Sunday, September 28, 2008

Restoration of Voting Rights

Our fledgling chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at the W&M School of Law has undertaken a project to restore voting rights to disenfranchised felons. I had planned on writing a lengthy post on this because of my involvement in it, but a fellow law student has already done a spectacular job. Please, please read this post to find out more.

Here's a brief summary. After the 15th Amendment was passed, giving blacks the constitutional right to vote, Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws, designed to keep blacks from actually voting. One of the few ways that states found they could legally keep blacks from voting was if they enacted felon disenfranchisement laws. These laws say that after a felon has served his time in prison, he still cannot vote. Although African-Americans represent only about 12.5% of America's population, they make up about 48.5% of its prison population. So, felon disenfranchisement laws, which are at best arguably constitutional, have proved an effective method of suppressing the black vote.

Today in Virginia, which is one of just two states (Kentucky is the other) that disenfranchises almost all felons for life, there are more than 377,000 disenfranchised felons. Of these, more than 208,000 are African-American. This is an abomination. Virginia's laws must be changed.

Our project aims to help disenfranchised voters get their rights restored. This is a two-fold process. First, we're going to do what we can to help people under the current Virginia laws, which allow most disenfranchised voters to petition the governor. Second, we advocate passage of legislation that will bring Virginia into line with the 48 states that do not disenfranchise felons for life. Our hope is that Virginia will follow the lead of Florida, which has recently made huge strides in restoring voting rights.

Ideally, all citizens will get their voting rights restored upon finishing their prison sentences. Until that day comes, there is much work for us to do.

UPDATE: The Richmond Times-Dispatch published this article about felony disenfranchisement today, noting Virginia's progress under its last two Democratic governors. The story also mentions one unfortunate but true statistic: according to the Sentencing Project, roughly 5 million voters nationwide will not be able to vote in this year's presidential election, because of felony disenfranchisement laws.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fighting over narratives

Yes, I watched the debate, though like most American voters, I watched it knowing that hardly anything could be said that would change my mind. I have supported Barack Obama's candidacy since February 2007, at the very latest, and following his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, at the earliest. Barring some Nixonian sweat-fest, an Al Gore sigh or an intellectual perambulation of Kerry-esque proportions, I was not going to be disappointed in Obama's performance last night. And even if I had been — even if I thought he had lost (which I don't) — I'm still going to vote for him.

So it's with some interest that I read this story, which describes the battle for the narrative. That is, which campaign can say more persuasively that its candidate won, why, and how the "why" fits into a compelling story. John McCain is a maverick. Barack Obama is a change agent. John McCain has the experience to get the job done. Barack Obama has the superior intellect and judgment, and won't invade countries whimsically by letting his emotions get the best of him.

As the NY Times article above details, the Obama campaign is fighting to portray McCain as out of touch with working Americans, saying he talked for 45 minutes and didn't mention "the middle class" once. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is working to portray Obama as lacking fight, saying he spoke for 45 minutes and didn't once mention "victory" in Iraq.

Republicans are betting on this narrative: that Americans will believe that Obama is a sissy; that he doesn't care whether we win or lose the war, that so long as we pull out of Iraq immediately, the world will be better off; that Obama would rather talk to our enemies than fight them, and that this runs counter to the strength Americans demand of their leader.

Democrats are betting on this narrative: that Americans will believe that John McCain is a career politician who has had 26 years to do something for the middle class and hasn't delivered, that he, his $500 shoes and his billionaire wife know and care more about tax cuts for the rich than they do about health care for working people; that McCain would rather fight an ill-begotten war to the finish, whatever the consequences, than bring that war to an end; and that America's standing in the world, our ability to form and lead international coalitions, matters a whole heck of a lot more than looking tough.

There are many more narratives at work, to be sure. I've just picked these to illustrate the point. However the debate went, these were the storylines that the campaigns were going to seize upon the morning after. The war of words matters. Whoever claims the winning narrative will most likely win the election. The race is surely on to convince that small slice of the American electorate that is still, as Wolf Blitzer of CNN put it last night, "persuadable."

If you're one of these people, I've got a good narrative for you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Guest post: Making Excuses for Men

I intend to write more about the social aspects of law school because the dynamics around this place are nothing like I've ever experienced. In the meantime, my friend Janice has given me permission to share this piece, which she first posted on Facebook over the weekend. It stands on its own.

To all the smart, funny, kind, supportive, caring, strong, successful, accomplished, witty, unique, empathetic, resilient, talented, interesting, and (the list could go on and on) indefatigable women out there:

He’s just not that into you.

I haven’t read the book. I don’t need to immerse myself in self-help literature. My phenomenal women, what we need to do is easy in theory, and for some reason, incredibly difficult in practice: accept the simple truth. And the simple truth is, if a man truly wants to be with you, he will be with you. In fact, he will do whatever it takes to be with you. He will be with you to the point that you will want him to go away.

