All posts filed under: Law

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

My Testimony on Reparations

Editor’s note: Coleman Hughes delivered the following testimony at a United States House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Bill H.R. 40 on June 19, 2019. If passed, the bill would establish a commission for reparations. Thank you Chairman Cohen, ranking member Johnson, and members of the committee. It’s an honor to testify on a topic as important as this one. Nothing I’m about to say is meant to minimize the horror and brutality of slavery and Jim Crow. Racism is a bloody stain on this country’s history, and I consider our failure to pay reparations directly to freed slaves after the Civil War to be one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government. But I worry that our desire to fix the past compromises our ability to fix the present. Think about what we’re doing today. We’re spending our time debating a bill that mentions slavery 25 times but incarceration only once, in an era with zero black slaves but nearly a million black prisoners—a bill that doesn’t mention homicide once, at a …

The Life of a Transgender Prisoner

Last month’s school shooting in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado, claimed the life of an innocent child. Eight more were injured. In the way that this crime affects the victims and their families, the tragedy is similar to many previous incidents. But it also uniquely highlights a criminal justice challenge that has been the subject of debate: what to do with transgender criminals? In the UK, where prisoners are classified primarily according to a policy of “self-identification,” recent controversy has focused on Karen White, a violent transgender woman who was moved to a male facility in 2018 after being accused of sexually assaulting multiple female prisoners. In the United States, where prisoners generally are classified according to their biological sex, the issue has been less prominent. However, that may soon change. One of the two suspected shooters in Colorado is listed in court records as Maya McKinney, a 16-year-old female. However, the suspect now identifies as “Alec,” and has asked that male pronouns be used in all official proceedings—even though Alec is being housed in …

Against Big Tech Viewpoint Discrimination

This week, YouTube decided American conservative “shock jock” commentator Steven Crowder broke the rules of their Partner Program. Since YouTube is privately owned, shouldn’t principled free market advocates support the company’s right to purge videos Silicon Valley finds triggering, even if a disproportionate number are created by conservative commentators such as Crowder? Well, imagine electric companies stood up for progressive values by cutting off power to homes with pro-Trump yard signs. Even staunch supporters of free markets would likely object to these restrictions on expression by privately owned enterprises. When we examine why power companies shouldn’t be able to make service contingent on not violating political sensibilities, we see that analogous arguments should stop social media giants from exiling political dissidents. If Burger King won’t sell you a hamburger, so what—buy one from McDonald’s. Competition among businesses normally protects you from harm if one refuses you service. Some markets, however, are characterized by “bigger is better” where size bestows advantage. It’s much cheaper on average to hook up electric power lines to homes if the …

Watching Harvard, My Alma Mater, Surrender to the Mob  

On Saturday, Harvard University announced that it would not be permitting law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. to stay on as faculty dean of Winthrop House, an undergraduate residence where he has served in that position since 2009 (along with his wife Stephanie R. Robinson, who also teaches at Harvard Law School). When I heard news of this, my mind rushed back to a guided tour I’d once taken of Boston’s Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half mile path that features numerous historical landmarks, including the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home and Bunker Hill Monument. At the time, I’d just arrived from Canada as a student at Harvard Law School. And I was eager to bring myself up to speed on America’s revolutionary history. The most memorable story I heard during that tour was of a young John Adams, a future U.S. president, successfully defending Thomas Preston, a Captain of a redcoat British regiment who’d been accused of ordering the aforementioned massacre after British soldiers were hit with rocks and snowballs. When the …

A Single Global Standard for Internet Content Regulation Is a Recipe for Censorship

