Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Justice Blackmun

Today's post will be be brief because, honestly, you've heard all these arguments before if you've been following my blog. Yes, I am Miss First Amendment Absolutist, and hey, I'm proud of it. Lets just get right to the heart of the matter, shall we?

The death penalty is not unconstitutional.

Now, before getting your civil liberties feathers in a ruffle, think about what that sentence means. Or more importantly, what it doesn't mean.

It doesn't mean that the death penalty is morally right.

It doesn't mean that the death penalty can't be legislated against.

It doesn't mean that the death penalty should be used.

It just means that it is not unconstitutional.

But what does that mean exactly? When I say the death penalty is not unconstitutional, what I really mean is that the death penalty can't be declared a violation of the 8th Amendment's “cruel and unusual punishment” clause. Unless the method of execution causes pain or prolonged suffering, it is not cruel. Because the death penalty has a large history in our country, it is not unusual. Does that mean I think we should have the death penalty? No. I just think the place to decide whether or not the death penalty is cruel and unusual is in Congress, not in the courts.

I hate the death penalty. I think it is sick, and uncivilized, and unnecessary, and beneath us as a country that supposedly values the individual and his/her rights. But that doesn't mean the Court should be the only vehicle for social change. In fact, it shouldn't be one. The duty of the Supreme Court is to uphold the words of the Constitution, not to try to make America a more moral place. As Justice Blackmun put it, “we should not allow our personal preferences... to guide our judicial decision in cases such as these” even if we feel “distaste, antipathy, and, indeed, abhorrence, for the death penalty.” That is for our elected representatives in Congress to do.


Today’s morning class began with some advice from Doc Z. She recommended that all students that apply to Columbia be sure that they loved the core curriculum, which is essentially, the most distinctive aspect of Columbia University. Today, I also learned about the “debt ceiling” and how this cap on government spending is being discussed on Capital Hill right now.

After Doc Z’s lecture, we had a couple of minutes to discuss our current president, Barack Obama in the context of the our assigned reading, which was a couple of articles about the president, and chapters of the Jonathan Atler book, The Audacity of Hope. Personally, I thought the book was fabulous. Atler’s account of Obama’s first year in office is very entertaining and I would highly recommend it. Class ended 15 minutes early to give us time to complete a student questionnaire about the Columbia University High School Summer Program.

Immediately after class, Eric, Milani and I went to the Guggenheim Museum – and got there early enough to actually look at the exhibit. The collection on display was titled Marking Infinity by Japanese artist Lee Ufan. The artist juxtaposed rocks and stones that are irregular in shape with steel and other man made materials. Overall, I am glad I went to see one museum in New York City. There is so much culture in these museums that I would have regretted not going. That being said, I don’t think I understood the message of the art. I have known for a while that I am not artistically inclined, and this visit cemented that notion.

The coolest part of the exhibit, to me, was the money room. It was literally a room covered from wall to wall with one dollar bills. It was magnificent.


I found the discussion today on rights of the accused intriguing. Initially we went over the case which set the foundation for the rights of the accused used today. Those rights are included in the Miranda Warning which includes the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. A case we talked about in class that I found interesting was Berghuis v. Thompkins (2010) because of the strange ruling by the Supreme Court. Berghuis was interrogated for two hours and 45 minutes until he finally he talked and self-incriminated himself. When he brought his case to court, his attorney argued that Berghuis had the right to remain silent, and that after two an a half hours the police should have stopped the interrogation. The Supreme Court ruled that while one may have the right to silence, the police have a right to continually ask questions. As for silence, the majority opinion made it clear that in order to exercise the right to remain silent one must announce it.

I find this extremely odd because especially in this case, if he didn't speak for two hours and 45 minutes, you would think it is obvious he's exercising his right to remain silent. I would have thought that if someone didn't speak to me after I asked 5 minutes worth of questions he/she was choosing to remain silent. If the the Supreme Court ruling were to stand, then the Miranda Warning needs to be edited from "You have the right to remain silent..." to "You have the right to remain silent, only if you announce it..." Because the Miranda Warning does not mention that one must announce that he/she wants to use their rights, the Supreme Court ruling, in my opinion, is wrong.

