Community Standards of Living and Respect
The University of California at Davis has a code of conduct in place that essentially acts as a "speech code" since it limits the type of speech which will be allowed on campus. The code as written under the University's Community Standards of Living and Respect states as follows:
"You must take responsibility for your own learning and awareness about racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Acts of intolerance will not go unchallenged within this community.
No one has the right to denigrate another human being on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, physical capability, or any other difference. Verbal or written abuse (including e-mail or instant messaging), threats, harassment, physical assault, intimidation, or other forms of violence against any member or group of members of your community will not be tolerated" ("University of California, Davis - FIRE," 2010).
Codes such as the foregoing at the University of California at Davis began emerging in the 1980's and 1990's as universities grappled with increasing tensions as a result of increasing levels of diversity and incidents of intolerance (Buchanon, n.d.). While the University has a noble goal in mind, namely to create a campus free from intimidation, hate, intolerance, and harassment, the First Amendment protects an individual's right to freedom of speech and expression as long as the speech is not intimidating, does not involve a threat, or is not legally obscene. Moreover, the First Amendment protects individuals against governmental infringement upon this right; thus, as a public university, U.C. Davis clearly must ensure that its students are accorded freedom of speech and expression ("About Speech Codes - Public and Private. What is the Difference?," 2009). Indeed, court rulings have prohibited public (state-run) colleges and universities from enacting codes that restrict the constitutional right to free speech based on content (Uelman, 1992). Additionally, the continued mass proliferation of these codes restricting free speech in the process of governing harassment and conduct at universities across the United States specifically prompted the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to issue a letter clarifying harassment vis-á-vis the need to protect an individual's right to free speech wherein Asst. Secretary Gerald Reynolds stated:
"Some colleges and universities have interpreted OCR's prohibition of 'harassment' as encompassing all offensive speech regarding sex, disability, race or other classifications. Harassment, however, to be prohibited by the statutes within OCR's jurisdiction, must include something beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive" ("About Speech Codes - Public and Private. What is the Difference?," 2009)
Indeed, the courts will strike down a speech code or a "harassment policy" like the one enacted by the University of California at Davis on the basis of vagueness and overbreadth. Codes may not prohibit a substantial amount of protected speech. If the code does infringe upon protected speech, then it must adequately inform a person what expressive conduct is prohibited. Moreover, the code must provide what expressive conduct is allowed and is not allowed so as to not leave a person to guess at its application (Hudson, Jr., 2010). In this case, the University's code merely states that acts of "verbal or written abuse"..."against any member or group of members of your community will not be tolerated." There is no delineation of when words become abuse and, at best, it leaves students guessing at its application. Accordingly, this code would be deemed to infringe upon students' constitutional rights.
About Speech Codes - Public and Private. What is the Difference? (2009). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.thefire.org/spotlight/about/
Buchanan, B. J. (n.d.). About the First Amendment. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/about.aspx?item=about_firstamd
Hudson, Jr., D. L. (2010, February 4). Free speech on public college campuses - Topic. Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/speech/pubcollege/topic.aspx?topic=campus_speech_codes
Uelman, G. (1992). The Price of Free Speech. Journal of Applied Ethics, 5(2). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from Santa Clara University.
University of California, Davis - FIRE. (2010, February). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.thefire.org/spotlight/codes/221.html
In a general sense, the U.S. Supreme Court cases of today deal with many of the same issues that faced the Court in the 1950's and 1960's, namely the rights of minorities in specific contexts such as criminal trials and proceedings as well as in voting rights. However, the focus of these cases and the specific issues within the cases are much different today. In the 1950's and 1960's, the Court was faced with interpreting the Constitution as it applied to policies of racial segregation in education, public services, and interstate and intrastate commerce. These involved landmark decisions such as Justice Marshall's opinion in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, in with separate was no longer deemed equal (O'Conner and Sabato, 2008; Freedom Writers: Timeline, 2005). Since decisions such as these changed the policies of a nation, the Supreme Court during this era played a major role in defining how America would treat racism and conflict in the upcoming years. Today, it seems as though the court is dealing with cases that either address specific nuances within the law in these areas such how many days does the right to an attorney under the Miranda rule last. Previously, however, during the Civil Rights era, the Court was dealing with a larger issue altogether: Should a defendant in a criminal trial actually have the right to be read his/her rights?
