Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Situation Normal

And its back to class!

Funny how thats almost a reprieve. Not to say the class isn't difficult or engaging (it is!), but this weekend was packed with rushing here and there to see this and that, so settling back into what is now routine is really comforting. I'll admit that I'm a creature of habit.

But, back to the grindstone. Our welcoming back was brief before the entire class jumped right in, continuing our previous First Amendment studies from last week. Today we looked at cases not directly in wartime, but after the two world wars. It was interesting to see how the hysteria and panic that the word “Communist” inspired in both generations of Americans and how that affected the Supreme Court. And its a great piece of legal twisting to use the due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment, which applies directly to the states, saying that each citizen has the right to equal due process with no discrimination, as a guideline for applying the other, more federally-aimed amendments to the states themselves, thus establishing the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over such cases. Very interesting!

Another little tidbit that kept catching my eye was just how much the social and political landscape affected the Court's decisions. First some background: in the cases we studied today, we saw the evolution of how the Court determines whether or not the first amendment protects the speaker's words or actions by requiring a “clear and present danger” (whatever that means) and, according to different courts at different times, an imminent threat or danger to the government. But it seems to me that hysteria can affect what exactly a “clear and present danger” really is. For example, in Gitlow v People of the State of New York in the '20s, a pamphlet published by Gitlow speaking on the inevitability of the proletariat revolution in ten years time or even possibly more is found in violation of New York law, and this conviction is upheld by the Supreme Court, although it seems to me that a revolution in ten years is hardly an imminent threat. And yet, only a few decades later, the Court rules in favor of a Klu Klux Klansman who directly threatens the government if they don't address his grievances. Though the cases seem like they should be similar enough to have similar outcomes, the later case doesn't take place in the manic hysteria following the Great War and the threat of Bolshevism from Europe that Gitlow was tried and convicted in. Food for thought.

Our afternoon class was two movies. The first was about Al Franken and Fox News' attempted suit against him; I've read Al Franken's books before, and he is quite the comedian, while still being incredibly informative and, well, right. He's a bit like John Stewart, in that he merely presents apparently contradictory information side by side and lets the reader or viewer decide which, if any, are true. The second movies was all about Dan Ellsberg, the Pentagon paper thief; while the movie itself was very interesting and I feel like I learned a lot, I feel like our instructors wanted us to try and ignore all the editorializing that was part of the movie and focus on the legal issues present throughout the film.

Dinner tonight was a lot of fun: a group of friends and I went out for sushi just across the street from Columbia's campus, and although the cost was a lot even by New York standards, the food was good and the company even better. After dinner, we grabbed dessert and chatted for almost two hours, discussing everything from future careers to Spanish weather to Subway strategy to the pros and cons of class sizes. These guys (and girls!) are a lot of fun to be around, and all of them are making this experience so much more enjoyable, especially being far from home and away from friends.

I really must get to bed, as the Constitutional Law class is heading on a fieldtrip early tomorrow morning and we are meeting with Ms. Kronenberg tomorrow night: we've a busy day laid out for us!

1 comment:

  1. Did you know that Daniel Ellsberg lives right in our own neighborhood? He's a Kensington resident!