After class was finished, Beilul, Milani, and I rushed off to try and visit the Guggenheim museum -- before it closes. I learned from yesterday and at lunch I used an app called Hopspot to figure out exactly how to get to Guggenheim. We took the subway which conveniently stops at 86th street, which is the route of the 86 bus. We were supposed to take 86 all the way to Guggenheim, but when I asked the bus driver when to get off, he told be Central Park West and head uptown. However, he was wrong. He let us off on the wrong side of Central Park and so we powerwalked our way across the park and to be honest, Beilul and I were worried that we might repeat yesterday's fiasco. I was relieved to see the amazing building...45 minutes before it closed.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that students with a Columbia ID were allowed into the museum for free. After receiving our free ticket, we headed off to the top and worked our way down. Initially I didn't really like the artwork because it consisted of rocks, random pieces of scrap metal, and large canvases with only a few brushstrokes. However as we worked our way down, I began to like the work more and more. The pieces of scrap metal led to an exhibit about fading paint stokes, which in my opinion, looked really cool. We then went into an amazing exhibit which featured the works of french artists such as Manet and Monet. As amazing as the french exhibit was, it was nothing compared to the Hugo Boss Prize exhibit. In the Hugo Boss Prize exhibit, the entire walls of the room were covered in one dollar bills from the ground to the ceiling. The exhibit begs the question: How many dollar bills were used? According to the staff member in the exhibit, only 1,000 dollar bills were used. Just by looking at the room, I would have easily guessed that more than 1,000 dollar bills were used, but that's why I don't guess.

Overall, I was really happy that Beilul, Milani, and I made the trip down to the Guggenheim because I thought it was pretty awesome.


Today's AM class was pretty much our last real seminar class. Tomorrow we have a guest speaker and on Friday we plan to discuss a little of what we didn't cover but mostly share something about our papers. I have to say that at 10 AM with almost 6 hours of sleep every night because of homework, the one thing that keeps me going is my professor's humor. Today we talked about the debt that the US is facing and what this all means for today and the future. We got onto the subject of how the Minnesota state government has been shut down, but my professor kept things interesting by saying "I know that one thing that's on your mind. Don't worry people... The animals in the zoo are still being fed!" Now, if my professor wouldn't have said that, I probably would have just listened without really absorbing much information. Learning about the debt ceiling and how social security is not to be given out in August wasn't really up my alley and it was a lot to learn in a matter of 2 hours. But, I find my professor's humor to be one more thing to keep me intrigued in the class.

I have hit writer's block, big time. I am at 16 pages and have tonight and tomorrow to finish my paper and add four more pages. My professor told me today that if I've exhausted ever possible topic and done the best I could, 20 pages might not be for me. I know that there is a lot more I could say about my topic, but I'm just not sure what to expand on.

I took a break from my paper in order to be able to focus more when I returned to it. I went with Eric and Beilul to the Guggenheim museum. One of the perks of being a Columbia student is getting into museums for free! I don't think I'm the art kind of person. When I see "art" I don't think of it as art. It's confusing to look at a rock and see art. Just not my thing.

We had dinner then continued on to SoHo to do a little tourist shopping. Being able to go anywhere makes me realize that if I attend Columbia this could be a pretty permanent thing. I could walk around the city in my spare time or even just explore new things and take in new experiences.

I can't believe the end is almost near. I love NYC and I love Columbia. There is a time though to say goodbye. It only makes you that much more determined to go back.

Timetables and Talents

There comes a point in every man's--or woman's--life where you stop and think, "I have a twenty-page research paper due on Friday." I'm proud to say I hit that point today.

Luckily, despite my earlier scrapping and overhaul of my paper, I'm now up to eighteen pages. "Two more to go," some would say. Well, logistically, yes, "two more to go!" But, yet another difference between high school and college is the removal of the common high school ideal that hitting the bare minimum of requirements is acceptable--good, even.

I will be done, technically, in about an hour, when I complete twenty pages, but looking at this paper from a content perspective, there's a lot more to talk about. And, personally, I know I'll be working on this paper until Friday morning, when I believe it is due.

You come to realize that "enough" is not necessarily "enough," and to go above and beyond is to actually complete the assignment. And, I think that's cool. It's yet another motivation that the student must invoke him/herself. The best thing about college is the independence: the fact that you are no longer being encouraged, let alone forced, to make certain decisions, whether for the better or worse, is grand.

Anyway, I'll definitely be able to give a more sophisticated satisfaction review of my paper by tomorrow, but for now, I am definitely satisfied with my progress thus far.

Now: the good stuff.

There is a talent show tonight! And, I can't speak for the rest of my cohort, because I think they chose to go out or do something else on campus instead of attend the even, but I absolutely love talent shows! It's always amazing to see talent, or lackthereof, in a group of my peers. It's especially interesting when your perspective of someone changes whole-heartily because of something you assumed they did or didn't do. That's happened to me a number of times. And, talent aside, there's always a certain boldness and courage to go up on stage, in front of a crowd of people, and live up to the expectation that you are "talented" enough to showcase a "talent."