Another significant difference is in the nature of the aggrieved parties. For instance, on today's docket, we see cases that reflect some of the changes of society. Since the 1950's and 1960's, juvenile and gang violence has been on the rise ("Rising crime blamed on youth violence, gangs," 2007). Additionally, the issue of immigrants and what rights should be afforded to them has become very controversial in recent years. Indeed, a review of the present Supreme Court's docket reveals several cases that deal with how the constitution would address the grievances of juveniles who commit serious crimes as well as issues surrounding the rights of immigrants in criminal court ("Supreme Court Cases Recently Granted Certiorari," n.d.).
One particular case that was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,
Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, involved the interpretation of a monumental civil rights law that went into effect in 1965, approximately 35 years ago: The Voting Rights Act ("Court rules narrowly on Voting Rights Act challenge (June 22, 2009)," 2009). The Voting Rights Act was monumental because it ensured that African-Americans would not be restricted from voting based upon their race as well as other types of infringements upon their voting rights such as "voting requirements" enacted by public agencies such as literacy tests which had been used to exclude them from exerting their power in the political realm. The case that the present Supreme Court decided specifically dealt with whether or not Section 5, which is the section alluded to above, is still applicable in today's society. The Court voted 8-1 that Section 5 is still a viable section of the Act and must be adhered to. The only objector, ironically, was the only African-American on the Supreme Court who agreed that in this day and age when we have an African-American President such sections are unnecessary and outdated ("Court rules narrowly on Voting Rights Act challenge (June 22, 2009)," 2009). The significance of Clarence Thomas' ruling can be interpreted in two ways: (1) To those whom agree with him, the Voting Rights Act and other statutes and U.S. Supreme Court cases of the 1950's and 1960's have successfully lead us into an era where the protections enacted in a half a century ago no longer are necessary; or (2) To those whom do not agree with him, he epitomizes the danger of complacency. In fact, I believe the latter to be the case. While we have come a long way since Brown v. Board of Education, we are still a nation where inequities abound.
Court rules narrowly on Voting Rights Act challenge (June 22, 2009). (2009, June 22). Retrieved May 17, 2010, from http://onthedocket.org/articles/2009/06/22/court-rules-narrowly-voting-rights-act-challenge-june-22-2009
Freedom Riders : Timeline. (2005). Retrieved May 17, 2010, from http://www.outreach.olemiss.edu/Freedom_Riders/Timeline.html
O?Connor, K. & Sabato, L. J. (2008) American government: continuity and change (9th ed.). New York: Pearson Education.
Rising crime blamed on youth violence, gangs. (2007, May 15). Retrieved from MSNBC.
Supreme Court Cases Recently Granted Certiorari. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2010, from http://www.oyez.org/.
The House and the Senate have official websites that look strikingly similar in content. Indeed, both websites offer information regarding notes on the most recent activities and the schedules on each docket. Each website also has links to the members of the House as well as the members of the Senate. It makes sense that both government entities that serve to represent the public would offer information regarding the calendar, the outcome of debates and voting records, and links to members' home pages for further information and/or for the ability to contact them. Since both of these entities exist to represent the will of the people, these databases serve a vital function.
Twenty years ago, the public did not have such information at their fingertips. Now, we can track our representatives minute-by-minute. In fact, the House of Representatives actually has a live-cam set up in the chambers. Interestingly, the Senate does not have such a live-cam link. Their link is set up to view the exterior of the building. One might infer that this is representative or, perhaps, symbolic of the fact that members of the House are selected every two years and, hence, more at the bequest of the public's monitoring and/or whims whereas Senators are elected for six year terms thereby making them more insulated from the public's view and opinion.
