Court Reform: Now is the Time

We are witnessing a critical moment in our nation’s history. Over the past few months, we have found ourselves looking inward at the traditional pillars of society, re-evaluating their fairness and justness.

A new organization, the BC Law Chapter of the People’s Parity Project, aims to evaluate and disable injustices within the legal community from the inside out. Writing a guest post today are organization leaders Daniel McLaughlin and Will Petrone, discussing court reform and the organization in general. If you are interested in getting involved with the BC chapter of the People’s Parity Project, contact bcparity@gmail.com.


Before we came to law school, many of us probably thought that the law and the legal system were inherently fair, and judges and justices were non-political. But as law students, we have some insight into the system, and as we’ve progressed through our law school careers, many of us have been surprised to see that judges are human. And importantly, the judiciary is not as insulated from politics and biases as we had once thought. These days, the Court is clearly politicized, and right now in particular, it is dominating the news cycle. Although most Americans think that the ​next president​ should fill the seat, Senate Republicans, representing less than half of the U.S. population, have confirmed Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Conservative justices now have a 6-3 majority, and are posed to threaten a woman’s right to choose, the Affordable Care Act, and so much more. 

Fortunately, law school’s peek behind the curtain allows us a sliver of hope. Court reform is possible, and it would make sure that the death of one justice does not pose such a drastic threat to civil rights, our environment, and health care for all. It would also help to make sure that courts are not able to block the ​progress​ the majority of this country believes is necessary and wants to see. With the election so close at hand, it’s all the more important to advocate for these reforms to the candidates who seek to secure our votes, and channel our frustrations with the current system into momentum for change. 

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RBG Left Us a Roadmap for a More Just Nation

 

While attending University of Chicago in 2018, I had the good fortune to have a part-time job as a community outreach coordinator for the soon-to-be-released “RBG” documentary. On premiere night at the Chicago Gold Coast theater the Chicagoans I had come to know turned out in force. The gray-haired justice book group was followed by some little girls with their mothers. Film buffs, law students, elected officials, and a church group were all present and excited to learn more about this notorious intellectual giant. Everyone was moved by her story. The little girl who went in wearing an RBG costume came out standing a little taller in her black robe and jabot. This was the power of her transcendent appeal. 

More recently, as a CNN Associate Producer covering the Supreme Court, I was assigned a retrospective story about Justice Ginsburg’s most impactful decisions during her long career. I wrote the story factually and objectively, with no fanfare, and placed it in reserve for what I hoped would be a very long time. 

But she deserved fanfare. 

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The Fall from Grace: Tackling Choice and Moral Culpability in Class

“This seems like a philosophical question.”

My classmate was trying to parse the Supreme Court’s reasoning in two cases with similar facts and different outcomes. Our professor did not seem enthusiastic about the prospect of a philosophical discussion. Some professors teach introductory law classes like a foreign language, immersing students in legal syntax and vocabulary until its functioning becomes intuitive and fluid. Imagine trying to teach French students to conjugate a verb while they’re working on a grand theory for the union of sound and thought. You would get further by just drilling, “Je vais à la plage. Tu vas à la plage. Il/Elle/On va à la plage.” So our professor responded with a pointedly practical answer spelling out the officially recognized legal rule at work in the two decisions.

But there was an interesting, philosophical issue beneath the surface of the Court’s reasoning, even if we didn’t have enough time to cover it. These are the two cases:

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