With abortion rights before the Supreme Court this term, I’ve been thinking about the metaphor that brought privacy—and by extension, reproductive health rights—under Constitutional protection. In Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice Douglas reasoned that enumerated individual rights “have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” Douglas analyzed these penumbras to extend the zones of individual rights, frustrating dedicated textualists who saw no justification for them in the language of the Constitution.
It might be helpful to pause here and clarify exactly what a penumbra is. Hold an object up in front of a light source so that it casts a shadow on a nearby surface: at the center of the shadow will be its most focused darkness, its umbra; move your gaze out to the border of the shadow, to where it meets the light, and you will see a zone of unfocused shadow, a kind of half-light called the penumbra. In Douglas’s metaphor, a certain set of enumerated rights are the umbra and the unenumerated right to privacy is their penumbra, giving them life and substance.
I grew up in a pretty traditional South Asian household. I’ve tried talking about the Black Lives Matter movement numerous times before, but my family just didn’t seem too invested in it. Most of the time, I would just give up. Because it was just too frustrating.
But that’s the problem, right? These are just events that we hear about or see in the news, just optional conversations that we can opt in or out of. But for black people in America, this is reality. It’s not just another life lost; it is yet another manifestation of the unhinged, systemic racism that we allallow to continue and continue to allow.
Black people in America don’t get to choose to live in constant fear. They don’t get to choose that law enforcement dehumanizes them. So it feels inherently wrong that my community gets to choose whether or not we care.
BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau sent the letter below earlier this week to the BC Law community, and I thought it was important enough to share here on BC Law Impact. I have also written about this issue in my recent post Black Lives Matter.
Dear members of BC Law community:
I know the pain that you are feeling because I am feeling it too. And I am tired. So very, very tired. I am tired of writing these letters over and over again. As a Black man with three sons, I am tired of the fear I must carry when they are out moving through their lives in a country where the lives of people of color are so easily extinguished. I am tired of the sickening legacy of racism in this county and of being told not to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable. Our nation is in crisis and we cannot continue to ignore the fact that the fabric of our society is being shredded by many among us who refuse to recognize our shared humanity.
“Go home. Be with your family. Live simply and with integrity. Consume only what you need. Be generous with each other.”
That is the gist of much of Leviticus 25, where God issues instructions for the Jubilee. The jubilee is a kind of year-long Sabbath, occurring after “seven weeks of years, seven times seven years”—i.e., every 50th year. But in addition to the typical Sabbath’s rest and worship, the Jubilee is also a time of mercy and compassion: enslaved people are freed, debts are forgiven, and economic relations are subordinated to fundamental human needs. God assures Moses that the land will be capable of feeding and sheltering the people and so they must, “observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely.”
This guest blog from Italian student Maria Antonietta Sgro came to us from BC Law professor Katie Young. Professor Young had been scheduled to co-teach a course on law and technology in Italy this spring with professor Amedeo Santosuosso at the University of Pavia, but when his students went into lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the class was canceled. Professor Young invited the students to share their reflections on how their lives had been impacted by this disease, and Maria’s post below is one particularly moving answer.
It’s not a random number. Maybe for some it’s insignificant, and for others it doesn’t mean anything. But for me it represents a barrier. A wall of distance that separates me from what has been my home, full of love, life, laughter, the sea and–last but not least–my family for 19 years.
I’m writing from my desk, illuminated with a lamp, because here in Pavia (in the northern part of Italy) it’s already dark at 6:45 p.m. Even though I can’t see anything from my window, I used to be able to know the difference between the sunrise, when the morning flowed fast, and the sunset, when the silence became comfortably pleasant after a long day full of noise. But now there seems to be no difference between day and night. Silence is my master, and I am always seeing gray.
I no longer hear the little birds singing; in good weather, their singing was pleasant. I no longer hear the children leaving school, screaming with happiness. I no longer hear my neighbor. Sometimes it seems that I no longer feel myself.
It’s like everything is rumbling, a deep echo with no return.
Studying for final exams in law school is stressful. The stakes are high, the hours are long, and the despair can…fester. I was generally aware of the pressure built into a grading system centered around distributive bell curves when I enrolled, but in my first week at Boston College the reality set in. Something terrible happened: I met my peers, and they were every kind of smart, impressive and terrifying. They were students coming from across the country and around the world, some from THOSE big name schools and others with remarkable professional experience.