He will initiate conversation and contact. He will listen. He will respond to your phone calls, text messages and emails. He won’t, and shouldn’t, be a lap dog. He will be disagreeable, argumentative, honest, forthright, communicative and exasperating. He’ll want to play Wii and hang out with his super-masculine friends. He will, above all, STILL make time to be with you…if he’s into you. He will disagree with you while you’re cuddling on the couch; he will argue with you when you’re holding hands; he will be honest with you when he calls you on the phone; and he will exasperate you by leaving his stuff at your apartment.

He will NOT require that you make excuses for him, or provide him silent justification for his behavior. “He’s probably busy.” “He probably left his phone somewhere.” “He’s probably sleeping.” “He’s probably studying.” “He’s probably talking on the other line with his grandma.” “He might not have gotten my message. Maybe I should call again…”

“He likes me, but he’s afraid of commitment.” “He’s afraid of his feelings for me.” “He probably likes me TOO much, and it scares him.” “He probably doesn’t want to come across as too interested, so that’s why he’s not calling me back.” “He SAYS that he likes me.” “Why would he be so sweet to me if he didn’t like me?” “He is definitely playing hard-to-get, but he’s totally into me.” "He says he doesn't KNOW if he wants to be with me, but that means there's still a chance, right?"

“His phone MUST be broken.”

No. No. No. His phone is not broken, he definitely got your messages, and he’s definitely not studying. He’s actually not doing anything at all. He’s not calling you and he’s not spending time with you because HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. In fact, he’s probably actively avoiding you.

We need to stop making excuses, my friends. If he’s not calling, it’s because he’s not into you. If he’s not making a commitment, he’s not into you. If he’s not in a relationship with you, he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. If he doesn’t acknowledge you, he doesn’t care. Men know it, and women know it, too, although we constantly want to give the opposite sex the benefit of the doubt. Stop. Recognize the truth: if he wanted ‘us’ to be together, ‘we’ would be together. No games. No hard-to-get. NO "I don't know." No excuses.

Paraphrasing a wise man, I think it’s time to stop thinking about what we want, and instead focus on what we deserve. If we are honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that we deserve far better than this.

Janice L. Craft

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My first legal publication

I got word today of my first legal publication. This summer my friend Liz asked me to compile an Election Law guide for Iowa trial judges, as part of a joint project of the Election Law Society at W&M and the American Bar Association. It's not fancy or creative, but I made it.

Visit this link for a schpiel about the project. If you want to see what I did, go to this link, then click on "Iowa Election Law Statutes." The PDF is the one I made, and what Iowa judges will have access to on Election Day this year.

Let's hope there isn't any Election Day confusion in Iowa!

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Oftentimes in life what makes an experience worthwhile is not the place or the event itself but the people who go through it with you. This has been my experience at law school so far. Without my nearest, dearest friends, I simply would not still be here.

One tidbit about law school friendships generally is that they rarely endure for the three years a person is in school. This is not just my own experience but that of many of people here, who have recognized the same phenomenon. The friends we make in our first few weeks seldom stick with us past the first semester, for one reason or another. Of course this pattern is not unique to law school, but rather to youth, which Aristotle noticed a couple thousand years ago:
It would seem that the friendship of the young is based upon pleasure; for they live by emotion and are most inclined to pursue what is pleasant to them at the moment. But as their time of life changes, their pleasures are transformed. They are therefore quick at making friendships and quick at abandoning them; for the friendship changes with the object which pleases them, and friendship of this kind is liable to sudden change.
ARISTOTLE, THE NICOMACHEAN ETHICS 259 (J.E.C. Welldon, trans., Prometheus Books 1987).

Although this phenomenon of transitory friends has, to a large extent, happened to me, I have also been exceedingly lucky: I met two of the best friends I've ever had in the opening days of my first year here. We all grew up in small towns, though in different parts of the country. We have all spent considerable time doing one kind of public service work or another. The three of us have pulled each other through tough times and celebrated successes. We've also celebrated for no reason at all, which must be a sign of good friendship. To find friends like these moves life beyond bearable, to fulfillment.
The perfect friendship or love is the friendship or love of people who are good and alike in wishing each other's good, in so far as they are good, and they are good in themselves. But it is people who wish the good of their friends for their friend's sake that are in the truest sense friends, as their friendship is the consequence of their own character, and is not an accident. Their friendship therefore continues as long as their virtue, and virtue is a permanent quality.
ARISTOTLE, supra at 260.

Last night during a discussion about job interviews, another close friend of mine said that a lawyer had shared with her a piece of wisdom. When interviewing potential associates, the lawyer will ask whether the student enjoys the law school experience. The answer that lawyer wants to hear is not "I absolutely love it" or "I can't wait to get out." Instead, the best answer is something like, "It's alright. But honestly, I don't care for most of the people at law school. I have about three really good friends, and we stick together."

At the time, I couldn't help noticing that I was sitting with three of my best friends at law school. It was a good feeling, one I plan to continue.