I have a lot of respect for performers of any kind.

It hasn't started yet, so I'll be getting to that tomorrow, I believe.

Until then.

Leaving Already?

I know I've already said this, but I'm really not looking forward to leaving.

Not that I don't want to go home; I do miss my family. But I'll be leaving people behind. People I've grown to trust and care about. And its sad. As much as I miss California and everyone there, landing at SFO will be bittersweet. If I'm honest with myself, I've been letting Columbia become my home. Its not quite there yet: but the buildings are so familiar, the traffic and hustle and sheer noise of the city so comfortably routine, that I know I'll feel like a stranger for a few days at home. Even this little dorm room I've made my own has come to be mine, the place where I live. And I'll miss that.

Here, there's such a sense of independence. You're anonymous in a sea of people, and it feels great. You could do anything, be anything, and no-one would bat an eye. For me, thats the definition of freedom. As this last week begins, I can feel myself starting to somehow chafe against the restrictions here: check-ins with our RA and Mrs. L, curfew at 11. Intellectually I understand why those restrictions are there: but something inside me has grown, and that same something is starting to worry that it cannot grow any more with these rules. Its a great starting point, a sort of taster of the free rein you have as being truly, for the first time in your life, your own person while at University. That freedom, even in the minute quantities I've experienced, changes people. Its changed me. My father even noticed it, just talking with me over the phone: he said it sounded as if I'd become somehow older and more mature, leaping six months ahead in just a week or so. I'm ready. Or, at least if not at this very second, I will be very soon. I'm confident now, more so than I've ever been in my life, and I know that this time next year I will be well prepared to live on my own.

But enough waxing poetic about freedoms and nostalgia. Class today was interesting, but that's nothing new as this ConLaw class constantly teaches me new things. Our focus was the Fourth Amendment, more specifically what qualified as unlawful search and seizure. Unlike anything to do with free speech, where I feel like the phrase saying that “Congress shall make no law” is pretty damned explicit in turns of regulating the rights of the government, the Fourth Amendment can't really support an absolutist argument. Its just too vague. Some of the cases we looked at were ones where a warrant was not obtained before the search (which to me is pretty unjustifiable since the words of the Amendment say you need one before conducting a search), but the most interesting cases were one concerning where new technology falls into the search and seizure category. For example, looking at the way the Court looked at heat-sensing technology being used by the people in pre-search surveillance was a good insight into just how complicated our legal system is, because there was no precedent to fall back on in this case. 

In the afternoon session we took a closer look at the Patriotic Act. My that is some scary piece of legislation. Its a blatant violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and yet people can stomach it or even support it. Anything that turns our Constitution into nothing more than a series of guidelines to be followed whenever the government doesn't feel like ignoring it is not patriotic in any way, shape, or form. It scares, hurts, and angers me whenever people talk about sacrificing their Constitutional rights for the “common good” or the “good of the country.” There is nothing, nothing more fundamental to this country than our rights. Its what our country was founded on and what has kept us out of the darkness of oppression for more than 200 years, so its incomprehensible to me that we could chuck out the foundation of our country in the name of protecting it. The logic does not make sense.

Before I say goodnight (I think my body is slowly trying to move me back to California time), I'd like to touch on what I believe Will and Milani spoke about in their blogs, discussing our meeting today with Mrs. L. We met to, other than just check in with each other, discuss ways that the ILC could become more well-known within the District and how we as alums of the program could give back to the community. The gist of what we had come up with in our hour-long talk seemed to be that the alums (soon to be us) should become more involved in the advertising, meaning that the alums should help in spreading the word about the program by visiting other schools and holding info sessions for potential applicants. There was also an idea that got threshed out rather thoroughly today, which was talking about how alums of the program should be more active in the selection process itself: we brought up the idea that an informal meeting between one or maybe two alums with one applicant would help the program get a feel for just exactly who that kid is, similar to the way colleges conduct their interviews that would supplement an application. That way, while the same formal interview that everyone went through this year would still occur, it would only happen after the applicant had had a chance to meet with a former ILCer and loosen out some of those nervous kinks that can really damage your selction in the more formal interview, as well as getting some idea as to the personality behind the well-dressed teenager trying their earnest best to answer questions with no right answers sitting in front of strangers who might well be deciding their future. Food for thought, at least.

Good night!