Inc. draft opinion from the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, this statement may create the impression that it represents our entire community. It does not.

While we understand many students feel strongly opposed to the draft opinion, we are also aware that pro-life students are just as much a part of the BC Law community. BC Law has always been a place where people with different ideas and beliefs can learn from and befriend one another.

We hope it is made clear that not all student leaders agree to the statement put out earlier today through the Law Student Association email account. As the most recent Diversity and Inclusion Statement notes, we acknowledge and welcome a range of viewpoints. Those with principled disagreements can still share the same community. Diversity of thought makes our community strong. We are confident that tradition will continue.

The draft opinion represents a major victory for our democracy. In 1973, the Supreme Court ended debate on the contentious issue of abortion. They hoped then, and later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that the issue would be settled. Despite perhaps good intentions, they were wrong. Abortion raises significant moral questions about a woman’s liberty, medical care, and the rights of the unborn. Since abortion was erroneously crystallized as a constitutional right, court battles have led jurists with no expertise to attempt to determine when life begins. Many believe that this question should be answered by us and our representatives, not the judiciary.

As law students, we know that the courts are powerful. When properly constrained, regular people are free to decide through their elected officials what values our law will reflect. We encourage all students to respectfully speak their minds on this issue. We applaud the effort to return this important topic to the people. We agree with our classmates that this dispute is far from over. Should the draft opinion be adopted by the Court, the debate would only just begin.

At BC Law, we sincerely hope that an exchange of different ideas and beliefs continues respectfully.

Signed,
BC Law Republicans
International Law Society

Students Respond to Dobbs v. Jackson: Part One

Student organizations have issued two joint letters in response to the recent leaked SCOTUS draft opinion. BC Law Impact has agreed to publish these letters in the interest of continuing a respectful dialogue within our community on this important issue. The following letter was issued by the organizations listed below.


By now you have heard of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Inc. draft opinion leaked from the Supreme Court overturning the decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The draft, written by Justice Alito, sets the stage for millions of Americans to lose their constitutionally protected right to a legal and safe abortion. 

While the authenticity of the draft was confirmed, we still do not know whether this is the Court’s final opinion. Today, abortion is still legal in all 50 states. But if this is the Court’s opinion, it soon will not be. States have already been empowered to pass increasingly draconian and restrictive abortion bans in recent years. Twelve states have trigger bans that immediately go into effect if Roe and Casey fall. Some states have pre-existing anti-abortion laws still on the books. In all, abortion will be protected in less than half of U.S. states and territories if Roe and Casey are overturned. We also acknowledge that while Roe and Casey reified the right to abortion, access to this fundamental reproductive freedom is not accessible for all, especially low-income women of color, trans men, other pregnant people, and those living at the intersection of marginalized identities. Furthermore, coinciding with the uptick in laws modeled after Texas’ S.B.8, this decision opens the door to surveillance and criminalization of pregnant people and those who perform abortions.  In a criminal judicial system that has been built on systemic oppression, it is no surprise that the increased targeting of pregnant people will disproportionately criminalize Black, Brown and Indigenous people. Those who are disenfranchised in this country will experience the greatest impact from this decision. 

We also recognize that many people may fear the broader implications of this decision and what precedents may be overturned next. While people throw out the names of cases like Lawrence and Obergefell to illustrate the potential catastrophic consequences of the Court’s actions in Dobbs, the fear that many people have that their liberties and identities are threatened is very real. Even without the decision in Dobbs, the rights of LGBTQ youth and adults have been in peril–from “Don’t Say Gay,” to attacks on transgender youth, the community has a lot to fear. The Court’s decision–which will also inevitably impact trans pregnant people seeking healthcare at a higher rate– only adds to that. We stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ communities and communities of color.

As student leaders we realize the role we have to offer comfort, information, and solidarity in moments such as these. We want to acknowledge the deep sadness, anger, and fear many students–particularly those assigned female at birth–are feeling right now. We recognize that this comes at a very stressful time in the semester, making the news even harder to stomach. We will aim to create spaces to understand the intellectual and emotional implications in the fall and over the summer. Your community at BC Law is here to support you. 