Naturally I compared them to myself, the dumbest person I know. That was a bad move for my self-confidence, but sometimes you just have to keep moving forward. So, that’s what I did heading into finals season.
Impact is running a series of posts that were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we think the messages are too important to go unshared. Stay safe everyone, and please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can do anything to help, or if you would like us to consider publishing a guest post on your own experiences during the outbreak.
Before our first class for Constitutional Law, our assignment was to read the Constitution in its entirety. As a recent business school graduate, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel and think of the United States as a business entity. Then, I started wondering, would the Constitution be its mission or vision statement?
In my operations and strategy courses at my undergraduate institution, we learned that a mission statement identifies an organization’s primary purpose for existing. For example, Google’s mission statement is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” On the other hand, a vision statement is a high-level statement of what the organization wants to achieve in the future. Following the previous example, Google’s vision statement is “to provide an important service to the world-instantly delivering relevant information on virtually any topic.”
Of course, I know it’s an immense oversimplification to analogize the nation to a business entity. Yet, I do find it an interesting exercise to explore whether the Constitution more establishes an identity for the country based on the framers’ perception – a more “mission statement” purpose – or whether it sets forth a foresight of what the country should aspire towards – a “vision statement” type of objective.
Today, I am hosting a guest blog post by Robert Lydon, a first-year student at BC Law.
I cannot describe the relief I felt when I received the Dean’s email about the grading policy change. Relief because I would not have to choose between my family, my health, and my academic career. Relief because I now have the flexibility to be there for those who need me.
I am just one of the students the administration probably had in mind when they rendered this decision. As of last week, I’ve learned that my brother, father, and brother-in-law are now unemployed after construction was shut down in Boston. They are all concerned about how they are going to pay their bills. My mother is a disabled two-time cancer survivor, and I cannot express how dangerous this illness could be for her. Despite this, she continues to help care for my grandmother, who is recovering from a recent hip fracture and is also extremely vulnerable. I live at home with my parents and am worried about their health, economic well-being, and housing security. I am far from the only one in our community affected, nor am I the most adversely affected by this global upheaval.
I’ll be honest. When I first read the email about the pass/fail policy this semester, I was upset. I have been working really hard this semester to boost my GPA, and I was looking forward to the chance to improve my performance during finals. I’ve been pretty anxious about this whole COVID-19 situation, and I felt like this was not the news I wanted to hear.
And then I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. After putting everything into perspective, I realized how much this pass/fail policy might mean to someone who is facing more difficulties than me right now. Throughout my time at law school, I have gotten involved in various diversity initiatives because I’m a woman of color and I know this puts me at a systemic disadvantage. I fight for these causes because they personally affect me. If I am so quick to stand up for causes that personally affect me, I should also be as committed to standing up even when my own interests might not be at stake.
Editor’s note: due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Boston College has moved all classes online and sent students home for the semester. The BC Law Impact blog has suspended its normal posting schedule, and bloggers are now focused on writing about the impact of the shutdown and the current state of the world on their academic and social experiences as law students. We are all in this together; let’s find our way through together.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about a night I spent in Panama trapping bats. More precisely, I was taking pictures of a team of German scientists who were trapping bats. I had been traveling in Latin America when a journalist friend asked me to meet him in Panama and tag along on a story he was doing for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which studies tropical ecosystems and their impact on human well-being. As the virulence of the coronavirus has shown, bats are especially potent and prolific reservoirs of disease due to their strong immune systems. So every night, this team of scientists would head out into the tropical forest, put nets up between trees, and catalog and take samples from all the captured bats.
The goal was to understand the dilution effect, which refers to the way that biodiversity in the natural world helps prevent the spread of disease from animals to humans. The theory is that when an ecosystem has high levels of biodiversity, it is more difficult for a disease to take hold in any one species. Without any species becoming a potent reservoir for that disease, it is more difficult for it to spill over into human populations. When biodiversity is low, however, a single species can serve as host to a critical mass of disease, facilitating its transmission to humans.