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. “If governments are to retain a firm hold of authority and not be compelled to yield to agitators, it is imperative that freedom of judgment should be granted, so that men may live together in harmony, however diverse, or even openly contradictory their opinions may be. In a democracy…everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.” So wrote Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his Theological Political Treatise of 1670. At the time, most rulers and thinkers believed that a policy of free speech would lead to bloodshed, sedition and atheism. Spinoza, on the other hand, argued that freedom of conscience and speech were necessary preconditions for pluralism, tolerance and liberty. The Portuguese-born Jewish philosopher wasn’t blind to the potential harms of free speech, but thought that they were outweighed by the benefits. “I confess that from such freedom [of speech], inconveniences may sometimes arise,” he wrote. …

‘Jared’ and ‘Kate’: A False-Allegation #MeToo Saga That Police and Prosecutors Got Right

By the summer of 2018, Jared, age 18, had resigned himself to a future in the shadows. Police had told him there was nothing they could do to help him, and the ex-girlfriend who was harassing him probably was never going to desist. They advised him to keep a low social profile and not publish information on social media about where he was going to school or his employment details. The one good piece of good news was that they had closed their investigation into false accusations of sexual assault that his ex had reported to police in late 2017. Jared had been in a rocky relationship with Kate for three years. (Both names are pseudonyms, but the details contained in this account are real.) He was a rising music star in a large western American city, having performed professionally with local bands since he was 14. She was a groupie, several years older. They had fought often. But every time Jared tried to end the relationship, Kate had threatened suicide or other forms of …

Divorce and the ‘Silver Bullet’

Divorce is almost always an ugly and painful experience. But for parents with children, there are additional heart-rending realities to confront. No loving parent wants to be absent for their kids’ many firsts and bests—the first tooth falling out, the first goal scored, and so on. Countless goodnight kisses will be missed, and at crisis moments when they need you most (and for the many moments when they don’t need anything more than knowing you’re close by), one parent will not be there to provide advice, compassion, and comfort. Also hanging in the balance are hundreds of thousands of dollars of shelter and vehicles and toys and books and worthless junk priceless only to you. These stakes drive people to lie. Lies are at the messy heart of divorce, almost by definition. Sometimes the lies are so large and consequential that lawyers and judges are pressed into service to officiate a death match of he-said-she-said. But there is a lie among lies that practically guarantees child custody, optimal parenting time, the money you’re sure you …

Paul Manafort and Systemic Bias

As we navigate the world, we attempt to understand the structures that surround us. And often, because we struggle with complexity and uncertainty, our putative knowledge comes packaged in neat and tidy descriptions of societal phenomena, invoked with a high degree of epistemic confidence. Rather than indulging explanations rife with qualifiers and disclaimers—for example, “System X is Y in areas C, B and Q but not in D and F”—we defer to absolute, uncompromising narratives that allow for the staking of moral high ground. In order to sustain these narratives—and, by extension, our moral certainty—singular cases are adduced as definitive proof of system-wide descriptions, inapt analogies are drawn, and relevant/countervailing facts are elided. In discussions about racism in the U.S. criminal justice system, the dynamics are no different. The 47-month sentence received by Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for President Trump, has provided fodder for bias theorists. According to their account, the U.S. criminal justice system has two-tiers: one for those with white collars and white skin and another for those with blue collars (or …

How Social Justice Ideologues Hijacked a Legal Regulator

I have been a Toronto-based litigation lawyer for 30 years. My politics are progressive and strongly egalitarian. About two decades ago, I started my own law firm, specifically so that I could serve disadvantaged individuals and communities. I have sued governments and large corporations, often on a pro bono basis. I have acted for Indigenous clients—including the family of Dudley George, an Ojibway man who was shot and killed by police in 1995 at Ipperwash Provincial Park in Ontario. I have represented a regional Cree First Nations tribal council on the James Bay coast for more than 25 years, and for eight years a group of indigenous Mayan women in an ongoing claim against a Canadian international mining company for alleged rape and murder at its facility in Guatemala. I act in a class-action for almost a thousand people who claim to have been wrongfully mass-arrested by Toronto Police at the 2010 G20 Summit. I am a recipient of the Diane Martin Medal For Social Justice Through Law, the Human Rights Award from the Ontario …