As law students, we know the law is malleable, ever-changing, and a way to influence society. We encourage those of you who feel disempowered or frustrated by these decisions to use your power as a law student to effectuate changes you want to see. Whether that means donating to abortion funds or legal defense funds, explaining doctrine to others, engaging in legislative advocacy in your home state or at the federal level, or even joining the profession as a reproductive rights/justice advocate, this fight is far from over. 

Signed, 

American Constitution Society 
If/When/How: Law Students for Reproductive Justice
Law Students Association (LSA)
Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA)
Black Law Students Association (BLSA)
Boston College Law Democrats
Disability Law Students Association
Health Law Society
Holocaust/Human Rights Project
Immigration Law Group
Lambda Law Students Association 
Latin American Law Students Association (LALSA)
Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA)
Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF)
Women’s Law Center

We Need More Blood Donors: The FDA Ban on MSM Donations Must End

Tomorrow, Boston College Law School holds its last blood drive of the year at a time when the nation’s blood supply is critically low. Due to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Red Cross had to declare its first-ever national blood crisis in January. Even prior to the pandemic, meeting the country’s needs was a challenge; 4.5 million Americans require a blood transfusion each year, but less than forty percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood. And less than ten percent donate annually. The BC Law community includes many people who have committed themselves to lives in service of others. But the prospect of donating blood remains a significant psychological hurdle for many. We have had to conduct constant outreach to fill the blood drive schedule. In fact, we still need more donors. If you are able, please sign up to donate here: Boston College Law Blood Drive Registration Page.

Given this state of affairs, it is all the more frustrating that we have had to turn away gay or bisexual men who are eager to donate blood. Despite the urgent need for blood and the difficulty of finding donors, we have had to tell friends, colleagues, and classmates that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for regulatory oversight of the U.S. blood supply, prohibits donations from “Men who have sex with Men” (MSM). The FDA instituted a lifetime ban on blood donations from MSM in 1985. This was early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when the incidence of HIV among gay men was high, the virus was poorly understood, and there were no available screening methods for donated blood.

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She believed she could, and she did. Now we can: The Impact of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

On April 7, 2022, the United States Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next Justice of the Supreme Court, marking a historic step in the nation’s tortuous history with race and gender. For the first time, a Black woman will serve on the US Supreme Court.

Regardless of political affiliation, it is impossible to ignore the significance of this moment. While Justice Brown Jackson’s judicial impact remains an open question, her personal impact, particularly on Black women, is undeniable: a resounding affirmation and inspiration. Here are a few reflections from members of the Boston College Law School community.

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Relationships and the Law

“Don’t let it go to your head.” 

These words were spoken to me by someone older and wiser than myself a week after I started law school. Like most people, the weeks before school starts, especially law school, and particularly 1L, are a very stressful time of worry and expectations.

But after just a week, I came to realize I actually really enjoyed BC Law, that law school isn’t actually that scary, and I began to share a lot about my new experiences with others. There’s an undeniable cache, swagger, and cultural fixation with the law and notions of prestige in popular culture. To some, like myself, it can become a bit noxious. To others though, it is addictive—all-consuming—and can change people, even those we regard highly and befriend, and in some cases come to love, for the worse.

Frequently in law school I’ve gotten a glimpse of something that is not quite part of the law, but more specifically part of the cost of being a member of its practice—its impact on personal relationships, particularly relationships with those who are themselves in the legal field. In pop culture, films like Legally Blonde and the wide array of television, blogs, and other mediums that provide commentary on the legal mind paint a picture of toxic stress and personalities, politics and pomposity, and a commitment at all costs to one’s career and climbing the rungs of the corporate and bureaucratic ladder.

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Speaking Up to Genocide: What About the Uyghurs?

All of us at BC Law Impact want to make it clear that the contents of this guest post is addressed to those who deny the very real genocide happening in Xinjiang, and is not meant to group together or target anyone because of their race. We recognize that anti-Asian racism is a very real and terrible thing, and we stand with all Asian members of our community in denouncing hate in all its forms.


By Danny Abrahim 

“There is no genocide.”

If you feel attacked by the words “genocide,” “human rights,” or “the Chinese government is committing an ethnic and cultural genocide against millions of Uyghurs and violating numerous international human rights laws in the process,” this blog post is not for you.