Overall, however, regardless of whether there's access to live-cam feed, the most crucial fact is that we are fortunate to live in a democracy wherein we vote for representatives to articulate our needs on a national basis. Moreover, once these members are in office, we have a ready means by which to monitor and follow their activities. We should furthermore be grateful that we have a government that allows us access to the inner functioning of our government. Indeed, in many nations, this is certainly not the case.
George Washington appointed the first members of presidential confidants and advisors in what would come to be called the president's Cabinet and he was known to deliberate and discuss issues at length before making a decision. Additionally, Washington respected the office without allowing it to become formalized and non-republican like the European royal courts. To that end, Washington preferred the title "Mr. President" versus some of the more majestic names that others suggested. Furthermore, by refusing to serve more than two terms, he set an example which was followed by all his successors except Franklin Roosevelt up until 1951 when the 22nd amendment to the Constitution was enacted setting presidential term limits ("George Washington: Biography from Answers.com," 2010).
John Adams was the first president to live in the White House setting a precedent for years to come. He was also the first president to be engaged in an undeclared war. Additionally, during Adams' term as a result of foreign conflict, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts that sought to quench the public's criticism of the government and expanded the power of the president by giving the president the power to imprison or depart any foreigner "believed" to be dangerous to the United States. Based upon the foregoing enactment of power, John Adams and his Federalist party became associated with political repression ("The Presidency of John Adams," 2010).
Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the U.S. after beating Pres. John Adams in a narrow election. Prior to being elected, Jefferson was opposed to a strong executive; however, while President, he had to assume the role of a strong executive (Bailey, 2007). Specifically, Jefferson is noted for repealing many of the federal taxes, pardoning people imprisoned under the Alien and Sedition Acts, and repealed Adams' appointment of last minute judges to office. Further, he was the first president to purchase land from a foreign power to add to the US's territory (Louisiana from France).
Bailey, J. D. (2007). Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power. Cambridge University Press New York, New York.
George Washington: Biography from Answers.com. (2010). Retrieved May 18, 2010, from http://www.answers.com/topic/george-washington
The Presidency of John Adams. (2010, May). Retrieved May 18, 2010, from http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=10
Under the U.S. constitution, the government of the United States was set up such that one particular branch (i.e., the executive, the judicial, or the legislative) could have more power than the other. However, in recent years, this separation of power seems to have been eroded by the means of executive orders and vetos.
Executive orders have become a means by which the President can get things done without having to go to Congress or the Judiciary to act. As a result of the breakdown in the separate of powers, the bureaucracy of the United States government has unfortunately been allowed to expand beyond that which is economically feasible and/or productive (Tatum, 2000). Oftentimes, the line item veto has been used by Presidents to deny the ability of states through their representatives to act as well as create law in areas where they should not be acting.
Tatum, A. (2000, August 10). Re: Checks and balances in the government of the United States of America [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://everything2.com/title/Checks+and+balances+in+the+government+of+the+ United+States+of+America.
In a very short and unpretentious ceremony, Justice Sonia Sotomayer was sworn into office as U.S. Supreme Court in August of 2009. Nominated by Pres. Barack Obama, her swearing in marks the third time a woman has been on the Supreme Court and the first time a Puerto Rican or a Hispanic woman has been on the Court.
Sotomayer's childhood reveals that she did not come from privilege; instead, she was born and raised in the Bronx in a housing project by her widowed mother (Savage, 2008). In adulthood, she was first elected to the judiciary by Pres. George Bush and again promoted by Pres. Bill Clinton to the bench. Pres. Obama nominated her for the bench because she has garnered a reputation for being highly qualified, mainstream, and moderate jurist (Savage, 2008). According to an analysis of the Second Circuit's cases in the past decade, researchers have discovered that Justice Sotomayer is not a judicial activist and that her views as demonstrated by her opinions are that of the mainstream within the second district. In particular, she agrees with the majority in 93% of the cases (Youn, 2008).
Savage, C. (2008, August 12). Otomayor Sworn In as Supreme Court Justice. New York Times, p. A12.
Youn, M. (n.d.). Judge Sotomayor?s Record in Constitutional Cases. Retrieved May 18, 2010, from http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/sotomayor.