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Nobody Puts Scalia in a Corner

March’s SCOTUS oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor unsurprisingly became a focal point for my constitutional law course at the University of Arizona this past semester. In classrooms–especially at an introductory level–law is mainly a retrospective discipline. Settled doctrine is easier to approach. But the hearings on marriage equality made for an irresistible teaching moment. Only a few similarly momentous social issues have ever reached the Court, let alone in my or my students’ lifetimes.

We payed closest attention to justiciability–in other words, whether the Court would allow itself to directly address the rights of same-sex couples. Both Perry and Windsor bear heavily on the evolving interpretation of Article III’s “case or controversy” clause, under which federal judges may only exercise power in order to resolve genuine disputes between adverse parties. So heavily, in fact, that the two cases would likely stand out–at least among lawyers and scholars–irrespective of their impacts on the family lives of millions of Americans. In particular, I’m expecting discussion to grow out of Windsor‘s delineation between mandatory and prudential justiciability requirements, as well as Perry‘s treatment of federal standing arguments based in state law.

Even so, the social meaning of Perry and Windsor is still the bigger story. And nestled within that story is the bizarre, ignoble meltdown of Justice Antonin Scalia. His dissent in Windsor is a judicial landmark of the worst kind: a flipping-over of the Scrabble board that’s laden with fear of irrelevance and hints of a guilty conscience. I’m not the only one to notice. Lawrence Tribe at Harvard picked up on “the extraordinary character of this particularly vitriolic and internally inconsistent dissent” in which “Justice Scalia . . . couldn’t resist the temptation to use the occasion to insult the Court’s majority, and Justice Kennedy in particular, in essentially ad hominem (and ad feminem) terms.” Read more

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Climate Change in the Southwest: Should we stay or should we go?

Planning for disaster: The effects of climate change are not independent. The question for climate adaptation is how do we respond to multiple demands at once.

The University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment released its Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States this week.  At an event entitled Climate Change and the Tucson Region: Sustainable Living or Abandoned Wasteland?, the reports’ authors discussed some of the key findings of the report. No one, however, actually attempted to answer the main question that advertised the event. Each panelist expressed a mixture of concern and sufficient hope to imply that the region shouldn’t– or at least won’t–be abandoned. Whether people staying in place means that life would be sustainable or healthy in the Tucson region is an open question. The challenge, as Jonathon Overpeck put it, is to “identify what we can adapt to, and what we cannot adapt to.” Read more

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Education Reform: Back to Bologna

The beginning is a good place to start.

The university as we know it today came to us from Italy. There, in the northern city of Bologna, the idea first found its footing roughly a thousand years ago. In the 11th century, Italian scholars of law coalesced to form what is widely recognized as the world’s longest serving research and teaching institution: the University of Bologna, the “nourishing mother of studies” (alma mater studorium). The history of the idea of the university since then has been one of transnational imitation, accident, and purposeful innovation. It’s a history that shouldn’t be forgotten in debates about how to escape from under the dark clouds—weighing heavy with an indebted and underemployed generation—that currently beleaguer American higher education. Read more

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Mind the Gap

Go East, young man.  Image from USBR, 2012.

Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation released its Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. According to the study the gap between available water from the Colorado and demand for water will continue to grow to over  3.2 million acre feet in the next fifty years (an acre-foot of water is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre up to a depth of 1 foot; it’s also approximately the amount of water used by a suburban household in a year). One of the goals of the study was to change how Reclamation considered future supply and demand. Traditionally the agency focused on only one projection of future demand. In this study though Reclamation considered multiple scenarios for supply and demand.

It is curious then that of the four supply scenarios in the study, only one considered the impacts of climate change. This however is not the first time that stakeholders have overlooked future variability in the Colorado. Read more

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Economics, Poker, Baseball, and Politics

What makes it fun are shocks to the system.

An unmissable subplot to the 2012 presidential election season goes by the name Nate Silver. His public $2,000 bet to Joe Scarborough that Obama would win reelection was just a tiny sliver of what was really at stake for him, of course. He projected state-by-state outcomes with almost reckless specificity, all while keeping a poker face in front of millions of readers on the virtual pages of his New York Times blog, FiveThirtyEight. But he got it completely right.

For political junkies, it should feel like having watched Babe Ruth point to center field before homering in the World Series. A home run is a home run, but it’s something bigger and wilder when you call your shot. Silver’s gamble had a similar-but-nerdy braggadocio. Political projections can be interesting at best, usually. Calculated bravado made Silver’s riveting. Now he’s the other-other man of the hour, with accolades in long supply. Read more

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