After BC Law’s student organizations MELSA, APALSA, HHRP, ILS, and the Boston College’s Center for Human Rights co-hosted a talk on the mass detention of Uyghurs in China’s predominantly Muslim city Xinjiang, three things became abundantly clear: one, that oppression abroad can reach college campuses within the United States; two, that state-sponsored violence occurring in other countries intersects with different practices of law and U.S. movements; and three, how powerful speaking up and listening can be.

Unfortunately, these lessons were not entirely contained in the speakers’ talks, but were demonstrated in part by the reaction some students had to the event.

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Remembering Fred Korematsu

Korematsu v. United States is easily one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time, and one that people are often unaware of until they get to the strict scrutiny aspect of their Constitutional Law class. In fact, I distinctly remember getting to the World War II portion of history in APUSH back in high school, seeing a brief mention of this case, asking about it in class, only to be brushed off because it “wasn’t important.”

Yesterday was January 30th, 2022: Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, a day that is mostly only observed in California. On the anniversary of Korematsu, I’d like to draw attention to the article my APALSA mentor, Rosa Kim, wrote up a year ago–and also to weigh in with my own thoughts on the matter.

Korematsu is, undoubtedly, an ugly portion of US History that is often swept under the rug. Fred Korematsu was only 23 when he was ordered by the US Government to evacuate his residence and move into one of the Japanese internment camps prepared in the wake of Pearl Harbor, designed to herd the Japanese American population into controlled areas to supervise them. Anyone “at least 1/16th Japanese” were evacuated. Korematsu was the age many of us students are today when he changed his name and had plastic surgery done to try to avoid this mandate. As a US citizen, he did not understand why he was being herded off to camps as a prisoner merely for the way he looked. He chose to stay at home rather than relocate and was eventually arrested for his violation of the order. Korematsu then courageously appealed his case until it reached the Supreme Court, maintaining that the evacuation order was a violation of his 5th Amendment right.

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Visiting a Concentration Camp Site 77 Years After Korematsu

All that remains of the Heart Mountain concentration camp, where the United States imprisoned over 14,000 Americans of Japanese descent between 1942 and 1945, is the camp’s hospital building. Over the course of a few months in 1942, the federal government transformed hundreds of acres in remote northwest Wyoming—near Yellowstone National Park—into the state’s third most populous city. The valley plain beneath Heart Mountain became one of ten “Relocation Centers,” the Orwellian name given to the World War II era camps in which over 100,000 people were imprisoned on the basis of their Japanese heritage. Back then, Heart Mountain was a bustling camp consisting of barracks, mess halls, toilet and laundry facilities, recreation spaces, workshops, schools, the hospital, a courthouse, administration buildings, nine guard towers, and a barbed-wire perimeter fence. This October, when I scanned the horizon for some sense of place or history, all I could make out was the original hospital building and snow-covered fields.

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American Politics Is Just A Toxic Law School Section

Recently I was scrolling through Twitter (never a good idea) after a Patriots game to see what the beat reporters were saying about the game and look for any takeaways I had missed.

Interspersed amongst these tweets were those of other (non-sporty) accounts I follow. Like many people, I follow a range of media outlets, individuals, sports teams, brands, journalists and celebrities. In the couple of years I have had a Twitter account, I have deleted the app on several occasions and only recently found myself using it again when I learned there are some really interesting accounts that track what’s happening in my local Newton community.

I’m always interested in what’s happening locally. I followed some of these accounts, and the act of doing so in turn suggested similar accounts to follow, and before long I was seeing tweets about roadwork, Zoom city hall meetings, polemic diatribes on bike lanes, and voting locations.

I was genuinely stunned however (which is saying something in 2021) when I happened upon the tweets of a few city councilors posing for a selfie together inside of the newly opening Tatte Bakery & Cafe on Centre St. in Newton—an upscale eatery for the Greater Boston bon vivant that boasts only four locations in the state, in the enclaves of Newton, Brookline, Boston, and Cambridge, as well as a de rigeur location in Washington D.C.

I was confused about what I was looking at, and why. Sure, we’ve all seen politicians at ribbon cuttings for schools and hospitals and senior centers and the like. 

But Tatte?

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