Monday, April 19, 2010

Freedom of Religion or Discrimination?

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the issue of whether a public university's anti-discrimination policy is in fact a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The Hastings College of Law has a nondiscrimination policy that requires official student groups to admit any Hastings student who wants to join the organization. However, the student-led Christian Legal Society on campus contends that by requiring it to allow gay students and nonbelievers into its leadership would force the group members to renounce their core beliefs and that "the policy violates the Constitution's guarantees of free speech, association with like-minded individuals and exercise of religion." The student group is suing the Law School because it wants access to various benefits and the student activity fees that go along with official sanction by the University. However, it does not want to adopt the University's nondiscrimination policy that applies to all other student groups.

After reading the article linked below, how do you think the Supreme Court should decide this case? And in your opinion, is this case more about civil liberties and freedom of religion and association, or, is this really a civil rights case about discrimination against gay students?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Supreme Court Justices: the "empathy" Criterion

Six months after President Obama took office he had the opportunity to name a successor to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Justice David Souter. Among other typical requirements such as intelligence and experience, he also spoke of empathy as "an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes." President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor, a female Hispanic appellate court judge from the Second Circuit, who was eventually confirmed by the Senate. Her prior remarks precipitated healthy criticism from Republicans and legal scholars alike for her now famous "wise Latino woman" reference anad other remarks she made about her own view of judging.

Please read the article linked below and respond to any one or more of the following questions:

1) Given the fact that the Supreme Court has been charged with protecting minority interests from the self-serving majority in this country, is empathy a legitimate criterion for new Supreme Court nominees?
2) Is it realistic to presume that any judge can separate his or her personal background, experiences, and perspective from his or her decisionmaking on the bench?
3) Are you concerned that Justice Sotomayor will be biased in her decisionmaking on the Supreme Court, or do you think she was merely stating what we all know to be true: that the Supreme Court does engage in judicial activism from time to time, and as such, does make policy when it feels the need to do so?